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The Importance of Transference

The Importance of Transference

Transference is a commonplace and sought after psychoanalytic event, referring to the emotional involvements of the patient with the analyst. Such reactions are presumed to relate to previous significant others (e.g., a parent) in the patient’s life rather than to the current situation. Transference emanates from the patient’s unconscious mind and may be viewed as positive or negative.  Positive transference may be expressed in terms of the patient’s admiration for the analyst or enthusiasm for the course of analysis.  Negative transference tends to involve a hostile, angry or jealous reaction of the patient towards the analyst. The co-existence of both polarities (ambivalence) is also a possibility.

Although transference was viewed as inconvenient and regrettable in the early days of psychoanalysis, Freud soon appreciated its true significance.  Transference rapidly became indispensable, presenting the patient with an opportunity to replay – in the form of a transference neurosis – previous unresolved interpersonal conflicts (e.g., Oedipus/Electra complexes). Freud was careful to distinguish between transference neurosis and transference cure.  The latter is construed merely as a “flight into health”, the patient’s overriding concern being to please the analyst (and avoid dealing with potentially threatening issues). There is also the matter of whether transference should be considered as a widespread phenomenon, applicable to many human relationships, or whether the label ought to be restricted to the confines of a psychoanalytic session.  Orthodox psychoanalysts would appear to favour the latter usage of the term.  Whatever the case, to preclude contamination, the rule of anonymity applies: it is deemed essential that the analyst refrain from showing emotion or, indeed, engaging in self-disclosure of any form.

The reverse – and undesirable – process from analyst to patient is termed counter-transference. This may be evident in pompous pronouncements, sadistic attacks upon the patient, seduction of the patient, or any overt expression of the analyst’s own needs.  The antedote to such instances is proposed to be the training analysis, where the analyst undertakes intensive psychoanalysis on the way to becoming qualified to practice. Some schools of thought advocate that this “cleansing” process should be repeated every five years, but in general only the one-off analysis has been adopted.

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