I don’t know how to make sense of a therapist telling me…

…she feels like she wants to cuddle me.

I want to scream. And again this is a post I feel like shouldn’t go here. I know I haven’t been on wordpress in a while. And I haven’t caught up on anyone’s posts. Yet I want people to read and respond. And feel bad that I want that when I can’t give that at the moment.

I met this therapist yesterday. In a sense I’m glad I kept that distance. I’ve always called her ‘this’ rather than ‘my’. (I also lost the distance immediately from the first time I spoke to her and she understood what I didn’t say). I don’t know what to think.

The hour started out that I tried to tell her that I was upset she hadn’t responded to what I shared the previous week (letter to the girl who killed herself) the way I wanted her to. That I wanted her to see what I wanted her to see – that it was a beautiful letter – and anything she wanted to ask me about suicidality or anything, she could ask me later. She began reading it again. And commented on what I said, missing the point that I wanted her to read it. I switched off. I only realised long afterwards that it was why. Because she hadn’t understood what I wanted or given it to me. Which makes me feel crazy. There was mostly silence for the next 40 minutes or so. Which she interrupted every so often to try engage me – which she couldn’t. Which I couldn’t handle. For she wasn’t there. She told me every time that if I didn’t tell her what I wanted or needed there was no way she could give it to me. Then she asked me what I’d been thinking. Way too much. She asked me to tell her just one of the things. I said that I’d been thinking of walking out and decided it would be giving up before I started. She was somehow surprised that I was thinking of walking out. I’m not sure where the surprise comes from. I told her I wasn’t okay with the silence. That the reason I was whispering was because I didn’t want her to hear me. That she’d jumped (from one point to another) and I couldn’t handle that. She understood some of what I said, most of it she didn’t. She asked me if she could move to the same couch I was sitting on – we were 10 feel or so apart and she found it hard to hear when I said anything. I said no. She couldn’t sit any closer to me. It wasn’t safe as it was… at some point she said she feels like she wants to cuddle me. I said she can’t say that. To which she replied how she always does when I say she can’t say something. That her feelings are hers, and that’s how she feels, she feels like she wants to cuddle me. At the end I walked out and she offered me a hug. I said no and said something, probably asking if she was actually serious, to which she repeated her offer. Uh, no. I don’t do touch as she should know – we’d discussed touch the previous week.

Now, I don’t know what to think. I don’t know what to think of her offering a hug. It felt okay. I trust my instincts on that. That if it felt like it was okay for her to offer than it was. Re her saying that she feels like she wants to cuddle me, the more I think about it, the more minutes that pass, the more uncomfortable I am. It’s not okay to say that to a client. She didn’t mean it in any way – but I wouldn’t trust myself on that because I don’t pick up on anything. Not true, there are people I meet who I just get vibes from that make me uncomfortable. I don’t, have never gotten that, here. Yet it’s just not an okay thing to say. I don’t know how she could think it’s okay. I don’t know what to do about it. For it’s just so not okay.

What confuses me most is that she’s shown me the difference between good therapy and bad therapy. That she is, has been, ready to meet me where I’m at. I see the good in the way she offered me the second time we met pen and paper, whereas AH (ex therapist) told me he thought it was a great addition and extremely unconventional that we’d email/text whilst skyping (though that was weird of him, we’d been doing that always). I see the difference when I didn’t feel bad for her that there was silence and she couldn’t engage me, whereas I’d always feel bad for AH. I always thought that what I cared about with AH was my fault for caring. She showed me with how she related to me that it wasn’t my issue, but his. I see the difference that I never felt guilty for anything here. That I just would expect her to handle whatever is and meet me wherever I am – so we spent the time in silence. She wouldn’t take responsibility for what is mine – like telling me that unless I give her something to work with/from there’s nothing she can do (not those words). She’d own her responsibility. She’d be honest and ready to challenge me and wouldn’t accept a non answer. She’s been tuned in to how present I am. Ready to give me what I need (if I could express it in a way she’d understand).

