You sit in your therapy session (either virtual or in-person). You’ve been working with your therapist for some time and you’ve begun to feel the benefits of therapy. What you wish to discuss flows easily and you’ve built up rapport with your therapist. You look forward to the time, even if it is not always easy. But often while sitting in session, there is one question that keeps popping up that you choose not to ask.
“Do you like me?”
If this is you, I can assure you as a therapist and participant in therapy myself, you are not alone. This is a very normal part of the therapy process. It can surprise some of us. We don’t go into therapy looking for a buddy. We are there to make changes, to heal wounds and become the best versions of ourselves.
Why Does It Feel Important That Our Therapist Likes Us?
We are social creatures, and part of our biology is the need to be accepted and belong. Being liked by someone fills that biological need. Yes, many of us are people-pleasers and we need the approval of others in order to feel secure. This can be a piece of that question. Yet it’s perfectly human to wonder if the person you share some of your deepest darkest secrets with holds you in high regard.
There is evidence behind why this question matters. Research has found that if clients feel that their therapist likes them, they are more likely to continue with therapy, work towards their goals and have less resistance to treatment (Therapist emotional reactions and client resistance in cognitive behavioral therapy - PubMed (nih.gov). So when we feel liked, we are more willing to put in the work.
In Maybe You Should Talk To Someone, author Lori Gottlieb, a therapist herself, reflects on the need to know if her therapist likes her. Despite the fact she is in the field, when she is on the other end of the couch, she is also worried about how her therapist feels about her.
Why You Have Nothing to Worry About
Given how important and inevitable this question is, I’m here to say you probably have nothing to worry about if you think your therapist dislikes you. Why? Here is the secret: As a therapist who has been in this field for over a decade and has probably seen hundreds of clients at this time, I can say with pretty good certainty that your therapist does like you. How can I be sure? I not only like all of my clients but hold all of them in such high regard. I am honored when people share their stories and allow me to be a part of their process. Clients may share thoughts and experiences they feel great shame about or maybe have never told anyone. Letting me be their confidant is a profound privilege.
But beyond the vulnerability clients share, we get to understand the reason behind certain behaviors. We hear why they push people away, the root of their anger or the story behind their relationship issues. This in turn creates understanding and even more appreciation for our clients. In Platonic: How Understanding Your Attachment Style Can Help You Make and Keep Friends, author Marisa G. Franco, PhD is asked by her counseling students if she ever disliked a therapy client. She replies “no”, stating that when you understand someone’s behavior, you have more empathy. Understanding creates empathy which leads to connection. It’s hard to dislike someone you truly see and understand.
Anytime clients are having feelings about our work together, even if it involves personal feelings about me, I encourage them to share it. Yes, this can be scary. However, I cannot address or help process something that is not shared. Every therapist will take a different approach to this conversation. Some use it as an opportunity to explore why being liked is so important. Others may use it to explore broader themes and how this may come up in other relationships. And some may simply say, Yes, I do like you. Regardless you can use it as an opportunity to strengthen the therapeutic bond.
Can I speak for all therapists? No, and I certainly do not want to speak for those that act inappropriately and unethically. However I know my experience is not unique. I collaborate with many therapists, have them as friends and am even married to one. All of us share a deep appreciation for our clients and the work they put in. It’s a unique relationship because unlike our other relationships where there is reciprocity, in therapy it’s all about you. You don’t have to worry about us or our problems. We are here to be your cheerleaders, soundboards, confidants and unbiased sources. When you show up as your authentic self, get into the messy work and share all layers of yourself, we are all in. Liking you is a natural result of this process.
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