Therapist or Lover?


The sky is blue; the sun is bright; the greenery is lush and the strawberry crop is in.  I will recover—but there should not be anything I have to recover from.

One weekend I was visiting my sister.  She cooked supper and when her husband didn’t appear, we went ahead and ate without him.  When he did arrive home, she asked him why he’d been late.  He waffled, shuffled, distracted her to another topic and in a flash of insight I thought, “My God, he’s having an affair!”  Their casual conversation went on until she asked what he’d been doing.  Again, he waffled, shuffled and distracted her to another topic, and again I thought that he was having an affair.  I expected my sister to follow up with other questions.  If your husband fails to come home for dinner with his children, don’t you require an explanation? 

My sister made a lifetime habit of never facing reality.  She did not ask her husband any more questions.  She preferred a safe illusion over a dangerous reality.  A decade later when he left her, he admitted that he’d had a succession of other women on the side.  My sister’s only excuse for not knowing was that she didn’t want to know.

Our church had a pastor who was living with a woman who was not his wife and entertaining other women on the side.  And, as a church, we let him.  He made it very clear that he believed he had the right to what he called “a private life,” and he would abandon the church if we asked too many questions.  The church had been on the verge of closing when the pastor was called. He struck at our deepest fear, and so we did not question him.

We failed him.  The Lord (i.e., Brahman, Yahweh, God, Allah) calls for the truth.  Always.  And we, as God’s people, failed to hold our pastor accountable for his actions.  In the end, he was defrocked.  He didn’t leave a single congregation; the entire church left him.

Yesterday I asked my friend-colleague-therapist-lover-whatever-the-hell if he had been best man in a friend-patient’s wedding.  That’s a matter of public record, and a straight-up question:  yes or no?  He wouldn’t answer.  I asked three times.  I got no answer.  Later, when it began to sink in to him that I no longer was buying his line wholesale, he said that he’d expected loyalty from me.

I am loyal—to the truth.  No liar has the right to expect loyalty.  The truth is the bedrock upon which our relationships are built and if you can’t tell the truth then you have no right to anything.

I had been listening to him evade the truth for a year.  I did not, could not, would not, confront him and hold him accountable—because I thought I needed him.  He was a splendid man, loving and wise.  He was strong and supportive and held me up.  On one occasion he called when I was down and out.  In one sentence, he picked me up.  A couple moments later, in one more sentence, he turned me around and got me headed back from the brink.  He could do that.  He had a phenomenal capacity for understanding people’s problems and how to help them.

A therapist has the right—indeed, the responsibility—not to talk about his patients even to the extent of not admitting that John Wickens is his patient.  But as to witnessing marriage vows?  No man has the right to not answer that question.  And why wouldn’t he?

It’s all about boundaries, ladies and gentlemen.  A friend, colleague or lover can stand up for a groom; a therapist can’t.  In righteous therapy, it is essential that certain boundaries be established and maintained.  Those boundaries are necessary to keep the patient safe.  With our friends, colleagues and lovers, we all have boundaries about what is emotionally safe.  If therapy is to serve any good end, then the patient must be able to get deeper into his or her feelings.  The patient must have a guaranteed safe zone in which to delve deeply into feelings.

Once therapy has terminated, the patient and therapist may or may not choose to become friends.  However, if the patient and therapist have become friends and the ex-patient again seeks therapy then the therapist is morally bound to recommend the patient to another therapist.  Often patients will go in and out of therapy with the same therapist, which is perfectly okay as long as there has not been an intervening period of “friendship.”  You do not treat a patient, stand as his best man, and then treat him again. 

I went to a therapist who was young and bright and energetic.  I’d ask him a question about some person who had done some thing and he would give a long, learned, complicated answer.  Fifteen years later, when I asked him the same question, he answered simply, “Sex.”  In the end, it’s all about sex—and how can you talk to your therapist about this most damning ecstasy if he’s inclined to have a sexual relationship with you?

The therapist must maintain an absolute boundary of never engaging in any conduct with a patient that could be characterized as sexual.  In good therapy, the patient has no emotional defenses and is totally vulnerable.  If a therapist takes advantage of that vulnerability and engages in sexual activity with any person who has ever been his patient then the therapist should be stripped of his license to practice.

Right after you shoot him.

No one who has ever been a patient has normal defenses to cope with a sexual advance from a therapist.  He has been in her head and her heart—how is she supposed to keep him out of her bed?  It is the responsibility of the therapist to maintain proper boundaries for both himself and his patient.  In the matter of a therapist having sex with anyone who has ever been his patient, there can be absolutely no exception.

The only exception I would even consider is if the patient has been out of therapy for, oh, maybe a quarter of a century.  Even then, I’m not sure.

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About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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One Response to Therapist or Lover?

  1. Don says:

    Amazing, you are so right on. You are strong , smart and have alot of courage. I will read this post over and over again. Don

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