Emotional Dependency in Psychotherapy

The concepts of neediness and emotional dependency have negative connotations in our culture; when it comes to psychotherapy, many people (especially those who’ve never had any kind of treatment) take a very dim view of clients who come to depend “too much” upon their therapist. You may hear the very cynical opinion expressed that psychotherapists deliberately instill a kind of emotional dependency in their clients in order to exploit them. It seems that a great many people think that emotional dependency in psychotherapy is bad.

In truth, for psychotherapy to be effective, a degree of emotional dependency is inevitable. Clients with extreme amounts of pain and confusion, who have a history of unstable or chaotic relationships, may become highly dependent for long periods of time. If your life isn’t working, if you come from a deeply troubled background and never developed the kind of emotional capacity and self-awareness you need to get through life, you have to turn to and depend upon someone else to help you develop it. Effective work can’t happen and you can’t get what you need if you don’t.

This is not to say that most clients who come for therapy are eager or especially willing to become emotionally dependent. In fact, resistance to dependency is often one of the first issues that comes up in therapy: despite the large amount of pain they may be feeling, and a kind of desperate hopelessness that finally compels them to seek professional help, many clients don’t want to become dependent upon their therapist. They may hate feeling needy, often because childhood taught them that to be in such a vulnerable, needy state means you’ll get hurt.

For people who come from impoverished backgrounds, need equals frustration and disappointment. Need stirs up anxieties about being abandoned. Need makes you feel small and helpless, at the mercy of those who have what you need. Such people, as clients, may have little or no faith in the possibility that someone might actually be concerned about them, and want to give what is needed. The fact that they must pay for what they need makes the subject more complicated; they may believe that payment means there is no genuine concern involved on the part of the therapist.

These issues often become the focus of treatment early on, the first manifestation of the transference. While many people think of the transference in classically Freudian terms, as a kind of distortion of reality — You’re reacting to me as if I were your father — the transference actually serves as a microcosm of q person’s emotional issues, a first-hand experience of the psychological issues that confront our clients. So if someone hates neediness and emotional dependency, if that person can’t develop stable relationships of any depth or duration, she’ll have the same trouble in her relationship with me. He’ll find ways to keep me at a distance; he may continually have one foot in and one foot out of treatment. My first job is often to help these clients see the continuity in their different relationships — within and outside of psychotherapy — where the common theme is a great difficulty in tolerating their own needs.

In my recent work with one client, these issues dominated the treatment. From the beginning, she expressed a fear of becoming dependent upon me. In different ways, both of her parents had abandoned her, literally and emotionally; with reason, she had scant faith in the goodness or dependability of other people. She struggled with often uncontrollable urges to binge eat, turning to food instead of people as a source of comfort whenever painful emotions began to surface. She had a difficult time committing to our work together, stopping and and starting therapy several times. She often cancelled sessions on short notice, then worried that I would give away her hour to someone else.

Instead of sticking to interpretation — that is, doing my job and simply helping her to see and bear with her fears about emotional dependency — I made the mistake of offering to hold her time open, regardless of whether she used it. I thought this might reassure her, and make her feel that I was safe … different from the other unreliable people in her life. Instead, she used this new policy to regulate her feelings of dependency. She repeatedly cancelled our sessions; recently, when I offered to reschedule, she explained that she didn’t want a make-up because she preferred not to feel too dependent. Cancelling the session made her feel as if she didn’t need me. At that point, I realized that I’d unwittingly offered her the means to avoid the kind of dependency she needed to experience in order to get better — that is, to relinquish her eating disorder and find better ways to cope with feeling in the context of a human relationship.

When I told her of my mistake and changed my policy, telling her that I would no longer hold a regular hour open for her but would still see her whenever she felt the need to schedule a session, she became angry and quit. I can easily understand why. While it was my mistake in the first place (offering to change my usual policy), rescinding that offer no doubt felt like abandonment all over again. You’d think that after 30 years of practice, I’d be able to avoid such mistakes, but there it is.

This has been a lesson in humility: It’s a kind of hubris, to believe you can somehow compensate for a lifetime of abandonment and indifference by adjusting your cancellation policy. Next time I encounter such an issue, I’ll do what I should have done and give the client what he or she actually needs: someone consistent and reliable, who knows how to set reasonable limits and stick to them.

By Joseph Burgo

Joe is the author and the owner of AfterPsychotherapy.com, one of the leading online mental health resources on the internet. Be sure to connect with him on Google+ and Linkedin.


  1. What screams to me from this post is: What about the therapist’s dependence on the client?

    As you say, the transference isn’t just a delusion. I don’t think the therapist job is confined to interpretation either.

    1. You clearly have a lot of highly developed thoughts about this issue, Evan — please write more!

      1. Hi Joseph, I do have lots of thoughts. The problem as I see it is that the relationship between client and therapist needs to be real in some sense. The transference and relationship between the client and therapist (I don’t think the relationship is all transference) involves very real feelings at least on the part of the client. (I think that in good therapy it also involves real feeling on the part of the therapist.)

        It may be possible for adults to rationally discuss their needs and not be overwhelmed by emotion. I’m not sure many clients come in like this – I’m not sure it is desirable for them to come in (or leave) like this.

        I think roles and time scheduled appointments are hard for a needy child to understand. At the harshest I’m saying that this kind of therapy will appear abusive to that needy child which is often part of the client’s experience.

        Please note that this is to do with the structure of the industry (not to mention insurance companies, professional associations and much else), it is not to imply any bad intentions on the part of any therapist. I am definitely not saying that you are badly intentioned.

        1. As you may have seen from other replies I’ve made, I was on vacation last week and that’s why I’ve taken this long to get back to you. What you say is very interesting and I agree with most of it. But I think that everything about transference feelings is real. It’s a common misconception, to believe that transference feelings reflect some kind of distortion or misconception. Clients become dependent on their therapists because they truly are in need of help. They fear dependency upon therapists because of their ability to hurt and disappoint them. They sometimes hate their therapists for being insensitive, or for lots of other reasons. The feelings may have the intensity and “irrationality” of a child’s emotions but that doesn’t mean they’re not real. My feelings in response are absolutely real, as well, just as you’re saying.

          1. This dependency idea just weighs on my mind each session I go to with my therapist. I should have trust but then don’t have trust. I worry is he important, I don’t want to make him too important, I am so afraid of acting needy when I should just appreciate all the good in my life. Why don’t I feel it inside, am I not dependent enough or too much to generate some kind of understandable feeling?

        2. I am really struck by two of Evan’s observations. The idea that the relationship between therapist and client needs to be real in some sense is striking to me because while I’m aware that one of the current understandings in contemporary psychology is that it is the relationship between the therapist and client that heals, I have found myself doubting this. Yes, I know and have truly felt my that my therapist cares about me, but I also know that if I weren’t paying for the relationship, it wouldn’t exist. I This undermines the relationship – I doubt her care and find myself thinking that I’m only able to experience this empathy because I’m paying for it, and I doubt that I’ll be able to experience this outside the relationship. Evan’s observation that for some clients “roles and time scheduled appointments are hard for a needy child to understand” and may actually feel abusive also strikes a chord. For such clients, the therapist is, in effect, acting as the “good enough” mother (I’m in grad school to become a therapist). For those of us who unfortunately did not have “good enough” mothers (mine was, and is, unempathetic, distancing, harshly critical, judgmental, and shaming), having access to this “good enough” mothering only once a week is simply not enough, and knowing that I can only see her during that time recreates abandonment feelings.

          1. Hi Julia, I hope you find other support. And that, if possible, you find your way to a better way of doing psychotherapy. Some friends and I have a facebook page where we talk about this kind of thing called Community Psychotherapy which you may want to check out.

            1. I just stopped therapy after two years. I feel like I already miss my therapist. He was so special to me. I guess thats why I stopped I was thinking of him and needed to get back to reality.

          2. Dear Julia,

            I am writing to you because I found an excellent therapist. He is really helping me to address my feelings of dependency and is actually HELPING me to depend on people in a healthy, loving way.
            I don’t know where you live but I live in Australia, here we are very fortunate to have psychiatry covered by Medicare (government health care) and so our taxes pay for most of my sessions. I have been seeing mine 3 times a week for quite a few years now. I have seen an amazing change in me in this time.
            It does sound like you need more sessions and that is OKAY!
            Good luck on your journey to better mental health.
            It will happen.

                1. See Julia’s reply of March, 2012. I disagree with the premise of therapy that the therapist becomes a “healthy’ parent figure that the client never had–dependency. It is inherent in the therapeutic that the client will experience, at some point, feels of abandonment. There is no way around this situation. A client has to assume that the therapist is not using the client to get their own needs met (this does happen). Also, the therapist brings to the table their own values and beliefs that may or may not mesh with the client’s beliefs and values. So, the therapist’s “reality” is imposed upon the client.

                  Do you really think a client is going to feel OK after pouring out painful thoughts and emotions after a 50 minute session? I agree with Jeffrey Masson’s thoughts on psychotherapy.

              1. I disagree also. I’m a trainee therapist and I’m required to be in therapy once a week for the three years I’m training. I know someone on my course who attends therapy 2 a week. Therapy isn’t just talking about the stressful and painful things that happen in our lives. Therapy can be a great place to reflect on the positives.

            1. huh not sure where in Australia you get free psych care?? ive paid over $22000 in therapy payments

        3. “I think roles and time scheduled appointments are hard for a needy child to understand. At the harshest I’m saying that this kind of therapy will appear abusive to that needy child which is often part of the client’s experience.”

          That is so interesting and true for some clients especially ones with abandonment issues. I could totally relate instantly to that segment of your reply. I will be doing a dissertation on Countertransference. Thank you for such brilliant insight.

  2. Dr. Burgo,
    It has only been a few days since I found your website, and it is revealing itself to be a source of very valuable, well-reasoned information. Thank you for the care and depth of your writing. What becomes most apparent through your words is the deep understanding, tenderness, and regard you have for your clients and for yourself. Exellent role-modeling for all of your readers (and clients).

    It is regretful that this particular client could not yet tolerate or work through with you the feelings that resulted from your policy change. You have shared a valuable lesson here about treatment and boundaries in this circumstance. I can feel your pain and regret.

    1. I think that I handled the situation badly and she probably would have been able to tolerate the work better had I stuck to my usual boundaries. But thanks for your kind words.

  3. I enjoy reading your posts because you write so clearly about so many different aspects of psychotherapy. This topic is particularly timely for me as a client. How do you define “highly dependent for long periods of time” and how can you know if you are stuck being dependent and needy? I’m a patient who has struggled with trust and dependency for all four years I’ve been in therapy. I’m feel more dependent on my therapist and even though I see him twice a week it still feels agonizing to wait to talk to him. I’m so afraid of my neediness that I want to take a break just to prove to myself I can. If the fear of dependency tended to be worked through early in therapy does the fact that it is still so painful and overwhelming suggest that I’m not working through it.

    1. The fact that you’re feeling so dependent now doesn’t mean that you’re not working through it. This issue is obviously very potent for you and it sounds like it’s just going to take more time. And do NOT quit, just to prove that you can! That’s just taking the “side” of your defenses and will accomplish nothing. Hang in there!

    2. Oh my word! I had to look at the name to see if I had written this post 🙂
      I have been with my therapist for over 4 and a half years. I cannot imagine my life without her, and at times, I, too, want to leave just to prove I can survive without her. Saying goodbye at the end of the hour (I see her a couple times per week) is brutal and makes me feel like I am being torn up inside.
      Thank you for writing this. The relationship we have with our therapists is POWERFUL and unique and transforming….

      1. I trust that it won’t always feel so brutal. It’s very hard to describe, but over time, we develop an “inner therapist” to take with us, so we don’t always miss the real one. Eventually, that inner therapist becomes so strong that we feel able to end our actual treatment and carry on the work ourselves.

        1. I can’t thank you enough for being so honest in your post and sharing of your experiences as a therapist. for reasons you may never know, and are too many and too personal to write, your insight is invaluable to me.

        2. What if you feel that the therapist thinks they have helped you all they can- but you are just not ready to end the therapy because you feel there’s so much more to discuss and work through. And you don’t want to bother the therapist, because you are worried about what they might be thinking e.g.: omg we’ve been through all of this already!! I’ve told you everything there is to know- now go and do something about it…,,,,but really you just want to see them … but your not even sure if you need therapy anymore because you think they think you are ok.

        3. Does this happen for everyone? I’ve brrn in therapy with the same person for 10 years. Most of it 3x a week. He takes my after hour phone calls too. I feel so dependent that I get suicidal after a session…. often. It’s horrible. I have a horrible time when he is on vacation. I feel addicted to him.

  4. What a wonderfully honest piece. It’s hard for professionals to admit their mistakes, but actually, my faith in you has improved, if anything, because you are able and willing to do so.

  5. Hi Joe,
    How long does/should the patient’s emotional dependance on the therapist last? Does the therapist wean (for lack of a better word) the patient off them?

    1. Cathrine, as I said in answer to another comment, it depends on the needs of the client; hopefully, there comes a point when both the therapist and the client agree that it’s time for the work to end.

  6. Unfortunately I don’t know if I would ever be able to engage with therapy due to this terror of feeling needy and being taken advantage of or abandoned. It is a feeling that makes me feel suicidal. Of course, it affects all my relationships, and I resign myself not to loneliness but to less close relationships, because they are the only ones that feel safe. I have a lot of penfriends who are my main friends, am known as sociable and myself dependable at work but don’t get close to people. I am close only to my own children (conceived by sperm donors). Everything in my early, child and adolescent life taught me that if you need people, they will hurt you terribly. I can’t foresee ever being able to go through the pain of re-experiencing the feelings of need that were so badly abused and taking the risk for this not to happen again (it has happened many times in therapy) – the gain to me just doesn’t seem worth the pain. I think your client was right to quit therapy with you, to protect herself from her own pain, even though you were trying to help her I don’t think you would be able to understand the depths of it.

