Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Countertransference: Come On…

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on November 1, 2012

Countertransference is the notion that therapists bring unconscious issues into the treatment. Duh. Is it counter to the transference? No, I say. Hence I am not content with the terminology. Sure, therapists have an unconscious which can provide an obstacle to nonjudgmental listening. Somehow, the analytic literature suggests that countertransference was “discovered” in the 1950’s, after WWII. This was the era when many European analysts fled to the United States. Is this a coincidence or related? I am not sure. During this era there were numerous papers written on the bi-directionality of the dynamics. The therapeutic dyad was, in fact, a dyad. Patient and therapist change in the process-just like every relationship. This seems so obvious to us now, but apparently, in the earlier days of psychoanalysis, this was seen as a “discovery”. Yes, maybe I look back not appreciating the development of our field, that hindsight is 20:20, but I still maintain that sometimes the obvious is over-stated.

2 Responses to “Countertransference: Come On…”

  1. Shelly said

    I wish this blog had discussed more about countertransference and less about the history of it. What is the impact of countertransference on the therapeutic process? I have often felt scorn and disdain by the therapist I was working with and have told her that she was bringing her own issues to the room, which she denied and sidestepped rapidly. While her words said one thing, her facial and vocal cues said another. What can be done about countertransference other than switching therapists? Why does it happen? What does it mean?

    • Shirah said

      Thanks, Shelly. I will talk more about countertransference in future posts. The idea is that the therapist’s unconscious processes can get in the way of the therapy. For example, if the therapist just received a scary diagnosis and the patient then walks in the room, but is not aware of this event, there may be things that happen in the session that the patient interprets as punitive or critical, but is, in actuality, a manifestation of the therapist’s anxiety. Countertransference, by definition, is unconscious, so the therapist is unlikely to discuss the issues openly. From the patient’s perspective, countertransference can be proposed with the hope that an open discussion could happen. Countertransference happens because the unconscious is alive and well in all of us. What it means is dependent on the particular dyad. Thanks again.

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