Over a dozen different ways to understand transference
so you have more control over your feelings.
By: Psychologist Dr. Susan LaCombe
Updated: August 12, 2016
Jennie was feeling desperate. She hadn’t bargained on therapy creating more problems than she had when she began. At times it was all she thought about, and she didn't think she could hold it in any longer.
Her husband of 20 years found her preoccupation with therapy a little confusing - yesterday he remarked offhandedly that he didn’t see the need for her to get dressed up before her appointments.
She knew it wasn’t right to keep him in the dark - she was so embarrassed.
That wasn’t the tough part though.
The truth was that she was in love with someone else - someone she couldn’t have. Someone she couldn't stop fantasizing about.
It was her therapist.
And things were getting out of hand.
Last night she couldn’t sleep and found herself doing something she wasn’t proud of…she Googled him. Now she knows where he lives, that he has a wife and two kids etc. Though she felt like a stalker, she hoped that would be the end of it.
But knowing about his private life didn’t help - it didn’t dampen her feelings for him one bit. And the thing is, she hasn’t even told him how she feels. She’s afraid he’ll refer her to someone else.
Jennie’s not aware that that feelings of attraction are not an unusual occurrence in therapy. Called transference, it's typically associated with psychotherapy and encompasses pretty much any feelings that get stirred up regarding your therapist.
Jennie's also in luck because there's a good chance her therapist will be prepared to work with her on the transference. In previous days, this wasn't always the case.
In traditional psychotherapies clients suffering from transference had no idea what was really going on. Unless or until they finally disclosed these feelings to their therapist (or a trusted friend) they were effectively on their own.
And even if they chose to bring the subject up in therapy, they often had a hard time getting a straight answer.
You see, the profession harboured a cold, highly "left brain" bias**. The equal importance of the right brain and nervous system revealed by the latest advances in neuroscience hadn't yet been added to the therapists' mindset, let alone their clinical training.
Indeed, with some psychoanalytical approaches the therapist said little as possible about transference (to avoid pulling the client out of the process).
In fact, psychoanalysts were discouraged from saying too much period, because the goal of psychoanalytic therapy was to heighten the transference). That made it easier for both the therapist and client to see it.
The main problem though was that the focus was on analysis of the transference - clients were encouraged to logically "think through" and see the transference for what it was. The farthest thing from a therapist's mind was to be in resonance with the client's nervous system, making him or herself emotionally available.
Unfortunately, this left clients pretty much drowning in the helplessness of early undefended child-like states without any tools to navigate their way clear.
The solution back then was simple...see your therapist more often...maybe twice a week for starters, for years on end sometimes.
Now hopefully, in most cases this vulnerability was not taken advantage of. However, you can imagine how frightening the client’s dependency could be.
This is why most analysts were required to undergo their own personal therapy as part of their training.
And while I don't agree with these methods (I've used other solutions for transference), they were right that facing and processing your transference paid huge benefits.
So for years transference has been shrouded in mystery and only recently has the subject been openly discussed and recognized by the wider mental health community as a normal part of therapy.
In fact, the Internet has been godsend - folks in therapy can now connect with others going through the same process. But still, many going into therapy have no idea that transference can strike without warning.
Absolutely. It's one of the best kept secrets. Transference can completely transform how you feel about yourself because it's often rooted in our earliest, sometimes pre-verbal, emotional development.
It makes accessible an area of the brain that can't be changed with talk therapy alone.
Of course, successful resolution of your transference depends on a few key conditions being met especially the interactive skills of an attuned therapist who's emotionally available.
You might be wondering what kinds of changes can you expect? Well, transference draws its power from our most powerful emotional drives to belong and feel whole, and understandably that can cover a lot of ground.
Just as an example, working out the transference can benefit you tremendously if you feel less worthy than others, less emotionally capable, or you feel less entitled to have what you want or need.
Imagine how your life would change if you could experience the world as confidently as you see others experiencing it!
Everyone you come in contact with leaves a mark that influences how you see yourself and how you experience the world. I'm not just referring to the idea that the person you just met left an impression on you - whether for good or bad. Rather, I mean that person changed your brain - albeit in a minor way.
In other words, it's a cumulative process. All your experiences add up so that how you experience a new person is unconsciously influenced by how you experienced everyone else before that (and why you might also want to be choosey about your friends :-).
The reason is, every person you meet triggers different emotional memories. So those memories are shaping how you experience yourself, and everyone else.
I am a part of all that I have met...
Transference actually operates in all our relationships to some degree. That not only includes your family but your friends as well.
And because transference is deeply rooted in your unconscious (ie. your early emotional experiences), those memories are guiding your moment-to-moment thoughts, feelings and behaviors today.
Find it hard to believe?
Well, recall your earliest friendships. Would you experience a childhood friend the same way if you were to meet him or her for the first time today?
In fact, would you even become friends today? What about meeting an old love? Would the attraction still be there after all the experiences you've had in the intervening years?
How you experience someone is unique to you. For example, there's a professional colleague whom I regard as a father figure, even though we’re the same age. I look up to him, and if I were honest with myself, I’m a little in awe.
But that’s not how my friend sees him. She finds him pompous!
So we all see each other based on our unique histories. In effect, we transfer the feelings, memories and sensations associated with our past significant relationships onto others in the present, in our own unique way.
