Love as a state of being
The kind of love I feel as a therapist is the kind that is an attribute of me and not of my client. It is a state of mind. It does not mean loving this or that about them. Counter-transference is something entirely different. In counter transference a clinician can feel positive and/or negative feelings about a client, but the loving approach I am talking about is one that has no opposite. You can learn to be loving in this way, but you can’t fake it. This is of course only one aspect of what therapists do and there is a lot else going on when I interact with clients. But here are some thoughts about this attitude of love toward my clients and what it involves.
- Attention. First of all this attitude is characterized by the fact that I am giving someone my full attention. This is real listening. This is one definition of real love according to the spiritual writer Eckhart Tolle. I am honoring and accepting them. Every single moment in therapy is unique and I need to be paying attention to the uniqueness of that person in that moment.
- Loss of self. I am approaching my client without any regard for my own interpersonal or ego needs. I am not filtering my perception of them through any ulterior motives or personal preferences. Bringing my ego needs into it means I am becoming unconscious, i.e. “counter-transference”. Letting go of ego I have no need to play a power role. I can be more genuine.
- Not judging. I do not approve or disapprove of the person sitting opposite me in therapy. I suspend judgment. I am there to understand them. I am not there to say what is right or wrong, good or bad. If I say “oh you really are a good person” I am losing my spiritual grip. I have opened the door to the other side of the coin, the side that says “you are not a good person”.
- Seeking subjectivity, not objectivity. In order to relate to a client in a loving way I need to get into their subjective experience. I need to see the world and the choices they make in exactly the way they see them. I need to accept them as acting rationally. In the words of J.D. Salinger “God didn’t make any fools. Dopes yes, but no fools.”
Love as healing
If I could transmit all the right information to my clients by giving them a book to read I would. But that still wouldn’t be as healing as a relationship can be, although it could help them a lot. Love is healing for sex addicts and other addicts; and probably also for troubled people generally.
- Self worth. For sex addicts and other addicts, relationship is the problem. They often come from life experiences growing up that made them feel unlovable. Being with a therapist may be the first time an addict has had the experience of being cared about in an unbiased way, a way they can believe.
- Safety. Addicts are prone to be guarded and fearful, even when they have a hefty narcissistic defense system. In the therapy session they know that I have no interest in evaluating them. You might ask why they should trust my loving attitude since they are paying me. Aren’t they are buying my so-called love? Not really. In paying me they are sure that I have nothing else to gain or lose in the relationship. They can’t let me down and I won’t reject them. As I sometimes tell my clients “Nobody flunks therapy.”
- Acceptance. The loving attitude says “OK you are doing this thing that seems self-destructive, but let’s look at the reasons.” This means that the client is able to respect the choices he or she has made in the past as in some way being a resolution to a problem. Often these are what is called “survival skills that no longer serve.” If they are just rejected and invalidated, the client cannot really begin to examine them, grasp where they came from and begin the process of change.
- Being present and open. This is a tough one for addicts. But in a loving, safe and validating environment, the addict can begin more honest self examination, can reflect on his or her own behavior and can express feelings.
Doing therapy with love is a spiritual practice for me and a healing experience for the client. Recovery people know this is the case: relationship is crucial. And a therapeutic person need not be a credentialed therapist. It may be any trusted adviser, mentor or sponsor. There’s an old saying among the AA fellowship: “We will love you until you can love yourself.”