Okay, so here's the thing.
There's this guy. And we met two years ago when I was in a supremely shitty place, after six months of aggressive struggling and spiraling. He was a great listener, didn't judge me for my fucked-up-ness, and most importantly, he had the drugs.
He’s my psychiatrist. He’s a sharply dressed, hella fine Latino man who doesn't flinch when I share details about dark days, my inability to show myself kindness, my self-isolation, or other shortcomings in the course of adulting. Unlike my ho-ass, rat bastard rheumatologist, he isn't prescription-happy and asks the tough but necessary questions. He doesn’t make me feel like a series of checkboxes or a lost cause, either.
I admit that I was shocked upon entering his office that day—to re-up on my Zoloft—at his delightfulness, his charm, and his pretty mouth. Most of my therapists and psychiatrists have been white women, so I wasn't expecting to be flustered by a doctor. And, sure, opening up about my triumphs and tragedies to a pleasant, culturally competent, insightful man who doesn't look like a foot-faced goblin is not painful and does not suck at all.
But that's where it ends.
I don't shine up my shitshow before I see him for my quarterly drug tuneup. I don't candy coat the struggle or jazz up my craptastic barely-holding-on days when he asks how I've been doing. I’ve shown up, dumpy and rundown, overcome with wackness, ashiness, and hopelessness. I haven't lied to impress him with impressive tales of clear-headed functioning, unsabotaged excellence, or inflated self-worth when he's asked if I thought I was doing well. (I didn’t.) I'm not attributing my survival in the age of anus-mouthed presidential gargoyles to this magical and special bond we share. I'm a realist.
We connect once every three months for about 30 minutes to determine if I’m more or less fucked up than before and if my prescription needs tweaking. It’s a welcomed opportunity to zoom out and take a macro view of my mental situation, as it’s harder to assess daily progress on my own while I’m here in the trenches. He gets the detailed, summarized version of the emotional combat I engage in with my psychologist each week.
I understand how potentially damaging or awkward it can be to develop feelings for your trusted mental or physical health professional. I get that being googly-eyed over a doctor can cloud judgment and make a person less honest about their struggles. I’ve heard stories from friends who’ve requested a change after being a little too excited about a sexy gynecologist diving in with forceps and speculums. This isn’t that.
Being attracted to the person who’s helping you heal or find light in a world of darkness and shitbaggery is more normal than you’d probably expect, according to Quinn Gee, psychotherapist at Magnolia Mental Health in Washington, DC. “It is very common for clients or therapists to be attracted to each other. In transference and countertransference—feelings from a professional for their client—those emotions can manifest in a bunch of different ways,” she says. She points out that physical attraction isn’t the only concern; feelings like resentment, hostility, fear, and being overly comfortable with each other can affect the doctor-client relationship.
These feelings can develop, according to Gee, for many reasons: Do they remind you of an ex-lover? A teacher or relative you were afraid of? A childhood friend or classmate you were obsessed with? “As a client, it’s important to be mindful. If you know you are lying to your professional about your status, or downplaying your symptoms to appear more sane or like you’re struggling less to impress them, that’s a problem,” Gee says. “If you’re sleeping three hours a night for weeks or not eating well but hide these things to appear more together, that’s an issue too.”
I make sure Dr. Fine gets the unfiltered version of the shitshow. No bleeps, tidy endings, or glazed-over trainwrecks over here.
Transference—unconsciously redirecting desires and feelings, especially those harbored from childhood, onto a new person—is a concern for professionals, too. Gee (who was once cyberstalked by a patient with a personality disorder who wanted to be like her and went out of his way to learn about her) is upfront about both her negative and positive experiences: “We are attracted to our clients. We have favorite clients, and clients we dread or get anxiety about. It’s very normal. We’re all people.”
She learned, however, the trouble of becoming too attached when she first moved to the Washington when she connected with a client who reminded her of hometown in Mississippi. “They became my favorite client. I found myself being not as straightforward about their issues. I liked them and didn’t want them to feel like things were wrong with them,” Gee says. “I consulted with a colleague about it, and we came up with some solutions. I kept it real with my client, apologized for the conflict, and laid out some options and steps we could take to help the situation.”
If your psychiatrist does anything to encourage this infatuation, Gee cautions, that’s also not good. Thankfully, my guy has kept it classy, and hasn’t given me any signs of impending ho shit invitations or therapeutic drama.
Look. I can't help that the motherfucker has a great face, inviting demeanor, and a wonderful wardrobe. I have no plans to act upon this attraction, though. No “accidental” dick pics or covert flirtation. I’m grateful he’s helped me stay alive thus far, but I’m not proposing marriage, beating off to him at night, or building him a shrine. Yet.
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