Of course, those who cared for us early on - typically our parents - have the deepest impact shaping how we experience others.
So, transference happens when you unconsciously 'transfer' the feelings, memories and desires you experienced in your early important relationships onto your therapist.
Therapy heightens this unconscious propensity for transferring your feelings into the therapeutic relationship. It's intensified because therapy happens privately, within strict personal boundaries (and where the conversation is typically one way), there are no distractions to dilute how you experience your therapist. It can feel as though they’re caused by the therapist.
"He’s such a softie..even with his big belly..
I want him to hold me so badly."
"I don’t understand what's happening. I’m not into women and now I’m attracted to my therapist who’s female.
It doesn’t make sense."
These feelings can take many forms apart from a romantic or erotic attraction (eg. you might feel as dependent as a child looking forward to seeing your Mom).
That’s how Robert feels towards his therapist. He loves being in therapy. It’s like going back to a home he never had. Her office even has a smell that he can detect just walking down the hall towards her door.
He yearns to be hugged by her but he’s afraid she’ll think it odd if he asks. The hardest time is the end of a session, knowing it’s a whole week before he'll see her again. The waiting can be unbearable.
Tanya is far from feeling attracted. In fact, she’s considering leaving therapy altogether…for many reasons. For one, she finds him cold and distant. For another he doesn’t always answers her questions, and he then asks why she wants to know. And she hates when he writes his notes when she’s talking.
The worst is that she distrusts his sincerity when he says he cares about her well-being. She had no idea that she would develop such a strong reaction. You see, she’s done enough research to know that not all therapists understand transference (or can handle it). She wonders whether her feelings are coming from transference or whether this guy’s just not emotionally open. It’s so hard to tell.
Ironically, it’s become a problem in itself, in addition to the issues she came to therapy for. Tanya has an inkling it’s related to feelings for her father, whom she found overbearing. But if she terminates her therapy she’ll probably never find out.
Indeed, for many folks it’s only after they successfully resolve their transference feelings and experience themselves in new ways that they really grasp the power of it.
So Tanya’s wondering how “working through transference” will help her when her therapist shares so little emotionally. To complicate the situation, she also knows that not everyone gets through their transference successfully.
If you’re in therapy you already know that the relationship you have with your therapist is not typical of ‘normal’ relationships. The focus of conversation is all about you.
Good therapists rarely say anything about themselves that isn’t in the service of helping you, the client.
For many, therapy might be the first time in their lives they’ve gotten so much personal attention. It often triggers early memories (good and bad) of being cared for as an infant, when someone had to feed, clothe and bathe you.
Brain Fact: Every function evolved with a purpose.
It may not be apparent, but there’s always an underlying agenda. In particular, whatever strengthens you emotionally will help ensure you find your place and survive as a valued member of your social group.
What does it have to do with transference? Well, for one, you can trust that transference has a purpose. (It's not your brain run amuck :))
Brain Fact: All memories are interconnected.
For example, it’s easier to remember who you hung out with in high school when you can picture what you did together back then. The names are all inside you, but they're easier to connect when you can 'see' what they look like.
The reason more connections are advantageous is because greater complexity leads to greater creativity, which maximizes our ability to adapt, and ultimately to survive.
It's also why one seemingly innocent event potentially triggers anxiety - it's tapping into an earlier, not so pleasant memory.
Brain Fact: The sense of “you” and your self-image arises out of the thousands of experiences you've had since birth.
The most potent of these experiences were those that occurred when your infant brain and nervous system were still developing.
Brain Fact: Emotional memories are different from other memories because they persist
(ie. they don't fade away).
That means the emotional memories laid down early in infancy and childhood are first to shape how you feel about yourself. They’re called implicit memories (as opposed to explicit memories, like remembering what you ate for dinner last night).
When implicit memories are triggered, it’s like hearing a piece of music and being filled with a soothing feeling but not remembering where or when you heard it before. You experience it happening right now and you feel all the comfort, safety and security you did back then.
Brain Fact: It doesn’t matter how far back emotional memories go, they can be triggered in circumstances similar to those when they were first laid down
(eg. being cared for by your therapist is like being cared for as a child).
Although you may not remember that it was the same music your mother played when you were a child, but your nervous system does.
So Tanya's memory of the father who ignored her is still intact, and it's behind how she experiences her therapist. If she could take a step back, she might see that’s the same way she experiences other guys - especially those who are emotionally distant.
Brain Fact: The brain's inborn drive for growth and wholeness will unconsciously pressure you to seek out experiences that complete you.
That means, if any stages of your emotional development gets skipped over for some reason, there still remains a subtle urge to complete what didn’t happen. Tying up those loose emotional ends could be the primary benefit. That’s the task that needs to be worked through with your transference.
In other words, as your relationship with your therapist evolves, familiar feelings related to previous connections with others (even other therapists!) are triggered. You begin to experience your therapist - in the present - in much the same way you had experienced a significant person from your past.
Again, transference happens when you unconsciously transfer the feelings, memories and desires you experienced in your early important relationships onto your therapist.
So why would I experience my colleague as a warm father figure when my friend finds him pompous? One clue is that my biological father wasn’t in my life very long, and a stepfather who came along later was emotionally unavailable.