So now I’m confused. Don’t show me what a good therapist is and then say something that crosses boundaries. Be a good therapist or be a bad therapist. I don’t know how to relate to it. What to think. Or what to do about it. Or how to know either.

Not sure what else to say.

Eliza

36 thoughts on “I don’t know how to make sense of a therapist telling me…

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  1. sorry, that last paragraph came out all jumbled as I edited what I was trying to say. I’ll give it another go for clarity:

    Behind the THOUGHT of “I want to cuddle Eliza” might be a more general sense of “I want to comfort Eliza” and behind that, a FEELING of helplessness. T owning that feeling and then discussing it with you is a valid thing to do in therapy, but that’s not really what she was doing.

    Another way this scenario might have played out is this: your T feels helpless in the face of your difficulty verbally expressing what is wrong, and that makes her think of giving you a cuddle, as she might comfort a child; she tells you about the feeling of helplessness and then reflects that this might be projection, where you are making her feel some of what is actually inside of you, and then it’s the perfect opening to get you to talk about your feelings.

    Instead, she is getting weirdly defensive, and that’s not a good sign. If she is otherwise good, it’s not necessarily a reason to immediately consider dropping her. I think AnaJunk’s suggestion of the DBT DEARMAN approach to bring it up with T is a really good one, and then see where that takes you.

    1. My reply got deleted as I was writing :(

      I love how on target you are. I was actually debating asking because I knew that if anyone says anything negative I’ll defend her…

      You’ve explained it really clearly. I think you’re actually right. For I don’t think she meant it literally, the sense I got was that she meant she wished she could hold me in that way, but, yeah, she should’ve said what she was thinking and why, rather than that. The way I know it most is that I’m uncomfortable saying she said she wants to cuddle me. I texted her that I was bothered, with the link to this post and asking for her supervisors contact info so I could discuss it with him. I’m calmer now that I’ve done that. Though she still has to actually reply. I wouldn’t think it was a problem that she re-iterated it’s how she feels, because it’s something she does every time I say she can’t feel something. I’d think it’s more of a problem that you’re right and it’s not a feeling but a thought.
      The best is that at the time I only said she can’t say it because the idea of touch is something that scares me (something we’ve actually discussed). Now it bothers me because I think the words themselves are a boundary crossing. Though as I said, she’s really shown me what great therapy would look like (which of course makes me wonder if it’s just me caring).
      Thanks for taking the time to read and respond… I really appreciate it.

      1. If it gets as far as negotiating with her on how to move forward from this, perhaps you could say something along the lines of “I know that your intention in saying you wanted to cuddle me and in offering the hug at the end of the session was kind, and that behind it was the wish to comfort me in some way, but I want to be clear that I am really not okay with any sort of touching in therapy and that you even talking about touching me makes me feel scared. If we are going to continue working together, I need you to find a different way to express those thoughts of wanting to comfort me. Can you do that?”

        1. Thanks. I guess I’ll see what happens (now that the ball is in her court to send me the info). I don’t know how uncomfortable I was with her offering a hug – it felt okay for her to offer – more that I’m not sure if it was okay considering I’d told her she couldn’t move to the couch, and that she knows – or should know – touch scares me. I guess will find out what happens… I also kinda don’t know if I’m right in thinking it crosses all boundaries to say the words ‘I feel like I want to cuddle you’ and if it even makes sense to work with someone (who’s really shown you that they’d know how to work with you wherever you’re at) who can say that.

  2. It’s a tricky situation to post negative things about your therapist – you think you’ll feel validated but then sometimes when people agree with you it just makes you feel really defensive on their behalf. So I’m mindful that it might not be productive to weigh in with criticism.

    What bugs me is a sense of gaslighting in the way T defended what she said about cuddling, after you’d said it was not okay with you.

    “at some point she said she feels like she wants to cuddle me. I said she can’t say that. To which she replied how she always does when I say she can’t say something. That her feelings are hers, and that’s how she feels, she feels like she wants to cuddle me.”

