Countertransference occurs when a therapist transfers emotions to a client. It is often a reaction to transference, a phenomenon in which a client redirects his or her feelings for others onto the therapist.
Sigmund Freud originally developed the concept of countertransference. He described it as a largely unconscious phenomenon in which the psychologist’s emotions are influenced by a client and the psychologist reacts with countertransference. Classical psychoanalysts, such as Carl Jung, who faced his own struggle with countertransference, characterize it as a potentially problematic phenomenon that can inhibit psychological treatment when left unchecked. In other words, therapists must master their tendency to participate in unconscious countertransference by developing healthy boundaries and remaining mindful that the issue can pose a threat to the therapeutic relationship and their work with clients.
Not all countertransference is problematic. For example, a therapist may meet with a client who has extreme difficulty making conversation. The therapist may find him or herself unwittingly leading the conversation and providing additional prompts to the client to encourage them to talk. If the therapist realize this, he/she can then point to the countertransference to help the client better understand the effect his/her difficulty making conversation has on others. However, a problematic example of countertransference might occur when a client triggers a therapist’s issues with his or her own child. The client, for example, might be defiant with the therapist and may transfer her feelings of defiance toward her mother to the therapist. If the therapist reacts to the client as he or she would to her own child, such as by becoming increasingly controlling, without recognizing the countertransference, this could negatively impact the therapeutic relationship and perpetuate unhealthy patterns in the client’s life.
Last updated: 05-29-2014