Counselors: How do you deal with attraction to clients?

For my counseling friends, you may wish to read this piece by Ryan Neace about sexual attraction in the therapist office. Do you have someone to talk to in this kind of frank manner about the reality of attraction? How do you handle it?

Remember, sexual attraction is not limited to just wanting to have sex with someone. Ryan does a good job identifying types of sexual responses to others beyond outright lust and fantasy. Notice also his drawing attention to the myth of the sexual vortex.

“The pastor who refuses eye contact sends a clear message…‘You are seductive. You are a sexual vortex that I may get sucked in to.’ The slippery slope of my lust is your problem. And my ministry is too valuable to allow the likes of you to trip me up.”

Given that we all have examples of counselors and leaders who crossed sexual lines, the myth and fear of the vortex can keep us from addressing needs of others. And, as he notes, it sends a very loud message to some clients (mostly women) that they are a danger at the cellular level). What a burden we place on others!

Two questions for readers:

1. How do you respond to incidents of sexual attraction?

2. How would you want to respond to the question posed to Yalom copied below (about whether he would in a different situation be attracted to a female client)? Redirect? Focus on the “deeper question”? Answer it?

Yalom considers a female client who asks, “Am I appealing to men? To you? If you weren’t my therapist would you respond sexually to me?”

… [Yalom’s answer]:

If you deem it in the patient’s best interests, why not simply say… ‘If everything were different, we met in another world, I were single, I weren’t your therapist, then yes, I would find you very attractive and sure would make an effort to know you better.’ What’s the risk? In my view such candor simply increases the patient’s trust in you and in the process of therapy. Of course, this does not preclude other types of inquiry about the question—about, for example, the patient’s motivation or timing (the standard “Why now?” question) or inordinate preoccupation with physicality or seduction, which may be obscuring even more significant questions. (bold emphasis Ryan’s)


Filed under christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, counseling skills, Sex, sexuality

4 responses to “Counselors: How do you deal with attraction to clients?

  1. thanks for the article – really enjoyed it and it was very helpful as I continue to think through this

  2. Thanks for posting a link to my blog, @Phil! We have some mutual friends. Josh Straub and I go way back! Best.

  3. The question remains how capable (& accountable) you are to make the judgment of whether or not it’s in the client’s best interest (re: Yalom’s quote). The more self-deceived a person is, the harder the judgment is (and the more capable you feel of making the judgment, I dare say).

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