    Wanting to cuddle is not a FEELING, it’s a thought – and that distinction between thoughts and feelings is something therapists seem to be super-quick to pick up on when their clients blur the two, so it comes across as either lacking in self-awareness or a deliberate attempt to shift the blame to you, for your T to say what she did. And it’s also a missed opportunity in the session.

    The feeling behind the thought of “I want to cuddle you” might be “I want to comfort Eliza”, and T saying owning that feeling and then discussing it is a valid thing to do in therapy. Another way this scenario might have played out is this: your T feels helpless in the face of your difficulty verbally expressing what is wrong, and that makes her think of giving you a cuddle, as she might comfort a child; she tells you about the feeling of helplessness and then reflects that this might be projection, where you are making her feel some of what is actually inside of you, and then it’s the perfect opening to get you to talk about your feelings. Instead, she is getting weirdly defensive, and that’s not a good sign. But is she is otherwise good, not necessarily a reason to immediately consider dropping her. I think AnaJunk’s suggestion of the DBT DEARMAN approach to bring it up with T is a really good one.

  3. You’ve had great advice above, NO therapist should ever suggest a hug or cuddle! Talk to her supervisor but it is crossing boundaries and completely inappropriate.

    Otherwise it sounds like you trust her and have made some progress. Maybe you are ‘scared’ she is getting closer to you … your choice

    1. Thanks Kate (so confused, how do you spell your name, here it says with a K, but I thought you did with a C). I don’t see it as an issue to suggest a hug actually, but I asked her for her supervisors info, so will see what happens.
      I wouldn’t say I trust her (anyone for that matter), though I have seen stuff I really like. I’d always be scared that someone is getting closer, to that wouldn’t actually factor into any decision I make – coz’ if I’d make decisions based on that, nothing would ever happen. I’ll see what happens when I’ve spoken to him and her and see then. It’s interesting to see how some people are like – stay far away if someone can say that. Some people are like, do what works for you. It was wrong to say, it may be possible to go passed it.
      Love and light…
      Happy Friday!

      1. maybe I need to explain, meaning that she is getting closer to you emotionally, knowing how you work … sorry didn’t mean that in the physical sense at all.

            1. Right now I’m annoyed. I sent her a message that I wanted to share some thoughts I had about our last session, this link, and then wrote please can you send me your supervisors contact information so that I can discuss it with him.
              She replied – 19 hours later – that it’s obviously important and we should discuss it when we meet.
              Uh, um, I asked for his info for a reason…..
              Because what the issue here is – if there’s anything to work with at all – depends on her way of practicing, the protocol that she follows. And although she could have skipped the part of the message about asking for the info, to me it means that she doesn’t want to give it to me (which actually doesn’t fit my prototype for her).
              I don’t know :(

            2. frankly I did not engage with clients between sessions, that would get too messy and giving her links to your private blog expressing all your qualms may not be so helpful. Contact her office for details of her supervisor

            3. She doesn’t work in an office. I replied again saying it is important to me which is why I need to speak to her supervisor before we meet. Could she let me know how to do so.
              She hasn’t replied. Yet?
              Honestly, it’s more of a red flag to me that she didn’t give me her supervisors contact info when I asked for it right away. The reason I sent her the link was so that she’d know what I want to discuss with him (so that if she’d want to she could discuss it with him first). What I wanted to ask him was his views on touch and what she said. Because it depends on her therapeutic practice how much of a boundary she crossed. Some therapists believe touching is okay. Either way it was crossing boundaries. It could’ve been a mistake, or it could’ve been more than a ‘we can work through this mistake’. But not something I’d be able to discuss or work through unless I know what his views are.
              Not that it’s important at the moment. For if she doesn’t give me a way to contact her supervisor after I asked a second time she’s saying she doesn’t want him to know. Which takes away any question of continuing at all.
              I’m not sure why I bother trying to get help.

            4. you are trying to get help because you do need it but your demands are very high … it is illegal to touch here. Clients in therapy are very vulnerable and touch can lead to more …
              I certainly know a male therapist who had sexual relationships with his married clients but never got caught by husbands or the authorities. It is wrong at many levels.

