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Theories of transference and counter-transference are often presented in such a way as to appear complex, and as such can be resisted by trainees. However these concepts can be useful to be aware of in therapy, not only for times when they interfere, but also for the times when they can be positively utilised.

I will attempt to explain the concepts here simply. Maybe I am making this simplistic, but I feel it better to allow an understanding to grow.

Transference is a process of transferring feelings from one person to another. We all do this automatically. For example, if we see a character on TV who reminds us of a much-loved grandparent, our reaction to that character will be different from if they reminded us of a reviled teacher.

Here are some important factors to remember with regard to the concept of transference:

  • most transference occurs at an unconscious level
  • transference can seem odd, for example one could transfer feelings for a parent onto someone younger than oneself, or for a man onto a woman
  • feelings transferred can be positive, negative or a mixture
  • most often feelings are transferred from a person one knew in childhood, but not necessarily
  • clients may have transferred feelings onto you, the therapist, or they may be living in a transferential situation (or both)

Counter-transference is the reaction that a person who is the subject of transference has to the one doing the transferring. It is often mistakenly thought of as transference from therapist to client, but this is still just transference.

Shaun Brookhouse

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