“I have this impulsive habit of seducing men,” she confessed, smiling mischievously, during her first session. “Maybe it comes with the territory.”
“What territory is that?” the therapist asked.
“Being a stripper. When you work as a stripper you learn to manipulate men. I mean, that’s what you do, right. You seduce them into putting money in your bra. I can always seduce just about any man I want. Lots of men want to date me and I date some of them and get what I can from them and dump them. Men are so gullible. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t say that.”
“How about me,” the therapist asked. “Would you like to seduce me?”
“Oh, no. That’s different. You’re a therapist.”
The client elaborated on this seductive pattern for a few weeks. While filling him in on this pattern, she revealed other aspects of her life. An attractive woman with a Sunday-School face and full lips and blue eyes, she had for many years made her living selling her sexuality, but now that she was 35 years old, she had enrolled in a local college to get a degree in dance therapy. “I want a career that doesn’t rely on my looks,” she explained. Then she let it drop, almost as an afterthought, that she had been sexually abused as a child. When the therapist tried to ask a question about that abuse, she quickly changed the subject.
While she talked of her pattern with men and her career plans, something entirely different was happening on a nonverbal level. During one session she had sat for several minutes with her legs slightly spread out so that the therapist could see her underpants. The therapist kept his eyes on her face, but it was hard for him not to notice the stark white panties. In another session, while she was talking about problems with her boss, she spent a few minutes fiddling with her bra. She reached inside her blouse to adjust it at one point and remarked, “I think the snap’s broken.” She then went into a discourse on men, noting that she thought all men were cheaters. “I haven’t found a man I can trust. They all just want to get sex from you as fast as they can, then go off to another girl.” She gave him a smirk and waved at him with her legs by slowly moving them together and apart several times. “What do you think about all this?”
The therapist felt put on the spot. “What do you think I’m thinking,” he replied.
“Oh, that’s a typical therapist response.” She beamed at him.
The therapist, who had not been practicing very long and was seeing this patient in connection with an internship he was doing at a local clinic, found himself feeling a mixture of things, including sexual excitement, anxiety and anger. These feelings blocked his attempt to think clearly and respond to her therapeutically.
The client, on the other hand, seemed to take it all in stride. She had a history of going from therapist to therapist, never staying for more than a month or two, seducing and then rejecting one male therapist after another. She always chose male therapists and her relationships with them mirrored her relationships with men on the outside. She expected each therapist to be a hypocritical, exploitative, sexually abusive authority figure (as her father, a minister of a fundamentalist church, had been). In essence she had put this therapist into a double-bind. If he responded to her seduction, she would have contempt for him; if he did not respond to her seduction, she would resent him.
As the treatment continued, the therapist began to be more bothered by the client’s seductiveness, and he had a need to broch the subject. The patient on one hand was confiding in him and admiring him (making him her ally against bad men), and then on the other hand would turn on him and accuse him of being, “Just like a man.” This reminded him of how his mother used to treat him and thus aroused countertransference. One day the therapist spoke out somewhat crossly (although trying to keep his voice calm):
“Are you aware of how you’re sitting?”
“How am I sitting?” she blurted out, surprised.
“You’re sitting with your legs spread apart.”
“You’re looking at my panties?”
“No, I’m not looking at them. But you are exposing them to me.”
“What’s your point?” she snapped.
“The point is that I’ve been experiencing you as trying to seduce me, the way you do all men. The same thing that happens in your life is happening here.”
She folded her legs and her arms and looked at him. “I feel very, very upset. I don’t know what to say. I thought you were different.”
The therapist began to lose his composure as he started having sexually aggressive and angry feelings about the client and became intent on interpreting her seductive behavior. A therapist should always monitor whatever feelings are coming up about a client, because such feelings help him understand how the client is feeling about him and what she needs from him. Because of his countertransference, old feelings were also being stirred up. Hence he could not respond to her in a therapeutic way. Instead, he responded with anger in his voice, and the patient knew that she had gotten to him. If he had understood that, having been sexually abused as a child, she needed an adult male who would not focus on her sexuality (her seductive behavior was just a test), he would have understood that what she needed was a good daddy who would love and accept her unconditionally. His interpretation should have focused on that, not on her seductive behavior
This article is taken from Gerald Schoenewolf’s most recent book, 76 Typical Therapy Mistakes, available on Amazon.