  7. Reading your many insightful articles, Joseph, I am thinking that you (and maybe all psychotherapists) are a saint! You are upset about this one incident. Yet you felt, humanly, that you could somehow compensate for this ex-patient’s awful life.
    I know your training prepares you for your work, and it must include huge stretches of patience-training. The patience that is needed……

    That is why, IMO, the layperson is quite unequipped to deal with a person who has the difficulties you describe.
    Sad, too, that precisely those sufferers, the majority of them, will never be able to access the kind of valuable therapy you offer.


  8. So, if after a couple of years of hard work your client is starting to allow herself to depend on you emotionally and then she unexpectedly gets laid off from her job and can no longer afford to pay your fee, what happens then?

    1. I would do what I’ve always done under those circumstances — either reduce my fee or work for free until she got back on her feet. The fact that I won’t reduce my fee for people I don’t know, who want to begin a relationship with me by asking to pay less than my full fee, doesn’t mean I’m indifferent to people I’ve worked with and come to care about over a number of months or years.

  9. As Joe E Brown says at the end of Some Like it Hot “Nobody’s perfect.” Maybe your client will return. Temporary failure and the processes of recovery are part of an enduring healthy relationship. Therapy and analysis maybe a microcosm of life, but they’re not in a bubble separated from the more usual processes of life. Sometimes my students of English tell me they can’t wait to leave university and start living and I ask them what they they’ve been doing for the previous twenty. My friend, John Welch, describes the non-event of completing analysis rather beautifully in his book “Dreaming Arrival.” Shearsman Books if anybody’s interested.

  10. this subject/issue has always puzzled me and i was hoping that you would someday address emotional dependency in psychotherapy. through the years i have felt great pain connected with feelings of dependency with several therapists. i was seeing a fantastic therapist for over two years and abruptly she terminated our therapy b/c she changed job positions. i had one and a half sessions to say goodbye. i allowed myself to be so dependent on her. her abandonment made me emotionally go over the edge. i immediately started seeing another therapist that she had set up for me. we have been doing two sessions a week for over 15 months and i think only this last session i started to feel the hint of a door opening to sensing i was starting to feel dependency for her. i have been fighting it. not wanting those feelings to develop. but something happened in our last session that cracked a barrier and i can feel the connection of therapeutic intimacy closing in on me. how do i give myself permission to let go and let her in closer? it terrifies me. i feel your clients fear. on the day of our sessions i get sick to my stomach. i think it is the fear in hiding and not knowing if something major is going to break through on that day. plus i am among many things also an agoraphobic. i follow your blog closely and have for a long time. you are wise and gentle in your approach to psychotherapy and have been helpful in all that you have written. i am not going to run from my new therapist. we are actually rather friendly and get along famously. it’s the therapy i am afraid to get into deeply. she promises she will not go away unless certain things happen beyond her control. there is just so much fear connected to dependency that just do not know how to let go.

    1. Just hang in there. It’s sounds like you’re being very brave; I think the only thing that will help is time passing, and the “proof” that she keeps showing up and won’t abandon you.

  11. I just had a pyschotherapy session today and literally walked out I was so upset, and forgot why I was there in the first place, I went online to do some research and realized why Im there in the first place, and now feel bad. I’ve never had therapy before in my life, and I feel like theres alot to work on lolol, just not knowing where to begin. I have a fear of abandonment aswell, I get nervous just when my therapist is running 5 minutes late. He already knows that though, I go insane inside, so I know how she feels lolol. but I don’t depend on my therapist enough, because Im aloof lolol I don’t depend on anyone anymore, I have no one left. but I did depend enough to walk straight back into his office, to talk to him right after I left so, I don’t know. You will be suprised, she might come back sooner than you think. If not, maybe not.

    1. Thanks, Melissa — and I’m sorry for taking so long to write back. I was on vacation last week. I hope you can continue taking all those uncomfortable feelings about being needy to your therapist. I know it’s hard but at least you’ll have a chance to “work through” them.

  12. Hi Joe,

    How long is the emotional dependancy meant to last? Is the therapist meant to ‘wean’ off the patient (for lack of a better word) ?

    1. Sorry for taking so long to reply — I was on vacation last week. I think it depends entirely on the needs of the client. Sometimes, the client can get what he or she needs in a few months, for others who come from deeply trouble backgrounds, it can take many years. I don’t think it’s the job of a therapist to “wean” the client off therapy but to help him or her to feel able to go it alone.

    1. Thanks, Mike. It is actually getting easier to real about what I do and the mistakes I make the longer I keep writing.

  13. My therapist is psycho-dynamically oriented, so I know nothing about him or his life. How can one trust and then form an attachment/dependency to someone they know nothing about?

    My therapist has some excellent qualities: he is utterly dependable, fair, respectful, non-judgmental, has a great sense of humor and consistently offers good insight in every session. But, he is not Mr. Warmth, Mr. Hope or Mr. Encouragement. Not by a long shot. Isn’t this what one needs to feel safe enough to feel what they need to feel to heal? Maybe this isn’t the therapist’s job?

    Rather, his goal seems to be, as you mention in your post, to point out where I am re-creating, re-enacting and repeating my relationships with my parents within our therapy, among other things.

    This is fine, but on the days where I can barely think straight, am on the edge of panic, feeling like I’m going crazy and/or going to die and really just want and need some words of hope and encouragement, hearing about my unconscious feels less than productive and helpful.

    1. Sorry for the delay in responding — I was on vacation last week. I don’t think that offering hope and encouragement is necessarily incompatible with one’s role as a psycho-dynamic psychotherapist, but if you’re just saying the kind of things that anybody else would say — any good friend, for example — is that truly therapeutic? And I would argue with you and say that you know quite a lot about your therapist — all the most important things, in fact. Do you think you’d really “know” him any better if you knew the factual details of his life? I don’t think so.

      1. Thanks so much for the thoughtful response (and I hope you had a restful vacation!).

        Your reply made me smile because it sounds a bit like my therapist when I complain that he’s not being supportive or encouraging enough. He once told me, “I’m not going to give you a bunch of platitudes about keeping your chin up.” At the time, I thought this was harsh, but when I really think about it, I’m glad that he doesn’t do this.

        Thanks again. I always look forward to you posts.

  14. Thanks for the response Joe. Sorry you got the same question twice, I had issues submitting the comment, so I sent it in by mistake. I hope your vacation was lovely.

    Ps – I’m really sorry to hear you won’t be writing Movies & Mental Health nnymore. It was my favourite blog ever! Plus, I was looking forward to your analysis of Shame!

    1. The problem with the ‘Movies’ blog was that it took me so long to write every post! Plus I have found that there’s not much interest in using film as an avenue to understand mental health issues. But I’m glad you liked it. Thanks!

      1. Is there really not much interest in using film to understand mental health issues? I am desperately looking for films for my parents to view. I feel that the only way they will ever understand anything about humans is with a movie so that they can enmesh with a character. I am so stuck wtih their dysfunction and my own deremination that movies is the only thing that would help them, that my therapist believes i am OCD…..I am obsessed beacuse i know deeply that movies will help them and that nothing else will as they are European and like fishes out of water in the USA althoutht they have been here their whole lives. THey have problems with empathizing…having compassion, patience, giving the benefit of the doubt and understanding the limitations ansd cognitive difficulties of their disabled relative whom they care for. I need an inventory of films and what mental health category or issues they fall into or can benefit.

        1. I’d contact my colleague Marla Estes. She teaches many fine courses that use film to explore mental health issues and I’m sure she will have some excellent suggestions. Her website can be found at:


  15. What I find difficult is that it feels so shameful to be dependent on a therapist. I don’t know how to get to a place where I can accept it. Instead I end up verbally berating myself for it and occasionally physically punishing myself. My t knows that I’m dependent on her and she seems to be accepting of it but I don’t know how to trust that. Which isn’t helped by the experience I had with my first therapist who withdrew and was very distant from me after I told her about my attachment to her. That just seems to have reinforced my original belief that it’s something to be ashamed of and horrified by. Plus it feels weird to need someone who you don’t really mean very much too. My t’s importance to me is so much bigger than mine to hers. I struggle to see how it can ever really be healing when the relationship is so limited and in the bigger scheme of her life I’m not very special or important.

    1. What a shame, that a therapist behaved in such a way to reinforce your difficulties with dependency. I wish I could say it was an infrequent occurrence.

      I understand what you’re saying (although I disagree that clients aren’t “very special or important” to a therapist); but in a sense, what you’re describing is exactly what it means to be dependent in a psychotherapeutic sense. It’s much more like a child-mother dependency, where the child (usually) needs the mother way more than vice versa. Tn fact, the transference often revives this type of childhood dependency and allows us to understand the client’s early experience, “work through” it and hopefully have something like a corrective emotional experience.

      1. I am new to a deeper level of therapy, meaning in the past when I attended therapy, I was not open enough emotionally to experience deeper healing with my issues and my connection to my former therapist felt judgmental.

        I have since resumed therapy to initially resolve my issues with emotional eating and of course I’ve discovered much more than that. Hence, inner child work, working on loving myself, etc. However, I’ve also discovered that I’ve been feeling a friendly level of transference with my T.

        I’m a lesbian in a committed relationship and she’s a lesbian with children and not currently in a relationship and she is in her 60s and I’m in my mid thirties. I feel curious about her or sometimes wish we could be friends because I think she’s interesting and any time I imagine these friendly scenarios my partner is also included. I realize in the therapeutic relationship it is not appropriate to have any platonic relationship or dual relationship. I also understand logically to continue my healing that I don’t want that either.

        So, these issues brought me to your site and I’ve been reading and reaching emotionally to try and understand this whole transference thing. In my searching, I’ve realized that I’ve always been attached to teachers/mentors in my life.

        My question is, would it be safe for me to tell my T about my feelings also explaining that I realize boundaries can’t be crossed and explain that I truly don’t want them to be? I am concerned that if I say something the dynamic will change and I would hate that considering I feel I’m making progress. Worse yet I would really be upset if she were to refer me. I would assume she’s experienced this before after working for over 30 years. I just don’t want to ruin a good thing, but I want to be open.

        I will say on a side note that sometimes it’s a frustrating thing wanting a T and a friend at the same time. However, I’m happy I found my T and I’m even happier that I am finally understanding how my past affects me today.

        1. I think it depends on the type of therapy your T practices. If she is psychodynamic and used to working with the transference, it won’t be problem is you bring up these feelings; it will be grist for the mill. If not, some therapists who aren’t experienced with transference feel uncomfortable hearing about such feelings and believe it means it’s time to terminate the therapy.

      2. Is this really true, though? Though young children don’t actively do anything FOR their parents, most good parents (good enough parents?) I’ve seen view their children as the most important people in their lives. That is not the case between therapist and client. And that’s terrifying for someone so attached to know that the person they’re attached to sees them as just… a client. One they genuinely care about but ultimately, only part of their job.

        I’m going through this right now, and I can’t reconcile this level of vulnerability. One-sided vulnerability no less. I could see myself forming a trusting, healing attachment with someone whose real, personal life I was part of, but I’m beginning to feel that the reality of THIS relationship is too much of a barrier to continue with therapy. It almost feels retraumatizing, like a sort of passive abandonment every time the illusion drops. I’m not sure what other choices I have, though.

        It feels too much like something it’s not and could never be. There’s something that feels so wrong–and dangerous–about making such a level of intimacy into something “professional”, despite how well-intentioned the therapist themselves is.

        1. I do see your points. I guess for me, the most healing and productive relationships for my clients have been those where they cease to be just “clients.” They are people I would see for nothing if they could no longer afford their sessions. They matter deeply to me. It’s not the same as the way I feel about my own children but it’s not entirely different either.

        2. Wow Foxes. As a therapist who was in therapy – you wrote all of the words that I have felt in my own therapy. Your post made me cry because it is so scary isn’t it – yet what Joe writes is true (from my perspective of really caring and loving my own clients) – interestingly, this did not play out in my own therapy, and thus I terminated it. Yet – I believe if one can explore, and see things in such a way, and continue to open and share the self- how much growth is in that? Thank you for sharing. and THANK YOU so much Joe – for discussing a part of therapy which many dont want to overtly discuss; therapist and client alike.

  16. This is a wonderful post (as is the rest of your blog, I’ve really been enjoying looking through the posts), thank you. I am struggling with this myself, much like the commenter above, Charlotte, who feels ashamed and verbally berates herself for feeling dependent on her therapist. I do the same thing.

    I am trying to work through it, though– in fact I sent this link to my therapist and it’s given me a great opportunity to refer to what you’ve written here to talk about it in a session soon in relation to my own struggles. It won’t be the first time I’ve talked about it, but thankfully I have a really wonderful, patient and accepting therapist who understands this, so as uncomfortable as it is, I do see hope. Thanks again, this was a really reassuring thing to read.

    1. You’re very welcome. I think the way to look at how you feel about needing your therapist is to use this experience as a microcosm for something larger — the way you feel about needs, in general, and about the vulnerable, child-like part of yourself. Do you hate your own needs? Do you feel that you shouldn’t have any, and then berate yourself when you do? When our early experiences of dependency are especially awful, we often believe that the “solution” is to get rid of our needs; we may develop a sort of pseudo-adult (and usually punitive) self that then “hates” the other parts we’re not supposed to have.

      1. Yes, you’re right on. Without going into too much I will just say that through therapy, I have come to understand just how lacking in emotional support I was (and still am) and I do believe that has contributed to the way I feel about emotional needs now. Because they were not adequately met, I think I’ve grown to see them as something bad, that I don’t deserve, so to need and want to have some emotional dependency on my therapist makes me feel guilty and shameful.

