Sage Advice: Client Stalks Therapist
How far is too far?
Dear Amy: I’m a young professional, working as a banker at a local branch. I have been going to the same therapist for nearly three years and I absolutely adore her. She has helped me beyond words. I treasure our wonderful connection and relationship.
Here lies the issue: I am technically stalking her.
My therapist banks where I work. I have access to her accounts and check daily, observing her spending habits. I am also privy to her personal information; address, date of birth and social security number, although I have not searched for her home.
I am mortified with my behavior, yet I find myself unable to stop. It gives me insight into who she is as a person, which makes me feel closer to her.
I would be absolutely devastated if she knew – and I can only assume she would terminate our relationship. I can’t talk to anyone about this. I feel it’s truly abhorrent behavior, and I don’t want to be judged. Help!
– Secretive Searcher
Dear Searcher: Stop. Don’t search today. Breathe through your impulse. And then don’t search tomorrow.
This is highly unethical. Your employer has entrusted you with this vital and important information. You are abusing this trust.
I shared your question with Lori Gottlieb, a psychotherapist and author of the memoir: “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed” (2019, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).
She responds: “It’s natural to be curious about your therapist, especially because it can feel like such a one-sided relationship. Most of us wonder, ‘Who is this person who knows so much about me?’ I once Googled my therapist, only to realize that while I thought learning about him would bridge that gap, it instead created a bigger one, because now I had to edit myself in therapy – a space where we’re supposed to feel free to talk about absolutely anything – because I was worried I might give away what I knew.
“Your daily monitoring of her accounts, though, goes beyond simple curiosity. It might be a way to feel close to her between sessions – a way of comforting yourself with her virtual presence – but it might also be pointing to what’s missing in your own life.”
“So many of our destructive behaviors take root in an emotional void, an emptiness that calls out for something to fill it. This void is what you should be talking to your therapist about – what it is and how you cope with it by focusing on her life instead of yours. If you keep this a secret, not only will you be wasting your time in therapy, but you’ll remain stuck in what has become a dangerous obsession that could cost you not just your therapist, but your job. It’s possible that you’ll need to find a new therapist, but at least you’ll be working on what’s causing you to do something that, though soothing in the moment, will leave you feeling guilty, isolated and empty in the long run.”
In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068
© 2019 by Amy Dickinson