Transference describes a situation where the feelings, desires, and expectations of one person are redirected and applied to another person. Most commonly, transference refers to a therapeutic setting, where a person in therapy may apply certain feelings or emotions toward the therapist.
What Is Transference?
Transference is a psychology term used to describe a phenomenon in which an individual redirects emotions and feelings, often unconsciously, from one person to another. This process may occur in therapy, when a person receiving treatment applies feelings toward—or expectations of—another person onto the therapist and then begins to interact with the therapist as if the therapist were the other individual. Often, the patterns seen in transference will be representative of a relationship from childhood.
The concept of transference was first described by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud in his 1895 book Studies on Hysteria, where he noted the deep, intense, and often unconscious feelings that sometimes developed within the therapeutic relationships he established with those he was treating.
Transference is a common occurrence among humans, and it may often occur in therapy, but it does not necessarily imply a mental health condition. Transference can also occur in various situations outside of therapy and may form the basis for certain relationship patterns in everyday life.
Types of Transference
Some of the more common types of transference include:
- Paternal transference, when an individual looks at another person as a father or an idealized father figure. The person may be viewed as powerful, wise, and authoritative, and an individual may expect protection and sound advice from this person.
- Maternal transference occurs when an individual treats another person as a mother or idealized mother figure. This person is often viewed as loving and influential, and nurture and comfort is often expected from them.
- Sibling transference can occur when parental relationships are lacking or when they break down. Unlike parental transference, this type of transference is generally not represented by leader/follower behavior, but by peer or team-based interactions.
- Non-familial transference can be seen when individuals treat others according to an idealized version of what they are expected to be rather than who they actually are. Stereotypes can form in this manner. For example, priests may be expected to be holy in everything they do, while policemen may be expected to uphold the law at all times, and doctors may be expected to cure any ailment.
- Sexualized transference, sometimes categorized as either erotic or eroticized transference, may occur when a person in therapy develops a sexual attraction to their therapist. While erotic transference often refers to sexual thoughts an individual identifies as unrealistic and can be a positive type of transference, eroticized transference is a consuming attraction toward the therapist that can be detrimental to the therapeutic relationship and the client’s progress.
Sometimes, transference is seen in everyday situations, such as when:
- A person is easily annoyed by a classmate who looks a bit like their often-irritating younger sibling.
- A young person treats a much older female coworker with tenderness because she brings back memories of that person’s now-deceased mother.
- An individual begins to mistrust a romantic partner simply because a previous partner cheated.
Transference may be positive or negative. Both types can benefit therapy in different ways. Positive transference can lead the person in therapy to view the therapist as kind, concerned, or otherwise helpful. Negative transference might cause a person in therapy to direct angry or painful feelings toward the therapist, but the therapist may still be able to use these emotions to help the person achieve greater understanding.
Transference in Therapy
A person’s social relationships and mental health may be affected by transference, as transference can lead to harmful patterns of thinking and behavior. The primary concern is generally the fact that, in the case of transference, an individual is not seeking to establish a relationship with a real person, but with someone onto whom they have projected feelings and emotions.
When transference occurs in a therapeutic setting, a therapist may be able to better understand an individual by gaining knowledge of the projected feelings and, through this new understanding, help the person in therapy achieve results and recovery. By understanding how transference is occurring, a mental health professional may be better able to understand both a person’s condition and/or aspects of the person’s early life that affect them in the present.
Transference may often occur between a therapist and a person in therapy. For example, the therapist may be viewed as an all-knowing guru, an ideal lover, the master of a person’s fate, a fierce opponent, and so on. Proponents of psychoanalysis believe that transference is a therapeutic tool crucial in understanding an individual’s unconscious or repressed feelings. Healing is believed to be more likely to occur once these underlying issues are effectively exposed and addressed.
A therapist might also educate a person in treatment on the identification of various situations in which transference may be taking place. Techniques such as journaling can allow a person in therapy to identify possible patterns in both thought and behavior, through the review and comparison of past entries. When examples of problematic transference become more recognizable, a person in therapy may be able to explore why the transference occurs and help prevent its recurrence.
One type of therapy known as transference-focused therapy (TFP) harnesses the transference that occurs in therapy to help individuals gain insight into their own behavior and thought patterns. It is most commonly used to treat borderline personality (BPD).
- Ladson, D., & Welton, R. (2007). Recognizing and managing erotic and eroticized transferences. Psychiatry (Edgmont), 4(4), 47-50. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2921238
- Makari, G. J. (1994). Toward an intellectual history of transference [Abstract]. The Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 17(3), 559-570. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7824382
- Pereira, J. G. (2010). Transference and the therapeutic relationship–Working for or against it? Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/268363858_Transference_and_the_Terapeuthic_Relationship_-_Working_For_or_Against_It
- Prasko, J., Diveky, T., Grambal, A., Kamaradova, D., Mozny, P., Sigmundova, Z., Slepecky, M., & Vyskocilova, J. (2010). Transference and countertransference in cognitive behavioral therapy. Biomedical Papers of the Medical Faculty of the University Palacky, Olomouc, Czechoslovakia, 154(3), 189-197. Retrieved from http://biomed.papers.upol.cz/getrevsrc.php?identification=public&mag=bio&raid=95&type=fin&ver=2
- Transference. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.mentalhelp.net/articles/transference
Last Updated: 09-25-2019
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- 24 comments
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WilliamkilmMay 6th, 2016 at 11:29 AM
Say, you got a nice article.Really looking forward to read more. Awesome.