        It is a real struggle that I’m afraid is going to take awhile (I’m just at 9 months into therapy which I don’t think is terribly long) to sort through…right now I am quite literally torn between feeling good and happy that I have come to like my therapist and feel very comfortable with him and know he is there for me, and feeling like I don’t deserve it and need to stop because it’s bad and I am somehow making him uncomfortable. I just want to be at the point where I can be okay with how I feel and simply be glad to have a good therapeutic relationship without the guilt and worry.

        Sorry if I did go on too much anyway… I appreciate your reply, the questions you posed got me thinking. Have a good day.

        1. Hang in there — it will take time to feel comfortable with your needs and emotional dependency. You’ve spent a lifetime thinking they were bad or wrong, and you can’t change that overnight.

      2. Wow, this really speaks to my experience in therapy and helps me to understand it. Thank you so much for this blog and your kind and thoughtful responses.

      3. Wow- thanks Joe. This is exactly what I have done, and did .
        Is there a way we can heal this part of us- if we no longer are engaging in therapy?

  17. Hi
    I have a few questions if you could find the time to answer them
    Of course if you can?
    Kind regards

    Is it possible for a therapist to intentionally cause transference?
    If so why?
    Do client have rights to consent to this?
    Are therapists expected to help clients through transference, if so and they do not, why is this?
    Is it possible that therapists can use their power for their own needs?
    And finally what does it mean when a therapist brings His own stuff into the room?
    Is it possible that therapists can use their power for their own needs?
    And finally what does it mean when a therapist brings Hos own stuff into the room?

    1. These questions are so interesting, and the answers so involved, that I’m going to save my response for a post later this week. Thanks!

      1. Is it possible for you to send a link the post with regards to post above? Just found your blog and find it fascinating and reassuring that I am experiencing with my therapist is common.
        Thank You.

    2. I find your questions very interesting. I will try to answer it using my own perspective.
      1. Is it possible for a therapist to intentionally cause transference?
      No. Transference is the stuff that we bring in with us from our past that we project onto our therapist. Transference can build up more easily depending on traits or qualities that our therapist has. For example, I am a training therapist in my late 20’s and saw a woman in her 40’s whose husband just had an affair with someone in her 20’s. I suspect that part of the reason that our treatment didnt stick was because of the transference that bred more quickly because of my age. Also, difference types of transference build at different times and with different people. My clinical supervisor has many traits that are similar to my mom, and so I experience a maternal transference with her; while I experience more of a twinship transference with my therapist. (I believe that she is similar to me in struggling to access certain emotions).

      2.Do client have rights to consent to this?
      That is a great questions. I think that it could be helpful to give a heads up about what therapy can be like, but the transference will happen no matter what…so if you are consenting to treatment, you are consenting to transference.

      3. Is it possible that therapists can use their power for their own needs?
      4.And finally what does it mean when a therapist brings His own stuff into the room?
      Yes, sometimes therapists use power for their own needs, and hopefully, if they are good, they will notice that this is happening, do the work on themselves that they need to, and also ask if they are acting out in response to the transference. We bring our own stuff into the room everyday, as we cant separate ourselves from our experiences… For example, I have lost a family member to suicide and also work with suicidal clients. At times, I have trouble trusting my gut as to how much I need to worry about the client following through with their suicidal ideation. As a result, I sometimes unconsciously create a distance between myself and suicidal clients because it is scary to get close to them and potentially lose them. All I can do is be honest with the client and share that it is hard for me to get close to them because of my fear of losing them. It is most important for me to realize that some of my experience is related to ME, and if I am able to notice this, it helps me to not act out with my clients. In the times where I do step into an enactment (i.e. create a distance between myself and the client), it is my job to notice it and then ask the client if we can slow down and notice what just happened between us and what it was like for them that I “backed up.”

  18. I am a nearly 50 year old women with a husband, a job and three teenage children. I don’t know what my needs are, how to get them or if I try to get rid of them or not. I “hate” my childlike parts and I sometime secretly self injury (my therapist is aware of this.). I’ve been in therapy for several years with the same therapist. I have no doubts about my therapists skill, talent or abilities. My doubts are with me. What is” working though”? Is it simply going to each session, talking, listening and trying to make changes. I work so hard to “get it right” that I sometimes drive myself crazy. My therapist will say, it takes the time that it takes. Why does this all take so long??? I’m tire.

  19. Oh my goodness – this is so applicable to me. My needs – physical or emotional – were never met growing up, except when there were seriously abusive strings attached. Vulnerability. Aggg! I am very vulnerable and terrified of showing it due to so many hurtful relationships in my family of origin and throughout my life ever since.
    Every time I have been vulnerable with my therapist, I beat myself up and cry all the way home. I feel ashamed. Why would anyone care about me? I am convinced that my therapist either laughs at me or regrets the day he took me on after every session. Yet, I persevere because I am tired of feeling so much emotional pain and so much isolation. Dependence is not easy, even though I have grown dependent and I would have to say that my therapist bends over backwards to prove his commitment to helping me. My fears are about me, not him. I am trying to get over the fears because when I look deep inside, I know that he is trustworthy.
    I practiced law for many years. I worked hard for my clients and “loved” them appropriately throughout their legal issues – even the difficult clients. But I heard so much from other lawyers about how much they hated difficult clients and wanted to get rid of them. I guess it is part of why I am distrustful. I know I have to separate practicing law from psychoanalysis, but it lingers in the back of my mind.
    I do appreciate your website. I have learned so much.

    1. I’d be thinking about the “you” that you’re projecting into your therapist: the part of yourself that hates needs and dependency, that attacks you whenever you dare to make yourself vulnerable. Imagine her as an active person in her own right, with intentions of her own, rather than thinking of thought patterns of messages you learned during childhood.

      1. Similarly, I persevered in therapy because I was so tired of feeling the angst in my marriage that later revealed itself to be emotional pain and isolation largely related to my upbringing. I disdain dependence and often find issues that enable me to plant seeds of distrust toward my therapist as a means of distancing myself from depending on her (even, as was said above, the therapist acknowledges her imperfections and has otherwise shown herself to be nothing other than trustworthy in areas of importance). I find myself now in a transition mode in my life (on the brink of separation, newly moved – with entire family – leaving behind several friends, some inopportune health issues-orthopedic injuries that limit my favorite form of exercise/stress relief) … and have also asked that my therapist and I terminate our relationship on the heels of a vacation break. I understand that some of this last request could be related to my dependence fear (although that has been far stronger in the past) but wonder if maybe I was partly holding onto the thread of hope with my marriage (not abusive, simply two people whose paths have diverged over 15 years with the realization that I no longer am the person with the same needs as when we were first married) as being tied to ongoing therapy and that by terminating therapy, am sad because it likely means the end of my marriage. I certainly mourned the loss of happiness in my marriage while packing up memorabilia with the move of my house – and may now be seeing the inevitability of all this relative upheaval and suspecting that any actions taken on my part need to be by me and really do not require the services or input of my therapist – a person who has opened my eyes to a great deal of self-awareness (albeit quite painful at times).

        Perhaps the question in the above is not clear – How do I know if I am really leaving therapy for the right reasons or is this change motivated by the fear of sadness generated by yet another loss of an important relationship (given the timing immediately following a vacation break).

        1. I don’t think I know you well enough to answer that question. It’s probably something to explore with your therapist before you terminate. But I would ask you this: Given all the transitions in your life, all the pain and loss, wouldn’t it be better to have someone help you navigate them just now, rather than going it alone?

  20. About six months ago, after years of unhappiness and feeling that my life had come to a grinding halt, I tried to seek help. After several false starts and bad experiences I found a therapist I took too right away. He’s calm, reassuring, sensible, smart, seemed to “get” things, encouraging, not invasive or inappropriate. I quickly spiraled into a crisis state where I was suicidal and seeing or talking to him a lot for a couple of months. I exhausted my insurance benefits. I ended my 25+ y.o. marriage three months ago, and my business partnership, and I’m moving myself and kids out of my house (this weekend actually).

    Now I see the therapist once or twice a week but he’s extremely important to me. I began to realize how attached and dependent I was on him but was trying not to worry about it with everything else going on. He told me he’s not going anywhere (job-wise) and he likes having me as a client and is not going to stop seeing me, not to worry.

    All of a sudden I feel pretty angry about this therapeutic relationship. I started to try to explain it to him but really couldn’t. He asked what he could do differently… honestly, I have no idea. I think I just need to become less dependent. To me, my attachment is becoming the focus of my interactions with him, not actual therapy.

    When angry I feel:
    –too much confusion about this relationship
    –feels like I’ve voluntarily let someone invade my privacy
    –I have no pride
    –I am too vulnerable
    –hurts that my life is just a job to someone who is important to me
    –I do not like it when someone holds all the cards.
    –angry at myself that I am actually paying someone to hold the cards while things are financially tight for me. (he offered to reduce the fee but I cannot accept that offer)
    –he knows I’m dependent on him, that’s annoying
    –he’s always “available”… but it’s not a feeling of comfort if I have to wait for him to respond if I call… feels like I’ve just put myself in a really bad position

    I’m grateful that he taught me a lot of coping skills that got me through that time of crises, but now I’m not sure about what the whole therapy process is supposed to accomplish, seems like waiting for some unburdening that may not exist, pinning my hopes of a better version of me that doesn’t exist.

    Why not stop for awhile??? Just to see how I do. Just prove to myself I can do it. It would give me a sense of control.

    1. A psychoanalyst, or a psychodynamic psychotherapist who works with the transference, would help you understand the feelings you have for him or her and use that relationship as a tool for growth. Learning to bear with emotional dependency is a part of growth. With my clients, I’ve confronted each of those issues you listed. They’re not a reason to quit.

      1. Hello, I thought I should thank you. It’s very nice that you answer all these questions for people. When you answered my post, at first I thought “of course, he’s a therapist, he wouldn’t care if people are dependent on him, he probably likes it.”

        Quitting didn’t help– which I did one day when the therapist had been away for a couple of weeks and I was just fine. But I ended up un-quitting as soon as I had another crisis which made me feel more ridiculous.

        Through it all your words, “learning to bear with emotional dependency” were in the back of my mind. I’ve realized:

        (1) I traditionally hate seeking help of all kinds but if I need help, I need help and it’s the therapist’s job to help me, which he seems to want to do no matter how scattered I am. It doesn’t seem to be some sort of power trip. He just plugs away at his job no matter what I do, seemingly without judgment.

        (2) If I’m especially attached or dependent on a certain day, I think “this is just the way it is for me right now”, even if it’s painful or embarrassing. One day it’ll be different. Maybe even tomorrow.

        (3) If I feel a great affection for the therapist as I sometimes do, I decided to let myself be grateful that I’m capable of these feelings and maybe one day these feelings can transfer to a real-life give and take relationship.

        Instead of fighting it all I’m just going through it and feel like I’m making better progress working through issues. I’ll be able to stop therapy for the right reasons at some point. So… all because of the words “learning to bear with emotional dependency.” Thanks again for helping people in general and me specifically.

          1. Ok, it’s been eleven months. I’ve worked through issues of abuse and worthiness in therapy. I’ve worked very hard. I have a good living situation. My kids are faring well. My soon-to-be ex and I are in a good place. I have career ideas to start exploring. I have a small amount of income here and there. I take the time to do the things I need to be healthy like meditation, and many other things. Sooo… when will I stop feeling dependent on the therapist?! Does it eventually just fade out? I don’t hate the situation as much as before I just want to move on (and quit paying for therapy too)

            1. It sounds like it might be time since you’ve come a long way and now find yourself in a good place. It might help to think of it like adolescence: once our kids come of age, they may be ready to move into adulthood — go off to college, or find a job and move out of the parental household — but that doesn’t mean they’re not scared. Don’t expect that a time will come when you’ll feel completely ready and unambivalent about stopping treatment.

  21. Ice been seeingy therapist for c-PTSD for about 6 months and am still trying to figure out of he’s the right “fit” for me. About 4 months in, in the middle of a session out of no where he brought up that he thought he was too much like my dad and therefore triggering me. He ended the session right there and said he needed to this about this during the week and let me know next time of we should continue working together. Needless to say this threw me into a panic the rest of the week reliving my abandonment issue. We decided to continue to work together the next week. For last last 4 weeks he’s been 15 minutes late to my session as still let’s me out on time (so 35 minute sessions) and seems disinterested in my session and I don’t believe anything he says is genuine. I’m beyond frustrated with him and feel he’s acting unethically in what feels like he’s trying to push me out the door. I’m planning on terminating with him this week. What are your thoughts on this? Am I over thinking it or is it time to find a new therapist? Thank you!

    1. Based on your description, his behavior sounds unprofessional to me. It also sounds as if he is having some counter-transference issues. Under no circumstances is terminating sessions early and showing up late a constructive way to address the issue of his suitability to be your therapist. At the very least, you should get a consultation with a different therapist.

      1. Thanks for your response. I think you may be right with the counter transference situation. We both live across the country from where we’re from and turns put were from about 20 minutes away from each other. Who knows, maybe I remind him of someone he knows. I am about the age of his kids… I never had a problem with the dynamic but if this was an issue for him he should have addressed it in the beginning. now I’m not sayin I’ve been the perfect patient.. I didn’t mention I cancelled two sessions in a row before he brought up the possibility of me having transference issues and the next session after telling me he thought he reminded me of my father he brought another woman therapist in with us to see if I was more comfortable with a woman than him. I told him that I was comfortable with him and always have been, so maybe your right and this is more his issue than mine…

        1. There are also times where he looks like he is holding back a lot of emotion and looks like he’s about to cry in my session when im telling flashback stories. I remember thinking to myself how awkward that would be If he started crying! Lol. Just thought of that… Wanted to add it in.

