Countertransference

A. Molnos

The broadest definition of countertransference describes it as all the feelings and emotions stirred up in the therapist in the therapeutic situation. This definition is neither helpful nor accurate. After all, the therapist might, for instance, be upset about something that happened before the session and which has nothing to do with the patient or the therapeutic situation. According to a narrower definition, all feelings the therapist experiences towards the patient are countertransference. The problem with this definition is that it does not distinguish between feelings that are reality-based and others that are not. For instance, if the patient irritates the therapist with his subtle insolence, the therapist's irritation is a straightforward human reaction based on real provocation. If the therapist feels a wave of anger against the patient or feels tense in his presence without obvious reason, then the explanation is in the therapist's unconscious. She might be unconsciously responding to the patient as if he were someone from her own past. In this case her anger is plain transference and not countertransference. She should do everything to work through her own problem either on her own or with the help of a supervisor or another therapist. Finally, there is the other possibility that the therapist's anger is her response to the patient's transference. In this case we can talk of countertransference in the strictest sense of the word. Countertransference can, in fact, be defined as the response of the therapist's unconscious to the patient's transference.

When without any apparent reason the therapist starts feeling uneasy in the session, dissatisfied with herself, depressed, stuck or unsure of herself and/or she catches herself preaching or intellectualising, she has to ask herself whether transference or countertransference feelings on her part are in operation. It often happens that the therapist becomes aware of her countertransference feelings only after the session.

Countertransference feelings are an important tool the therapist can and must use. Through them she can understand better what the patient does in close relationships and what patterns of interaction are likely to develop in his current life.

In a group-analytic therapy group it is sometimes advisable for the conductor to discuss and analyse her countertransference openly with the group. "This can be extremely important and useful, but must not be made a routine." (Foulkes, 1975, pp.113-114). Without the balancing presence of a group it is rather unusual that the therapist should discuss her countertransference with the individual patient.

See also CONDUCTOR & TRANSFERENCE, TRANSFERENCE, GROUP-ANALYTIC PSYCHOTHERAPY. The next pathfinder entry is: (43) INTERPRETATION.