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Love & Psychotherapy (1/5): What is Love?

Love is fundamental to human lives, cropping up repeatedly in client narratives and consulting room dynamics. But how much do we understand about it? On Valentine’s Day, Dr Divine Charura, editor of Love and Therapy, kick-starts a five-part series on the role of love in life and psychotherapy. Today, he explains his fascination with the topic, and outlines eight types of love.


As a psychologist and psychotherapist, in my consultation room I see at least 10 people every week. These include individuals, couples, and families. Nearly always, they are presenting with psychological dis-ease that can be related to the impact of not receiving love, or being raised in families where love is withheld, or compromised.

Sadly, in my practice and my international work, I have also seen how abuse, discrimination and at times even acts such as bombings and genocide are carried out in the name of love – often for the love of a group who believe that those different to them are ‘less than deserving’ of love and humanity.

Love is clearly a multi-faceted concept. Many others have made reference to the importance of love and the impact of its absence on the human psyche. These include the forerunners of psychology and psychotherapy: Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Donald Winnicott, Anna Freud, Melanie Klein, John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth, Carl Rogers, and other contemporary writers such as John Lee, Robert Sternberg, Helen Fisher, Sue Gerhardt, Stephen Paul and Suzanne Keys.

As therapists, I believe we ought to be interested and curious about ways in which love impacts the lives of those we work with, as well as the place of love in the consulting room. Over the course of this five-blog series, I will be exploring these different aspects of love, from attachment and neuroscience to erotic transference, community and endings.

So what is Love? I tend to go back to psychologist John Alan Lee, whose essay on love styles you can read in Sternberg and Barnes’ The Psychology of Love. He cited six central ideologies, or styles/colours of love, including passionate/erotic, practical and calculating, altruistic and divine. Over the last few years, myself and many other colleagues who are interested in love and its place in therapy have drawn on these original writings by Lee to conceptualise love as having eight different kinds of manifestation, as follows:

1 Agape Unconditional, divine or mystical love

2 Storge Parental love for offspring

3 Philia The love felt in companionship in a community

4 Eros Sensual, sexual or erotic love, often also associated with passion, lust or desire

5 Ludus Game-playing love (playful interactions, uncommitted love)

6 Narcissism Others have identified this as a negative and selfish form of self-love

7 Xenia The love of strangers or neighbours in hospitality

8 Pragma Realistic and practical love

In Lee’s later writing, he suggested that people would ‘buy into’ one or more of these cultural ideologies at different times and in different contexts and relationships. Whether it is the parent and child who come to counselling to work out their long-term conflicts, the couple who are trying to rebuild their relationship following infidelity, or the single person searching for a soulmate, so many of my clients are impacted by one or more of these kinds of love.


Divine Charura

Dr Divine Charura is a Chartered Psychologist, and Counselling Psychologist with the British Psychological Society. He is registered as a Practitioner Psychologist with the Health and Care Professions Council in England. He is also registered with the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy as an Adult Psychotherapist. He has worked and presented key note lectures at numerous international conferences including in USA, South East Asia, Africa, and Europe.

Divine’s psychotherapeutic interests are in exploring the therapeutic relationship when working with complex psychological distress and trauma, as well as the place of love and attachment in human relationships and on mental wellbeing. Divine has co-authored and edited numerous books in counselling and psychotherapy. His two latest co-edited books are Love and Therapy: In relationship and The Person-Centred Counselling and Psychotherapy Handbook: Origins, Developments and Current Applications. Divine is a lover of photography, art, music and outdoor pursuits.

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