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Transference and Countertransference

One of the most important concepts associated with psychoanalysis is the idea of transference, or the process of attributing one's feelings from one person onto another. Freud noticed during his practice that some patients reacted to him as though he were a parent and that female patients often tended to "fall in love" with him. Freud suspected that, during counseling sessions, patients were unconsciously transferring feelings and attitudes they had toward early significant figures in their lives onto him, the analyst. He concluded that addressing the transferential relationship between analyst and patient was an important curative factor in psychoanalysis, and he made interpreting the transference the cornerstone of the theory.

Transference is often manifested as an erotic attraction toward a counselor, but it can be seen in many other forms, such as rage, hatred, mistrust, parentification, extreme dependence, or even placing the counselor in a godlike or guru status (Etchegoyen, 2005). And while superficially this appears similar to the definition of a defense mechanism, such as displacement or projection, the goal of transference is to expose the unconscious motivation behind the individuals' defense mechanisms by repeating or reenacting the attitudes, feelings, impulses, and desires that were generated in early life in relation to important figures in the individual's development. This process occurs automatically and unconsciously, and the role of the counselor is to assume a "blank screen," during which he or she "becomes a conduit for exposing the instinctual motivations behind the process, thereby bringing the process into consciousness where it can be examined and redirected" (Gill, 2000, p. 38).

Countertransference is an analogous concept often seen in psychoanalytic practice and is defined as "the emotional reactions to a patient that are determined not by the client's own personality traits, disorders, and experiences, but rather the counselor's own unconscious conflict" (Gabbard, 1999, p. 20). This concept can also be defined as redirection of a counselor's feelings toward a client, or more generally, as a counselor's emotional entanglement with a client. As a counseling tool, this concept can have both positive and negative effects on the treatment. Awareness of this process by the counselor can provide

important insight into the client's inner world and into the emotions and reactions the client often tends to induce in others. But the counselor must be able to recognize these feelings and address his or her own fears and distortions to use countertransference as an effective counseling tool (Thomas, 2008), or damaging enactments and impaired judgment may occur.

 
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