From an emotional development point of view it stands to reason that inside I feel incomplete - I yearn to have a 'make-up' experience that would help me feel whole.
Basically, transference provides an opportunity for these early events to be re-experienced, not just endlessly talked about in therapy.
Transference brings these buried memories to life, where you can work through the underlying unmet needs or developmental gaps. It’s also why Jennie, Robert and Tanya could benefit by broaching how they feel with their therapist.
Therapy can easily get stalled for a long time when ‘the elephant in the room’ isn’t brought into the work.
And yes, doing this will be risky for each of them, and not just because they'll feel embarrassed. The greater risk is in how their therapists react.
Some therapists disregard transference, seeing it as an irrelevant but unavoidable by-product of therapy, more of a nuisance.
In other words, even if you disclose your true feelings, your therapist may not think anything of it and continue working as though it didn't exist. He or she may simply not understand the potential transference holds for deep personal change.
Other therapists may feel uncomfortable if their skill set is not up to handling your disclosure. Some may even refer you to another therapist.
But even if he’s never dealt with transference in his practice, your therapist can simply do what others have done in similar situations: get supervision from a therapist who knows how to handle these situations.
Most clients are willing to work with therapists when an authentic connection has been made, even when a therapist openly acknowledges limited experience in an area.
(What client wouldn’t be thrilled to work with a therapist who values an authentic, attuned connection?)
Most people, indeed many therapists, believe that transformative change happens through what could be called ‘left brain’ talk therapy.
In other words, if you talk enough about a subject, that it will lead to change.
However, even if you're able to allow the underlying emotions to be released by talking about them, there's unlikely to be any fundamental change if certain brain-wise conditions aren't met. (Otherwise, talking to a trusted friend would have similar results as therapy.)
Here's the problem.
Conventional therapy takes one of two approaches to change both of which I believe have serious limitations and a higher risk for emotional harm.
One involves the therapist presenting as a blank screen upon which you the client verbally project a picture of your emotional state.
It is assumed that you will change as a result of any insight into your issues acquired. The second approach assumes that changing your thoughts will change your emotions.
For clients working through intense transference feelings, these approaches are tantamount to sending children out into a winter storm without jackets. They end up re-experiencing pretty much what got them to therapy in the first place: insufficient attuned care.
If they cannot see themselves in the non-judgmental eyes of a therapist, there is nothing for the brain to learn from, no protection to help them navigate the "cold".
These approaches leave out what research in emotional development and neuroscience have confirmed over and over, that personal change in therapy depends upon your experience in therapy.
So the work of resolving the transference happens by chance in a hit or miss fashion…and takes much longer than need be, often years longer.
Given what we know now about how therapy changes the brain, that should not be happening.
So let me be clear about this. Can transference be resolved if your therapist practices Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)? Yes, as long your therapist goes beyond the standard technical aspects of the model. However, being emotionally available, being present with clients, and focusing on moment to moment interactions are not taught as part of that model.
Even so, there are always a few heartfelt CBT practitioners who manage to help their clients in deep and meaningful ways 🙂
Can your therapist help you resolve your transference if he or she is psychoanalytically trained? Yes, but only to the degree that your therapist departs from the traditional ‘blank slate’ model (ie. this model discourages the therapist from saying too much, does not emphasize emotional avaiability, and prefers analysis over present moment experience).
And yes, there’s some heartfelt psychoanalytically-trained practitioners who just can’t help themselves and manage to help their clients in deep and meaningful ways 😉
Can transference be resolved if your therapist is ‘body-based’? Yes, and probably faster than the average therapist could do.
You see, the body-based approach is the clinical application of the best of brain science for one very important reason:
The basic tenets of body-based work, includes attachment, emotional containment, moment to moment interactions, and presence. Each ensures that any transference reactions will be recognized, examined, and worked through in your therapy.
It’s also the best treatment model for anxiety because body based therapists know more than anyone that their ability to regulate clients’ high states of emotion is based on their own nervous system capacity to modulate sometimes overwhelming emotional energies.
Body based therapists also have numerous tools ("self-regulating techniques") that enable clients to manage overwhelming emotions on their own.
In particular, these body-based techniques help their clients to resolve and move beyond transference to fully developing their self-regulation skills.
On the other hand, even a body-based practitioner can take much longer than others when their nervous system can't contain and regulate a client’s emotional states.
Here's two tips that'll help you to move through your transference faster.
One is to understand that recognizing transference is only the first step in working with it.
In order to get the most out of your therapy and to ultimately change you at your core, the brain needs to "experience" feelings associated with your transference in the present moment.
Just discussing your feelings in the abstract, disconnected from your emotional reactions in the here and now, will do very little to resolve the transference.
Secondly, you need a new “healing” experience to override old patterns in the brain. Emotional unloading isn't sufficient.
These "healing" experiences generally emerge organically through the interactions with your therapist.
The not-so-good news is that these pivotal moments tend to occur at random. This needlessly prolongs your time in therapy.
Fortunately, we've learned from body-based clinical practice that there are some fairly simple concrete steps you can take to hone in on the transference and deliver the kind of experience your brain needs to move on.
In other words, you can actually be much more purposeful about moving through your transference. For one, these "pivotal moments" can be recalled repeatedly, automatically triggering the good feelings you had back then. This practice in essence "fills" you up on the inside by creating new neuropathways in the brain.