  22. I have just found your post. Am astonished at what you are writing about dependency and therapists. To cut a long story short I come from a background of very extreme neglect and abandonment. Started therapy in my twenties, became very dependent which terrified me – therapists husband then died and she went completely bonkers which mirrored what had happened to me when a child. I was now much worse mentally so had to see another therapist. This one started to really work but again I became very dependent as really need him to hold my feelings. After 2 years he suddenly announced he was leaving – I thought I would die of shock. When I showed how distressed I was he asked if I wanted to know what he really thought. I replied I did and he said I had to understand I was ‘just a job’. I felt (and still do) as if someone had blown me up – reduced to non-human status. I was now a lot worse so had to see yet another therapist (not bravery, sheer desperation) took 3 years to start to trust but then occurred to me that I was paying him to allow me to be dependent (just a job?). I asked him what would happen if I couldn’t pay as this thought had now produced panic in me. He said he would pass me onto to someone else (bit like a parce I suppose – an object but definitely not human). We tried for two further years to work through why I felt so devestated but he just couldn’t understand. By now I am getting the idea there is something very wrong with my need to depend which was after all the message I had when a child. I find another therapist – attachment based so think things will be alright. She then becomes ill after 2 years and announces she cannot continue. Part of our relationship has been that she says she will see me if I run out of money so I feel safe to depend. She is baffled as to why I am devastated and equally baffled as to why I am so upset that now I will have to find someone I must pay. We have a huge fight and she announces the relationship has broken down so I leave.

    I would be interested in your thoughts on all this.

    1. You have sadly had a long string of therapists who are either incompetent or don’t understand these issues. The first was just bad luck, I suppose — the therapist who went bonkers and abandoned you after her husband died. But after that: (1) Telling a client that she is “just a job,” in my view, is cruel and unethical. (2) The therapist who said he’d “pass you along” like a parcel sounds fairly insensitive, as if he has no real understanding of what it means to enter a relationship with a client and the kind of dependency feelings that develop. (3) Having a “huge fight” with a client is unprofessional and shows that she doesn’t really understand attachment (even if she labels herself as “attachment based”).

      To be honest, my profession is in many ways an embarrassment to me. I’d like to say that your experience was unusual, but it’s not.

  23. Dr. Burgo I have read this post about 10 x now. I just recently discovered this site and have been fascinated and comforted by many of your posts (I already commented on a couple). I am not familiar with the rules of blogging (are there rules of blogging?), but I am dying to comment on some of these old posts. Is there like a statute of limitations on replying on a blog or anything? It’s odd to respond and sort of send it out into the emptiness and just wait for something to come back. It’s like being in junior high again. Will anyone notice me? Maybe this is why I don’t blog a lot and maybe this is a clue why I am in therapy yeah? Anyway, reading this post has helped me understand the baffling and confusing feelings that I have in my own therapy. It is so helpful to know that this dynamic of wanting help so desperately, finding good help and then pushing it away, fearing it and even hating it is normal. It really is so incredibly hard for me to depend on my therapist and yet I want to so badly! It creates massive amounts of pain inside of me. I think the understanding and normalizing of this apparently common phenomenon in therapy will help me work through it. I am absolutely going to speak with my therapist about it. Thank you so much for the insight. And if this just goes into the internet stratosphere of nothingness it was still nice to write it out.

    1. Kimberly, you are free to comment on any of the posts here on the website and I will always read and (almost) always respond. It is true that the regular readership may have “moved on” and will be focused on more recent posts, but anyone new who comes to the site by searching for similar information will come upon the post, and if he or she also reads the comments, yours will be the first one.

  24. For the first year I fought being emotionally dependent. My therapist wasn’t confused and picked up very quickly it was happening and had happened; even while listening to my rants and raves and watching me dither and slither around refusing to give in (knowing it was too late and I already had). I read through your blog on this and think, “the focus of treatment early on???” … oops, I wish I’d read this a year ago (not that it had been written then) and could have gotten over the hurdle the issue of dependency raised much much sooner and been able to move on to other things more easily. One problem I had is that the counselor I’d spoken to for a few sessions before my current therapist had been very much of the mind frame that clients can NOT and should NOT be dependent in any way; a lesson I’d taken very much to heart and reaffirmed previous experiences that dependence was wrong.

    Now comes another hard part, the act of depending on someone who is really only there at the times he is paid to be. For that time I’m meant to believe he cares; but the moment the session is over I’m left on my own and then begins the “in-between” time. Is it really better to depend on someone and then have them not there when everything within you says you need them as well as want them; or is it better to not risk it in the first place, this is something I find very hard to know and cope with. When you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts; trying not to give in to the pull of self-injury and can’t stop crying and wishing with everything you have that your therapist was there and could help. When you question their level of care because really if they cared, wouldn’t they be there? But then, for them even though there is genuine care it is still ultimately a job (they have their own lives, other clients, other responsibilities); when for you as the client, it’s your life. Still the emotional dependency continues and strengthens and I’m thankful for my therapist and that he hangs in there with me, I just wish the journey wasn’t so difficult at times. Does it ever get easier? Both for the client and for the therapist?

    I’m really thankful, again, for what you share in your blogs … that idea of learning to tolerate our own needs is especially true and helpful.

    1. And that last point is really at the core of what you’re saying. Learning to bear and tolerate your needs when you can’t have what you want is a big part of “growing up.” Learning to hold onto the goodness of your therapist, eventually coming to feel absolutely confident that he cares about you and will return in time — that’s a big part of the work. And yes, it does get easier with time.

      1. Thanks, I was thinking it might involve “growing up”. I’ve been reading through some of your blog entries including on tolerating neediness; I understand the need for it … where I get lost a little (semi-understanding, semi-confused) is what it actually means to tolerate or bear with something. It seems to not mean avoiding; it seems to not mean numbing or filling the need with something else; it seems to not mean running away (which is the temptation now); it seems to not mean adding to the list of unmet needs and believing none ever will be met … so I can see some of the things it doesn’t mean but would like to understand better what it does mean.

        1. I think you’ll recognize it yourself the more you’re able to “not do” all those things to avoid it (i.e., defend against it).

  25. I am a little late to this conversation…

    If one is in therapy and they are having a specific problem, why can’t just focusing on the problem be the therapy? Why do so many other issues seem to come up, example: emotional dependency, attachment, etc.?

    Now, may I say that I have unequivocally informed the therapist I am working with that I do not want to become dependent on him and I can do without any sort of attachment. In saying that, I have also stated that I am willing to do the work required to solve the problem.

    Is it to benefit of the client for them to look to the therapist for emotional steadiness, etc.? It seems that would be for the client to cultivate those resources outside of the therapy hour, seeing as it is only an hour and that the therapist can’t be there for the majority of your waking hours.

    1. If you go to an issues-oriented therapist who will focus on the one problem you want to discuss, you might be able to avoid dependency. But the way I (and most psychodynamic therapists) work is that your issues inevitably come up in the relationship between you and the client. For instance, if you were my client, I would see right away that fear of dependency IS your issue and I’d start to focus on it. Learning to bear dependency on your therapist for the help you need — and I don’t mean over-dependence of a helpless nature — would be the way for you to learn better ways to manage that fear. As I’ve said before, dependency has gotten a bad rap. We’re all dependent on each other, for one thing or another.

  26. Dependency is unconfortable and comfortable. I feel safe enough to be here. I enjoy knowing my therapist is there for me. I am pushing forward with uncomfortable feelings such as my inability to cry in therapy. One of my defenses. I am frightened of being hurt. But I must go on. I suspect that allowing her to comfort me will be helpful. Also comforting myself is huge. I know I have to let go and be vulnerable. Does that make sense? I have lost many things in life and don`t cry….

    1. Yes, it makes sense. When you’ve lost many things in life and have shut down as a result, it takes a long time to let yourself be vulnerable.

  27. Dr. Burgo, thank you so much for your website. What a service this is. I need to talk about this very issue. I entered therapy for the first time 2 years ago when my husband (a research psychologist) was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Therapy was something I would never have considered – I am the “strong, independent type”. Actually, my psychologist eventually diagnosed me as being alexithymic – great difficulty in describing and identifying my feelings, and having avoidant attachment. In a nutshell, my mother was raised in an orphanage and never bonded with me. I did bond with my father, and hence men were safe… and I had/have a rather enmeshed relationship with my husband. Now, 2 + years into therapy with my female therapist I have felt hopelessly dependent on her… and am trying to pull back from that. She has worked hard with me on building my support system, and we have, but I am now grappling with this whole issue which you illuminate with the 6/25 post above: “learning to bear and tolerate your needs… growing up… and learning to hold onto the goodness of your therapist during the in-between times.” This is my question… this is what is currently what is keeping me awake at night: First of all, the pain of it all, connecting with feelings of loss and separation and loneliness has been much greater than I ever imagined. I understand why, as a child, I numbed myself to all of it. I see why people use drugs and alcohol and the like… (I’m the workaholic type myself, although I’m weaning myself from this addiction!) The child-like yearning can be so great sometimes I am struggling with feelings of shame and self-hatred in connection with this. I share this with my therapist, of course, but it is so intertwined with feelings about her… I know she can not gratify my needs, she has so many clients, so I have stopped contacting her between sessions like I used to with an occasional text for connection. But then I do struggle wtih greater feelings of need or depression, and have to work at distracting myself, and don’t know where that balance is – when do I give in and accept that I need her, and when do I fight harder, or soldier on, telling myself to “grow up”, accept that connection with her telling me that “everything is going to be ok” is just this illusion (it changes nothing externally), and although it makes me feel better, I do believe I should be working on conjuring up her goodness mentally by now. (This may be a good time to say I think the world of her, she has helped me immensely, I have idealized her and then went through the very difficult stage of learning that it’s okay to be mad at her..). Anyway, I hope I’ve made myself clear. Thanks again,

    1. First of all, I apologize for taking so long getting back to you — I was also on vacation last week. But it sounds to me as if — as difficult and painful as you’re finding the experience — this is exactly what you need to go through. The back-and-forth between unbearably neediness, self-hatred, devaluing the therapy, etc. can take a very long time before you finally feel safe in your dependency and able to tolerate her absence.

  28. “The back-and-forth between unbearably neediness, self-hatred, devaluing the therapy, etc. can take a very long time before you finally feel safe in your dependency and able to tolerate her absence”

    Dr. Burgo,

    What does feeling safe in your dependency upon your therapist look like? What is the secret to better tolerating time between sessions? It seems I was making progress in therapy, became vulnerable (after awhile), began to trust my therapist, and experienced a closeness I have never had before. I’ve been in therapy a little over 3 years. Several months ago I brought up termination (I’m not sure if it was my idea or my husband’s idea, or my sister’s idea), and asked my therapist how much longer I had to be in therapy. He never really answered this question before, but this time he did give me an answer, and we worked together to figure out a time for termination which will be in about 7-8 months. He also said that was and would remain flexible. After I brought this up and we talked about ending therapy, I experienced some setbacks related to impulsive behavior, acting out, and just yearning for my therapist between sessions. Would you shed some insight into these developments to enable me to understand what’s going on when you have a chance?

    1. Sometimes we regress when faced with a big developmental step, like termination. It sounds like you have some ambivalence about terminating; a part of you wants to remain in therapy and not give up your relationship, and you express it by “going backwards” and making it seem as if you’re not ready to terminate. That’s my best guess.

  29. I want to thank you for writing this piece. I have just realised that I am becoming emotionaly dependant on my therapist and that both scared me and horrified me after reading this I am more able to accept that this is OK and perfectly normal. I now feel that I will be able to talk with him about this without fear of rejection for inapropriate feelings

    1. Excellent. It really is normal, and I trust that your talk with him has gone well. Sorry for the delay in responding — I was on break this past week.

  30. Thank you so much for taking the time to reply to me.
    Sadly I have not managed to muster up the courage to talk this through with my therapist. I went to a session intending to do so and left without discussing it. I felt stupid for even wanting to and felt guilty and ashamed of having to admit to him that I was feeling emotionally dependent on him. I am also struggling with feeling I should stop seeing him and find another therapist.

    1. Don’t do that! Be brave; eventually, you may find a way to discuss it, but that can never happen if you switch therapists. Besides, if emotional dependency is an important issue for you, it will come up again with your next therapist.

      1. Thank you once again for taking the time to respond to me.

        I will indeed try to continue with my therapist. However I feel to admit to him that I am feeling emotionally dependent on him will be too big a step. I am imagining this is as a result of a very abusive childhood and my need to protect myself from further emotional pain.
        Kind Regards

  31. What does it mean to have dependency issues in general especially when you socially isolate by choice for about 5 years?

    1. That sounds like a pervasive defense against feeling any kind of need or dependency, though I wonder if there might also be shame issues.

  32. Well, I’m extremely late to this conversation, but it hits so close to home. I started seeing a therapist just over six years ago. I was diagnosed bipolar II and was in a minimally-functional depressive state, thinking much of the time about suicide. My psychiatrist required therapy as a part of my treatment. I improved considerably after around 2 1/2 years, but certainly wasn’t in any condition to cease therapy. At some point within the past year, my therapist told me that I had become too emotionally dependent on him and that I had the resources to be non-dependent on him. He practiced CBT and decided I needed to be goal-oriented, so he told me he would continue to see me only if I provided him with goals for therapy. I did that and he agreed that I had identified legitimate goals. He told me, however, that he was going to be very careful not to fuel my emotional dependency. Whenever I got angry or cried because of his inactions, he would remind me of his concern and that would be that. I saw him every other week, and in the six years I saw him, I called him on the phone no more than 4 or 5 times. (I’m an attorney and very aware of the concept of “giving away” time – after all, that’s the therapist’s “product.”) I did make additional appointments when I believed I needed to do so and he would tell me when he wanted me to come in and see him sooner than two weeks (usually tied to suicidal ideation). Around the beginning of this year, he told me that he didn’t know how to help me (i.e., he had cleaned out his bag of approaches) and suggested I see another therapist in his practice, who uses a psychodynamic approach. I perceived his suggestion as giving up and wanting to get rid of me, and after much crying, he said that he and the other therapist would work together. After I started to see the second therapist (a woman), I felt like he felt relieved that I was no longer his sole responsibility. There was a marked distance in our relationship.

