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The Thinking Client's Therapist

The best part about therapy is that even after thirteen years, unlike your marriage, your relationship with your therapist will still be in the honeymoon stage.

Therapy isn’t the real world. It’s a fantasyland where you, the client, are the center of someone’s undivided attention. But however seductive that is, it’s a means to an end, not an end within itself.

Fantasyland is also where fantasies happen. And all of a sudden you find yourself wanting to be your therapist’s best friend. This sort of attachment is beneficial as long as it never occurs.

In fact, for a long time I thought my therapist was only one-dimensional and didn’t actually ever leave her office. In the evenings she just filed herself away and appeared like magic the next morning, bright, ready and alert.

You don’t need to know that your therapist probably wanders around Target wearing a daggy Fleetwood Mac t-shirt, arguing with her overweight, chain-smoking husband and obnoxiously behaved children.

My therapist, wearing a cool pin-striped power suit, was assigned to me during a hospital stay for postnatal depression with my third child, now thirteen.

Seeing as I used to rank psychologists slightly below used car salesmen, politicians and journalists on an integrity scale, I didn’t hold out much hope.

The first psych I ever saw asked me if I was breast or bottle fed and the second one told me there were people far worse off than me. The third psych went psycho on me and I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

But my fourth psych seemed to be made of sterner stuff. She was nice enough, but it used to annoy me that all she ever wanted to talk about was my mother.

It wasn’t until she told me a very lame fart joke that, in my eyes, she gained any street credibility. Up until that point I thought she was a bit of an Ice Queen, possibly based upon the fact that she was so competent at her job.

Most of my friends had therapists and we’d go out for lunch and compare and contrast. I was always smug because I KNEW I had the best therapist. What I didn’t know was that I had a very transparent case of what the psychology world calls transference.

This means transferring a past relationship, usually but not always, your relationship with your parents, and projecting your positive (or negative) feelings about them onto a current relationship, usually with your therapist, who becomes the good (or bad) parent. So your therapist, in effect, is role-playing your fantasy parental figure for the sake of therapy. No matter how badly behaved you are, your therapist will still approve of you. The whole idea is to work out your childhood issues to your satisfaction.

Over time transference will fade and you realize that increment by increment therapy has actually worked and you can now hold your own in the real world.

Just as there is no such thing as the perfect parent, there is no such person as the perfect therapist, just the good enough one. And your mentoring therapist gets a big kick out of seeing you get better.

The same way a good enough parent can sit back at their child’s high school graduation and think, “I didn’t do such a bad job after all!”

The Thinking Client's Therapist

Sonia Neale

Sonia Neale was recently awarded the Inaugural Barbara Hocking SANE Australia Fellowship to study and research Borderline Personality Disorder overseas in the USA, Canada, UK and Ireland. Her previous Psych Central blog was called Therapy Unplugged. She is the author of two books, The Bad Mother’s Revenge and Death by Teenager, both published by ABC Books/Harper Collins. She lives in Western Australia, is married with three adult children, has studied psychoanalytic psychotherapy, has a Certificate IV in Mental Health and is studying for a Psychology/Counselling degree. She currently works as a peer support worker in the mental health field. Please email her on davson at

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APA Reference
Neale, S. (2009). The Thinking Client's Therapist. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 3, 2020, from


Last updated: 24 Apr 2009
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