Transference and Counter-Transference Essay



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Transference and Counter-Transference

The idea of transference was first thought of by Sigmund Freud.  He realized that sometimes when performing therapy with an individual that there were some fantasies that the individual would have about him as the therapist.  With transference a person is taking something that has recently happened and blending the ideas with what they know.  This basically is saying that the client will be nervous about the therapist and therefore he/she will relate the therapist to someone in his/her life or past and then therefore the feelings develop based on the fact that the client is projecting their feelings about the other person to the therapist.  With counter-transference the therapist is the one projecting past feelings onto a client (Conner 2001).  Quite simply put “transference is a simple appearing idea that has to do with the way people understand one another and form relationships with one another” (Dombeck 2005).

Transference comes from “unmet emotional needs, neglect, seductions, and other abuses that transpired when you were a child” (Conner 2001).  In some cases the therapist might actually try to connect with the client through transference but this should only be done by someone who has been trained to do so as it can be helpful in helping the client to see how he/she can be projecting past events into current relationships.  Transference brings to light the thoughts and motivations of a person.  Transference can help a therapist to see why a person believes the way that he/she does and how they are able to communicate and build relationships with others.  Some ways to be able to help a client to see how transference is affecting his/her life is to encourage them to write journal entries and then over a period of time to follow up with these journal entries to see if there is a pattern in the journals in how the client looks at individuals.  This is basically saying that the therapist looks for relationships that are being affected and talks to the client about how his/her every day life is affected due to the transference of these feelings (Dombeck 2005).

When involved in therapy a client who experiences transference is experiencing “a whole series of psychological experiences are revised, not as belonging in the past, but as applying to the person of their physician at the present moment” Patterson 1959).  In the past some therapists and doctors who have studied transference have tried to help the client to use analytical thought to be able to manage his/her symptoms of transference however it was unsuccessful and no proof  about the situations could be made with these studies.  Some key things to look for with transference are the ideas of projection and perception.  When someone is experiencing transference their perception of current situations is not always what is really happening and what is going on.  The perception tends to be clouded by the overall ideas that are causing the person to fell like the therapist is someone else from his/her past life.  This means that the perception is different than what is really going on for many reasons.  The idea of projection is that the client is projecting his/her feelings for someone from his/her past as though the therapist was that person his/her ideas and thoughts are based on it.  The problem with projection is that the client is using emotional theories and problems as a way to deal with a new relationship, that of the relationship with his/her therapist (Patterson 1959).

The idea of counter transference is the theory that therapists base their relationships with clients based on past history and relationships that they have.  This means that those who are practitioners are not above having these same feelings and that as a practitioner this is something to look for within oneself in order to be able to better help the client as well as minimize the feelings that can develop through transference which could ultimately be damaging for and unhealthy for the client.  Overall counter transference is one of the things that have not been studied and researched as transference has so there is relatively little information in this area as well.  Counter transference consists of “irrational reactions of the therapist to the patient.”  There are many symptoms or issues that can be associated with counter transference:  unreasonable dislike for clients; inability to emphasize with the client; overemotional reaction to the client’s hostility; excessive liking for the client; discomfort with the client; preoccupation with client’s behaviors; difficulty in paying attention to the client; beginning appointments late; getting involved in arguments with clients; repeated misunderstanding of the therapist by the client; provoking affect in the client; over-concern about the confidential nature of his work; sympathy with client regarding his treatment of others; feeling impelled to do something active for the client; appearance of the therapist in the client’s dream as himself or appearance; of the client in the therapist’s dreams (Patterson 1959).

There are many different types of transference and counter transference that occur with the individual who is in therapy and both of these issues have different levels of how the client and therapist view each other.  These patterns of transference and counter transference include the following: needy pattern, need-denying pattern, insecure pattern, isolated pattern, compliant pattern, defiant pattern, passive-aggressive pattern, controlling pattern, victim pattern, codependent pattern, suspicious pattern, aggressive pattern, self-judging pattern, charming pattern, brittle form of defensive pattern, prideful pattern, and the entitled  pattern (Transference).  These patterns are all very different based on whether or not they are being looked at from the transference or the counter transference.

When working as a clinician it is essential to remember that both transference and counter transference are something that occurs “naturally for every patient and every therapist.”  Transference and counter transference is not a negative or positive thing in treatment; they are just naturally occurring feelings.  The only time that the feelings cause problems is typically when they are thought to be either “good” or “bad” and therefore they are assigned a label.  Again, transference can be used as both good and bad or can just be natural, typically when transference is seen it is just natural and not good or bad.  Babette Rothschild (1993) believes that some of the main problems with therapy are in the way that therapy is typically performed with the client lying down and the therapist sitting above them as well as the overall denial of transference and counter transference by schools.  She is saying that this denial has made it essentially harder for the clinician to be able to practice healthy and stable boundaries with the client for these issues.  Her statement means that there are often times issues with the boundaries and from those issues the association of negative beliefs has been applied to what she calls as “natural” process.

Transference and counter transference do not only exist in the realms of therapy but rather they exist in all situations and in every day life as well.  These feelings can accumulate and be a part of a person in each situation that they are involved in.  When dealing with professors, students might transfer their feelings about their parents.  This is especially common when someone is used to being at home and college is their first experience out of their parent’s home and into the “real” world.  Also the student might transfer his feelings and opinions of his siblings onto his roommates as they are now living together and much of their everyday life is shared.  Transference can occur with the mailman, the employee at the gas station or one’s boss as well.  There is no end to where transference ends and true independent feelings begin in society and all people in the world are likely to have transference in one way or another.  For most, just being aware of transference can shape their perceptions of how they see people and start to help them to understand some feelings that they might not have understood in some other ways.

The main dangers with transference are if they are allowed to carry out too far.  “Extreme forms of transference can turn into full blown obsessions if it is not dealt with.”  This can result in “accidents, dangerous choices, nightmares, fantasies, stalking someone, psychotic reactions, and sometimes violence” (Conner 2001).  Although there can be some negative consequences and even extreme danger involved with transference and counter transference it is rare that these projections are acted upon in this way, typically it these things are only thought to be negative or positive based on the overall outcome and if dealt with and treated properly there is no reason that one should believe that any danger is involved.  Freud first coined the term transference and first noted its appearance in the treatment of one of his clients.  He is given the credit for many of the modern day beliefs on this topic and it has been expected that he would have continued to develop these theories and beliefs if given a chance.  Transference and counter transference will be a part of each and every clinician’s sessions and something that the clinician needs to be aware of and ready to treat with all patients.

Conner, M.G. (2001).  Transference are You a Biological Time Machine?.  The Source.

Retrieved on May 4, 2007 from

Dombeck, M. (2005).  Psychotherapy.  Mental Help.  Retrieved on April 5, 2009 from

Patterson, C.H. (1959).  Transference and Counter Transference.  Counseling in

Psychotherapy:  Theory and Practice, Chapter 9.  New York:  Harper and Row.

Rothschild, B. (1993).  Transference and Counter Transference:  A Common Sense

Perspective.  Energy and Character, 25 (2).  Retrieved on April 6, 2009 from

Transference and Counter Transference.  Retrieved on April 6, 2009 from




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