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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Erotic Transference for Group Leaders

In an earlier blog post, I wrote about the erotic transference that occurs in psychotherapy treatment where a client develops erotic feelings, often unconscious, for the therapist and vice versa.  This is a common phenomenon in psychotherapy and therapists who have psychoanalytic training are trained to deal with this issue, whether it's the client having erotic feelings for the therapist (more commonly) or the other way around.  Much has been written about the erotic transference in therapy.  But erotic transference can occur in groups as well where group members develop erotic feelings for the group leader.

The Erotic Transference of Group Leaders

Group Leaders Are Often Idealized
Group leaders, including schoolteachers, seminar instructors, college professors, and motivational speakers are often embued with certain idealized qualities by participants.  We're all familiar with the school girl or boy who develops a crush on the teacher.

The Erotic Transference of Group Leaders

These crushes can be very intense at times, consuming a student's thoughts with fantasies of going out on a date, having sex or having a romantic relationship with the teacher.  A teenage student might sit dreamy eyed in a classroom, staring at the teacher and thinkng about how wonderful the teacher is.  Most of the time, these crushes pass as teenagers develop the social skills to meet other students their own age and go on to have attainable relationships with their peers.

Erotic Transference for Rock Bands and Musical Groups
We also know that teenagers and young adults develop erotic transference for band members.  When I was 11 or 12, my friends and I used to debate about who was the handsomest and sexiest Beatle.   Some of us wrote stories about the particular Beatle that we liked (in my case, it was Paul McCartney) and then brought our stories into class to share with each other during lunch time.

Paul McCartney
We would fantasize about meeting our favorite Beatle and what that might be like.  It never once occurred to us that we really didn't know them and that they might be very different than our fantasies about them.

Other teens (and some adults) had an erotic transference for Tom Jones.  Few people of my generation would forget how young girls and women would throw their panties at him while he was on stage singng.  In prior generations, teenagers developed erotic transference for Elvis or Frank Sinatra.

Erotic Transference for Political Leaders
In politics, many women idealized and developed an erotic transference for President Kennedy, who was perceived as a young, handsome leader who would lead the nation into a new era.  He was compared to the legend of King Arthur of Camelot.

President John F. Kennedy
Similarly, many people have an erotic transference for President Obama, especially in 2008.  He was compared to President Kennedy and very idealized.

President Obama
I remember going into a store in Manhattan at the time called East West Books and seeing a picture of President Obama up in the sky with an aura around him, as if he was a saint or a god.  I don't think anyone could live up to so much idealization, and we know that when those who idealized him were disappointed, many of them became disillusioned.  Politics aside, I believe that part of the problem was that, for many people, there was an illusion that he would be the nation's savior.  And who could blame anyone feeling that way given the problems in the country?  But whenever you put someone on a pedestal, whether it's a political leader or your romantic partner, there's no way to go but down.

Erotic Transference in Professional Small Groups
Erotic transference can occur in small group settings as well, even among psychotherapists.  As a psychotherapist, to keep up my skills and develop new skills, I attend professional trainings.  I find it very interesting to observe how therapists, who know about erotic transference, develop their own erotic transferential feelings for professional group leaders, in much the same way that young women develop crushes on rock stars.

For many people, even therapists, the erotic transference is like being  under a magic spell.   A group leader, who appeared to most people as being average looking before the workshop begins, is perceived as being very attractive, intelligent, sexy, and so on, once the workshop starts.  He or she is embued with all kinds of idealized qualities within the fantasies of the participants.  The participants often vie for the workshop leader's attention or want to sit next to him or her.

I remember one colleague telling me that she was in love with one of the workshop leaders, even though, in reality, neither she nor I knew him personally.  When I tactfully brought up the possibility that this could be an erotic transference, or at the very least an idealized transference, she rejected this  as being out of hand.  She was convinced that she loved him.  Inevitably, the spell was broken when he said something that disappointed her .

Erotic transference for group leaders is a common phenomenon.  Group leaders who are ethical don't take advantage of this because they know that this idealization is mostly fantasy, and it would be unethical for them to use it to manipulate or take advantage of the person (or people) with the erotic transference.

Erotic Transference in Group Therapy
Erotic transference also comes up in group therapy.  If a group therapist is properly trained, he or she, at the very least, won't engage in boundary violations.

Erotic Transference in Group Therapy
At best, the erotic transference can be used to explore the inner emotional world of a group member.  This needs to be handled with tact and respect  for all involved, especially the client with the erotic transference for the group therapist, and only if the client is ready and open to exploring it within the group or one-on-one with the therapist in a treatment environment that is safe for everyone involved.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006.

Also see my articles:
Psychotherapy and Erotic Transference
Boundary Violations and Sexual Exploitation in Psychotherapy


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