Countering Transference or Just Havin’ Feelings?
Posted by Dr. Vollmer on October 21, 2014
As I re-enter into the blogging world, I am reminded that one purpose of this blog is to focus my attention towards teaching about psychoanalytic concepts. In this way, this blog serves as my notepad, my preparation to stimulate a dialogue about the human condition in a psychotherapeutic setting. In that light, I want to focus on the notion of countertransference; a notion which is vague but generally means the unconscious and conscious feelings that the therapist has towards his patient. Edna and James, the therapeutic dyad, struggle together to make sense of Edna’s past and present anxieties. Edna, seen four times a week, for many years, is often angry and frustrated with James. She feels stuck and guilty, for no apparent reason, except she thinks that James could be doing a better job. At the same time, she comes regularly and reliably to her appointments and it never occurs to her to switch psychoanalysts.
James likes Edna, looks forward to seeing her, but feels that his feelings towards her are shallow, despite the many hours they have spent together. He assumes these shallow feelings are a result of both Edna keeping her emotional distance and James, not wanting to be drained at the end of each day. Still, of all of James’ patients, Edna, he would say is the one he feels the least connected to. James come to me for consultation about this troubling realization. “Maybe you have just not gotten close to her because she is so defended? And/or maybe she reminds you of people from your past who you spent a lot of time with, but who really never had emotional meaning for you?” I say, expressing layers of understanding to begin a discussion with James as to why he is seeking consultation with me, with regards to his therapeutic relationship with Edna.
The parallel process between trying to draw James out, via free association, follows James attempt to understand Edna, by the same means. Yet, my relationship with James is a teacher, or a supervisor, as the psychoanalytic world likes to call me. My job is to help with his concern, not about his life, or his personal relationships, but with his psychotherapeutic dilemmas. At the same time, I teach a class, struggling with the idea of countertransference, and in particular, struggling with the word “counter.” This, as I will talk about in class, is a major misnomer. There is nothing “counter” in countertransference, but rather, feelings go both ways, and the dyad changes over time-both sides, of course. This changing dyad is a result of the struggle to understand what happens when two people come together, hour after hour, trying to heal, trying to understand, with an attempt to offer up many answers, to seemingly unanswerable questions. These answers, are ideas, not definitive conclusions, and yet ideas help soothe anxiety, and create forward momentum, given the limitations of our own biology and the stressors in the world around us.