Love and Connection in Psychotherapy
“When we ask for characteristics of love applicable to each and all of its forms,
we find at least two: a sense of belonging and wholehearted acceptance of that
belonging with all its implications. . . . Love is a wholehearted ‘yes’ to belonging.”
Brother David Steindl-Rast from Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer
“Man wishes to be confirmed in his being by man, and wishes to have a presence
in the being of the other… Secretly and bashfully he watches for a Yes which
allows him to be and which can come to him only from one human person to another.”
Martin Buber from Distance and Relation
What is Love in Psychotherapy?
In order to explore this dimension of connection or love in psychotherapy, it is useful to shift from an abstract view to one that examines the moment by moment interactions. Rather than ask whether we love the client or the client loves us, we might ask a different question: What qualifies as a moment of love?
Brother David’s definition of love works well because it is precise and inclusive. The term “belonging” is not used here to imply any kind of inequity, like a slave belonging to a master, but rather to convey a sense of the rightness of being together.
In psychotherapy the feeling of belonging can happen in any kind of moment. It could be a dramatic moment when a client reveals a previously unspoken truth that grabs us to the core. Or it could arise out of conflict, when a client is angry at you, and as the two of you struggle with the anger, the struggle brings you closer together. Any way the therapist and client are interacting has the potential of being one of those special moments where there is that unqualified “yes” to belonging.
A Different Way to Think About Love
For therapists, it may not be useful to attempt to reach conclusions about whether we love certain or all of our clients. What is more relevant, I believe, is that we have enough moments of belonging with a client, and this provides a reference point for us. Then, even when there are many other competing feelings and moments that are decidedly not moments of belonging (as is true for even the most loving relationships), that reference point allows us to find the place within ourselves where there is love for that person.
I would make the case that all we need is one real moment of belonging with a client to be able to find a place of love for them. Once we have experienced that sense of belonging with a client, we have the ability to draw upon that feeling, at least some of the time, in the course of the psychotherapy relationship.
For a more detailed discussion visit “Experiencing Love in Psychotherapy.”