    In July, he told me he would be moving to another state the following month. I was devastated. I felt as if someone had punched me in the stomach right after telling me he had died. He acknowledged that it was a death of sorts and I needed to go through a grieving process. He reiterated that I continued to be emotionally dependent on him, but that I had the “emotional strength” to cope with his move. (I don’t understand how I can be dependent and strong at the same time, but I’m trying to accept what he said on its face.) He pointed out that I already had a relationship with my second therapist and that she would be able to help me with the grieving process. It was matter-of-fact – straight out of his CBT 101 textbook. During the month before he moved, I sunk into a depressive state. During sessions with my second therapist, we talked about nothing other than his departure. By the time we were to have our last session, I came to accept that he was leaving. I didn’t like it, but I recognized it as one of those things over which I had no control (a therapy accomplishment).

    In the beginning of our relationship, I felt like he was compassionate and there was more of an exchange between the two of us. He would engage in my debates about my thoughts (I analyze everything) and I ultimately would concede to his approach. Once he identified my emotional dependency, his behavior changed. I became very much a non-person to him. He wouldn’t say my name. As soon as our session ended, he was typing his notes into his computer before I closed his office door. There were no more exchanges. I felt like I was “the next appointment.”

    Then came his departure. Writing was a huge part of my therapy, and so I wrote a piece that summed up important improvements I thought I had made because of therapy and identified authors and places I wouldn’t have known about but for him. For me, it was an attempt at closure. He read it, but responded by telling me that I had done a good job of identifying accomplishments and by commenting on other things that I written. It was all very impersonal. The last thing he said was that he believed I was too emotionally dependent on him and my second therapist could help me.

    That last exchange (actually lack of an exchange)was a new blow – a second wound. I know this probably is the ultimate in emotional dependency, but I needed closure from him – a “good-bye,”or “I’ve enjoyed working with you” – something tangible that would close the relationship person-to-person. He’s been gone for almost seven weeks and it’s this hurt that lingers. It reenforces my feeling like a non-person – like another check on his list of final appointments. I believe that he could have bent a little on that last appointment and given me the closure. It was clear from my writing that I wanted it. I would even go so far as saying I needed it. Insofar as I was going to sever my relationship with him “cold turkey,” there would be no more dependency for him to worry about feeding. There is no danger of him doing it from three states away. (He’s not even a therapist anymore, so it’s not as if I could call him at a new practice.)

    This second blow isn’t subsiding like the initial news of his departure. I’m hurt and angry betrayed, and don’t understand why he couldn’t have simply said, “Good-bye.” It most definitely will affect my relationship with my second therapist. We’ve discussed the need for some emotional dependency in the relationship, and I’ve expressed to her my inclination not to put myself in the same position again. After all, I don’t know when this relationship, too, might come to a sudden end and I’m not interested in experiencing this pain again. I’ve told her that I always will be frank and truthful (there’s no point in therapy if I’m not), but that it is strictly a business relationship. Oddly, she tells me things that are the types of things I wanted to hear from my first therapist. She knows of my emotional dependence on him, so I’m not sure why she does it. It’s a constant reminder that my first therapist is gone and makes me wonder if I should find a different therapist. I’m trying not to compare them.

    1. As painful as this experience has been for you, I think your therapist made the right decision in referring you to a psychodynamic psychotherapist. He obviously lacked the skills to work with you. The problem with therapists who practice CBT is that they are unprepared for and have no idea how to deal with the transference. From their perspective, dependency is a bad thing to be discouraged. I hope your new therapist can help you deal with and understand the reality of dependency in your treatment, rather than viewing it as an impediment.

      1. Funny. Yesterday, I told my new therapist, “Whenever I attempted to raise the issue of transference, [my former therapist] always shifted away from it. He appeared uncomfortable.”

  33. I admit that sometimes I do feel lonely, I’m human. Still, I feel safer, more satisfied and happier being alone. I’m in my early 20’s. I’m going to school (I hate it but who doesnt-its a struggle), I have a part-time job and I had a pretty good childhood. You’re right. I do find it hard to ask for help and I constantly feel embarrassed. It surprises me sometimes that people take personal offense to me wanting to be alone and not bothering them. Like you say, it’s about tolerating our shame and neediness. It’s hardwork. Sometimes it feels extremely painful. Thanks for the response.

  34. I am a recently qualified psychodynamic therapist- I have been in therapy myself for a few years since training started and for the most past it has been reasonably helpful. I am at a stage of feeling I want to end therapy though I know I have areas which are still not worked through. It has all felt difficult;boundries etc. I like my therapist; she even sent me a job advert which I responded to and which I got the job. So I know she knows people I work with now. I have felt anxious a lot; and continually she brings up issues of money; saying I am ambivalent about therapy because she says I need three times a week; I have been in terrible debts for four years whilst training and at one point she adjusted her fee. Kind. Then in one session she got cross when I mentioned an item I had bought for my home and she said she was subsidising me for me to go and buy such things; she was annoyed and in that session she put her fees up which meant I had to go from twice a week to once. It felt very difficult. So I have been once a week for nine months. I started my new job in the summer as a counsellor; in some ways i feel it would be good to have twice a week. However when I mentioned my worries about twice weekly and money this week my therapist said she thought I was envious of her; not wanting to give her more ( money) because I was afraid of going deeper and having more therapy and proceeded to tell me that when she was training she got as much therapy as was on offer and that she sees other patients who are on less money than me who find the money. She went on about how I was depriving myself, I should have more therapy to work on myself. Considering I have felt so anxious and depressed I actually just want someone who will be compassionate instead of spouting interpretations about my envy and ambivalence. I am so angry; I want to leave but I also wonder if there is a way forward to talk. However I feel we are going back round the same issue of money.commitment etc. I would value any professional advice. I am not sure if my knowing she knows my supervisor and other people where I now work is affecting my thoughts towards her. Iw as of course feeling very positively towards her as she helped me towards the job I am in. Perhaps I also feel at times that maybe we could be ‘friends’ professional colleagues but also knowing that once a patient, always a patient in relation to the theapist. Anyway; on the verge of quitting therapy and saying goodbye politely to her as I am not sure where to go with all of this.


    1. First of all, you should read my post on sliding scale payment. The situation you describe is familiar to me and the reason I do not adjust my fees.

      It’s hard to tell whether your therapist is accurately interpreting your envy based on the material you present, or using a pre-fab theory to explain your resistance in an authoritarian way. It does sound a bit as if she’s badgering you. I don’t think it helps to be told that other clients who earn less pay more than you do.

      On the other hand, I think psychodynamic therapists need intensive treatment for years in order to do the work properly. Your own unresolved issues will interfere with your ability to help clients with those very difficulties.

      Talk to your therapist about everything you feel and see whether you get any clarity.

  35. well, 8 months into therapy, i still am resistant to transference. i kinda decided to not like men and my therapist assures me he is this species that i try hard to avoid, and he assures me that i should look at him as such, even though hes 29 and i am 48(thats like well over a hundred in dog years btw) i keep hearing him say i see him as the age of my children. i dont mean to. i think its more of the cutting off men agreement i had made with myself, or i really didnt think it was important from the start to see him as a “man” to transfere emotions.. now i have to go in and see him as man on the next visit. how very akward this is going to be. i have an open mind and am surrendering to him so to speak. i dont think he hates me…least not yet…(not until i yell at him like a woman anyways ;). im sort of glad he is so much younger, i have a realistic view of not wanting to mate sexually with him and just knowing this is comforting to me somehow. we will see how it goes! -open minded client.(or at least trying to be) wish me well. any advice doc?

  36. I think it is an interesting observation for a number of reasons, however what I find of interest is the behavior, the compensating behavior, the need to fill up on food as a substitute for feeling empty and abandoned. In one case a patient depends completely on a male figure to provide every possible need, from emotional support to the need to be with that male every possible moment or be on the phone with that male figure. The result is that most of the men in this patients life end up leaving because this patient cannot leave them along long enough to establish a relationship, this dependency slowly grows until the patient is incapable of separation, once she realizes that she will not get what she wants, total and complete dependance and every waking moment spend with her, she will then break off the relationship only to move on to the next prospect eternally searching for that one man that can fulfill her life. It is likely that once these kinds of patients see that they will not get the result they want, they move on to the next man who they feel will give them more control over the situation.

  37. I find myself in a very strange place, in life, not comfortable depending on anyone, yet have reached out for help and have been treated with respect and dignity and still, it hurts to need anyone. Apparently bottling things up was the wrong way to go and it’s left me with PTSD, but it’s difficult to go from the one people sought out to unburden their problems on to being the one needing someone to be objective and nonjudgmental. Essentially, my identity has changed from the Listener to someone needing someone to listen…what a life…:(

  38. If I may add my thoughts to this blog…

    I mentioned in another blog that my therapist gave me a “transition object” to cope with the between-session need – he gave me a business card on which he’d written “I’m here”. At first I thought this was a ridiculous idea but it has worked like a magical charm, soothing that inner child part of me which cannot understand why he is there one moment (in the session), and not there the next (in between sessions). This is a natural developmental stage for children – for example, parents give children transition objects when they want them to go to sleep on their own, such as stuffed toy or security blanket.

    Another tip: for those of you who are really struggling with neediness, consider intensive therapy instead of once-weekly. A week is a long time for a small child, and most of us are bringing our wounded children into therapy. I once said to my therapist that asking me to wait that long was like saying to a crying baby, “Now mother will be here next Wednesday!” Of course, a baby has no sense of time and its needs must be met NOW.

    I once thought tri-weekly therapy was totally self-indulgent and was ashamed of ‘needing’ so much therapy (as in “What’s wrong with me! I must be so weak!”), but really the needs are there and they must be met if I am to see real change. I now see my therapist three times a week and its really helpful. I am learning to feel less ashamed and more trusting, willing to accept that I was traumatised as a child and that I need a lot of re-parenting. It is what it is.

    I think until we accept our own needs, we will never be able to nurture ourselves and love ourselves appropriately.

  39. Seemed like the more I told my therapist the more the boundaries came crashing down: no more hugs, no more emails. It shut me down and I felt like if I told her anything else (mostly about transference) which she encouraged and treated as no big deal, but horrifying for me that she might move her chair out side further away. I am recovering from a 25 year old eating disorder and proun=d to say it’s been a year and a 1/2 , but now finding out that I am bipolar have horrible intrusive thoughts, have to feel emotions now and I don’t know how to keep them in. Sometimes I can’t reach them in therapy and they come out later. I feel like I have to get them out just like purging, so if I can’t email I draw or I journal. If I read the journals to her they lack affect several days later. There is no one else to talk to. I cut a few times, have had a lot of suicidal ideation, mostly to stop the thoughts in my head, but noe they are stronger since the boundaries changed. I am lonlier than ever. My husband is freaked out and I am trapped. I have kids and parents nd would never do any thing to them, even though I was seriously ready to pitch myself off the escalater at the mall yesterday. I feel I have been broken after a long drawn out power struggle with my therapist to ease up on her bounderies and have been broken and defeated. I can’t keep putting myself together, especially for others. I just started a second masters in exressive arts therapy and loved it. I am scared for next semester. I am numb again, this time with outthe eating disorder. i am only alowwed to communicate twice a week for 50 minutes. I thought once I kicked the ED I would be freer, now the ideation is worse. I am scared and the only time I feel happy and beautiful and alive is when I am dancing. I think I am screwed before I begin to impact the lives of others. Thank God for my internship with my PDD kids. Sorry post is so long.

  40. I was just let go by my therapist yesterday. All I did was ask whether she was still my therapist because she was not offering me an appointment after we ended the session but saying I’ll call you. She recently went on a vacation and did not offer me a session but when she got back she called to check in. I wrote an email saying it was causing me a great deal of distress not to know where we stood and that to consider it an emergency in needing an answer in getting me an answer as quickly as possible. She wrote back that she would see me the next day and that if it was an emergency to go to the nearest hospital. I saw her the next day and she ended therapy with me. It hurt terribly — both her reply to me over email and her ending therapy with no explanation. What do you think might be going on?

    1. Hard to say from your comment but she might have been worried that you were suicidal and didn’t want to shoulder the risk and emotional stress.

  41. Thank you for your writing on this topic. I find your blog and the comments very informative.

    My experience in therapy is similar to what you described – early on I began to fight my feelings of dependence on my therapist, but he convinced me that some dependence is a healthy part of therapy and necessary for me to experience something like “good enough” parenting, and eventually heal. The big topic we dealt with was my intense terror that my therapist was always on the verge of rejecting/abandoning me. Your description of people who are “mergers” fits with how I felt about my therapist, but rather than idealizing him, I think I wanted to be as close to him as possible so he’d never leave me. I felt incredibly anxious between sessions, constantly worrying about whether my therapist was genuine in his care for me, and fantasizing about how to get closer to him. I was also very ashamed that I felt this way, but I talked with my therapist about my feelings.

    As months went on, my thoughts became obsessive and distressing, to the point where the moment I was away from him I felt like I couldn’t survive until I saw him again. But when I did see him it just made me more anxious because I was anticipating the moment when I’d have to leave. I asked my therapist multiple times if it was normal for me to think about him so much and he said that was part of the transference and it would ease up eventually bu I had to keep working through it with him. But all of this took over my whole life and I was withdrawing from the real world and living for therapy or deep in thoughts about therapy. I became depressed and then suicidal. One day I had a moment of clarity that therapy was hurting me instead of helping and I quit. My therapist agreed that I shouldn’t see him any more. I felt so bad after quitting I thought I might die.