With persistence you can promote any change you want by replacing outdated or non-existent connections.
That's right, it fills in the gaps!
Pat yourself on the back if you're in therapy!
It's the most efficient and effective personal change agent I know. That's because within the safety and confidentiality of the therapeutic relationship, you can experience the powerful emotions of transference and use them to make incredible personal changes (and only two people in the world know anything about it! 🙂 )
** It's not to say that the therapists during this era weren't caring individuals, it's just that the theories at the time promoted value in "analysis". In truth, I imagine the field attracted those folks who were good at analysis - whether they were also "caring" seemed to be less important. It wasn't until decades later that we had the science to back up the idea that the therapist's emotional availability was playing a key role.
Oh my god............it helps so much to hear other people feeling the same! I have been in therapy for close to 12 years (twice a week), following one year in therapy where a therapist had me admitted to the hospital and had the hospital tell me that she was terminating with me. Soon after discharged I overdosed and was in the ICU for five days.
After years of being ambivalent about attaching myself to this therapist, I am terrified that she will leave me some day. I have told her that she is going to find me dead in her house when she retires......this is no joke and I am scared to death! When she goes away my symptoms are so bad and the only way I can deal with it is to overdoes on my medications and stay in bed for weeks until she returns. I just don't see a good way for a termination to happen. I only think of the pain that I will be left with and it isn't something that I will be able to manage! I just know I will die.
I keep telling her that I need a plan in place, in the event that something happens to her, and she still hasn't developed a plan for me. I think therapy just doesn't work for everyone and in some cases it makes people worse.........it provides you with one of the best relationships then takes it away. I can't even stand the thought of the pain...............I just know I will die! And I want her to know that pain.......not physically hurting her, I just want to die in front of her and have her see my pain. TJ (so distraught at the thought)
I'm really confused with this whole transference issue. I recognize that I'm having very strong transference feelings for my therapist right now... and I also recognize that I've done this in the past with other people as well -- where I feel an overwhelming attachment for no logical reason.
It is very painful for me because I feel sooo dependent. I'm finding any excuse I can to have a reason to contact him between sessions... and find that just a simple phone call or e-mail from him can literally turn my day around. But when I don't have any contact, each day between sessions seems to last forever. This is not a healthy way to live!
I also recognize that I seem to have all the major pre-disposing factors to this: Early childhood neglect, mom died when I was six, neglectful / abusive family dynamics after that.
Here's my question though... is there any way to work through these feelings and achieve healing on one's own?!? Two reasons I ask -- one is that I'd be mortified to bring up the intensity of the feelings with my therapist... I know where they stem from, and I know I'm not 'in love' with him, etc... but I'd be really embarassed to talk about this and I don't know how he'd react. I'm also quite worried that he'd take steps to eliminate any extra contact with me so as not to make the problem 'worse'...but in so doing it would remove the little bit of comfort I get from that extra contact!
The other reason is that my husband is really getting unhappy with the amount of money spent on therapy and does not want me to continue if at all possible. He won't absolutely prevent me... but he does not see the value for the money, and feels that normal, relatively healthy people (which I do consider myself to be) do not need this. I can see his point... and I almost see it as an addiction... I'm willing to pay almost anything in order to have time with my therapist... because of these transference feelings... so how do I get out of this loop?!??!? I recognize the source... I feel the pain... how do you go from feeling to healing?
Lost and Curious (Illinois, USA)
I have issues with people walking out of my life. I am constantly worried about being close to anyone. However, I notice that i have a serious attraction to my therapist. I feel like I need to stop going to her because I feel like she will realize this and stop seeing me. I find it hard to open up to her like i sholud because of my feelings for her.
What is your advice to this problem. ps I am thinking of telling her how i am feeling. Is this a good idea?
I have recognized that I am experiencing transference with my counselor. I still have issues of fear of talking about things because of always having bad repercussion from my child hood.
She is a great counselor and I want to work through this but I do not know how to bring it up and talk to her about it.
Can you give me some advise on that?
Tina (Reno, NV, USA)
I have a similar situation to that of Dale's. I am a lesbian as well, but I am married to my partner of 11 years and very much in love with her. I have been very concerned with my feelings that I have had towards my Psychiatrist (also female, but much older).
I have serious issues with talking to people about my personal 'stuff' so seeing a Dr. was a difficult choice to make for me. My first 10 sessions were very very quiet on my part. But yet after my 4th session I realized that I had significant sexual feelings towards her and started to research her on the net, finding out such personal things as her home address (which I have driven by).
I feel like a stalker and my partner is also becoming concerned with how interested I am in the Dr's life! I'm afraid to tell her (Dr.) how I feel because like everyone else, the thought of the rejection is horrifying. By the way, she has diagnosed me with an Anxiety Disorder with Panic Attacks.
I really noticed that I had deep feelings for her when she had suggested that our sessions end until I felt I was able to participate in the Talk Therapy she was offering me. I freaked and started to cry (the first time I showed any emotion in an appointment). I told her that we couldn't end the sessions because I wasn't ready and I didn't think that I could handle not coming, then explained how stressed I was when our appointments were cancelled over Christmas.
She decided to continue the sessions as I had made a breakthrough at that point. I should have said something at that point but didn't understand the feelings myself, let alone have to explain them to her.
