My client has romantic feelings for me

My Client has Romantic Feelings for me #socialwork #therapy #boundaries Last week my supervision group watched the first episode of HBO’s In Treatment. In this episode the female client professes her love for her male therapist. You can see the fear and awkwardness on the therapist’s. This led to some great discussion on transference, counter-transference, and specifically how to handle romantic feelings in the therapy room. Here are some guidelines for when a client has romantic feelings for you:


    1. You’re not alone! This is not as uncommon as you may think. Lots of clients develop romantic feelings for their therapists or case managers as a result of a trusting, caring professional relationship.  Most clients will not verbalize or act on these feelings. Some with poor boundaries will behave inappropriately. I could tell you many stories about poor boundaries, sexual innuendo, being asked on dates, etc. from supervising case managers who work with sex offenders!


    1. Talk to your supervisor. It is important that you explore your feelings about this client and get some guidance around clinical and ethical issues. I strongly suggest you consult with a supervisor/manger or colleague even if you are a seasoned clinician.


    1. Document what happened and how you handled it. Your client’s romantic feelings are both clinically significant and have potential legal or ethical implications. Documenting and consulting can also provide you some protection if this situation leads to a complaint against you.


    1. Should I transfer the client? Therapists often jump to transferring the client as the solution. I think transferring the client feels like the safest and easiest way to handle it. However, this is often not necessary and may not be in the client’s best interest. If your client is able to maintain boundaries and process feelings with you, this can be important clinical work. If you are struggling despite the above being true, you may want to look at some things in your personal therapy. Referring the client to another service provider may be appropriate if s/he is unsafe towards you or refuses to address the issues.


    1. Should I bring it up if I suspect the client has romantic feelings, but hasn’t come out and said anything? This is a tricky question that I can’t answer adequately without knowing the specifics. Some things to ask yourself: What specifically has s/he said or done that make me think s/he has romantic feelings for me? Have I set clear boundaries? What can I do to reinforce professional boundaries with this client? Have I talked to my supervisor? If not, why? How do I feel about this client and our work together? Do I have romantic feelings for the client?


    1. Take precautions. If you are working with a client that has romantic feelings for you (and especially if s/he also has poor boundaries and impulse control) take precautions to protect yourself. Depending on the nature of your work and environment, this may include: leaving the office door open, not doing home visits, not being alone with the client.


  1. You are responsible for setting boundaries. I can’t emphasize this enough. It is not your client’s responsibility to set and maintain boundaries, it’s yours. You are the professional. I don’t mean that you are responsible for your client’s behavior. You do, however, have a responsibility to explain the limits of the professional relationship and behave in a professional manner.

I hope this was helpful as an introduction to what to do when a client has romantic feelings for you. I will be writing more about boundaries in the near future. Don’t miss out – signup for my e-newsletter today.

Sharon Martin has a passion for clinical supervision, mentoring new social workers, blogging, and reading all things social work related. She is a California Licensed Clinical Social Worker with over 20 years in the field. Sharon has worked extensively in Bay Area non-profits and successfully runs a private counseling practice in San Jose. Sharon writes regularly for PsychCentral and the Good Men Project. She's also the author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism.


  1. Jay Butterfield's Gravatar Jay Butterfield
    March 29, 2018    

    Yes Id like to receive emails about social work issues

  2. Anonymous's Gravatar Anonymous
    January 13, 2019    

    I am not a caseworker but a support worker. One of my clients expressed attraction toward me and wanted to text and visit me outside of work. I refused, but over time I also developed feelings for this person. I passed the file on to another worker and haven’t seen the client since. Now he is no longer a client of the agency. Would it still be wrong, or grounds for termination if I were to see him? Btw, I live in Canada.

    • January 15, 2019    

      I don’t know if it’s grounds for termination; that’s up to your employer. IMO, it’s still unethical and I wouldn’t recommend it.

  3. Annie's Gravatar Annie
    June 20, 2019    

    my client worked hard 8 sessions to “connect” . desperate to connect. has what feels like an ’emotional’ crush…I feel like he scours me for feedback and acceptance. starving like. i am not comfortable and think i have to bring it up. I am SURE this is what he is like. he has two lovers and a wife. and has not given his wife Dignity of Choice – which I am working on with him. but jeeze this is hard.
    i am not a novice, private practice five years. I like him v much but feel no sexual feelings. its not sexual. but its too intimate. Yalom says therapy is intimate work, but this is something else.

    My supervisor is attentive to this case as is my therapist.

    I was very uncomfortable two weeks ago, and he sensed it (of course, he ‘scours” me… then following week we spoke of my discomfort – how I can not collude with his mistresses, medication and psychiatrist to relieve his anxieties..that he needs to have a goal toward telling his wife.
    what bothered me most was the intensity – he was worried we were going to ‘break up’ not terminate.

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