    I don’t know where to go from here. It has been several months. My therapist said that it was good to detach from him and learn to cope with my anxieties myself – part of growing up, like you have said elsewhere on your blog. But I don’t seem to be learning to cope or dealing all that well. I actually think that what happened was my worst fear came true that I trusted my therapist, let myself depend on him and then lost him. Nothing feels resolved. My instinct is to find another therapist so I’ll have someone to depend on again, but I think maybe that would be a repeat of all the pain I’ve already gone through, or I’d just be trying to avoid “growing up.”

    Do you think that for someone like me who became overly dependent therapy might be a bad idea? Do you have any thoughts about clients becoming obsessed with their therapists?

    Thank you.

    1. I can’t understand why your therapist agreed that you should quit. It sounds to me as if he didn’t really understand dependency issues in the transference. I also wonder if you needed to see him (or someone else) more frequently than you did.

  42. I came across this article while Googling for information and it has been very interesting to read. Last year, I quit seeing my therapist of 12 years (yes, 12!) and wondering if I should bother starting therapy again. My fear of neediness/dependence was a major issue for us. Ultimately I felt that my therapist was putting intolerable pressure on me to “admit” that I needed him, felt close to him, etc. etc. For 12 years, I repeatedly told him that I was not comfortable with us having an overly-close or dependent relationship. I saw him as a professional who I was paying for his special expertise. I suffered a lot of mental and emotional abuse in my childhood and I cannot tolerate being too close to people. That is actually not something I am concerned about or want to change. I have decent if somewhat distant relationships with my friends and family, but I’m okay with that because I’m an introvert and I like keeping to myself. I don’t trust people, but I don’t want to trust people.

    My problems that brought me to therapy involve severe depression and chronic anxiety, and extremely low self-esteem. I wanted to work on those things. Instead, he was constantly interrupting my discussions about my family environment, abuse experiences, school bullying etc., and talking about my fear of getting close to him. The more I objected that we were not focusing on what I wanted to focus on, the more important he thought it was to keep pushing me. I even told him several times that he was pushing me too much to “need” him, and his response was that I needed to need him and he was going to keep at it. I finally realized that it was all about him, and his need to be needed, and nothing about me at all. In retrospect, I feel that I wasted an enormous amount of time and money on a very long term therapeutic relationship that didn’t really help me.

    I’m afraid if I start therapy again, with another therapist, it will just be more of the same. I’m still angry at him for not respecting my emotional boundaries in therapy.

    Anyways, reading through the comments here have been interesting. Thank you.

  43. hello , iam writing about my situation with my therapist ,I wrote a post on fear of change but I didnt get your reply ,hope to hear from you,here is my story I was seeing my thearpist for 15 years on and off ,during big changes in my life and for inner child therapy issues.I’ve bein out of therapy 3 years now I am not scared of not being in therapy I am scared of the distance ,Now we are moving back to the usa from Europe and Iam scared cause he wont be there anymore he told me that it was over and that I can make it on my own now ,he said you know what to do and that I have to stop resistance to inner growth but its all so scarey moving,leaving my home ,family,and him I feel like if something happens to me Iam alone he said Iam ready for that .But all this situation puts alot of anxiety on me I know that we are not meant to be together until death do us part but I guess you understand what I feel.Thank you for your time ,BES

  44. Hello again ,sorry for not making myself clear in my last post.What I wanted you to give me your advice on this issue , moving to another country and leaving my therapist , family and home makes me fearful I feel insecure with him not being there .Thank you for your response.

  45. Hello,
    and thank you for such an informative and interesting blog.
    I have an issue that comes “from the other side”: I’m married to a man who is having psychotherapy…and I’m close to breaking point now.

    My husband was in therapy when I met him and I fully understand how he has benefited from this: he is a very good communicator, he is a warm, emphatic and loving person, mature and well-balanced. In his job as an educator he is highly respected and his students generally think the world of him. Knowing the difficult dynamics of his family and the issues that led him to seek therapy, he is a living poster boy for all the benefits and virtues of getting help to deal with your emotions and your past.

    We have a loving, “comfortable” marriage and I strongly feel that I have offered him grounded, emotional support throughout our relationship. I haven’t been in therapy myself, but I’m very “connected” to my own feelings and I have a well-developed emphatic sense.

    However, he has now been in therapy with the same therapist, twice a week, for more than 10 years. I would like to take the financial aspect out of the equation: yes, it’s expensive, but it’s not the costs that I object to.

    What I find so difficult to deal with is, that I have no idea, after knowing him for 8 years, if our relationship can survive without him having a therapist to talk to. We have had very few conflicts between us, as he will defer them and “let me win” – and then work through the issue in therapy rather than with me.

    Again: let me stress that I understand the benefits of therapy…but I also feel that it is crucial for a healthy relationship that both partners are able to confront the other with negative, confrontational feelings openly and candidly in the certainty that he/she will still be loved afterwards. This is very difficult when one party isn’t “playing ball” and withholds their true emotions from the situation, only to process them with a therapist rather with their partner. Yes, it’s understandable if that person is in the early stages of therapy – but after 10 years, twice a week…?

    I’m finding it increasingly difficult to function in our marriage: I really don’t want to share any of my deeper emotions with him anymore: I feel exposed and vulnerable, knowing that he is likely to discuss it with his therapist. I feel that I “have no right” to question his ongoing therapy and that doing so will label me as selfish and needy.

    It was very difficult for me to tell my husband how I feel, but eventually I did and he said he could appreciate this. A day later, after his therapy session, he added that he “could understand that I was jealous” – which was the final blow for me. Unfortunately his therapist is an younger woman, so it’s too easy for him to label my emotions as pure jealousy.

    Sensing my upset, he returned after the next session to tell me, that he had mentioned stopping with therapy, and his therapist had recommended that he should do so within the next 6 months. For the next 5 months he didn’t mention going to his sessions as he usually would do. I didn’t want to put pressure on him by asking how he was getting on so I waited for him to eventually tell me…and it turned out that the therapist had prolonged the 6 months cut-off with another 9 months, still twice weekly.

    I hope one of you in this forum can give me some guidance on this: am I completely wrong here? Or is it likely that my husband is having serious dependency issues with his therapist? And if so, isn’t there an “ethical conduct” for therapists to end the relationship? Or, if the therapist estimates that the client’s issues remain unresolved after several years, to refer the patient to another therapist in the hope that he/she can progress? To me it very much looks like he is in the hands of a ruthless therapist who is doing what she can to preserve her well-paying client, by persuading him that I’m “just jealous” and by moving the goal posts for the therapy termination.

    And finally, very few studies have been done on the impact of psychotherapy on the spouse, but I would really appreciate if somebody could point me in the direction of more information or a support group. I doubt that I’m the only one with these issues…

    Many thanks for your time

    1. It seems like the bigger issue that you are facing is the lack of intimacy in your relationship. I wonder if you feel like your husband is more intimate with his therapist than with you? I would try and take some time to reconnect with your husband and let yourself be vulnerable with him. If it doesn’t feel safe, you may want to engage in some couples work together. My sense is that when your relationship felt stronger, you probably had less negative feelings towards the therapist.

  46. Joseph,
    I am a little late to this discussion, but I wanted to see if you would comment on an earlier post from Jo and your response. Jo was deeply distressed about the therapist cancelling their therapy. You responded that the therapist may have been terminating the therapeutic relationship because she didn’t want to shoulder the risk and responsibility of a possibly suicidal patient. This seems to me to be psychological malpractice of the highest order and further damaged an already fragile person – possibly abandoning them in their hour of greatest need. In speaking of transference as being necessary this is a perfect highlight as to why it is terribly difficult for someone to do this – therapists like this one. I can’t imagine how much harm she did to this person. As a person who can not depend on many people, I personally would find this devastating. Anyway, I thought your very matter of fact reply to her seemed out of character for you and somewhat uncompassionate.

    1. I see your point. Sometimes I can be a little too brief in my replies, and you’re right — that therapist’s action was undoubtedly hurtful, possibly devastating.

  47. Thank you for this post. I’m only a few weeks into therapy and I am terrified of needing therapy. I don’t like the ‘needy’ feelings of desperation for help that surface and seem to dominate my thoughts. It’s been encouraging to read how many others feel the same.
    How can I allow my pain to come out but keep myself from being a desperate child needing help and attention? I fight that and just want to get well.
    Are there skills I can learn to have a session and be balanced in between appointments?
    Thank you for your time! It’s so nice to see you respond. It shows how much you truly care about people.

    1. I don’t think “skills” like this can be taught. I think you can only learn by going through the psychotherapy relationship and enduring all those difficult emotions that come up. Hang in there!

  48. I love your site. Thank-you for taking the time to maintain it!

    I have a question about terminating therapy. Should it be an excruciatingly painful process? I’ve been in therapy four and a half years and I’m overwhelmed with my feelings of loss, loneliness, desolation, sadness and despair. The thought of continuing my life with no one who cares or is attuned to me feels unbearable. We tried to terminate over a year ago and I was overwhelmed with feelings of humiliation, anger, betrayal, hatred, abandonment and grief to the point I shut down completely. Although the feelings are different this time, they are just as unpleasant and intense. Does this indicate my work in therapy is not yet complete? I wanted so much to please my therapist by being able to walk away and go on with my life, but I feel devastated. My last session is to be next week. Do I share these feelings with him and ask to continue for a while or is that just going to prolong the agony? I don’t want to be ‘that client’ who my therapist can’t shake so I’m torn about admitting to my pain or trying to bear it alone because it’s inevitable.

    My diagnosis was borderline personality disorder, ptsd and depression although I don’t meet the criteria for those things anymore. I was physically, sexually, and emotionally abused and neglected throughout my childhood and raped as an adult. I think I understand why I’m having the feelings I’m having, but I want to know if they represent unhealed wounds that could benefit from more time in therapy? I know how to work through painful feelings with my therapist and I will feel better afterwards but alone? No. Not yet anyways.

    1. “I wanted so much to please my therapist by being able to walk away and go on with my life, but I feel devastated.”

      This statement says it all, at least to me. You are terminating in order to please your therapist, rather than because you feel ready. You don’t need to make your therapist feel proud of you — you need to get everything you need from the relationships so that, when the time comes, YOU WILL FEEL READY.

  49. This article was a very good read and made a lot of sense.

    It took me about 10 years to get myself into a therapy session, but when I did, I never looked back. I worked with my therapist for 9 months, and 3 months ago she told me that she had to move to another city. My last session was a week ago. At first I was genuinely excited for her and her new venture, but as time went on and sessions became fewer, I started to panic. We have a fantastic relationship where we enjoy the same things (camping, travelling, etc) and I was always able to be candid with her. She took the time and energy to get to know me, eventually being able to tell that I was holding something back when I started chewing the inside of my mouth. She always encouraged me to speak what was on my mind and in my heart and we worked through whatever came out of my mouth. She was just brilliant.
    The last session was ok to handle and when it was over, I went to shake her hand and she gave me a hug which gave me a huge amount of closure. When I turned away from her, I completely broke down, sobbing in my car on my own.
    Yesterday was particularly difficult and I have now noticed myself slipping back into a depressive state. I believe this has to do with not being able to sit with her and talk to her. I attribute this to dependency on our sessions. I’m not sure though, so your thoughts would be greatly welcomed.

    Thanks again for a great read!

    1. Would it be possible for you to continue working with her via Skype? I work this way almost exclusively now and find it to be quite effective. You clearly had to terminate well before you were ready and it might help if you could continue long distance.

      1. Thanks so much for the reply.

        Unfortunately I’m not able to continue on Skype as she is not sure where she will be based yet.
        The therapy was terminated before I was ready and I am aware of this. At this stage, I am just very grateful for all the insight she has given me and, although I am looking forward to continuing this journey, it would obviously have been better if I traveled it with her. She did recommend a colleague of hers, but I was not ready in any way to start over with someone else. She has told me to continue emailing her whenever I want and I certainly will never abuse that huge privilege.

        I’ve come to realize that the therapist-client relationship is a fascinating one that is riddled with so many emotions, and that’s probably where a lot of the therapeutic benefits lie in therapy.

        Thanks very much for your opinion.

      2. Thanks for your reply.
        Unfortunately, we are unable to continue working over skype as she was not sure what kind of psychotherapy she would be working in. And I fully understand that.
        She has recommended that I carry on with therapy with another therapist in my area, which means that she was also aware that the termination came to soon. But I just can’t go. She has given me carte blanche to email her whenever I feel I need to which is an immense help to me. I just feel so sad that I can’t talk to her anymore. I know it sounds exaggerated, but it feels like I’m dealing with the grief of losing someone close to me.

        I have started working with your book, Why do I do That, and so far it’s been a great help to me during this difficult time. I feel as if I am still in therapy, just on my own.

        Thanks again!

  50. Hi Dr Burgo,
    I just read your article and was wondering why you couldn’t just explain to your client that you needed to stop keeping her appointments open because you made a mistake and thought it was stopping her developing a level of dependancy that would help her in therapy? Then she might have continued with you and not have been hurt and angry… I am asking because I have just finished attending counselling and was always wondering if there was another reason why my therapist was doing something than it appeared. I think it would be so much easier if we could understand what was going on at the same time and so much less painful… Isn’t it better if we are made aware of what is going on for us?