I googled 'being in Love with your therapist' and came upon the word 'transference', I've now realized, after reading your site and others, that I am normal (so to speak). I think that because I had a very poor connection with my mother as a child/young adult (before she died) that I am possibly confusing sexual feelings with that of wishing she were my mother because of the compassion she shows, and her ability to make me feel like she cares.
Anyway, thanks for having such a great site, it's motivated me to talk to her about transference, if I can manage to get it out of me.
Hannah (Manitoba, Canada)
I am a 47 year old woman who has a "crush" on my son's psychiatrist. We were in family therapy with him for 1 and a half years and I am perplexed by my extreme feelings for him. He just seems so perfect for us. My son has OCD and the child psychiatrist whom I just adore has been so helpful to me in dealing with my son's problems. I know he is a single man and my sexual fantasies about him are getting out of control.
We no longer see him, which is agonizing to me, due to his departure from our health care network. I think he knew that I had a crush on him and I think he made this worse by telling us so many personal things about himself. He made me feel like we were very special to him. He really went out of his way for us by spending extra time with us while other patients waited in the reception room. He told us so many things about himself that I couldn't help but feel drawn to him.
I think he is lonely. He also seems a little depressed. I would so love to give him an evening of "cheer". At our last appointment, he gave us his personal email and we have been exchanging a few emails. I always initiate them, asking for advice about my son and giving him updates on how he is doing. He always responds and still throws in some personal info about himself. I really like that.
I have also looked him up on the internet and have found out some info about him and feel a little ashamed about it. I know where he lives and have driven past his home. He lives nearby and has a cool home with a swimming pool.
I need to get over my obsession with him and am hoping I can. I still think we would be great for each other. We grew up in the same area and he is about 10-12 years older than me. I have always been attracted to older, intelligent men. I do have a boyfriend that I have been with for over 25 years but he is not smart enough for me. We do have a satisfying sex life but I love the shrink for his smart intellect, sense of humor and caring abilities. I am definitly,"shrink-rapt"!!
I want to get over him and am hoping to find some relief from websites like this. At least I know I am not alone. A lot of people are experiencing what I am. I just wish he would reach out to me now that we are no longer patients of his. Is this still taboo? We are not patients anymore and it has been over a year since my son and I have seen him. I would love to invite him to a casual lunch but don't have the guts to ask. I am afraid of rejection.
Why is it viewed as "breaking boundaries" if two people could possibly connect and could both have more meaningful lives? I am pretty sure he lives alone, I heard that from a reliable source at our behavioral health facility. This receptionist just kept on talking about him to me when I asked questions about him, probably not the right thing for her to do either. She seemed to be fanning the flames.
I do have one thought in the back of my mind, however, and I must finish with it. He may be a homosexual. I am not sure but maybe he is in the closet. I can't imagine someone like him being all alone. I wish I could know that and then maybe I could get over him.
I really am stuck here with these feelings, please give me some advice so I can move on with my life. Thank you, ShrinkLady!
Dorothy (CA, USA)
Is it okay for me to fantasize sexually about my therapist? Will this prove detrimental to the therapeutic process?
I am doing my best to resist it, but I also don't want to make too much of it. I sorta feel like it's only natural and normal to fantasize about persons I find sexually attractive, and I am trying to undo my conflation of sex and shame.
On the other hand, I am afraid that if I do, I will someday have to admit it to her. I definitely do not want to discuss a sexual attraction. I am considering opening up about the transference that is precipitating this, but I do not feel it would be necessary or beneficial to mention this part.
What is your take?
P.S. We are mainly focusing on CBT, not standard talk therapy.
Reading these comments has been so helpful in helping me realize what has been transpiring between my therapist and me the last 7 months. I went initially to see her to be hypnotized to stop smoking - however, I continued going to see her for therapy and began interactive hypnotherapy. Covering issues and fears of abandonment. (I was adopted) and a heterosexual female.
She's 12 years older than me. Several times a week for the past 6 months I would email her and she would respond with such kind, caring, positive ideas. I would come home from work and sit at the computer waiting for her to respond - and she always did usually within 12 hours. Sometimes she would respond from her Blackberry. I was beginning to feel sexual feelings for her which completed freaked me out! I was aware, and expressed this to her several times that she had qualities that I wish my Mother had. That she always makes me feel so secure and safe.
Just this last Tuesday, we had an ice storm and I became worried about her. I emailed her to let me know that she was okay, and the response I got was devastating. She asked me not to email her any longer between sessions. Keep my questions for our therapy appointments just like she does with all her other clients. That she loves her clients and working with them - including me, but that she only has so much energy and time, and would kill herself if she tries to meet everybody's needs and not her own. The tone of the email was 180 degrees from what she has written before.
We have an appointment in two days - as it's driving me crazy what I did that made her not want to interact with me anymore between sessions. We both are educated and were very complimentary towards either other. I understand now it is transference. This is very different for me as I just recently let the 'guard' down and allowed myself to feel feelings and emotions. I'm not sure how to handle this situation as I feel such a loss now.
Thank you for website!
Kel (Texas, USA)
Sometimes I think I am just addicted to therapy and can not get out of it. I have been through some wretched experiences lately. I wish I could get help but I really do not know where to go for help.
