If you’re re-entering the dating world, you probably have a list of traits you want to see in your next partner. You’re looking for someone with great communication skills. Someone mature, who knows just what to say.
Have you ever considered dating a therapist?
Dating a therapist is a lot like any other romantic relationship. It’s a partnership that relies on communication, trust, and commitment. The relationship benefits from the personalities and skills of the people in it.
I’m happily married. I couldn’t ask for a better partner. We talk and laugh. We’ve supported each other through some of the hardest experiences of our lives. We can be emotionally vulnerable with each other. I can’t imagine anyone I’d rather argue with, because I know we’re going to be okay afterward.
But dating me (and our marriage) is not without its difficulties. I like to think I bring a lot to the relationship, but “I’m just one small man,” as I like to tell my husband. I forget to empty the dishwasher and eat out too much. I’m not always able to name my emotions in the moment. Sometimes, I’m just a bit of a bitch.
Does that surprise you?
If you’re thinking of starting to date a therapist, consider the following pros and cons.
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There are a lot of reasons you might consider dating a therapist. If the universe hands you the opportunity, here are some reasons to swipe right.
People don’t become therapists because they don’t care. Therapists are helping professionals, like doctors and nurses. We care about improving people’s lives, and we do it by developing relationships with our clients and community. We know that understanding a person is the key to connection.
Even if you meet on dating apps, therapists are more likely to take things slow and want to spend time talking. They tend to seek out meaningful relationships, but if they are looking for something short-term, they can be upfront about it. They can show more understanding if things don’t work out.
Many therapists bring that same level of care to their relationships. They are invested in the mental and emotional well-being of their partner. They want to resolve conflict instead of sweeping things under the rug. They want to spend time processing feelings with their partners.
If you begin dating therapists, you’ll probably notice that they are good listeners. They care about understanding what you have to say and why it’s important to you. They want to show you that they are committed.
All emotions have a purpose. They influence our behavior and help us to communicate with others.1 In order to become therapists, we have to be able to recognize what people are feeling and why. Not only that, but we have to be aware of our responses and their impact.
Emotional intelligence is more than just knowing what different feelings are called. It’s recognizing that we feel things all of the time. It’s knowing that people (including ourselves) are impacted by the way we feel even when we don’t realize it or know why.
If you’re dating a therapist, you’ll probably notice that they are attuned to your emotions. If you’re not used to focusing on how you feel, they might be able to figure out you are upset before you do.
But that awareness also means that, over time, you might notice that you’re getting upset less often, and when you do, it’s less intense and confusing.
Therapists have to be able to identify themes and values that drive the emotional responses of the people around them. That means that they are often analyzing their partners in depth. They have an awareness that can help them avoid conflict with their partner altogether.
Let’s say, for example, you’re frustrated that your partner doesn’t do the dishes. Some people might do the washing a bit more often. But a therapist will probably find other tasks around the house to help with because they know the underlying frustration is because you don’t feel supported. Or they’ll show verbal appreciation, knowing it’s important to you.
A lot of people have a lot of misconceptions about therapy. Counselors aren’t just nodding along and asking “how does that make you feel?”
Being a therapist requires excellent communication skills. And that’s not just knowing what people are saying. We have to read body language, make inferences about underlying meanings, and link present discussions to past experiences.
Therapists also have to be great listeners. We learn to practice active listening. We check in verbally, reflect back, and rephrase to make sure we understand someone’s point. We know that distraction is the enemy of effective communication.
Dating a therapist will probably help you understand how you best communicate. You might also learn that you’re not as bad at communicating as you thought - you just need someone to listen.
Conflict is also a space where therapists can prove superior communicators. Where a lot of people can become overwhelmed, therapists can stay focused. They also know how to reframe conflict from me-against-you language into us-against-the-problem.
When you’re already overwhelmed, managing someone else’s stress can be exhausting. Therapists have experience dealing with stressful situations and emotions. We have to be able to put them in context and resist the urge to react to someone else’s crisis. A lot of the time, we have to set aside our own stress to deal with the issue at hand.
Being able to do this is only partly a strong compartmentalization skill. It’s also a result of practicing coping strategies for ourselves and guiding our clients through those exercises.
(When I lead my DBT Skills training groups, I remind people that I have mastered the skills I have because I practice them constantly. Yes I use them at home, but I also teach them at least once a week!)
Because of this, therapists are more likely to pause and take a deep breath before approaching a difficult situation. They are more likely to offer or ask for support. They are more likely to recognize unhelpful urges and resist them before they can create more problems.
Dating a therapist isn’t a guarantee that things will always be easy. The skills they bring to the relationship can be a double-edged sword.
How many times have you felt like you know the source of a problem but can’t figure out how to fix it? It’s a common experience. Sometimes you’re too close to the situation to see the solution. You can’t “see the forest for the trees.”
Other people’s lives are easier to make decisions about. Think of all of the times you’ve given good advice to a friend, without taking that advice yourself.
Therapists are notimmune to this. Even when they date other therapists, sometimes a problem isn’t fixable. Sometimes the solutions elude them, even when they take time to talk things out. Sometimes, things are just too overwhelming to handle.
If you’re looking for an independently wealthy partner who doesn’t need to work all the time, dating a psychotherapist is not for you. A fully licensed therapist in the United States could get to the point where they make six figures, but the median average pay is less than $50k a year.
Keep in mind, becoming a licensed mental health professional requires a master's degree from an accredited school. In many programs, there are at least a year of internships, often unpaid. And once a person has graduated, they have an associate license for multiple years.
A lot of people work in agencies for stability and support in loan repayment or forgiveness. But agency work can be exhausting - these community-based organizations and non-profits are never short of people in need of services. That means long hours, and sometimes this leads to burnout.