  51. Feeling a bit abandoned by my therapist of 2 years. I have been diagnosed with Bipolar 1, BPD and an eating disorder. My therapist is aware of my abandonment issues and it took time to build trust. I have a great deal of support, a husband, grown kids and friends and some long time doctors due to a chronic lifetime illness. Depend on therapist for a get deal but would never call unless I was really ‘needy’. My depression is more biochemical then situational, and about every 6 months the bottom drops out and sometimes suicidal. The more I’m reaching out for help, the more it seems my therapeutic relationship is falling apart. I was unaware of any problems, I even confronted her. Our relationship was fine when it is easy, not so much when I’m at my neediest.
    I understand what it is to be emotional dependent and/or needy. But it wasn’t until I read an article about how suicide affects a therapist personally and professional did I realize it’s not all that one-sided of a relationship. Some therapists become emotionally invested as well. As I watch my therapist run, I can’t help but think what it took to give that degree of emotional dependency. I also needed someone consistent and reliable, adjusting boundaries, changing the rules in the middle of the game, no one win! There is no judgment were all human.

  52. I’m not as astute as Evan but I want to add that I had cut myself off from important contacts. I lived vicariously through my therapist and contrary to my intentions bestowed cards with messages and phone calls and faxes to connect with him until I saw him again. Vacations of 2 to 3 weeks were full of anxiety and calls to my doctors. I wanted to be his only patient.
    Now after a year more I am seeing what he appears to be in reality. I add that I had been in
    therapy since I was about eight-years -old. With him I now see that I can trust his wisdom and myself. Whenever I think of his terminating me I smile and know I am making progress.

  53. Hello, thank you for your helpful writings targeted to clients. It is very helpful in understanding the process better.
    I am facing a situation that I”m hoping someone can help me with. Just recently, after about two years, I finally admitted to my therapist that I need her. She said it was good that I told her and said it is okay as I’m learning how to depend on others in my life.
    Now my therapist has informed me that her husband is very sick. I am having all kinds of reactions to this and feel terrible for making her troubles all about me. What do I do now?–I can’ tell her about any of these feelings, and I need to be able to manage without her.
    Thanks in advance to anyone who can provide any advice about this.

  54. When will I know when it’s time to stop therapy ? It’s been almost three years of weekly visits. I am grateful for a wonderful therapist and still feel I am learning and growing. I am a different person today than when I started and am concerned that I will hold on because of fear of ” going it alone” or return to my former self. I have struggled with depression and have worked through multiple issues .

    1. First of all, keep talking about those fears with your therapist — he or she should help you to feel better able to “go it alone.” As for how you know when, in many cases, I think it’s a cost benefit analysis: are you still getting enough out of your therapy to justify the expense of time and money? If not, it’s time to move on.

  55. Hello Dr. Burgo. I read your article today after searching info on dependency. It is really comforting to read what you say, and the necessity of it. It has become the theme of my therapy lately. After 4 years of consistent sessions, my therapist forgot a session recently. I asked him if it had to do with our work. He said he has just been taking on too much, and he felt horrible. It was a shock for both of us, and a very human experience. I felt we repaired it somewhat but it set off the whole topic of dependence. Before this happened, I had been feeling ready to terminate. He recently said that while there has been much growth in the time we have worked together, he wants to help me become more open about talking about how I feel. I notice in wanting to terminate, I feel he is drawing me closer to express more deeply my true feelings. This creates a deeper invitation to greater dependency, the very thing I want to grow out of!! It is also about vulnerability, and fear. I wonder if this is a common dynamic, and if the journey of dependence, when you know the relationship won’t last, will leave me in a better place on the other side, or with yet just more feelings of loss.

    1. In my experience, the going deeper into vulnerability and greater dependency, when handled by an experienced therapist, DOES leave you in a better place. I guess I would ask you if you’re actually feeling more independent now, ready to go it alone, or are you reacting in an ANTI-dependent way because you’re afraid of greater intimacy.

  56. Dr Burgo- what is the standard treatment for a patient who becomes very very highly dependent on their therapist to the point they dream of being adopted by her and engulfed into her family? When the therapist ends this at this time what is the patient supposed to do? and why does it seem that all other therapists adopt an approach of strict withdrawal and enforce complete and total abstinence of the patient’s access to the former therapist in every way, including constructive letters and requests for exploration of means to continue, for example? This response seems only punitive and cruel and addresses none of the underlying issues or emotions. How can it be justified when it only intensifies and magnifies the problems that brought the patient to therapy in the first place>??

    1. It’s because most therapists don’t know how to deal with transference. Rather than allowing a client to become dependent (while setting some limits) long enough to get what he or she needs, therapists today seem to view dependency as a very bad thing; when it comes up, they then terminate treatment in a way that (in your words) “seems only punitive and cruel and addresses none of the underlying issues or emotions.” I agree, but most therapists don’t know how to work with those issues/emotions.

  57. I’ve read this post (and many of the comments) as well as the vacation break post and wanted to pose a question/make a comment. I’m a medical professional myself who entered therapy a couple of years ago to address critical compatibility issues in my marriage. I soon realized that I probably had many issues of my own that might be well-served by continuing with individual therapy. I have made some progress but find that I continue to revert to my old ways more often than not. Have probably had some transferential issues in the past but am surprised at my current response of actually missing my therapist when she is only gone one week. I will be out the following week though we arranged a session in between. Given her occasional time off and my frequent prolonged work-related travel, I’m surprised at how lonely I feel this time (and never before) just knowing that she is not available if needed. I’ve never called between appts though would occasionally reach out via email. Nothing has otherwise changed in my life. At a recent appt., I relayed a belief of sorts that I learned she was relocating (not substantiated). Am I simply at the point of wanting to express myself but afraid to risk the perceived rejection or increased feeling of venerability? Do my behaviors more likely reflect a transference derived from my younger days of having nobody with whom to express thoughts and feeling?

    Ok, I neglected to include the comment and this posting is now too long. My apologies.

    1. Not at all too long! It sounds to me that you’re on the right track when you link it up to your “younger days of having nobody with whom to express thoughts and feelings.” But if this is transference, it’s only so in the very broadest sense of the world. Why WOULDN’T you miss someone you care about, who cares about you, and with whom you share a unique emotional connection?

  58. I have been a training case for psychoanalysis for 1 year. I saw my analyst (psychiatrist ) for up to 2 sessions/week for 6 months prior to becoming his first analysand. It took me six months to form an attachment. Up til then there was unlimited calls/emails outside of session. As soon as I attached he started laying down rules of no contact between sessions. It is hard to give up emailing him when I am upset. He said he sees me 4x a week anyway; I am just too needy, and I am never satisfied. Analysis sessions leave me angry and hurt. They are not calming. It is starting to become easier to relax during his vacations and weekends. He drops unethical thoughts sometimes as he walks me to the door. My sessions have become catch up time in apps. I am up to 10 minutes late in and sometimes a minute or two early to let out. This started after the attachment as well. He mentioned his other analysand is also a woman. Both supervisors are male, his personal analyst is a woman. The other analysand was slow to attach and he was not happy about it. She is not paying fees as she is looking for a job. I am paying $1200/month to hear this stuff! I also hear about his little kids. Last session we had he told me my son makes enough money to get his own Costco membership. I told him I didn’t think that had merit. I am starting to wonder he is knows what he is doing or not.

    1. Sounds like bad analysis to me. Starting your session up to 10 minutes late shows poor boundaries, and he’s telling you way too much about his personal life and other clients.

  59. I’m so afraid of how I feel, about feeling dependent on my T..
    I feel kinda overwhelmed about it, really overwhelmed.. I spew out all my fears, and hurts, and feelings until I’m as obvious as a baby, going through 20 tissues per session.. being so open, and in need of help is scary, What if my T is actually indifferent to my needs and pain? What if he doesn’t care and hurts me real bad? and leaves then I’d really be a mess.. What should I do? How do I get out of this trap? I do need help, I don’t want to need it..because honestly I don’t think anyone cares. I don’t think anyone could care, I hate myself, and feel so alone.. What should I do? What would you do??? I’m scared. like he’s almost always late anywhere from 3-10 minutes late.. always ends the session right on the dot… but in between times he’s very supportive, and seemingly interested.. but what with recently rescheduling me a lot.. being late one might believe that the in-between stuff is fake… :c I dont know

    1. I’d be confused, too. The lateness would bother me because it would feel as if my time wasn’t important. If you can muster the courage, I’d bring it up in session. But the goal of becoming dependent in therapy and learning to bear with it is to make deeper relationships “outside” possible, as well. Dependency is an inevitable part of truly intimate relationships.

      1. thanks for replying. no one ever replies to me 🙂
        anyways, the issue is solved because he’s moving local, even though he said I could continue to be his client elsewhere I think it was a good sign/opportunity to find another therapist, I found out from my pdoc that he was late and even missed appointments with other clients, its sad, I know he is a compassionate person inside, I don’t know whats going on with him, but I’m looking around for another therapist now. so problem solved. I feel so sad though, every morning I wake up feeling confused and lonely and afraid I wont get help from another, like it wont be the same.. but hopefully it will.. and at night I wish this change never had to take place. somehow I know inside its for the best. I’m angry that he only gave me one session to tell me he was leaving.. dropped the bomb .. then our last session in two weeks..is it.. and like I didn’t have time to process it, I wanted to get mad at him, and cry, and go through the loss…but no time.. wow. o’well I’m use to sudden bad changes in life lately.. I’ll get over it. I have to keep reminding myself I didn’t cause him to be late, I didn’t cause him to leave, or cause him to end it the way he did right? I feel bad about myself, but I was always nice to him I only got smartalec once.. or twice. I will miss him anyways.

  60. I’m starting to think of my therapist as a mother figure. I want to be held when difficult feelings start to surface. I need to tell her a few images that come to my mind as a child. I can’t cry and when I feel like I’m going to then I turn it to a story about my child. How do I stop this? Deep down I know I can tell her just not liking the fact she can’t physically comfort me.

  61. Hi Joseph-
    I am really glad that I happened upon your website and especially this post. I have recently discovered that I am becoming dependent on my therapist. It hit me like a ton of bricks when she told me she was going to be unavailable for the last two weeks of January (doing something with insurance…or something). I found out on Friday and it didn’t affect me until later that night. And it was bad. I have been really depressed all weekend..I havent really been able to get out of bed or leave the house. It’s scary for me because I am afraid that if I tell her how I feel (I trust her completely but it’s scary when I bring up deep feelings in therapy) that she will say she cannot see me anymore because I am too much of a risk, especially when I have suicidal thoughts. I’m just really worried that it will end badly. Oh, I should mention that I usually have this kind of reaction when therapists go out of town (get really anxious, depressed, upset…) so I should have known it would happen. I see my therapist tomorrow morning and I’m going to have to talk to her about it because it is affecting me so much. I’m just wondering if feeling this dependent on your therapist is normal?

  62. I found this while searching about dependency in therapy. I have a bit of a weird situation.

    So basically, my therapist realize she couldn’t sustain our work long term if she kept doing the intervention she initiated over a year ago. Texting, phone calls between sessions and emails. I live with complex trauma and the sudden pull back has triggered old attachment traumas from foster care and being bounced around so much. I ended up in a harsh ’emotional’ flashback (her words) and ot lasted three days. She refused to talk on the phonewith me. She sent lots of lomg texts telling me why she couldn’t talk, was busy and to call the crisis line. But she spent a number of hours texting simply directing me to seek out safety elsewhere….which was even more of a trigger. My mother was quite neglectful and narcissistic. Anyway, my therapist has still sent voicemails and texts assuring me she was in yhis for the long haul, even after that trigger happened a few weeks ago. Then last week in our appt on Monday she said she was in this for the long haul, Tuesday said she was really looking forward to our Thurs phone appt and on Thursday droned on for about a half hour why she may not be a good fit. Then left me to deal with that all weekend and I had such a hard ime being present for my own clients. Monday we had our usual session, and we made a contract. She’s also had a hard time following the boundaries she put out. So now she’s on vacation for three weeks. We always had contact on her vacations befote. I was allowed to text any time. Good or bad day. A hello or a joke. I’m allowed to text jokes but that’s it, and not while she’s on Vacation. She said we’d revisit our contract end of September but would not terminate right now. She apologized for creating a dependency and says she didn’t mean to. She said it wasn’t her intention.

    I guess I’m still just so used to what she offered for so long. And how she said for so long she was in it for the long haul and would definitely never terminate. Now she is saying “All I can say is I’m here right now and I’m not terminating at this time”. I don’t know what to do with that. In the beginning, she said that when someone was having huge triggers lasting days, she’d want to talk to them on the phone. Now she’s saying something different.

    I initally came to see her after I was seeing a former committee colleague’s PhD intern. The intern and I became too attached. One day the supervisor offered to let me use her cabin on a nearby island for a week and while I was out there alone, she texted me to say she was terminating my therapy with the intern. The intern and I had started a bit of childhood processing. So I was feeling pretty vulnerable. I made a report to the college of psychologists, they reviewed all of the text messages and said what the supervisor did and said was abusive. She knew I had been through sexual abuse from a female and she made jokes about how women can be very cruel and I should work with a man. Anyhow, I was trying to recover and found this therapist. I feel confused as to how my current therapist can suddenly pull back on such a large amount of support and suddenly decide she’s not going to provide assurances about working with me anymore. And how she can change so quickly.