            5. Thanks!
              She didn’t send me her supervisors number so that’s that.
              I’ve an appointment in the NHS in a month that will probably go nowhere but I guess we’ll find out.

  4. Ugh. Behavior like that from a therapist would creep me out. Personally, I’d have a difficult time recovering from a session like that. If I really was getting something out of my sessions with her, I’d definitely have to set some non-negotiable boundaries the next time I saw the person. Given my love of DBT, I’d write up a formal DEARMAN with FAST and go into my next session armed with that. Again, I’m not you and don’t know the details of your relationship with your therapist. I’m just sharing what I’d likely do if I found myself in a similar situation. Good luck.

    1. Okay, what is dearman and what is fast? (yeah I’ve heard the acronyms before but still don’t understand them)
      I don’t know myself what is or isn’t, or what the details are or aren’t :).

      The session itself was okay (well it wasn’t, but it was because I stayed present with it, which for me is major). Her saying she wants to… is a breach of boundaries. I think part of what tells me so is that I’m uncomfortable writing the words.

      I texted her the link to this post and asked for her supervisors contact info to discuss it with him.

      1. DEARMAN is a DBT skill for interpersonal effectiveness. It basically gives you a guideline for working through difficult situations with other people (FAST is an add-on that helps you focus on self-respect, which seems appropriate in this case). Here’s a link to a worksheet: https://printableworksheets.in/worksheet/dearman

        I’ve used this before with either difficult people (like my father) or difficult situations (like coming out to my roommate about my kratom use). If you go over it and have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them. Even if you decide you don’t need DEARMAN for this situation, I find it’s useful to have in my ‘toolbox’.

  5. I’ve never been to a therapist so don’t hold that against me, but if you set parameters last week that you are not a touchy-feely person (I’m not either), then YOU, and YOU alone, are the patient/client and she should abide by YOUR wishes and requests. You wanted her to respond about the letter regarding the untimely death of the girl and she didn’t. I think she has her own agenda and perhaps you need to find someone else, even if you lose continuity by having to find another therapist at this time.

      1. You’re welcome Eliza – only YOU know best what is good for you. That was my “two cents worth” as the expression goes. I just would like to see someone who is paying attention to what you say/ask … being attentive your details. Have a good day Eliza.

  6. The therapy session shouldn’t be about your therapist’s feelings. Most therapists don’t offer hugs or cuddles. It’s usually the other way around–the client feeling the desire to be physically close through a handshake or hug. That’s different if it is discussed and boundaries are clear. But something really sounds off here. Not so much that she didn’t give you the reaction that you wanted. That’s worth exploring and could really be a matter of projection and expectations. But the discomfort you described with her moving to the couch and her knowing that you don’t like to be touched, is worrisome.

    1. Thanks for reading and replying…..

      Yeah, it doesn’t bother me that she didn’t react the way I wanted her to. I mean I couldn’t handle it and completely withdrew, but it’s quote on quote normal, especially since I know I can be really tough to understand.

      She didn’t move to the other couch. She stayed 10 feet or so away from me. If she’d moved to the couch I was on she would still have been at a bit of a distance (though I said no, so it wasn’t an option). When we were in another room she actually asked me if I wanted to change positions with her because her chair had it’s back to the door – and could give me the sense of her blocking the exit. When she said she feels like she wants to cuddle me, I’m pretty certain she didn’t mean it seriously. As in I think she was trying to say she wanted to be there. Though I’m not sure what she did mean. And it’s crossing boundaries irrespective. Though my reasoning for that isn’t how I felt but because that just makes sense. Her offering a hug as I walked out made more sense (I said no). She was offering a hug. She wasn’t offering to actually cuddle me. (if she were there wouldn’t actually be any question at all) That’s the sense I got anyways. Though I don’t know. I don’t really know what to do about it. If I should keep the next appointment and discuss it with her, or not. What confuses me most is that she really is a great therapist. Or I wouldn’t know whether she is, but other than that she doesn’t always understand what I’m trying to say, or remember every single word I’ve said, she’s been ready and able to meet me where I’m at, give me my responsibility, challenge me and understand a lot of what’s going on at the time we’re talking. She’s shown me through her reactions where my ex therapist went wrong and where he went right. Kinda like, be one or the other. Good or bad. Don’t be great and then cross boundaries. I don’t know what the unless would be…. And as I said, just really not sure what to do about it now. anyways, thanks for letting me ramble…

