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Countertransference        
 

Empty open gift boxCountertransference 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.

History of Countertransference

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.

 

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In contemporary psychology, clinicians typically make a distinction between helpful and unhelpful countertransference. Many contemporary psychologists openly share their own feelings with clients and may use countertransference, in a conscious manner, to understand differences between their own experiences and the client’s experiences. Unhelpful countertransference, or even harmful countertransference, can occur when the therapist transfers feelings to the client that are misplaced or uses the client to meet his or her own psychological needs.

Examples of Countertransference

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.

 

References:

  1. American Psychological Association. APA concise dictionary of psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2009. Print.
  2. Kring, A. M., Johnson, S. L., Davison, G. C., & Neale, J. M. (2010). Abnormal psychology. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
  3. Tarnopolsky, A. (1995). Teaching countertransference. Canadian Journal of Psychoanalysis, 3(2), 293-313. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/222773367?accountid=1229

 

Last updated: 05-29-2014

 
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