It is widely accepted among psychotherapists and their clients that the relationship between a therapist and a client, or the so-called “therapeutic relationship”, is both intimate and professional at the same time. I believe, that “intimate” and “professional” dynamics cannot co-exist in the same relationship, but I also believe that it depends on how one defines “intimacy”.
Intimacy, like many other concepts, is understood differently depending on one’s cultural upbringing, personal experiences and personal views. Like everything else, it’s up to interpretation and that’s why it is dangerous to use this concept in therapy without clarifying what it means for both participants of therapy process (a client and a therapist) and without making sure they are both “on the same page” with it, that is to say they both have the same understanding of intimacy, how it applies to therapy and if it applies at all. Failure to make such clarification often results in clients getting harmed due to unrealistic expectations they may create of their relationships with therapists.
Unfortunately, many therapists often fail to clarify the concept of intimacy for themselves before they are able to clarify it for clients. Interestingly enough, it is usually a therapist who introduces the idea of intimacy in therapy to a client, and, with so much talk about clients “pushing” therapists’ boundaries, I wonder if by introducing the idea of intimacy being a “normal” part of the therapist-patient relationship it is, in fact, the therapist who is “pushing” the client’s personal boundary.
The concept of intimacy or rather an illusion of intimacy (in my view) in therapy is a huge topic that can’t be fully discussed in the short post. In order to do justice to this subject, I am currently working on the article on intimacy in therapy that may easily turn into a small book. I will post a link to it as soon as it is complete.