  7. Eliza, to me, since you are approaching this with what seems to me to be much uncertainty, and feeling uncomfortable, you may need to consider if you should continue with her.

    Does this sound like a good idea? Pick the qualities that you do like about her and see if you can write about that as flowingly as you wrote today’s post.

    If you can do it, it might just be the touching – the cuddle – the hug – that is a problem. If that’s the case, tell her plainly that the cuddle idea and hug idea bothers you and to please not do/say that any more. Then continue with her and see how it goes.

    If you can’t find anything good about her or just not enough, then maybe you should consider finding another therapist. I know that might not be what you want to do but I think working with someone who makes you uncomfortable will be worse. I just left my group therapy for the same reasons and the therapist objected strongly. I’m without a group now but that therapist and group gave me the creeps.

    I hope I’m being helpful. But I feel strongly about this and felt I should say it.

  8. Sending lot of love Eliza!
    I know some therapists do hugs and stuff, but only if the client is interested.
    I’m disturbed by the phrase “cuddle me”. Touch is my main love language and beyond hugs it’s not so conventional to be a part of life of a frum person outside the context of a spouse. Me and my friends do do more touch but they are definitely not comfortable with the idea of cuddling and I would never dream of using that word.

    All the more so a therapist with a client.
    Is she frum?

    Thinking and davening for you!

    1. Not Jewish. I don’t think she meant it seriously that she really wanted to though I wouldn’t know unless I asked – if I speak to her again. And I think she meant hold by that. Although what would she have said if I said so do….. I’m really not comfortable with her having said that and not yet sure what to do about it.
      Thanks for your prayers. Really. I appreciate it….

      1. You’re welcome! I think that you need to talk to her about it and about that way you’re feeling like other people have suggested. It’s kinda more of a red flag if she doesn’t listen to your want and needs than to be interested in having some touch in therapy since there’s therapies that utilize touch.

  9. Wow. It’s great that you’re able to see how you wanted her to respond with the letter, and that you felt negative emotions when she didn’t meet your needs. It’s so challenging for me to ask for what I need sometimes!

    And yes, saying she wanted to cuddle you was (in my opinion) an unconventional and super uncomfortable thing for her to express. Maybe it’s arguing semantics, but in my way of understanding, saying that one “feels like” doing something is NOT expressing FEELINGS. It’s expressing an impulse, or an urge, or a desire to act. Feelings are words like sadness, empathy, grief, frustration, exasperation, confusion, worried, dismayed, displeased, impatient, perplexed, torn, troubled, uneasy, flustered, ashamed, discouraged, anxious, overwhelmed, helpless, or longing. I’m guessing she felt one or more of those feelings and was uncomfortable with the silence, interpreting it to mean she wasn’t accomplishing what she wanted to, and so maybe she thought that “cuddling you” would help the situation.

    I can understand that…. the other day I had the tremendous honor of putting my arms around my 16-year-old daughter for a few minutes and letting her cry on my shoulder. It was healing for both of us — I don’t remember anyone doing that for me. It wasn’t okay to not feel happy. My parents couldn’t handle my feelings of grief or anger or fear. So I chose not to have them. (Or, rather, to deny, stuff, or medicate them) But you don’t have the relationship of trust and intimacy with your therapist at this point, so it seems awkward and strange.

    Just my .02

    1. Thanks D…. I’m glad you got to do that. That’s awesome!!!! It’s good to hear from you…
      And yeah, you got it.
      Love and light….
      E.

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