Therapists are givers. We generally skew toward more left-leaning politics2, and often believe that if you can help someone you have a moral obligation to do so. This is wonderful for advocacy and helps people get the services they need. But it often comes at the price of our personal lives.
Being a counselor is a demanding job. Even if your partner isn’t a crisis resource, they will have clients who need support, community advocacy projects, their own business to manage, or any of a million other constant responsibilities. That’s on top of the emotional weight.
If your partner works with marginalized populations or supports those dealing with trauma, the weight can be exhausting. We have a moral and ethical obligation to show up for our clients, but we end up borrowing sleep from tomorrow.
And that’s just business. Every friend, family member, PTA mom, and book club member who knows we’re therapists has a question. They want to help a family member or speak to someone reassuring. And as much as we encourage them to seek a counseling relationship with someone, they often need help to get there.
(I can’t tell you how many times my husband and I have stayed a half-hour after the end of an event as I share colleagues’ contact info and reassure someone that they’re not crazy.)
Where does that leave us? Date nights at home because we don’t have the energy to go out. Often, we have difficulty with intimacy3, especially if we’re dealing with a particularly difficult client or project.
It’s really hard to take off the therapist hat. The skills that make us a great confidant outside of a person’s everyday life are the things that can make us feel distant from a partner.
If you start dating a therapist, you might be frustrated when it comes to an argument. Because of our training, we can be weirdly calm in the face of an upset person. Instead of escalating to match your emotion, your therapist partner might get quiet. If you’re not used to it, you might feel like it’s condescending.
Therapists are trained to ask all the right questions, which can help our clients to make an important self-discovery. But in a relationship, that can sometimes feel like an interrogation. Or maybe you’ll feel like your partner sees you as the problem.
I want to be clear here: most therapists are not treating their partners like a client when they do this. But when you spend your days talking through conflict in specific ways, those patterns can follow you home.
The biggest misconception people have when it comes to dating therapists is that we have our lives together. And why would anyone expect any differently? We help people navigate their struggles every day. We have the tools and skills, so it makes sense that we’d use them in our personal lives.
And we try! But at the end of the day, we’re just people.
Helping others find their way is much easier than finding the way yourself. Therapists are, naturally, not as emotionally invested in our client’s problems as the clients themselves. We care, deeply, but because it’s not happening to us, we can be in a situation non-judgmentally. It allows us to point out the details that our clients miss.
That doesn’t work when therapists are dealing with our own lives. We get nervous when dating, and anxiously avoid texting back. We get mad and make petty vague posts. If we grew up with manipulative people, we can be manipulative. A trauma trigger can have us pushing away the people closest to us.
If you decide to date a therapist, you have to accept that your partner is only human.
Dating a therapist isn’t exactly like dating anyone else. There are a lot of benefits, but the drawbacks can be intense if you’re not prepared. Here are some tips to keep in mind if you want to be a therapist’s partner.
The American Counseling Association (ACA) Code of Ethics is very clear: counselors are not allowed to have romantic and sexual relationships with clients.
That means that if the therapist you’re interested in dating is your own therapist, you’re out of luck. And that’s probably for the best! Because unless you’re in the same, very small dating scene, you probably only get to see their professional persona.
If you’re in a relationship with a therapist, you are partners. Try to be a safe space for them to process their emotions, just like you’d want them to do. When doing heavy emotional work, make an appointment with your counselor instead of asking their professional opinion over dinner.
If you notice them automatically trying to solve your problems, don’t let them. Thank them and redirect. Let them know that you’ve noticed - if they’re burned out, they might not notice that their mind is in work mode even at home.
Your therapist partner is only human. There will be certain situations where they are lost, just like you. No matter how much of a planner they are, or how detail-oriented they can be, they can get things wrong.
Ask yourself why if you notice yourself wanting to follow their lead. Check with them about their feelings when it comes to making decisions. Are they trying to be aware of everything all of the time? Ask if you can take some of that emotional load.
Unfortunately, people are always going to need help. That’s part of the human condition. For a lot of therapists, that can turn into always being “on.” We end up attending to our clients, and all of our other relationships fall to the side.
Sometimes your partner is going to need help to focus on the relationship. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries to protect your shared work/life balance. Prioritize your date nights and plan for self-care.
Relationships can be rocky, even if you’re dating a therapist. And even if your partner specializes in working with couples, a therapist can't counsel themselves. It’s time to bring in a third party if there are issues you just can’t work out.
Look for a therapist that neither of you knows very well so that you can get an unbiased person to help you. Consider online counseling with someone in your state but not your area, to limit the possibility of an awkward work meeting for your partner.
If you start dating a therapist and suddenly your friends are constantly talking about their problems, they’re probably trying to get free therapy. Remind them that your relationship isn’t their counseling session.
See if you can redirect them to finding a trained professional to work with. Maybe invite your partner to recommend some colleagues before changing the subject. Don’t be afraid to send a direct text to remind them to respect your partner’s free time.
The American Counseling Association (ACA) code of ethics prohibits romantic and sexual relationships with clients. This includes not starting a counseling relationship with someone a therapist has dated in the past. These ethical guidelines are to protect everyone involved from a very unhealthy situation.
Set and maintain your boundaries around your relationship and your time together. Encourage your partner to take breaks if you notice they are pushing themselves. Your partner is a helping professional and may often find it hard to take off their therapist hat.
There’s no such thing as an objectively perfect partner. Therapists are people with flaws, just like anyone else you might date. Keeping that in mind, dating a therapist might be good for you if you want to be with someone who will talk things out with you.
Dating a therapist can be very rewarding. Therapists can be very caring and effective communicators. However, their profession doesn’t mean that they are perfect. But if you work on your partnership, your relationship can be deeply rewarding for both of you.