How much is too much intimacy in therapy?

I never thought I was wary of intimacy and closeness before I came to realise this in my journey as a client with a psychodynamic therapist. The turning point of realisation occurred however not in a moment of a session, but during a professional development event where the issue of treatment length was raised. The speaker was a famous psychodynamic therapist in Sydney and she was talking about rebuilding a client's sense of identity during the trauma treatment.

I remember one person from the audience asked her a question which immediately drew my attention. She asked "How or when do we know we are coming to the end of therapy with a client? What signs are usually there?" The response of the speaker shocked me at first. In a simple manner she replied with a new question: "Why do we need to end? Why would you do that?" I heard a few jokes from the auditorium and a few people shifted in their chairs, looking forward to hear more. And she proceeded to explain how she tells her clients that she is there for them, and always will be. I barely could hear the whole thing when I noticed anxious thoughts rushing through my head. "How dare she!" I screamed in my head: "How dare she tell all these people she will be there for them? What if she is not? She can retire/go on holiday/die etc. What kind of a therapist would make such a promise to a client?"
As I reflected on my own emotions, I realised that I myself was keeping my therapist at a distance. Formal, polite and careful attitude were my safeguards. I placed her in a designated spot and was determined to keep her there. I probably dismissed many of her attempts to come closer, carefully hiding myself in a lonely shell of omnipotence. So I brought these reflections into my next session. It was a very existential, intimate interaction, in a very caring and warm atmosphere. We looked at the dangers and risks of committing to any relationships at all and we uncovered deep issues of distrust I have been carrying around in me. I was always on guard, ready, just in case the painful separation was somewhere round the corner...
I also discussed the issue with a close friend and a colleague who said something powerful, and meaningful to me. He said that yes, it is scary to open up, welcome and embrace intimacy. It is dangerous to attach and depend, because all relationships come to an end, one way or another. But if we know this and still allow ourselves to take the risks wholeheartedly, we can grow a lot from the experiences. And so, little by little, I started to let down the guard in my therapy sessions. It has got much easier since then to keep my heart open. While I am fully aware of the fact that my therapy will come to an end, just like everything else in this life, I am still determined to embrace this relationship fully and make it a part of me.

Posted on 21 August 2015 in - Library - Relationships - Therapy

Kate Mikhailouskaya

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