Describe the Transference/Counter-Transference Element of the Therapeutic Relationship

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Describe the transference/counter-transference element of the therapeutic relationship

“We see things not as they are but as we are”
Immanuel Kant (1724 - 1804)

The transference/counter-transference concept is considered an essential part of the analytical process and plays a fundamental part in creating therapeutic change. Clarkson (2003) has identified transference and counter-transference as one of the 5 strands in her model of the therapeutic relationship. Clarkson (2003) defines the transference/counter-transference relationship as the ‘experience of distortion of the working alliance by wishes and fears and experiences from the past transferred onto or into the therapeutic partnership’. This essay will examine the development of transference and counter-transference as a therapeutic tool with an exploration of the ways in which it can be defined and used in a therapeutic setting. Finally an overview of the way the concept of transference/counter-transference has been received by different schools of therapeutic thought will be briefly discussed.

Transference is a defining aspect of psychodynamic therapy but occurs outside the therapy room in every human relationship. Therapeutically transference can be understood as the client’s repetition of past often child-like patterns of relating to significant others that are brought to the present in relation to the therapist (Jacobs, M, 2004). It can also involve the transference of current ways of relating onto the therapeutic relationship. Freud described transference as the way the client sees and responds to the therapist including the client’s perceptions, responses and provocations towards the therapist (Kahn, M., 1997).

Transference was originally viewed as a form of resistance and believed to present an obstacle to the therapeutic relationship in which the client sees the therapist as a father, mother, lover etc and not as a professional offering assistance (Jacobs, M., 2004). Breuer and Anna O perhaps illustrate one of the earliest cases of transference (and counter-transference) and how its lack of acknowledgement resulted in an abrupt termination to the therapeutic process. Classical psychoanalysis views such erotic transference as a form of resistance to the therapeutic process. Mann (1997) however sees such transferential love as real and as something dynamic with psychic growth emerging from authentic experience. Mann (1997) argues that the emergence of erotic transference signifies the client’s deepest desire for growth and that it is potentially the most powerful and positive quality in the therapeutic relationship.

Transference can be positive such as when emotions transferred onto the therapist are not too strong and when they can further the working alliance such as the faith or trust a client places in the therapist. Negative transference involves intense emotions whether positive (eg. idealisation) or negative (eg. suspicion). However negative transference can still provide useful information about past relationships. Freud originally saw positive transference as useful (except in the case of erotic transference) and viewed the client’s negative feelings towards the therapist as an obstacle. However he later came to realise the significance of the clinical relationship and saw that transference could be used to show the client distortions. The clinical relationship contained the entirety of the client’s distortions. Freud believed transference was a distortion and that by highlighting the client’s distortions he could help them see their distortions in life (Kahn, M., 1997). Gill and Kohut developed the concept of transference in order to nurture a more effective clinical relationship (Kahn, M., 1997). Freud thus saw transference as being important in helping the client remember whereas Gill saw it as an opportunity for the client to experience past feelings as well as expectations. For example when past feelings are re-experienced in...
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