Tuesday Therapy Notes: Transference and Counter-transference

Welcome once again to Tuesday Therapy Notes, the weekly series that examines types of therapy, as well as common issues with therapy. Today, we look at transference.

Transference, simply enough, is when you transfer your feelings about one person or issue onto another. In the context of therapy, it can mean attaching the feelings about something being examined in therapy onto the therapist doing the analysis. And while it might seem that such an act would get in the way, that is not necessarily the case.

If the therapist recognizes what is happening, it can be a useful way to dissect those feelings and unravel not only the reason for them, but the reason for the transference. For example, say you have negative feelings about a former friend. As your therapist tries to explore these feelings, you find the same negativity towards them. While the emotion is real, it isn’t connected to the person you are directing the feelings towards. However, since the feelings are real, it gives the therapist something to work with.

What can be more challenging to the therapeutic relationship is counter-transference. No one is immune to the possibility of transference, not even therapists. Sometimes, they can attach feelings about something or someone else onto a patient. Again, if they recognize what is happening, it can be beneficial. It may even allow them to empathize and connect better with that patient in the confines of the therapy room. However, if it causes the boundaries that are central to a productive therapeutic relationship to weaken or even fall, that could spell the recipe for disaster.

Again, transference and counter-transference are not in and of themselves negative things. How a client and their therapist react to the situation is what will ultimately determine that. And hopefully, this post has helped you be more prepared for therapy and more aware of the phenomenon of transference and counter-transference.

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