Counter - Transference
By Shrinklady aka Dr. LaCombe, June 8, 2006.
Updated: August 1, 2009.
The short definition of countertransference is what gets stimulated in the therapist in response to what the client is experiencing. It's the therapist's intuition about what the client is feeling. It includes the feelings, thoughts, and sensations. It's the therapists stuff that gets mobilized in relation to the clients' experiences. It ranges all the way from curiosity to overwhelm.
This is a very cool concept. As a therapist, one must be especially sensitive or tuned in to recognize this dynamic.
Here's an example of how I might use countertransference.
Let's say I'm seeing a client who has difficulties relating to others. After several sessions I detect a pattern, though it is never mentioned by the client. I feel a subtle but ongoing pressure to supply her with answers, as if to fill her up. I feel this sensation in my body that affects my experience of being with her.
At the end of the session I feel drained and heavy. As this is happening I can draw my client's attention to my feelings to get her sense of it. She tells me that she feels this need to be filled up by others. Her current relationships never satisfy this need. Even her closest relationships leave her feeling empty.
My gut reaction was the 'countertransference'. It provided useful information that I was able to use to help my client learn to tolerate and then move through these feelings.
Countertransference exlains why therapists
need to do their own therapy.
The best therapists are those that are aware of their own issues. They can distinguish feelings that are being triggered by the client from those that are triggered by their own issues.
In the hands of a therapist who hasn't done his own work, the effects of countertransference can be potentially quite unsettling. For example, it can be quite disturbing if a therapist insists that the countertransference (feelings being aroused in the therapist) is the "result" of the client's own projections, when in fact it's all in the mind (and body) of the therapist.
Good therapists are those who can tune into their own countertransference feelings and quickly assess whether it is coming from them or the client. This is one of the reasons it is so important for therapists to do their own work!
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My Personal Musings
Neuroscience confirms that every thought and even every neuropathway has a certain energy frequency, so when my client gets triggered I will feel it.
In fact, we all continually sense each other but we don't notice most of the time. For example, hang around someone with a drug addiction and you'll feel that wired energy in no time (unless of course you also have an addiction in which case you will "resonate" with that person. You will feel "normal").
Maybe you have a friend that will exhaust you if you hang around them long enough. Paradoxically, their energy is draining.
We intuitively know these things already. We just don't consciously know we know…if you know what I mean. And, when we do....
Here's a great article by Lindsay Stewart M.S.W., R.S.W. that spells it out. If you are a therapist who works relationally with your clients, you will enjoy this summary of the issues we face.
Therapy Lingo Article?
How do I heal from the sexual abuse of my therapist and his use of transference... where do I go from here... what lessons was I suppose to learn? I had a trouble and abusive childhood and so did he apparently... that's what he shared. I want to rewire my brain... can that be done on my own?
Hi nancyneedhelp, I wasn't sure where best to put your post as it sounds as if you're dealing with some transference to your therapist's countertransference...if that makes any sense.
Let me explain.
When a therapist discloses or over-discloses to a client, he or she needs to check out the impact of the shared information. From what you have written, it doesn't sound like this has happened.
At the very root, a therapist's disclosure is only appropriate in the service of the client's healing. If this isn't happening, there's certainly a misattunement and as you have discovered, it can feel overwhelming and/or traumatizing.
In order to re-wire the brain, we all need a healthy brain and with that connection, new pathways are possible.
Can you do it on your own? Neuroscience suggests that we need another nervous system. Otherwise, I can't see how real change can emerge.
Nancyneedhelp, have you considered talking with your therapist about your concerns? This might open up an opportunity for a deeper connection.
Let us know how it works out,
Carole (Rowhedge, Colchester, England)
Thanks, I found this useful as I am giving a presentation for my Integrative counselling course on counter-transference. In particular how we distinquish whether the feelings are the counsellors or the clients. Would be glad of any additonal help.
You're welcome Carole. Thanks for dropping by.
Hi Ok just starting to understand countertransference, just wondering if it is appropriate for therapists to disclose their countertransference issues to the client?
Also is countertransference mainly an indication on how the clients relationships trigger reactions or is it just the here and now reaction? Hope that makes sense. :) Can you give more examples of countertransference?
Hi Emerald, thanks for your questions. In answer to whether it's appropriate for the therapist to disclose his or her countertransference, the bottom line is only when it is in the service of the client's needs and healing.
So, for example, I might get a little squeamish inside about a client's disclosure of intentionally lying to their partner. And I might not share my own feelings as I consciously recognize the guilt I hold about the white lies I told as a teenager. In fact, I will most likely take a pause moment or two to reflect on my own reactions so that I can get clear about my own stuff and be countertransference-free to my client.
Countertransference is really about me discerning my reactions from clients' responses and knowing how to move the process forward for their benefit. You see, my squeamishness isn't about their lies. It's what gets triggered in me from my own past. Hence, the importance of a therapist doing his or her own personal work.
On the other hand, here's where my countertransference becomes integral to the therapeutic process. It's heart wrenching for me when a client is grieving the death of a pet. Their sorrow triggers a similar reaction within me as I have gone through the same losses. I may share my feelings with my client, at times through tears. It is my wish that they may know through our shared moments that they are not alone.
Emerald, I'm not sure if I'm reading your last comment right...I assume you're wondering whether a client's reactions are triggering emotions in the therapist that are actually arising from the therapist's past or if they are reactions to present moment experiences. I think these could be difficult to differentiate. They could both be in play and a good therapist is likely able to discern the difference.
You were asking for more examples. Here's when the countertransference gets hard for me.
When clients are feeling overwhelmed and have not yet got the notion that they are responsible for own lives, I feel a strong pull to ease their pain. It often translates into me trying to rescue them from themselves which I know logically isn't possible.
So, when they say to me, "You're not making it better. Tell me what to do" I can feel my body moving forward as if I'm reaching out to them. I think I've messed up. I feel panic. I want to immediately move them out of this state by whatever means possible. And all I have at that moment are words...which only sound like platitudes. It's this type of agony that propells me into my own personal work and ultimately strengthens my abilities as a therapist.
Recognizing countertransference responses and working them through is essential to a therapist's growth. When the therapist rises to the challenge of his or her own stuff, the therapy keeps on getting better.
Hope that gives you a deeper understanding Emerald,