Transference and counter transference

The past two weeks have been concerned with transference and counter transference. Transference had been identified by the great Sigmund Freud when he noticed that his patients often seemed to fall in love with him – including the men. Transference occurs when a person takes the perceptions and expectations of one person and projects them onto another person. They then interact with the other person as if the other person is that transferred pattern. In the way we tend to become the person that others assume we are, the person who has patterns transferred onto them may collaborate and play the game, especially if the transference gives them power or makes them feel good in some way. Typically, the pattern projected onto the other person comes from a childhood relationship. This may be from an actual person, such as a parent, or an idealized figure or prototype. This transfers both power and also expectation. If you treat me as a parent, I can tell you what to do, but you will also expect me to love and care for you. This can have both positive and negative outcomes.

Types of transference

Paternal transference When we create paternal transference, we turn the other person into either our father or an idealized father-figure. Fathers are powerful, authoritative and wise. They protect us and tell us what to do. They know many things. They provide a sense of control in our lives. They make us feel safe. We often transfer as a four or five-year old child, where ‘father knows best’ and the pattern is one of trust and compliance. When we regard higher-level leaders (e.g. a company CEO), the transference may be as a baby, where the father is distant, powerful and protective. Male managers in companies often encourage paternal transference by taking on the mantle and behaviours of classic fathers. They assume wisdom. They speak with authority. They reassure us that all will be well if we do as they tell us.

Maternal transference We develop relationships with our mothers at much earlier dates, and so take on roles of babies more than children. In our early years in particular, mothers are the source of unconditional love. After the separation of birth, they recreate unity by holding us and making us feel as one. Mothers also are the source of ultimate authority, and the threat of separation is very powerful. Mothers appear in myth as both the fairy godmother and also the wicked witch, and we often have ambiguous relationships with them. We can also become Oedipal in our desire to be the sole focus of attention of our mothers. Maternal transference is thus often deeper, with more primitive and emotional elements than paternal transference. Women managers often have excessive expectation put on them that they will nurture their staff, who then become disillusioned when this does not happen (hence the manager becomes cast as a witch).

Sibling transference When parents are absent in our childhood, we may substitute these with sibling relationships, either with brothers/sisters or with friends. This is an increasingly significant pattern as families fracture and mothers spend long hours at work and are often away from the child during the critical early years. People with preferences for sibling transference work well in horizontal, team-based organizations, as they do not fall into the leader-seeking behaviours of parental transference. This can also lead to greater anarchy as we ignore leaders and work through networks rather than needing a controlling authoritarian hierarchy.

Other transference We also transfer non-familial patterns onto other people. In fact we invariably treat others not as they are but as we think they are, and often as we think they should be. Thus we form stereotypes, and transfer these patterns onto others. We also form idealized prototypes, for example of policemen, priests, doctors and teachers, and project these onto people when we need the appropriate roles. Thus when a person is hurt in the street and another stops to help, they may have a doctor pattern transferred onto them. Erotic transference can be ordinary and delusional. Transference is the ego trying to protect itself.

Counter-transference (concordant and complementary) occurs where a person who is a recipient of a transference activity accepts this and engages with the client at an emotional level. Remember as therapist you have no business allowing the client work become personal. Your job is to fail the client but in a manageable way. Just like the child needs to realise the disappointment that their parents are not actually the greatest and most idealised people in the world, so the client needs to realise that the therapist is not the ideal subject of the fantasy. “As if” consciousness needed. When to make something conscious depends how well you know your client. What hasn’t been worked through will be repeated and repeated and repeated.


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5 thoughts on “Transference and counter transference

  1. Chapter 29 of The Second Coming of Reb YHSHWH, by Carlo Suares, Weiser, 1994 (Carlo Suarès)

    “The Eight Propositions”

    “And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21). And this would be the keynote of the New Era. Here are the eight propositions:

    1. Seek your total individuality. Don’t write it down anywhere. Don’t give it a name. Any definition of yourself is a deceptive hideout.

    2. You will not find your total individuality. It is your total individuality that sees you, that witnesses your doings. It acts in our space-time continuum but is not restricted to it.

    3. Your total individuality is your soul. It abides in the indeterminate plurality of universes. Because it is alive, it is evolving. Because it is outside of time, its evolution is only the time that you need to permit it to find you. Because it is multidimensional, it contributes to the composition of an Ecclesia. It is one and innumerable.

    4. Your soul will not find you as long as your consciousness is made of the stuff of false evidences created by your mind: as long as you do not feel a sense of suffocation in those space-time false evidences.

    5. The death of false evidences is a psychological death, announcer of resurrection. Each false evidence denounced opens a window in the inner space where the measurable dies.

    6. This death of the measurable in the inner space is a personal experience. All that is said to you about it will prevent it from occurring. Do not listen to the professionals of any religions.

    7. Beyond this death, our infinitely multiple individuality reveals to our present person that we are only one of its multifarious manifestations. We then meet the other manifestations of our soul spread out through history, still present and alive.

    8. So this consciousness emanating from our soul integrates its earthly past and also its future. It knows itself continuous, without limits. It is all-consciousness, it penetrates every consciousness, it understands every consciousness, and that understanding is love.

  2. They make me feel safe. We often transfer as a four or five-year old child, where ‘father knows best’ and the pattern is one of trust and compliance. When we regard higher-level leaders (e.g. a company CEO), the transference may be as a baby, where the father is distant, powerful and protective. Male managers in companies often encourage paternal transference by taking on the mantle and behaviours of classic fathers. They assume wisdom. They speak with authority. They reassure us that all will be well if we do as they tell us.

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