At any given time, numerous processes take place in human minds. Due to unforeseen circumstances, a few of them cannot be measured or controlled. Human beings’ mental and emotional well-being is critical to their ability to fulfill their tasks. Surprisingly, it is prudent to note that the human brain performs a variety of functions that may be hampered by a variety of variables. Human psychology is a complex subject that can be difficult to grasp, especially in a therapeutic situation. As a result, some discernible efforts should be directed at mastering and comprehending specific subjects. Transference is one of these processes that occurs regularly in a therapeutic setting and can have both positive and negative effects on the therapist-client relationship. This paper will attempt to examine transference and how it became popular in the field of psychotherapy. The essay will begin by describing the evolution of transference across history. It will next go into the ramifications for psychotherapy practice. Finally, the essay will provide a comparison from an existential standpoint.
Transference is a psychological term that describes a phenomenon in which a person instinctively transmits reactions and feelings from one person to another. This behavior can occur in a therapeutic context when a client expresses sentiments, expectations, or concerns about another person in their life to the therapist during a session, and then begins to relate and interact with the analyst as if the analyst were that other person. Often, the patterns discovered in transference are typical of a childhood connection. The prominent psychologist, Sigmund Freud, in his book Studies on Hysteria, initially introduced the concept of transference in which he highlighted the profound, intense, and often unconscious emotions that periodically emerged in the therapeutic setting with his clients (Breuer & Freud 1895).
Freud became aware of profound and strong sentiments arising in the therapeutic context as a result of his early inquiries, many of which functioned at the unconscious level. He recognized that the client’s unconscious strong feelings could affect how they see their therapist and the therapeutic connection from time to time. Freud divided these unconscious feelings into two categories: the template and the compulsion to repeat (Clarkson, 1993; Kahn, 2002). The first suggests that our early associations are formed in mental templates in which we attempt to place all subsequent relationships. The second is a peculiar and compulsive need to repeat deeply unsettling and upsetting events, presumably in an attempt to grasp and possibly re-enact the prior circumstance (Bateman and Fonagy, 2007).
As a result, these thoughts and sentiments were based on previous experiences but transmitted to the therapist in the present. Since the 1890s, Sigmund Freud has known that the client’s free association is usually directed away from the difficulties and concerns that brought them to therapy, and toward emotions and views of their therapist. Concerns, expectations, worries, and a variety of other emotions converged on the therapist. These intense emotions might lead to a sense of dependency, sexual fixation, dread, or disgust. (Burton and Davey, 2003; Gomez, 1997). Even if these feelings and emotions are common among humans, what stood out, according to the traditional definition of transference, was that the revealed emotions were inappropriate for the psychotherapy environment; they were a repetition of something that had happened previously. Transference, as a factually realized operational object, was unique, arising from the client’s one-of-a-kind and incomparable personal history (Allen and Allen, 1991; Burton and Davey, 2003). Most transference feelings and emotions, according to Freud, are made up of repressed material, stemming mostly from unresolved oedipal wants (Freud, 1920). Transference was perceived as an interruption at this early stage, inhibiting the analytical process and preventing the finding of hidden memories.
In order to detect hidden wants and ideas, Freud divided transference into three categories: positive transference, negative transference, and un-neutralized erotic transference (Freud, 1912). Positive transference entailed the client’s distress emotions as well as faith and trust in the analyst; Freud recommended that nothing be changed about this sort of transference because it was a very useful aid to the analytic endeavor. Negative transference consists primarily of hostility and distrust; these transferences must be conveyed to the client or the analyst’s task will become extremely difficult and uncomfortable. Erotic transference occurred when the client expressed erotic emotions for the therapist; this type of transference was recognized as a type of positive transference that should be interpreted by the client as presenting emotions about parental figures rather than the therapist; however, if these emotions persisted, the therapeutic relationship would be jeopardized, and the client should be referred immediately (Freud, 1912). As a result, transference was seeded in a psychotherapy framework where the analyst held a position of authority, was emotionally separate from the client, and was tasked with bringing understanding and consciousness to the client’s interior problems and conflicts (Allen and Allen, 1991).