Rinki L.October 15th, 2016 at 7:05 PM
This is very clear to understand and learning purpose, fruitful for therapist as well as student.
RodneyDecember 14th, 2016 at 2:31 PM
Can transference also happen with a personal trainer?
BlueZuluMarch 30th, 2017 at 5:24 AM
Hey Rodney, Transference can (and does!) happen with *anyone*!
TRIPTI GDecember 29th, 2016 at 3:10 AM
SteffMarch 10th, 2017 at 10:04 PM
I was thought transference but didn’t understand it very well. But this broke it down for me. Thank you very much am happy
FarhanaJune 27th, 2017 at 3:21 AM
this is easy to understand
TATAAugust 23rd, 2017 at 11:33 AM
This happens often to me but it happens when I have eye contact, is awful I get really sick and I end up with no enenergy.
Lazarus S.October 31st, 2017 at 11:24 AM
Please do send me any material that might be of help as I’m student studying Therapeutic communication Therapeutic organizations (TCTO)
Rebecca Z.November 18th, 2017 at 10:39 PM
This is a good article. I have deep transference with many people, esp. my therapist. It brings me pleasure and terrible pain. Not sure where to go from here.
Christopher MDecember 31st, 2017 at 12:08 AM
Indeed, such an occurrence happens and is a natural process of the human experience and otherwise. It is natural because we all share common needs such as love most importantly. Acts of kindness, gentleness, nurturing and also the occurrence of behavioral habits that are reinforced in any long term particular relationship starting from a very young and vulnerable state of mental development and condusive eviorment where the individual is helpless and has no power or sense of control or reference as to what is healthy in tearms of proper treatment and development of a developing and influenceal mind. If a person is used to eating pizza everyday and suddenly it is taken away and they are put in a position of eating crumbs two days a week then there will be a natural transference to whoever starts providing them with not only pizza again but much more valuable nutrients there will be a natural and expected transference of what is a natural basic need in life. But there are subtle nuances and differences that depend on the intentions and state of mind from the therapist. The bottom line is communication and the two particular people involved. There is a vast difference from transference of a programmed unaware mind and a thoughtfully considerate thinking mind operating from no preconceived reference but taking into account and considering what is objectively in front of them. When you are able to see and comprehend the observable unique value of the life before you. There is no transference of past programming but perhaps the true appreciation and realization of something truly unique, special, gifted. and perhaps love in its perfectly tuned electric vibrational harmony of two strings perfectly and finely tuned.
Lazarus SDecember 31st, 2017 at 2:15 PM
This is interesting, please could one explain to me about the following concepts. (1) Countertransference (2) Projection identification
LoriAnneMarch 12th, 2018 at 6:59 PM
Why would a therapist after two short sessions discontinue therapy due to “transference” when the patient feels no attraction or cares for the therapist other than as a professional to provide tools and work toward healing? I used to believe therapy was positive and sometimes necessary but now my thoughts are it can cause harm and professional therapist who have the courage to face the patient and discuss the concern. Am so wrong?
Rebecca ZMarch 13th, 2018 at 1:07 PM
What Lori Anne? That is so horrible! There probably way more bad therapists that good. Transference is a completely normal part of therapy. It’s called a therapeutic relationship!
So that therapist is not worth seeing.
Unbelievable. Move on.
edwinApril 12th, 2018 at 12:23 PM
Have widened my experience on transference.
Its normal to on this aspect on the therapist client relationship.
Chris S.May 28th, 2019 at 10:40 AM
Thank you very much for this article. Transference is normal. What a relief. I thought I was going mad.
KayMarch 15th, 2021 at 5:48 PM
how can I cite this article / site
LaurenGTMarch 16th, 2021 at 9:08 AM
hi! There is no named author of this post, so simply list the author as GoodTherapy. If you’re doing this in an academic context, reach out to your professor or teacher to learn how they’d prefer you to cite an unnamed author.
KayMarch 15th, 2021 at 5:54 PM
How can I cite this site. I am quoting your definition of “Maternal transference”
“occurs when an individual treats another person as a mother or idealized mother figure. This person is often viewed as loving and influential, and nurture and comfort is often expected from them”.
I there anything as MATERNAL COUNTERTRANSFERENCE? IF YES, CAN YOU KINDLY EXPLAIN WHAT IT MEANS. YOU EXPLAIN THINGS SO WELL AND EASY TO UNDERSTAND. THANK YOU…
JoyJune 3rd, 2021 at 7:53 PM
Honestly, was searching out for a better way of understanding this concept called ‘Transference’ and you just did Justice to it. Kudos
IlseJuly 15th, 2021 at 11:23 AM
Can transference be harmful to the patient’s relationship with life partner?
RobertNovember 22nd, 2021 at 11:04 PM
I believe transference may also occur as a result of supressed childhood trauma that is triggered by a similar traumatic event experienced as an adult.
losiKJune 13th, 2022 at 8:28 PM
what are some of the situations in that Transference would not be appropriate to use
SheillahAugust 10th, 2022 at 11:48 AM
It was very helpful and easy to understand as someone working with children
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