Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Teaching Transference

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on January 17, 2013

So, it is time again for me to embark on another psychotherapy class that is interested in learning about transference. We will discuss how the therapeutic relationship leads to change in personality structure. This is the fundamental principle of in-depth psychoanalytically oriented work. The notion of transference separates out the therapies which focus on behavior from the therapies which focus in on deeper issues of unconscious self-sabotage and deeply rooted pain. “New brain” therapies, I like to call it, in which by understanding transference, a new brain can be formed, whereas with behavior oriented therapies, limited improvement is inevitable, since only the surface is being addressed. As always, I eagerly anticipate how this class will feel, their transference to me, in other words. We will talk about transference and experience transference, all at the same time. The parallel process will give us a way to make the subject come alive.  It should be interesting. Stay tuned.


10 Responses to “Teaching Transference”

  1. Jon said

    Teaching transference as you describe it seems most interesting. Transference becomes self-referential as the class will have transference to you; you will have transference to members of the class.

    Throughout modern thought the self- referential has been the source of great intellectual advancements. To cite just two (of many) examples, consider René Descartes’ and Kurt Gödel. René Descartes’ “Cogito Ergo Sum,” (“I think therefore I am”, or more correctly “I am thinking, therefore I exist”) shows that if one doubts one’s own existences, that doubt as a form of thought only shows that that person is the one who is doubting, and therefore exists. Thus started the modernity of western philosophy. Kurt Gödel was able to use a self-referential type of mathematics to rigorously construct a mathematical sentence that says essentially states that that sentence cannot be proved true or false. Thus crumbled a two thousand plus year dream of a complete and decidable mathematics.

    Now for fun, consider the self-referential two sided note that says one side, “The statement on the other side is true.” On the other side this note states, “The statement on the other side is false.” So, while it is unlikely that your class will bring about any earth-shaking revelations, it should at a minimum be fun.

    • Shirah said

      If I understand you correctly Jon, all of knowing, all of thinking, is subjective, and hence the past is part of the present, which is the definition of transference. There is no fresh experience, as every experience triggers prior experiences as well. As for the “minimum of fun,” you can guess that I will report back about that. Thanks.

      • Jon said

        While that is not what I was saying, there is part of what you write of subjectivity with which I agree. From the existential view, existence precedes essence. We exist and then subjectively give meaning and create essence by our caring. Knowing and thinking are subjective in the sense that we are the ones who know and think. I would disagree that the there is no fresh experience. While it may be the case that each experience triggers remembrances of past experiences, hence flavoring each new experience, it can be understood as something different than what has happened it the past. That said, I do look forward to you report back about the fun that will be had in your class.

  2. Shelly said

    Please can you explain what transference is, exactly? Also, the cartoon you have used in this blog is particularly bothersome to me. I don’t know if it bothers your other readers. I always wonder if this is what a therapist is thinking when he is listening to his patient….”this person is completely nuts,” whereas to the patient he will say, “I think you have some issues that we should focus on.” On the one hand he will say one very benevolent thing, but on the other hand, he is thinking another. How can you expect your clients to tell you the truth when you therapists don’t tell your clients the truth? Even though I realize that this is simply a cartoon that you chose off the internet, I think that it symbolizes what truly goes on behind closed doors. Any thoughts?

    • Shirah Vollmer MD said

      Well Greetings Shelly,
      Transference, simply put, is the unconscious confusion between past and present. We assume things about people based on past experiences, and so, at times, we have false attributions, such as “he hates me” which is not about your boss, but really about how you felt your father felt about you.
      As for the cartoon, I certainly debated in my mind whether to post it or not. I am sorry that it offends you. I liked the cartoon, because in the end, even if the therapist has such negative thoughts, that does not mean that those thoughts are not part of a larger stew in which ways of trying to be helpful are also spinning around. The point about the cartoon is that if the patient is worried that that is what the therapist thinks, it may be because the therapist has negative thoughts and/or the patient is falsely assuming negativity based on past experiences. Either way, this is important to work through. Negativity should not be avoided, but rather metabolized as part of the human condition. Thanks.

      • Shelly said

        Interesting. So when, if one is speaking about one’s boss, is it transference (is one speaking about one’s father) and when is the subject really one’s boss?

        • Shirah said

          This is the subject of exploration. The idea of transference is to always wonder and be aware that the past can influence the present, but at the same time, the present creates new experiences which layer over, and sometimes heal the past. Transference adds a layer of questioning which deepens one’s understanding of one’s likes and dislikes. Essentially, it adds a deeper way of examining one’s feelings. Thanks.

  3. Ashana M said

    To put a constructivist spin on this, I think people are basically pattern-finders and rule-makers. We don’t notice the rules so much when they work. I don’t think too much about where the light switch is located in a typical American bathroom as long as keeps appearing on the inside of the door on the right, but one of the most maddening little examples of rule-failure occurs whenever I first arrive in India, and I initially spend some time walking into dark bathrooms. I know perfectly well to expect the switch to be on the outside, but the rule about light switches is so firmly inscribed, I can’t overcome it with mere consciousness. We are the same way about your example of the disapproving psychiatrist. Perhaps the rule is that authority figures are disapproving, or intelligent people find us inadequate, or that facial expression means contempt. But, in fact, you aren’t disapproving, and your expression means something else. We need a new rule that explains both a father’s contempt for and rejection of his child, and your acceptance of your patients. If our rule is only some people look down on me, but others don’t, that’s not good enough. We need a rule with a better predictive power–like narcissists look down on me, but average people don’t.

    • Shirah said

      Well said. I think you make the point nicely that psychotherapy/psychoanalysis is a process which makes the brain more nimble. Thanks.

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