    She says I’ve been resistant to learning new techniques, but I haven’t been. I have been working on learning things. I just had a nasty trigger, she said in a text she knew that I was ‘outside of the window’ and refused to take my calls. She texted for quite a while, sending very long texts saying she knew I was suffering, telling me to reach out to the crisis line and friends and was unable to take a call from me. I told her “If you have 20-30 mins to write a text, why can’t you take a call?” and she had said “I need to stick to my boundaries.” She said a supervisor recommended no contact. The way she spoke to me on Monday…..it was like she was angry with me….and she got more upset when I reminded her it was her who initiated the texting, continuously said I could text/email any time, said she would give assurances that she wasn’t going anywhere as long as I needed to. Told me if I had thoughts to send them to her email and label them as ‘container’ and she would read before sessions…now I’m suddenly not allowed to do that anymore. xmas time we did texts and a phone call on her time off and then when she returned, I noticed a dramatic drop in support. I brought it up and she said she’d have to think about it. It wasn’t until February that she said, yes, she was pulling back and changing the boundaries. It was confusing becuase she told me in the beginning and all along, that changes would be done in a way that was helpful to me and that they would be negotiated before happening. But I’m not seeing consistency. She gets a bit defensive and when I’ve told her I feel hurt, she just says “I’m sorry that you feel that way, but……”. So Wednesday we had a call and she started saying that and I said “No. That’s an empty apology and dismissive. We’re both professionals and we know people do that to make the receiver feel better and it helps people avoid actually taking responsibility. It’s a bullshit move, and I haven’t heard you take responsibility. You haven’t said “I’m sorry my actions have hurt you. I made a bad decision.” She paused, her tone totally changed and said “I’m sorry I hurt you. I didn’t mean to.” And then said “I have another client so I have to get going…”

    I really care about the alliance and the work. She left me a voicemail on Thursday saying “I care about you and your work.” When usually she says something to the effect of “I really care about you, and this, and our work together and I am not going anywhere. I look forward to seeing you/talking with you. You’re important to me” and so on. It’s like it’s suddenly dropped off. She passes herself off as a specialist in attachment trauma. To give you some background…..I stopped counting at 37 caregivers. That was when I was 17.

    Anyway, our Monday appointment….I felt like I was doing all the apologizing. I felt like I had done something wrong. What’s really interesting is that while she’s pulled back considerably, and said it was for her own reasons and had nothing to do with me, she’s very recently accused *ME* of pushing her away. It is FRUSTRATING. It’s making me doubt myself.

  63. I’m an MFT intern who does psychodynamic/psychoanalytic work. I believe I have exceptional talent as a therapist. In a short amount of time I’ve earned enough respect in my community that I have to have a client waiting list. The reason I say this is because I believe it’s important information for the rest of this post to be fully understood. I’ve been seeing a therapist five days a week for 2.5 years. I went through countless poor experiences with other therapists before I found my current one. I’ve grown by leaps and bounds. I was severely abused as a child in every form of abuse, and am a text book borderline patient. I’m quite high-functioning in life, and there is much less of a discrepancy between my inner and outer worlds than before my therapy began. My sense of self has stabilized considerably and I’ve become fairly well-integrated. Sadly however, there is a major split in my life which is causing me tremendous pain. I believe that I’m far too emotionally dependent on my therapist, and am concerned it’s gone beyond healthy. I feel that the therapist and therapy have taken over my life. I’m concerned that I’m putting in too much emotionally, financially, and time-wise. I have large family and all of my children are school-aged. While they’ve benefitted exponentially in many ways from all of my work on therapy, there is no question that the time I spend in therapy has affected them. The process is exhausting and between therapy and work I’m often too depleted at home to be fully present. I would like to cut back on therapy, but that hasn’t worked well when I’ve tried it. My therapist doesn’t support my doing so because cutting back has always triggered extreme acting out which hurts both of us (incidentally, I was hospitalized twice for suicidality during the first few months of working with her). There are also times when I have concerns that she keeps me in therapy for her own emotional needs, although that could be part of my transferences. I’m not quite sure what to do. I feel miserably trapped. In a nutshell my question for you is “when does dependency on a therapist become counter-productive to the overriding goal of living the life psychotherapy is intended to provide?” Thank you for your time.

    1. If you truly are a “text book borderline patient,” then 2.5 years in analysis is just the beginning. As you’re a psychodynamic therapist yourself, you probably know that these are transference issues that need to be brought up and talked about in session.

  64. Where is the line for dependency in therapy?

    I have been in therapy for 4.5 years and I’m hitting a road block. About two years ago, my therapist encouraged me to date someone I didn’t feel good about. It was one of my first relationships and it was short-lived. I felt this guy didn’t have my needs at heart and I was worried I would become wildly dependent on him because he otherwise fit all my ideals. My therapist encouraged me to continue dating him anyway to learn something new even with my concerns in mind. I was completely open with my therapist through this whole process and I agreed to keep dating this guy more in hopes it could become something more. I became dependent as I had predicted and had an ugly falling out with him. I felt humiliated and I blame my therapist. I told my therapist I wouldn’t have done this if it weren’t for his suggestions. He felt no need to apologize and felt no responsibility for the result. He said I was just trying to blame him for my actions. I was furious with him and ever since then our relationship has deteriorated. I have found it difficult to make any progress with him since. Other issues have entered my mind since like how when I first saw him I told him I didn’t like being gay and his response was to encourage me to pursue heterosexual relationships and saying ‘a hole is just a hole.’ Then when I dismissed his opinion I try sex with a woman he explained to me I was choosing to be gay and that he was okay with it. He explained just because he said it was a choice doesn’t mean he wasn’t supportive. I found that opinion more disgusting now even though I dismissed it as naivety in the past from someone who preferred heterosexual relationships. Since then, I have found more and more issues with him. When I bring them up he addresses them in a way I constantly find dissatisfying, claims i’m finding reasons not to trust him, then spits transference interpretations at me and changes the subject. As a solution, I suggested we take a break and I see another therapist for a bit then come back. He said he would not accept that as it would be “splitting the transference.” After continually being dissatisfied and feeling grudging resentment toward my therapist, I have tried ending it multiple times and every time our final session comes he claims it’s his professional opinion I need more therapy. So, I stick in it because I feel an attachment and hope that he is right, that I need to continue this dependency and see it through. I’m either trying to talk out my issues with him or set them aside so i can do some positive work but it doesn’t help. Recently, he claimed I know his opinions on the issues I have with him but I just don’t want to accept them (which I ended up agreeing with) and then he admitted I was his most difficult client. When I asked if he could recommend a different therapist he accused me of wanting to complain to them about the issues I had with him. I told him I would definitely discuss this with my next therapist as I want to know if this is what therapy is supposed to be. It made me think he was trying not to be discovered for what I think he did wrong and I told him that. Then he changed his reason to ‘not wanting to put another therapist through the difficulty I have put him through.’ He said he would recommend an agency where he doesn’t know anyone but that’s where his obligation ends. I’m seeing him again soon and I’m not entirely sure what will happen next. I’m not sure I want to continue with him. I feel rejected and I feel like he doesn’t like me and possibly resents me. I fell into dependency hard with him and now I feel like I’m paying the price: monetarily, emotionally, socially, and medically. He says I need to learn a healthy dependency and I just feel like I have nothing left.

    What is a legitimate issues versus transference? What is the point of dependency? How far is it supposed o go? Where does it end? I can never find good resources on this. Just that it’s usually the patient that is the issue and how to deal with them. I like the idea of therapy but I’m coming to the conclusion that a large part is BS and that it needs to undergo a serious overhaul in terms of what the patient is supposed to expect. And is the client a consumer or a patient? A patient implies that is up to the therapist completely in terms of diagnosis and treatment. A consumer implies that it is up to the client to determine what is in their best interest. Yet – you’re encouraged to be dependent. So again – how far is this dependency supposed to go?

  65. I am a client in love with my therapist, and have been for years now. Rationally I do see where it comes from. At this point I’m old enough to see a long pattern of falling in love with unavailable parent type role figures. I even have a woman (the mother of a close friend who is now deceased) and this older woman and I pretend to be mother daughter at times, in a quite open way. I know I missed on having a parent bond, and I know I am at the core terrified, needy, dependent, desperate for safety, and my therapist feels very safe. The feelings are very intense, like life or death intense, like first love intense.

    What I am really struggling with though, is not knowing how my therapist feels. I’m a champ at unrequited feelings like this, nothing new there. I sense that he loves me, platonically, which is what makes therapy so addictive and alluring, but I cant be sure it’s not a well rehearsed act. I think that’s the core of my obsession now, can I be loved? Does anyone, REALLY, care? I wonder if love is even real. My therapist recently alluded that he did not share my feelings one day, and I completely broke down and then felt terrified (physically even) for days. Now he says he cant say how he feels about me, he doesn’t want to confuse me, but I am a middle aged woman who is very reasonable and intelligent, there would be nothing confusing to me if he said “in a platonic sense, I do love you.” I have said already I understand and accept our relationship and the boundaries. I realize I am probably out of line demanding basically to know how he feels, but I cant explain it better than this I guess, I need to know if it’s even possible for someone to love me sometimes, and I cant see how that could possibly hurt me unless the answer is that it is all an act on his part, a seduction of sorts to profit off of me and no he doesn’t love me, in a platonic sense of the word.

    It feels like a completely new trauma, which I think is real too and therapists should just acknowledge as a fall out of the therapy. Taking a group of people who loved parents who were unavailable at best, who never loved them back, some of whom might have pretended to at times… taking this group and having them fall in love with you and then re-playing the unavailable parent role is cruel I think. If you ask me, if you are a therapist and you cant love your client with core attachment trauma you should terminate. We don’t need anymore people who truly don’t care abusing us for money or whatever. And if you can love a client like me I think it should be said in more cases. Maybe not if the client really would be confused, but in cases where you are sitting across from a rational thinking honest person why not have a rational thinking honest exchange with that hurting person… I don’t know.

    I realize I’m an intense client, I just hope a lot of others must be less intense or intense in different ways. More and more I worry I am a stress and not a joy to see. I wonder about therapy, the whole industry, and therapist burnout. Especially now a days when everyone is so underpaid, and unappreciated. Anyways, I feel your struggle Joe Burgo. Awesome blog.

  66. This is exactly me. I’ve been hurt, abused and abandoned by men in my life, and as a result, when I unexpectedly started to feel dependent on my male therapist, my world felt like it was crashing down. It’s compounded by knowing that I only have a limited number of sessions with him ( because he can only offer a set number of sessions at his sliding scale rate, and his full rate is significantly beyond my financial means…and believe me I have tried to think of everything I could give up to pay them so I don’t lose him) I didn’t expect to feel this attached to him and I feel the greatest sense of loss I’ve ever felt now that I won’t have him to rely on. I hate that I’ve done this to myself and I wonder why I would dig up all these old wounds with not enough time to resolve them, but just enough time to get attached to my therapist before I can’t see him anymore…I just think that I feel worse now than I did before, and that if I’d guarded myself better maybe I could have gotten something out of therapy instead of walking away feeling so hurt and confused and without any tools to take care of my own emotional needs.

    1. This is really sad. Maybe it’s a mistake to set a reduced fee for a limited number of sessions only. Either you reduce your fee or your don’t. It feels a little bit like lowering your fee to “hook” people.

  67. Hello Joseph, thanks for this highly enlightening article 🙂 I am a psychologist at the beginning of my therapy career- I have been having clients for around 1.5 year now. My interest is attachment theory, MBT treatment, trauma therapy, EMDR- therefore I consider myself on the psychodynamic side. Recently, one client of mine expressed the fear of becoming addicted to our sessions- much like the client you describe. Do you have ideas or insights on how to further work on this fear? Of course I do not want her to be addicted to me- but this fear keeps her at a safe distance from truly opening up. Though I will further discuss it with my supervisor at my next supervision session, I’d also really appreciate to hear your insights about how to explore this issue further, when a client brings it forward. Thanks a lot!! 🙂

    1. What she actually means is that she’s afraid of becoming dependent upon you, of course. You need to explore what “dependency” means to her and understand why she’s so afraid of it.

  68. I’m sorry, my native language is not English so my expressions may not be the best possible. I truly appreciate that you write on such topics as emotional dependancy on therapists, as information on such topics can hardly be found in my native language (which is Lithuanian), at least on the internet. I feel like I tend to become emotionall dependant on certain people, may it be therapists or not, and it seems to bring a lot of pain into my life. I changed a therapist a year and a half ago, and I still feel attached to my previous therapist, and it drives me nuts as I have no idea when it is finally going to end. He ignores me ( as I tried to keep contact with him after I left him), and his ignorance drives me crazy also. I feel like the time I’ve spent in therapy with him has done me more harm than good, but, unfortunately, there is no responsibility for one’s quality of work (how could I prove that? No proves available). When I feel bad emotionally I terribly miss contact with him,and I end up writing angry comments anywhere I can find something about him or writing him emails from fake email adresses, but I guess he figured out it was me and will not reply to my last email. I know this sounds crazy, but I am such a mess recently, I don’t even know how to quit crying and continue living my life.

  69. This article describes my experience to a tee. Early in my work with my therapist, I was terrified of becoming dependent on him. I came close to ending therapy several times in the first year. Eventually, I became very dependent on him, which did help me be able to tolerate the pain of acknowledging my unmet needs and early abandonment. The problem is, now my therapist is closing his practice. After almost 4 years of work, where I allowed myself to become dependent, my abandonment fears are all coming true, and my sense of trust has been shattered. This is the high risk of attachment and dependency on a therapist. If the therapist ends the relationship before the work is complete, all of the work comes to nothing, because old fears are reinforced. I will NEVER allow myself to become dependent on a therapist again.

  70. Hello,
    I’m in family therapy with my daughter and son. I’ve never been in therapy so this is new to me. My daughter also sees the therapist independently during the week as she has CPTSD from being tortured in jail in China as well as other childhood trauma. We went to therapy because she is very aggressive. For the first 3 months we have been playing the blame game with each other and I as a single parent get all the blame or it feels like it. The therapist never intervenes or stops this direction of the talk. I’m now having difficulty trusting him. I think he cares about my daughter, but he doesn’t share what he is doing, why he does nothing, or tell use what psychodynamic strategies he is using. My gut tells me he’s going to help us, but the blame game has ruined any real sincere attachment for me. What do you think? Is the blame game unethical strategy? I know he sees our family dynamics this way, but what does my family get? We are more mad at each other than when we went in. Thanks

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