NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

What is Transference in Psychotherapy?

I have discussed transference in prior articles (see my articles: Psychotherapy and the Positive Transference and Psychotherapy and the Erotic Transference).  I wanted to discuss transference in more detail in this article so that clients who are in therapy or thinking about going to therapy will have a better understanding of this concept.

What is Transference in Psychotherapy?

The concept of transference was originally developed by Sigmund Freud when he was developing psychoanalysis.  He described various forms of transference in psychotherapy, including the positive transference, negative transference, erotic transference, parental transference and so on.

Here is a simple explanation of transference for psychotherapy clients who might be curious:  Typically, transference occurs when the client unconsciously "transfers" feelings that s/he had during childhood from her primary caregiver to the current psychotherapist.

Since this phenomenon is unconscious on the client's part, s/he usually isn't aware that these old feelings are being superimposed on the relationship with the psychotherapist.

If the transference is positive, it usually means that the client and psychotherapist have a good therapeutic relationship and, in most cases, the therapy is going well.

If the transference is negative, it means that there is some conflict between the client and the psychotherapist or some obstacle in the therapeutic work, and the client has negative feelings about the therapist.

During the course of therapy, the client's transference can switch back and forth between positive and negative or other forms of transference.

Many clients aren't aware of the term "transference" because the term is a form of psychotherapy jargon, and most therapist would find a more accessible way of talking about the therapeutic relationship with the client without resorting to jargon.

But clients who are interested in psychotherapy and possibly thinking about becoming a psychotherapist will often read this term and wonder what it means.

Transference is not a phenomenon that is exclusive to psychotherapy.  We all experience various forms of transference all the time in our personal and work relationships.

For instance, if you resented your authoritative father as a child, you might unconsciously "transfer" the feelings of resentment from your father to your boss at work and develop a negative transference for your boss--regardless of whether your boss is authoritative or not.

This doesn't mean that you still don't resent your authoritative father.  It just means that your boss is a person who is in authority in your life, and regardless of whether your boss has an authoritative personality or not, on an unconscious level, you have similar feelings towards your boss (and possibly other authority figures) as you did (or do) towards your father (see the vignette in my article: Contemporary Psychotherapy: Redefining the Traditional View of "Resistance" in Therapy).

Similarly, if your boss unconsciously reminds you of your grandfather, who was kind to you, you might develop a positive transference for your boss without even realizing how your feelings for your boss are connected to your grandfather.

Many psychotherapy clients "fall in love" with their psychotherapists.  I put "fall in love" in quotes because they're not actually in love with the therapist.

Most of the time, their feelings are based on a fantasy of what it might be like to have a personal relationship with the therapist.

This fantasy might have nothing to do with what it might actually be like to have a personal relationship with the psychotherapist (see my article: Why Your Psychotherapist Can't Be Your Friend).

Clients who experience an erotic transference for their therapist often worry and feel ashamed of their feelings, but this is a common experience in therapy.  Usually, the erotic transference dissipates over time as the client gets a better sense of the therapist as a ordinary person, the client develops more objective feelings for the therapist, and the client finds other attainable love interests in the "real world."

Although transference is an important concept in psychotherapy, not all feelings towards your therapist are about transference and it's important to be aware of this.

For instance, if your psychotherapist has said or done something in therapy that bothers you, your feelings shouldn't be dismissed by the therapist as being only about transference.

The real issue between you and the therapist needs to be addressed (see my article: How to Talk to Your Psychotherapist About Something That's Bothering You in Psychotherapy).

In future articles, I'll discuss other forms of transference.

Everyone experiences transference in all kinds of relationships--not just their relationship with their psychotherapist.

Transference usually happens on an unconscious level.

If you're in therapy and you're uncomfortable with your transferential feelings for your psychotherapist, you can talk to your therapist about it.

Psychotherapists are usually open to talking about transference, and you'll probably feel better to get these feelings out in the open.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you're feeling stuck in your life or you're unable to overcome a problem on your own, you could benefit from attending psychotherapy (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

Rather than suffering on your own, you owe it to yourself to get help from a licensed mental health professional (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Whether you need emotional support or if you need help overcoming psychological trauma, a skilled psychotherapist can help you overcome the obstacles that are keeping you from living a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist and I use Integrative Psychotherapy (see my article:  The Therapeutic Benefits of Psychotherapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 or email me.