I am currently working on a paper about why the relationship of counselor and counselee is more susceptible to sexual (mis)conduct than other professional relationships. (There is not a high percentage of people who, for example, “jump” their plumbers no matter how good they may look bending over those pipes.) My own theory going into the research was that the vulnerability and intimacy fostered in the therapeutic relationship more easily leads to sexual feelings. I found this quite ironic since in society sex is so often stripped of any intimacy and becomes merely about physical appearance and lust.
Nineteen sources (and counting) and fifteen single-spaced pages of notes later, I find I have my greatest epiphanies when my nose is not in a book or online journal. Nope, tonight the insight came as I was brushing my teeth… I thought of how we often make ourselves up for certain people or certain situations. Like a new love-interest or someone we admire. We will carefully pick out clothes, do our hair, maybe whiten our teeth or do a few extra sit-ups. We do these things to get attention. To impress.
But what do you have in a counseling relationship? You have a person at often their weakest moments, saying things they may have never expressed to anyone else. (I, for example, started a round of personal counseling back at Prov and was in tears within the first ten minutes of the first session. Must have made the counselor feel like she really knew what she was doing — getting to the heart of the matter!)
So in counseling you have extreme vulnerability on the part of the client. And there is something in that that is very freeing and makes you feel deeply connected. And that connection is a very good thing — I think it is the kind of connection that humans really need (being our true selves without fear of rejection).
The problem? You are paying a professional to bring this kind of relationship into your life. (And, yes, the counselor has been likened to the prostitute on more than one occasion) The other problem? It is a one-sided relationship. (Oh look, another prostitute connection.) What all of the books say is that a power relationshp is in place and any sexual relationship that develops out of that power relationship is abuse by the counselor to the counselee. Always. No matter who instigates it.
What the counseling relationship is at best is a place for people to come and experience trust in the middle of their darkest moments. You do not have to be at your best or look your best or act your best. In fact, if you do, it will be so much more obvious that you are hiding something. But, though the connection of counselor and counselee can get muddled by the deep longings of the heart for intimacy and connection, it is a misunderstanding to see that as a physical/sexual connection.
Frustrating and confusing though the therapeutic relationship may become, I think it indicates something so wonderful about humanity. It’s not sex that we want. Not really. Well, we want that too. But what we really want is for it to come out of who we are, not who we pretend to be. The strongest and deepest connections come out of our weakest places. And that is really quite wonderful.