Transference and Countertransference in Psychotherapy

Transference and counter transference are natural and common occurences in therapy. The knowledgeable therapist uses his/her awareness of these parts of the therapy relationship to make the therapy process even more productive. If the therapist doesn’t know how to work in the transference much can be missed and the therapy may not be as successful. There is no reason to refer a client if either of these natural relational issues are occuring; there is nothing wrong happening.

Transference is an experience of the other person being “like” someone else in your life, and also, an unconscious transfering of attributes of the original known person onto the new relational person. When a client has positive transference with the therapist, the therapists seems to the client to be like a good parent figure who is probably going to be helpful to the client. Associated with this is sometimes an unrealistic hope of being entirely rescused without much effort on the client’s part, and this, because it isn’t true, usually becomes a disappointment that has to be contended with. A healthier positive transference is more of a openness to the words and caring of the therapist, which has a very positive affect. Positive transference allows the therapist deep access to the client and their unconscious, and in this way provides an opportunity for a very strong healing to occur.

Negative transference implies that the therapist seems as if they are going to be hurtful in some way, probably like a parent or parent figure already has been in the client’s life. Since people are always transfering what they learned in thier families onto others in their world ( not only onto their therapists) they often wind up making incorrect assumptions about other people. It is very useful to correct negative transferencial assumptions in the therapeutic relationship as this can then generalize to other people in the client’s life. At the same time, working through a negaitive transfence is also corrective of the client’s defensive posture toward the therapist,

Counter transference often arrises in the therapist when the client reminds the therapist of themselves or another significant person in their life. It is important that the therapist keeps this in their conscious awareness so that they continue to view the client accurately and do not start treating the client as if they were someone else. If the therapsit is not aware of thier own counter transference, the therapy can be a waste of time for client, or worse, it can be destructive.

Why you care so much about what your therapist thinks of you.

Because you are in transference with this therapist. That means, you experience the therapist as if he or she is a parent to you, and all of us want our parents to love and approve of us. Your therapist is a stand in parent to you.

In fact, “working in the transference” means to a savvy therapist , that giving their support, approval , validation, etc, is very healing to their clients. Therapists should know this and do this. I keenly remember how much it meant to me to have my therapist value and like me. I have said that her words were “mainlined directly to the two year old in me.” That was so very healing, and I never forgot it, so I do the same for my clients. I work in the transference, meaning everything I say and do with my clients is with the awareness that I am a stand in parent and have the opportunity to re-parent, to heal, the child within the grown up who is my client.

So what you are asking about is pretty much true for all psychotherapy clients, and the stronger the transference, normally, the stronger the need for a loving parent to give the child within the adult client the esteem building care they needed and can still profit from. I hope your therapist understands this. It is why so many people say that in therapy “ the relationship heals.”

I have other blogs about transference. You might be interested in this phenomena since it effects everyone in therapy.

Good luck to you. I hope you are getting what you deserve.

The Therapist’s Job

I’ve been asked how much therapists really ‘get it’ about how much they effect their clients’ daily lives with what they say and do. I say it depends on the quality of the therapist. It doesn’t hurt if the therapist has been in therapy themselves and experienced the power of transference.

Good therapists know very well how significant they are to their clients, certainly want to avoid their clients’ losing them, and pay attention to what they say and do. Good therapists put themselves into a “good parent mode” when they are working, and are careful about balancing nurturing and challenging interventions that are intended to promote growth.  Even the way a phrase is delivered can make an important impression.  It’s part of the therapist’s job not to be overly tired, and certainly not irritable, from their own life.

I often feel as it I have the ‘client’s life in my hands’ knowing full well how powerful my words and actions can be for them. Doing therapy is not a casual business. That’s why therapists are tired after a day of sessions. They have been working hard, mentally and emotionally, to give each client their best.