I do not trust my current therapist. She has done a couple of things that I was shocked by. I am trying to sort out whether these things were called for on her part or not. I feel she uses my words against me. Uses the information I give her to set up traps.
Is it me being uncooperative or is it her being a bad therapist or something in between? I guess I'd have to devulge more here to really get any answers. But I am new here. I am glad I found this site though. Helps me know I am not alone however I get the feeling that therapy and transference is a bit like drug addiction. I live in Minneapolis (I know how boring)
I feel devastated to realize i'm experiencing transference especially since most of my emotional pain relates to rejection from my earliest childhood memories, fear of rejection as an adult, and an emotional abandonment issue at 18 years old from parents.
At its very nature, transference involves rejection. I had heard of transference and i could have given an intelligent definition of it but to experience it is horrible. in fact, not until i read your website and others comments did i actually realize this was transference. it couldnt be because what i feel is so deep, real, tender that these feelings would have to be legitimate. i would never have thought it could be untill i began to read other peoples experiences and how much they hurt and felt so deeply.
i am having a lot of anxiety just typing this. my hands are shaking b/c i feel afraid that my therapist will somehow read this and see my email address. intellectually i know thats ridiculous odds. i feel so trapped also, which is what has brought me to the point of seeking counseling again after many years. my depression and anxiety are really bad. i feel many times the only way "out" from being trapped is suicide.
people who have never had emotional problems and depression for many many years have no idea. they only think the person is selfish. they dont see it becomes an actual solution to the person who desperately needs relief from emtional pain. so now i do have a great therapist who has just began "to come along side of me into this sacred place of my mind and heart to help me through the pain" --these have been his words--to where a few times i've felt hope again. and now i find out this horrible thing has occurred that has such a benign name--transference and i feel trapped because even if i'm willing to start over with someone else, it probably will just happen again because it relates to real issues i need to work through.
i've already had times when i've felt literally transported back in time to a little girl in a flash and i'm in mid life years. i've had to stop talking before because of being so overwhelmed and devastated to have feelings come over me. i've felt intense shame in the presence of my counselor and now i have to tell him i'm having transference! i'm beside myself.
Also since everyone else has had the courage to share what kind of relational transference they are experiencing i will tell you that almost immediately i felt a father like connection with him probably b/c of his wisdom, age, self confidence, self assurance, energy and passion. He reminded me of my dad. except my dad does not have the emotional maturity he does. honestly i dont think most men do. and i am no feminist either. men have alot of great strengths women dont have. i am making generalization statements. anyway, back to my point.
Now im about 2 months in and i have romantic feelings for him. whats really confusing is that i believe he really does have qualities that i would want in a relationship with a man and surely thats not wrong to realize that and also to admit that i want to have a wonderful man to share my lilfe with which i dont like to even admit b/c i feel so rejected b/c i've never been a girl that guys choose.
even now i had to stop b/c i cant see that computer screen b/c of crying to even admit i want this kind of relationship. i've even mentioned before that my relationship with my dog is the most significant one i have. And i'm definitely not telling you my dog's name or someone will figure out who i am. ha. i have no real intimate relationships and long for that and yet pull back in fear also. sorry this is so long.
thanks p.s. i have never done anything like this on line so i am so scared.
Kim, Illinois, USA
How do you know as a client whether the interaction you have with your therapist is genuine or just the reaction of a very well trained practitioner?
Caroline, South Carolina, USA
I have been in therapy for approx. 6 months now, and am having huge issues with transference. So much so that I am starting to pull away from my therapist.
I was making great progress, until my feelings for her just got too be too much. I was thinking of her all the time, wanting to be with her, having sexual feeling. I do realize that this is all part of transference, but I am very vulnerable right now, and am having a hard time separating my feeling and the realization of transference.
I should bring this up to her and explain how I am feeling, but I do not want to scare her away. We do work well together, and she has been there for me through some really rough times. Any advice would be appreciated.
Kats, Ontario, Canada
Yes, it is scary Kats. If it's any comfort...the feelings are real though. You've felt them before. That's why it's happening. You've experienced a loss before and at a time when it was critically important (probably during your infant years). No doubt these same feelings of loss are being triggered. This explains why the current ones are so intense and the risk is so high.
What we know about the way the brain changes is that when the risk is high, the potential for growth is similarly high. So, I encourage you to take that step and share your feelings with your T. Until this happens, it's very likely that your therapy will be hampered.
As you've probably read in these posts, it's also true not all T's understand the transference dynamic. However, if your T is capable of a deep connection, I suspect that she will be there for you.
This is my hope for you Kats...that this time you will have a new experience. Your therapist is not leaving you. She will help you re-wire those old fear pathways. She will be there with you and help you manage through those fears replacing them with a warm heart-felt connection.
All the best,
I (female) recently admittede to my (male) therapist that I was experiencing transference, he was very sensitive to the issue and told me everything was going to be okay. Since we have talked about it, he has admitted to experiencing countertransference with me. I don't know that this is a good thing, but it sure feels that way. I feel more comfortable and willing to be more honest because he is with me.
Has anyone experienced this? He says it's the first time he has, but he has encountered transference in the past. What was the outcome to your experience?
Lynn, Kansas City, USA
Thank you Shrinklady!
