Transference Dance In Therapy: What Is Counter-Transference?

In the previous post on Transference, I discussed the traditional definition of transference and how it undermines therapy effectiveness. I also offered a different, much broader definition that would allow therapists to see clients’ problems and their relationships with clients more clearly and realistically.

Now I would like to discuss the concept of counter-transference that is also somewhat distorted by professionals and not known to therapy clients at all when it should be.

Plainly, counter-transference is basically the same as transference with the only difference that it applies to a therapist and only exists within the context of a therapist-client relationship. This could get a little confusing, so let me explain it further. As I suggested in my previous post, transference is a general mental phenomena that exists not only in a therapy setting but everywhere. Transference, in its broadest sense, sees the external world through the lenses of our past experiences. It’s a universal human phenomena and so therapists, as human beings, experience transference just like everybody else and, as all humans, they transfer their emotional reactions from their past on those around them including clients. In case when therapist’s transference is directed at a client in a therapy setting, the term changes to “counter-transference” simply to distinguish it from a client’s transference. This differentiation, however, could be misleading, as it subtly implies that a therapist’s transference to a client is a somewhat different psychic process than a client’s transference to a therapist, when it’s, in fact, the same psychic phenomena. Therefore, I believe, it’d be better to use a term “therapist’s transference” as opposed to “counter-transference,” because it would make therapists acknowledge that on some fundamental human level they are just as vulnerable as their clients are and would allow them to see themselves and their relationships with clients more realistically. 

Seeing relationships with clients and themselves in those relationships realistically is essential for professionals because it makes their work more effective and also easier. When professionals fully understand and accept their human limitations, they will no longer have the need to maintain an image of an all-knowing experts.



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