Transference Dance in Therapy: Introduction

If there was just one thing you needed understand in order to appreciate the ambiguity and the confusing nature of therapy, it would be transference. Just understanding transference alone helps to see where both benefits and potential dangers of therapy come from and much more than that. It also helps to understand how human relationships work in general and some major ongoing relational struggles most of us have to face and deal with.

The concept of transference is one of the cornerstones of psychodynamic/psychoanalytic psychotherapy and one of the fundamental concepts of therapy as a whole. Even therapists from other theoretical backgrounds, who don’t believe in working with transference, still recognize transference as a concept and many of them believe that it is wise to be aware of it even if they don’t work with it.

Considering how widely recognized transference is as a phenomena within the profession regardless of whether a particular practitioner believes in its usefulness or not, it is unfair to consumers not to make basic information about transference available to them before they decide to embark on a therapy “trip”. It is crucial for prospective clients to be educated about how and why transference happens and how it may manifest itself in therapy. 

There are clients, who have some idea about transference because they have been in therapy for quite some time, they have read something about it, they have discussed it to some extent with their therapists and they are generally the type of people who love spending much of their time analyzing themselves and their “relationship” with their therapists. Therapists usually call this type of client “sophisticated”. But, as much as “sophisticated” clients think of themselves as experts on therapy and everything therapy related, they don’t understand transference well enough to fully see how it affects their therapy. The rest of therapy consumers often have no clue about transference and don’t even know the word.

A lack of awareness and education about transference on the part of consumers, as problematic as it is, isn’t as big a problem as a lack of solid understanding of this fundamental concept by therapists. The fact that many therapists are quite confused about transference and don’t know much about the forces and the dynamics of transference that get played out in interactions with their clients is very concerning because such ignorance doesn’t allow them to respond to the clients’ transference in a healthy way and creates situations where transference may get misused or abused and people get harmed.

As someone, who was on the receiving end of transference abuse, it is my firm belief that teaching transference phenomena must take a large chunk of time and must be mandatory in every therapy training and that a therapist who doesn’t complete this part of training shouldn’t be allowed to practice even under supervision.

I don’t accept arguments like “I don’t need to study transference because I don’t work with transference” some professionals give to dismiss transference as a real thing. Some therapists don’t even believe it’s a thing. Those individuals, in my humble opinion, aren’t qualified to practice.

Transference IS a thing whether you believe in it or not. It is real. It does take place and becomes a big component of every therapy that lasts more than a couple of months. The fact that many therapists and clients alike either deny this phenomena or are confused about it is due to the fact that, like many other psychotherapy concepts, transference isn’t taught from the perspective of neuroscience.

I think, a good way to start exploring transference would be to clarify the confusion around its definition, then recall when, where and how the discovery of transference occurred and how the concept was developed over time, because if we want to understand something, the starting point is always to understand how it was originated.

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