Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

The Coach Mom: Transference In Action

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 19, 2011

     Murray, 37, wants to run a marathon so he hired, Millie, 62, a coach, to help him. Inevitably, Murray starts to treat Millie as a mother-figure. He rebels against practicing. He is fearful of letting her down. He wants her to be proud of his accomplishments. “She has become a stand-in for your mom.” I say, pointing to the transference that is occurring as their relationship deepens. “Well, sort of. She has other students that she coaches and they don’t seem to have a problem telling her that they did not practice, but I feel so guilty about it.” Murray reports with a sense of anxiety and tumult. “Exactly,” I say excitedly. “Everyone has a different relationship with authority figures based on their past experiences and for you, disappointing your authority figure gives you internal disruption, as it reminds you of the pain of disappointing your mom.” “Yea, I see that, but it is still really difficult. I emailed Millie to tell her I was not going to practice with her Sunday and now I am on pins and needles waiting for her response, ” Murray says, as if he just had to tell his mom that he was not going to study for his math test.  “Millie is bringing back a lot of old feelings for you. That is really hard.” I say, connecting the past to the present. “They don’t feel like old feelings, but I guess they are,” Millie says, somewhat confused by my line of thinking. “Your relationship with Millie is so intense that you bring past relationships into the present.” I say, trying to explain the universal nature of this experience. “Yea, but I wish it were not so intense,” Murray says. “Yet, at the same time, maybe you appreciate Millie as a mother-figure who can slowly change your relationships with authority figures. Maybe you are hoping that Millie will reshape your experience of trying to please someone.” I say, explaining that new relationships can sometimes mend the trauma of old relationships. “That is very interesting,” Murray says, as if the session was finally congealing for him.

2 Responses to “The Coach Mom: Transference In Action”

  1. Shelly said

    If Murray wants to run marathons and he hired Millie to help him train, why doesn’t he simply do the training he hired her for, instead of creating the tension he is revisiting from his childhood? I understand the point of the therapy and discussion behind it, but why the drama? Why not practice and prepare for the marathon?

  2. Shirah said

    Well, that is just it. Murray wants to run marathons. He hired Millie to help him. Inevitably, what seems so simple at first-pass becomes fraught with underlying anxieties and memories of past dependent relationships. The surface situation leads us into a world of “drama” which is Murray’s interior world. Exploring this “drama” is the richness of our work. Thanks, as always for your comments.

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