Your words are very kind and soothing. This has been a long hard journey at times, but the change/metamorphosis has been so healing. I receive so many comments from people about something being different about me. (For the better.) It has been a lot of hard work and it is so worth it. I have worked through multiple traumas and my T says that my attachment is my BIG trauma. But I am gaining exposure and she has been wonderful about it.
I like how you related that you say the words your clients need to hear. My T has dropped some hints, but it seems as though she wants me to pick it up by experiencing and not just hearing, but I long to hear it. I really do. Maybe I should tell her that. Its Funny how you suggested that I imagine her saying the words I need to hear, I do that all the time. But I think I can do that effectively because I also do get a sense that there is a love or affection there on her part.
I want to tell you that I really appreciate how you take the time to reflect on and to respond to so many posts despite your busy schedule as a Therapist. Hearing a Therapist’s side of the relationship is touching. I hope you can continue to be available.
Much heartfelt thanks! Just Me
What a lovely message Just Me. Thank-you. It's always nice to hear how therapy is making a difference. And, that's a true test, eh? If therapy is working...others notice the difference. I got the same messages when I was changing. Folks noticed my face had changed...more relaxed I think.
It's been great getting to know you Just Me, here and in the Counseling Psych Cafe. I want to say how much I appreciate you helping out so many folks in the Counseling Psych Cafe. You've been wonderful.
I'm quite enjoying responding to the messages folks leave. It's been interesting getting to know who my visitors are. I see my traffic is increasing and this Post-a-Comment gives me a small window into who's dropping by.
Bye for now,
I have been in therapy for 4 months now and i am having transference issues. i am a female with a female therapist. i think about her sexually as well as being a friend after termination, neither of which will happen i am sure. i can never wait until the next session and is all i ever think about. i am really worried about termination and i feel i won't be able to deal with it without going crazy.
we have not discussed transference issues yet. i refuse to bring it up. i am hoping she will ask me, and even then i might not say anything about it. i am also a gay female and i dont want to scare her in any way.
Also, is counter-transference as common as transference?? I feel so dependent i cant stand it.. Thank you..
Dale, New Jersey, USA
I once had a really good therapist / alternative practitioner - After seeing her twice a week for six months, she terminated the sessions saying that she could no longer be my therapist/healer because of the way she felt about me. - I of course had real feelings of attatchment and love, but knew about transference and therefore had ignored those feelings.
She on the otherhand chose to act on hers and invited me to have a sexual relationship with her...... 10 years on we are no longer together - the relationship was short-lived on her part - but I am left unable to achieve resolution and have been left with acutely painful feelings of rejection, sadness, low self-esteem, and anger at what now feels like un-requited love.
What am I to do?
Tania, London, UK
Tina (Reno, NV, USA)
Tina (Reno, NV, USA)
I have been in therapy for just over two years and I began to notice transference feelings for my therapist after the first 4 months. It started as sexual attraction which threw me for a loop because I am a happily married hetero-sexual female and my therapist is also female.
I became distraught in thinking that something is terribly wrong with me, that if I confessed my horrible feelings for her that she would find me disgusting and terminate my therapy (abondon me). I spent many painstaking hours researching this phenomenon until I finally found the courage to confront my therapist. (The book "In Session" by Deborah Lott was invaluable for me)
I was relieved to find out this was normal and that she did not find me disgusting and absolutely would never abandon me. She has remained a stable force in my life and two years later after working through multiple traumas I am ever more attached to her maternally. I still have a physical attraction, but most of my feelings are clearly my little girl-self desiring her to mother and nurture me.
I confessed to her recently that sometimes I wish that she was my mother (although impossible because she is only 10-12 years older than me.) While I am still greatly uncomfortable with my childish longings and feelings for her I know that expressing myself is always healing. But I still find it frightening. I still feel that there is something wrong with me and that she will finally get so frustrated with me and give up saying "Oh THAT again." And I know better!
Sometimes I find myself crying because I miss her so much between sessions and because she cannot be my mother. Then I feel so foolish for having these thoughts even though I intellectually get why I do. I even feel obsessed with wanting to know more about her even though she is not rigid about sharing some info about herself. She keeps good boundaries and yet is very authentic and genuine. I feel lucky to have her as my therapist but I am still struggling with my overwhelming attachment to her and still afraid to fully expose myself.
Reading your site and Robin Shapiros website gives me a feeling that I am not alone and that letting it all out is exactly what I need to do. It feels so BIG inside of me, but I am still afraid to let it all out and I am not always certain what all of it really is. Sometimes I wish she would just say "I know you're feeling something so just spill it." But she is ever patient waiting for me to work up the nerve to do so on my own.
She has told me that she desires for me to be able to finally express my needs and yet I resist. Partly because I know she can't really meet my needs. She cannot magically become my mother, she cannot hold me and let me cry like a child in her arms, she cannot love me the way I want her to love me. I want her to tell me that i am important and lovable to her, and that she thinks I am intelligent, but she seems more inclined for me to adopt those beliefs on my own.
Would it hurt for her to say those things to me?
In regards to my wanting to know more about her I find myself seeking info on the Internet about her desiring to find the slightest tid-bit then feeling guilty if I learn something she may not want for me to know. This is all so hard to express let alone deal with. I hope that I make some sense. I can't really tell myself. Thank you
Just Me, Michigan, USA
I'm sure I'm experiencing transference and cannot stand it. I walk into the office all ready to talk about my feelings and as soon as I sit down I shut down and feel like I'm 10 years old.
