Countertransference and Transference: Understanding the Phenomenon to Improve Therapy

Transference and Countertransference, understanding the therapy phenomenon

Transference and countertransference are big words, but they’re relatively simple concepts that explain a lot of what happens in our daily interactions with people, including our family, friends and even the strangers we talk to at the coffee shop and grocery store. Here’s what you need to know about transference and how it works both inside and outside of therapy.

Understanding Transference

Understanding transferenceIf you’ve undergone any type of therapy or counseling before, you may be familiar with transference and what it can mean for your sessions. While transference can make you feel more positive or negative toward a person, the phenomenon itself is neutral. If you experience transference in a session — or in the real world — it doesn’t make you a bad person or mean you’re failing at therapy. In fact, it can be a good thing. Depending on what you read or who you talk to, transference can take on many forms. Here are the three most common types.

Classic Transference

The term transference was originally used in the field of psychoanalysis and was defined as “the redirection of feelings and desires and especially of those unconsciously retained from childhood toward a new object.” In layman’s terms, this means that you project your feelings about someone from your past, such as a parent, on to another person in your life, like your boss. Transference is also common with stereotypes. For example, if you had a bad experience with a doctor, you may automatically assume all doctors are like that.

Therapeutic Relationship Transference

This is a more casual use of the word that counselors and therapists may use with each other to indicate the healthiness of their therapeutic relationship with a client. In this case, transference is a positive thing and is seen as an indication that the therapist and client have good communication and rapport.

Erotic Transference

While this is more of a subset of classic transference, it is something that most people associate with the term. In erotic transference, the client’s positive feelings toward the therapist continue to evolve, turning into a romantic interest. This is a negative thing for the therapeutic relationship, as it can change the trajectory of the sessions and make it more difficult to continue to make progress. It often results in the client needing to find a new therapist to continue with.

Transference in the Outside World and Its Effects

The pros and cons of transferenceTransference happens quite a bit in our everyday lives outside of therapy. Whether it’s the old lady at the grocery store you’re much nicer to than everyone else because she reminds you of your grandmother or the professor you don’t like because he adjusts his glasses just like your dad, transference is a normal part of life. However, even in cases where it causes you to have positive feelings about someone, it may not be a good thing when it comes to healthy relationships and your own well-being.

Transference can keep you from getting to know people or developing deeper relationships if you’re projecting someone else’s negative qualities on to them. You may not be open to a new romantic relationship just because your last ex cheated on you, or it can keep you from being willing to better yourself because you’re scared to put yourself out into new situations because previously it hasn’t worked out.

Even in situations where transference is a positive thing, it keeps you from being able to really and truly know and relate to someone because you’re always viewing them through the lens of someone or something from your past instead of seeing and appreciating them for who and what they are.

Transference in Therapy

While transference outside of therapy may not be the best thing, inside a therapeutic setting, it can actually be a critical tool to helping process through the reasons why you relate to people like you do and move on to healthier coping skills and social interactions.

Transference in therapy works like this: You project those feelings from your past onto the therapist, and it affects how you interact and the communication you have. This, in turn, gives the therapist a unique perspective in understanding you and can increase their ability to lead you through those harmful thoughts and behavior patterns.

Ideally, you will be aware of the transference and can communicate how you’re feeling and why to the therapist. It may seem odd to be open about this, but it’s an expected part of therapy, and many people find that once they are able to recognize the transference and the why behind it, they’re able to start making significant steps toward healing and a better life. Through this, the therapist can also help you see where transference might be an issue in your other relationships and give you tools to address it.

Understanding Countertransference

What is countertransferenceCountertransference is another phenomenon that can happen in therapy, but it is less common. In this situation, it’s the therapist who is projecting their conflicts on to the client. An example of this could be a therapist who went through a painful divorce assuming that all her client’s romantic relationships are doomed. As with transference, however, it can also be positive and help the therapist develop a better relationship with his or her client.

Countertransference in therapy can present many difficulties and is something to be on the lookout for as a client. If the countertransference is negative, it can make it difficult for the client to be able to make progress in the sessions. Even if the countertransference is positive, it can still be problematic if the therapist doesn’t want to challenge or push the client to grow.

Improving Your Well-Being

If you think that transference is an issue in your life, dealing with it in the appropriate therapeutic setting can help you better understand yourself, give you the tools to reframe your relationships and find more balance in your life. As you work through transference with a therapist, it can be helpful to journal or take notes on your feelings and the things you discuss in your sessions so you can start to apply the strategies to your daily life.

If you are interested in finding out more about how therapy can help you with your life, social interactions and relationships, contact FHE Health today. We offer a variety of therapeutic techniques and can discuss your options and next steps.

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