Despite the fact that Freud modified his views multiple times, either restating the concept of transference or adding new evidence or results, a standard interpretation of the concept arose; the following comment from Greenson (1965, p156) is significant: “The experience of feelings, attitudes, fantasies, and defenses towards a person in the present which are inappropriate to the person and are a repetition, a displacement of reactions originating in regard to significant persons in early childhood”. In the above description, it is easy to spot aspects of the original conceptualization of transference (e.g. inappropriate feelings; repetition of the past); however, Greenson’s additional clarifications and descriptions, which single out other association elements such as the working alliance and the real relationship, generate a key delinquent for the classical interpretation (Allen & Allen, 1991). This view of the analytic situation, and thus of transference, as interpersonal had previously been expressed by authors such as Heimann (1950), or even earlier by Ferenzi and Jung, who, by separating themselves from Freud, demonstrated the importance of intersubjective rapport in their psychoanalytical studies (cited in Mueller, 1976, p.41). These ideas and views paved the ground for major conceptualization changes and are the bedrock of modern transference and psychoanalysis interpretation (DeYoung, 2003).
Notwithstanding that transference explanation is one of the most common and important procedures in the psychodynamic approach, it has sparked a lot of dispute among academics and therapists. The topic of discussion is transference as a phenomenon and transference as a therapeutic strategy (Handley, 1995). The validity of employing transference as a therapeutic strategy is being questioned, and one of the reasons for this is the unreliability of research findings (Gabbard, 2006). The discussion also includes more specific topics such as whether to construe transference early in therapy or later, whether to construe positive, negative, and erotic transference, and whether to construe transference solely in relatively healthy people or in people with personality disorders (Andersen & Przybylinski, 2012; Marmarosh, 2012). It’s worth noting that even psychoanalysts have differing views on how much transference should be used in therapeutic practice (Grinberg, 1997).
Few scholars, such as Szasz and Smith, argue that transference is a fabrication created and maintained by psychoanalysts in order to get through the intense feelings that arise in such a close relationship while avoiding responsibility for their own impact on the client. Transference does generate a form of client abuse, according to Szasz, because it pits the client against reality (Szasz, 1963 and Smith, 1991). According to Shlien (1984), transference is merely a professional custom or mental routine based on the illogical belief that any experience that is comparable to a past experience is a recurrence. According to Smith (1991), a psychoanalyst accepts the existence of unconscious experiences before confirming them by transference interpretation. Furthermore, it is unclear what mechanisms enable a psychoanalyst to distinguish between transference and non-transference. Existential psychotherapists make similar arguments against transference in a similar way (May, 1967; Boss, 1963; Binswanger, 1962; Judd, 2001). They contend that the concept of transference is incompatible with the genuine relationship that exists between the client and the therapist. It does not motivate clients to accept responsibility for their actions and conduct.
According to Burton and Davey (2003), object relations theorists have a bipartisan view that transference explanations are neither effective nor convenient in short-term therapy, and that it is preferable to stick with current behavior and avoid regression invites. There is a widespread critical attitude toward the concept of transference, which is viewed as a therapist’s aversion to direct knowledge of themselves, the client, and themselves in connection to the client, particularly among existential and humanistic schools (Spinelli, 2003). Therapy is viewed as a genuine connection, an encounter between two people who are each opposing the other in the present moment; emotions, on the other hand, are not viewed as a reenactment of former relationships.
As a result, in contrast to traditional interpretations, authors such as Fonagy and Bateman (2007) argue for careful efforts to increase reflective ability through questioning and speculating with inquisitive curiosity. In short-term labor, the typical perception of objectivity is replaced with attentiveness, which, in psychoanalytic words, means that transference is used to some extent (Grand, Rechetnick, Podrug, and Schwager, 1985). In this respect, traditional definitions of transference neurosis may not apply, as conflict does not arise spontaneously. Furthermore, the discussion over the value of transference in the therapeutic relationship would be illogical if it were impossible to distinguish it from reality. Despite some criticism from orthodox practitioners, such as humanistic or existentialists, the concept of transference has spread beyond psychoanalytical and psychodynamic techniques. It is a widely held belief among practitioners of all approaches, and it plays a critical role within an integrated framework (Clarkson, 1995).
In conclusion, transference has a history and foundation that rivals that of psychoanalysis. Transference was first defined by psychotherapist Sigmund Freud in the 1890s as an unwanted phenomenon that hampered the analytical job of discovering hidden memories and desires. Nonetheless, it quickly became one of the pillars of psychoanalysis and influenced most therapeutic procedures. Freud realized that transference provided him with the most powerful tool for heightening consciousness and simplifying the process of working through (Freud, 1914).
