I have a crush on my supervisor

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I have a crush on my supervisor

Post by miriam » Tue Apr 10, 2007 3:04 pm

Someone posted on the forum about having a crush on their supervisor and asked whether it would cause negative career implications to act on it. We decided to make the response a wiki, as it seems likely that this is more common than people realise.

First of all, it is much more ethically dubious and clearly against the BPS Code of Conduct and HCPC rules to enter into a personal relationship with a client. That is always going to be inappropriate, because of the nature of the power differential and the vulnerability of someone seeking input from a psychologist. So I would always advise against entering into a relationship outside of your professional role with a client, even if the feelings are reciprocated or therapy has ended. It might be that years down the line you meet someone in different circumstances, and it is possible to appropriately negotiate a new role as a colleague or friend, but if you have ever been someone's therapist then in my view it would still be problematic to become romantically or physically involved with them. You also risk being seen to have manipulated them if you accept gifts, loans or engage in other interpersonal interactions that would be prohibited whilst you were treating them, and there is a chance that if things don't end well they could make a complaint because of that dual relationship. So I would avoid it entirely, and seek advice from supervisors or colleagues or from your insurance provider if you are considering anything at all along these lines.

However, whilst the rules about protecting clients are very clear, I'm not sure that this applies to the relationship between supervisor and supervisee. There is still a power difference that makes me feel like a romantic or sexual relationship would be contrary to what is expected given the professional roles, and that the two individuals would not enter with equal levels of power - particularly where the supervisor is older and/or has power within the employing organisation and/or has an existing partner and/or family and intends for the relationship with the supervisee to be covert. This applies even if the less powerful individual is the instigator, and has the power of potentially reporting the more powerful party - and as you can see, it sets up some quite unhealthy dynamics for the relationship.

I'm sure that whether or not it is against the HCPC rules or our Code of Conduct, but it doesn't seem right to me on principle. Plus there are still a lot of people who would think that this is inappropriate (and your manager might be one of them). I certainly would advise colleagues or students to avoid this situation wherever possible.

However, that all makes the assumption that the crush is real and is reciprocated, and I am not sure that those are likely to be the case in the majority of cases. I think it is quite common for an early career stage professional to have a bit of a crush on someone they admire or look up to, just as it might be quite common for supervisors to be attracted to the youth and passion of their supervisee - but these are not necessarily romantic feelings, and it might be quite inappropriate to act on them.

Bear in mind that every person, even your supervisor, has the right to do their job without sexual harassment or intrusive interpersonal comments. Your flirtation might not only be unwanted, but it could even be experienced as harassment. In light of the recent #metoo movement, it has become clear that large numbers of people experience unwanted sexual approaches in the workplace, and find these very uncomfortable to deal with - even if it doesn't step past compliments and comments intended as flirtation and into physical contact or assault. So the first thing to consider is that you need to be very clear that your feelings are reciprocated and not unwanted.

However, there are probably a lot of different issues if you unpick the story.

Start with whether you actually feel something serious enough to need to change your working relationship with this person. Is it just a crush that will fade in time and you can work around, or does it mean that you simply cannot function with him/her as your supervisor with these feelings? I think that would decide whether it is appropriate to seek another supervisor, whether or not you do anything about those feelings.

Secondly, do you have any indication of how this person feels about you. Is s/he just being a normal supervisor and you are misinterpreting his/her attention? Or do you have any suggestion that s/he is interested in you? Is s/he even single? Are they of the sexuality that you assume? Do you know anything about his/her personal life? I'd be really wary of jumping to conclusions, or with fantasising this is something that it isn't. You have probably only seen a fraction of what this person is like, and not enough to base a relationship on.

Thirdly, give it time. Don't be hasty. All of us meet new people and sometimes react in strange ways to them, including people that we admire, people that are physically attractive, people that confuse us with their signals. Mostly, it is time that lets us work out what to do with someone. Often you gradually realise that they are not the person you thought they were, or feelings become more rational. However with a real relationship then these feelings deepen over a long period of time, and there is no rush. If a person doesn't return your feelings then it is time to move on, because the relationship is never going to work. IMHO you have to know a person in more than just their work persona to begin to judge whether you are attracted to them on a serious level.

Perhaps you need to find someone to talk this through with. Is there a student counsellor at your university or a peer, mentor or manager at your employing organisation? Do you have any friends or relatives that you could confide in? If you don't want to tell people how you feel then consider why this might be. Is the secrecy exciting? Do you know in your heart that this isn't "real"? Is there an implicit message coming from him/her that secrecy is part of the deal? (be extremely wary if this is the case, its a big warning sign that this isn't a healthy relationship).

I don't mean to be negative or imply any criticism, I just don't want you to pin your hopes on something that isn't there or isn't likely to work out.

Finally, if there are reciprocated feelings and you want to start a relationship, you need to renegotiate the professional relationship. The supervisor needs to speak to a manager and hand over supervision to someone else. Then you need to take the relationship out of the workplace, and ensure that if the relationship does show at all in the workplace that it does so in a way that doesn't undermine either of you professionally - you don't make other people uncomfortable.

Questions and Answers

Do you think it is different when you are a trainee and your supervisor plays a significant role in evaluating you and deciding whether or not you pass/fail the placement or an assistant when you are relying on your supervisor for references for future jobs and training courses, than when you are qualified and your supervisor, while more experienced than you, does not hold responsibility for your work in the way a supervisor would for a trainee or an assistant and is not deciding whether you pass/fail a placement? Ruthie

I think the potential for evaluation adds another layer of complexity, but my concern is the power differential, and the risk that someone's professional nurturing towards a junior colleague could be misperceived as having a romantic/sexual overtone that isn't intended... Miriam

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Content checked by a qualified clinical psychologist / admin on 25/1/18.
Last modified on 25/01/2018.

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