Can you be friends with your therapists after therapy? 

Everyone has wondered at least once, whether they can be friends with their therapists or not. The answer to this in most cases would be no. That is because of rules of conduct and ethics as laid out by several psychological establishments. Besides the ethical reasons, staying friends with your therapists may also foster transference and countertransference during therapy. 

In this brief blog we will look into these factors in more detail. 

Can you be friends with your therapists after therapy? 

It may sound great to think you could be friends with your ex-therapist, but in reality you really shouldn’t assume that they’re a potential friend just because they’re now “outside” of their role as a therapist. They still have many duties and responsibilities.

It’s important to respect therapists. The relationship they’re involved in with their clients is equal, rather than one-sided, so both parties can gain useful information and insights from each other over the course of time. 

As a result, for a future friendship to be truly ethical and meaningful it’s vital that therapists observe codes of ethics that aim to prevent them forming a personal relationship with a patient during or soon after therapy.

Client-therapist friendships can be unethical, according to codes of ethics from many bodies that govern therapists, including the American Psychological Association [APA]. By becoming friends with a client, a therapist can risk disciplinary action from governing bodies or losing licensure.

A lot of these code of conduct’s and ethics stem from the theories of transference and countertransference, proposed by Freud. To understand why it may be damaging to pursue a friendship with your therapist post therapy, we shall look into what these concepts mean. 

What is transference in therapy?

Transference is a process that occurs between two persons in a close relationship the results of which derive from the emotional reactions they used to have in their earliest relationships. It’s important to be aware of transference and how it can even happen outside of a clinical setting. This knowledge will help you deal with challenges as they come up in your professional life.

In psychoanalytic therapy, transference is something to be examined, explored, and understood. The therapist also examines and explores her countertransference feelings as a way of understanding the effects a patient is having on her.

Transference is so,etching that can very much occur after the sessions have been terminated. Due to the imbalanced roles of the two people involved, it is possible that the client might find attraction for their therapist, platonically or romantically. 

It can complicate things further if the therapist has previously been indemnified with a mentor, a father or mother figure. Becoming friends can elicit reactions that might not be helpful for the previous learning derived from the therapeutic relationship. 

Researchers have studied different connections between psychotherapists and their current and former clients over the last three decades, and boundary concerns have been investigated in the ethical literature. 

Some practitioners have dual relationships (also known as dual-role relationships) with current clients in their day-to-day work. These interactions might be inescapable and even advantageous in some cases. 

A school counsellor, for example, may simultaneously serve as the coach of a sports team, fulfilling the roles of both counsellor and coach for children.

Until recently, discussions about numerous ties with former customers were quite rare. Research on the ethics of counsellors having sexual relationships with former clients began in the late 1980s and early 1990s, resulting in the ACA Code of Ethics forbidding sexual relationships with former clients for at least five years after treatment. Recent research has looked into how therapists feel about nonsexual interactions with former clients.

Interestingly, research suggests that therapists feel less ethically conflicted about entering these relationships with former clients than they have in the past.

Let’s understand American Psychological Association’s stand point with the code of ethics mentioning Multiple Relationships.

[Section 3.05] Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (2016)

3.05 Multiple Relationships

  • A multiple relationship occurs when a psychologist is in a professional role with a person and 

(1) at the same time is in another role with the same person, (2) at the same time is in a relationship with a person closely associated with or related to the person with whom the psychologist has the professional relationship, or (3) promises to enter into another relationship in the future with the person or a person closely associated with or related to the person.

A psychologist refrains from entering into a multiple relationship if the multiple relationship could reasonably be expected to impair the psychologist’s objectivity, competence, or effectiveness in performing his or her functions as a psychologist, or otherwise risks exploitation or harm to the person with whom the professional relationship exists.

Multiple relationships that would not reasonably be expected to cause impairment or risk exploitation or harm are not unethical.

  • If a psychologist finds that, due to unforeseen factors, a potentially harmful multiple relationship has arisen, the psychologist takes reasonable steps to resolve it with due regard for the best interests of the affected person and maximal compliance with the Ethics Code.
  • When psychologists are required by law, institutional policy, or extraordinary circumstances to serve in more than one role in judicial or administrative proceedings, at the outset they clarify role expectations and the extent of confidentiality and thereafter as changes occur.

The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) Code of Conduct (2018)

RULES OF CONDUCT. B. Multiple Relationships

Definition of multiple relationships.Psychologists recognize that multiple relationships may occur because of the psychologist’s present or previous familial, social, emotional, financial, supervisory, political, administrative or legal relationship with the client or a relevant person associated with or related to the client. 

Psychologists take reasonable steps to ensure that if such a multiple relationship occurs, it is not exploitative of the client or a relevant person associated with or related to the client.

Prohibited Multiple Relationships.

  • A multiple relationship that is exploitative of the client or a relevant person associated with or related to the client is prohibited.
  • Psychologists take all reasonable steps to ensure that any multiple relationships do not impair the psychologist’s professional judgment or objectivity or result in a conflict of interest with the client or a relevant person associated with or related to the client.
  • Multiple relationships that would not reasonably be expected to impair a psychologist’s judgment or objectivity or risk harm to the client or relevant person associated with or related to the client are not expressly prohibited.

Conclusion 

The therapeutic relationship is not a friendship. It’s a professional relationship. You pay for services. The therapist is doing a job for you for which she or he is paid. It’s only natural. You’ve met with your therapist once a week for a year or more. You’ve shared some of your deepest concerns and worries. You’ve shared your triumphs and celebrations. They have supported you, rooted for you, listened to and soothed your pain. 

It makes sense that you might want to normalize the relationship by asking to go for a coffee or have lunch; to invite them to a family wedding or at least to share more information about her life with you. However, It’s important for all of us to recognize that people can be friendly and supportive but not be friends.