It is imprudent for therapists to ignore transference because it occurs naturally in our daily lives as well as in psychotherapy. Transference is a useful tool for gathering useful information on a client’s interpersonal functioning. Because this information and knowledge are usually acquired unintentionally, it would be difficult to obtain from the client through any other technique. Transference is also linked to therapeutic bonding, which is one of the most important factors in treatment success. No one can deny that transference as a concept, as well as its utility in the therapeutic setting, has been verified by years of practice.
However, as a therapist, it is critical to be aware of any signs of transference and to assist the client on their journey, which may be tough. Therapists should be aware of their own emotions as well as the feelings that their client transference may elicit. Therapists should put their emotions and values aside ethically and not push them on their clients. Furthermore, it is the therapist’s job to take reasonable and measured precautions to avoid causing injury to the client during the transference process.
Andersen, S. M., & Przybylinski, E. (2012). Experiments on transference in interpersonal relations: Implications for treatment. Psychotherapy, 49(3), 370–383
Bachant, J., and Adler, E. (1997) Transference: co-constructed or brought to the interaction? Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 45:1097- 1120.
Bateman, A. & Fonagy, P. (2007) The use of transference in dynamic psychotherapy. American Journal of Psychiatry, 164 (4): Letter to the Editor
Binswanger, L. (1962). Existential analysis and psychotherapy. In H. M. Ruitenbeek (Ed.), Psychoanalysis and existential philosophy. New York: Dutton.
Boss, M. (1963). Psychoanalysis and Daseinsanalysis. New York: Basic Books
Breuer, J. & Freud, S. Studies on hysteria (1895). Standard Edition, 2. London: Hogarth Press, 1955.
Burton, M. and Davey, T. (2003) The psychodynamic paradigm. In R. Woolfe, W. Dryden and S. Strawbridge (eds.) Handbook of Counselling Psychology. London: Sage (second edition), p121-139.
Clarkson, P. (1993) Through the looking glass: explorations in transference and countertransference. In P. Clarkson (Eds). On Psychotherapy. London: Whurr.
Clarkson, P. (1995) The Therapeutic Relationship. UK: Whurr. DeYoung, P. (2003) Relational Psychotherapy: a primer. New York and Hove: Brunner- Routledge
DeYoung, P. (2003) Relational Psychotherapy: a primer. New York and Hove: Brunner- Routledge.
Fonagy, P., Gergely, G., Jurist, E.L., Target, M. (2002). Affect Regulation, Mentalization and the Development of the Self. New York; Other Press
Freud, S. (1914). Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through (further recommendations on the technique of psycho-analysis II). The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XII (1911-1913): The case of Schreber, papers on technique and other works, 145-156
Gabbard, G. (2006). When is transference work useful in dynamic psychotherapy? American Journal of Psychiatry, 163, 1667-1669.
Gomez, L. (1997) An Introduction to Object Relationships. London: Free Association Books.
Grand, S., Rechetnick, J., Podrug, D., and Schwager, E. (1985). The Transference in Brief Psychotherapy: an approach to the study of psychoanalytical process. New York: The Analytic Press.
Greenson, R. (1965) The working alliance and the transference neurosis. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 34, 155-181.
Grinberg, L. (1997). Is the transference feared by the psychoanalyst? International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 78, 1-14.
Handley, N. (1995). The concept of transference: A critique. British Journal of Psychotherapy, 12(1), 49-59.
Judd, D. (2001). An existential-phenomenological critique of transference. Counselling Psychology Review, 16(1), 28-32.
Kahn, M. (2002) Basic Freud. New York: Basic Books
Marmarosh, C. L. (2012). Empirically supported perspectives on transference. Psychotherapy, 49(3), 364-369.
May, R. (1967). Psychology and the human dilemma. New York: Van Nostrand
Mueller, F. L. (1976) Histoire de la Psychologie II: la psychologie contemporaine. Paris: Payot.
Shlien, J. M. (1984). A counter-theory of transference. In R. Levant & J. M. Shlien (Eds.), Client- -centred therapy and the person-centred approach (pp. 153-181). New York: Praeger.
Smith, D. L. (1991). Hidden conversations: An introduction to communicative psychoanalysis. London: Routledge.
Spinelli, E (2003) The existential-phenomenological paradigm. In R. Woolfe, W. Dryden and S. Strawbridge (eds.) Handbook of Counselling Psychology. London: Sage (second edition), p180-198.
Szasz, T. (1963). The concept of transference. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 44, 432-443.