Transference and countertransference


Transference refers, in therapy, to the client’s projection of their feelings about someone else onto their therapist. Most of the time, this transference is unconscious, you are not aware that you are doing it.  It can be positive or negative, it’s totally normal, and it’s essential to the therapy itself. Sometimes, as part of their therapy process, your therapist even actively encourages it. 


For example, the patient can attach anger or hostility onto their therapist while talking about a difficult relationship with their father or mother.


For instance, the therapist may see an unconscious reaction to intimacy in their patient’s inability to form strong bonds with significant others. Transference can help the therapist understand why that fear of intimacy exists. They can then work toward resolving it. This may help the patient develop healthy, long-lasting relationships.

Countertransference refers to the redirection of the therapist’s feelings toward the client. This can be a reaction/response to the patient’s transference. Understanding how transference and countertransference manifest themselves has implications for the safe structuring of professional relationships (cognitive and affective reactions, conscious and unconscious, of the therapist towards his patient).

Transference and countertransference are two fundamental terms of psychoanalysis. They serve as pillars for clinical practice as they constitute a fundamental part of the analytical relationship. On the other hand, although these are two different concepts, transference and countertransference are clearly inseparable. Both are therefore very important in the therapeutic relationship. In the therapeutic relationship it’s even stronger. We deliver a part of us to the therapist. Sometimes we will feel anger, annoyance and even hatred towards this therapist. And we know that this isn’t rational. We meet a stranger, we give them details of our life. We create a (therapeutic) relationship and we project and replay all our childhood wounds (relational patterns, type of attachment …) in this new relationship. We play our own role and the psychologist that of a person around us.

The framework of the therapy is benevolent and reassuring, so we feel confident enough to reveal our weaknesses, our imperfections. And that makes us vulnerable. But it’s precisely because we are going to experience this vulnerability and experience a whole procession of emotions that we will be able to move forward.

These notions can also exist in student-professor, or even doctor-patient relationships.

An important job in therapy is to identify how you feel about your therapist. It may sound strange but that’s fundamental.

This is why these processes are essential in a good therapeutic relationship. Sometimes we are not satisfied with our therapy simply because we have not found the “right transfer(ence)”.