Debate This: Would You Let Your Therapist Set You Up?
In this weekend’s New York Times, clinical psychiatrist Richard A. Friedman grapples with the question: should therapists play matchmaker for their patients? The answer he arrives at is no: “Looking to your therapist to set up a date is as ill-advised as it is to look to Match.com for help with depression or an eating disorder.”
Friedman admits to be tempted to fix patients up but ultimately decided against it because it “would involve crossing useful boundaries. And would bring my personal life in conflict with my job as therapist, which, among other things, is to help patients understand themselves and discover how to make their own lives as full and rich as possible.”
Ethically, this idea of therapist matchmaking questionable, but not an outright violation of the patient-therapist code of conduct. In my grad school training as a counselor, this issue of setting patients up never came up as strictly unethical. Friedman acknowledges that some psychotherapists consider matchmaking to be completely ethical for high-functioning patients with informed consent on everyone’s part.
But ultimately Friedman feels that playing Cupid with patients “skirts the untidy fact of transference and countertransference — the matching sets of powerful and unconscious feelings that patients and therapists have toward each other.” In other words, the bond between therapist and patient goes deeper than either party may be aware of. So, while all parties involved may consciously agree to the terms and conditions of the fix-up, there’s no bargaining for how their unconscious will react. Simply put, one of the patients or the therapist — or everyone — might get a little weird if the fix up doesn’t go well. Or even if it does. It’s hard to predict human behavior where intimacy is involved. Not to mention the blurring of boundaries between the patient and therapist. Once you cross that boundary, there’s no going back.
I haven’t personally had a therapist who’s tried to set me up, but I’ve heard of it happening before. A therapist of mine once tried to set me up professionally — getting me a job interview with one of his other clients. I ended up working for her for a week; it was an absolute disaster that caused me stress. Although I emerged from the situation emotionally unscathed, I do think my relationship with my therapist changed after that. “How could he think I would be able to work for this psycho?” I thought. But I couldn’t say it out loud. Because, well, it was awkward and I didn’t want to insult him. Based on that experience, I tend to agree with Friedman that therapists should leave matchmaking well alone. There are just too many unknown variables at play.
What do you think? Would you let your therapist fix you up? [New York Times]