I hate her and love her at the same time and can't stand that I wasn't warned that this crap can happen. I blame her for not warning me about transference and really wish I had never met her at times. I started out in marriage counseling which went well and it's 3 years later and I can't leave. I've tried--said goodbye--decided I was done, but something draws me back to her.
By the way I am a woman and I do not have sexual desires for my therapist when I say I love her, it's a love for this person that always listens and is always there for me. Reality is she's not tough. She can't answer the phone whenever I call and when I need to talk I can't. I hate that I have to wait for and appointment. It would also be sooooo much easier to discuss all of this with her on the phone and she won't do that. I want to quit , but can't. I'm stuck. I hope you can help.
Diane, Livingston, USA
Diane re-posted and added these comments. I thought I'd include them as she's posed some good questions.
After re-reading what I wrote, I thought I'd add a few more lines. Why does everything I say about her or my feelings have to relate to something else? I feel like my feelings are not real because we are always looking for a reason for them and they are suppossedly not really towards her but something else.
Why can't I just like and not like my therapist? Also, how am I suppossed to trust her when she doesn't open up to me? I know I would be more comfortable talking if she allowed me to trust her with something. I hate the one-sidedness of the whole thing. I have googled her and found out information, but that's not good enough. I actually became very angry by what I found.
Sometimes I really don't even know why I'm seeing her, but like I said, I'm drawn toward the whole thing. I go into the office or call her expecting one thing and leave or hang up disappointed. I have also talked to her about crying in the office. I have said that I won't cry because I'd feel foolish sitting there while she stares at me crying.
The other thing is now that I told her that how can I cry if I feel it coming on? I'll really feel like a fool after telling her I'm not going to. I'd feel like I was giving in. As you can see there's alot going on and I'm really am stuck. I've thought about trying a new therapist, but really don't want to start all over again. Help
I'm another one struggling with an intense transference relationship, but am grateful that my therapist and I have been really open about it. While keeping very safe boundaries in place, he has been open to hearing about all my feelings and working it through. All that said, it can be incredibly painful and frustrating
I know one thing that I have struggled with the most is feeling like I am so dependent on my therapist. There is a book that has really helped me understand what is going on in the relationship and the way in which it is healing that I would like to recommend for anyone dealing with this. the book is The General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis.
It discusses our need for attachment and limbic resonance in order to regulate our nervous systems. Its a great companion to a lot of the information available on this web site. And its really well written, I found it very accessible for a layman.
Attachment Girl, Syracuse, NY
Thanks Attachment Girl for sharing this and your book suggestion. I took a boo at the book and as I was skimmin through, thought it looked pretty good. In fact, I will put it forward as a selection for my study group.
I stumbled upon a quote from the book..."When an emotional chord is struck, it stirs to life memories of the same feeling." (pg. 130) It seemed like a good match for transference.
The quote made me think about boundaries and I'm so glad you referred to them. In my view, good boundaries are essential for the full working through of transference reactions.
Not every one might appreciate the idea around boundaries in the context of understanding transference, so let me briefly add this. When a therapist recognizes that the client's anger is coming from another place he or she does not take it personally...and is able to see it for what it is...while maintaining a solid connection. This is how boundaries are maintained and the healing occurs.
In other words, the brain is having a new experience.
You had mentioned struggling with feelings related to the dependency on your therapist. I can understand that, in a word, you've done this before (in infancy) and it didn't quite work out...so it makes it all the more scary today.
As you have probably read, if we don't have a chance as an infant to feel secure and safe with our caregiver then in therapy we will revisit our yearning to feel dependent upon our therapist.
In other words, "leaning on" our therapist is how we heal.
As you proceed in therapy, hopefully you will discover that it is through this process you become more fully who you are. And, just like an infant, when you get enough of your needs met, you will flourish!
All the best on your journey,
P.S. the "leaning on" phrase came from a book recommended to me by Dr. Carole, called Lean on Me by Marion Solomon. (the same Solomon who co-wrote Parenting from the Inside Out.)
I received a reply from Attachment Girl and here's what she said:
Shrinklady, Thanks so much, that all made a lot of sense. And thank you so much for the book recommendation. I read Parenting from the Inside Out which my therapist recommended when I asked for a book on attachment and it had an incredible impact on me. I will definitely be reading this one.
I hope your study group enjoys A General Theory of Love. My therapist actually read it after I had told him about it and we've discussed it extensively as it has really resonated with the work we're doing. Although, he did say he was very bummed out while reading it because there was another book he didn't get to write. : )
Thank you so much for being such a help on my journey.
I am experiencing transference for the first time and am finding it incredibly painful and difficult. The thought of talking about it with my therapist brings up huge feelings of humiliation and seems impossible.
I never had a "real" mom, just a neglectful abusive one, and long for the nurturance and care she represents to me. I know it can't happen that way, but it causes so many huge feelings to come up in me. It's helpful to have these feelings labeled.
suz. boston, usa
Tina (Reno, NV, USA)
I find transference frightening! I don't know how I can become so dependent on a therapist, so quickly! I count the days, even hours until I can see him and talk about my issues...it scares me!
Debra, Traverse City, USA