Transference in psychotherapy

Transference in psychotherapy

A great thinker once mused that man is defied by the dichotomy of living in the past and the present, simultaneously!

As you call tell, the word transference is awfully similar to the word transfer which means to move from one place to another. It can thus be said, in the simplest way possible, that transference is when our past experiences, thoughts and feelings are transferred onto people in our present lives.

Transference occurs in everyday lives…….it does not require any specific set-up to happen and influences a lot (if not all) of the relationships that we go on to experience. The process is mostly unconscious in nature.

One of the people who first discovered and delved into this concept was the famous Sigmund Freud who explained the enormous power this unconscious process holds over successful identification and resolution of our emotional distresses. But he also cautioned how decoding transference can take a lot more work than other processes like dream analysis and free association.

Let us try to correlate this theoretical topic into day-to-day life with some very relatable examples-

  1. A classmate seems to be extremely annoying to you for some reason. He has never really acted in a hostile manner towards you, yet you just can’t seem to stand them or anything they do even if it does not directly (or indirectly) involve you. Upon discussing this situation with your therapist, you suddenly realise that this classmate in question seems to incessantly chew gum which is a habit you observed in a cousin of yours who used to be a big bully when you were younger and always seemed to get you in trouble and take pleasure in hurting you in different ways.
  2. You go to your local bank and always prefer to get your doubts cleared or your work done with the help of the elderly female banker behind counter B. No matter how much of an urgency or lack of availability you face, you just don’t feel ‘right’ to get your work done by the other employees, even though you understand that they are probably equally qualified and just as nice. During a subsequent therapy session, you describe her behaviour as being ‘caring’ and ‘something a mother would do’ and then proceed to talk about how your own mother often helped you out this way during multiple points if your life.
Transference can thus be a redirection of positive thoughts, feelings, ideas, expectations upon an object (known as positive transference) or of negative or stress-provoking thoughts, feelings, ideas, expectations upon an object (known as negative transference). What this indicates in generalized terms is that if a therapist is associated with a person or a concept that plays/has played a soothing and constructive role in your life, then that effect will be replicated by the therapist in the sessions, leading the client to feel comfortable enough to work on distresses and difficulties.

Negative transference on the other hand, may make you feel uncomfortable or feel as though your sessions are just not smooth or there are hitches here and there. The best way to tackle this situation, should you ever face this, is to talk to your therapist about it. Since the primary qualities of psychotherapy is non-judgemental stance, openness, objectiveness, genuineness and unconditional positive regard, you need not worry about making your therapist feel bad or embarrassing yourself. So sentences like “I wish you(therapist) had been the dad to my inner child who is still within me….” or “every time I see you (therapist) taking down your therapy notes, I feel that I need to make sure that you did not misunderstand me or think less of me” is absolutely fine to say during sessions. Another way to bring negative transference to light is to write about your thoughts and feelings after sessions. The therapist and the client may then attempt to decode and analyse the transference or may suggest that you be transferred to another therapist if they feel that it presently stands in the way of progress.

Think of it this way…. just as an arrow once shot cannot be called back, the past cannot be erased or changed. It is however, possible to heal old wounds and to mend broken roads. Patient and therapist are involved in an active relationship that includes elements of the old relationship. These dynamics are thus reactivated in the form of repetitions or may even lead to new experiences which Loewald calls “novel interaction possibilities”. The therapist with their professionally appropriate reactions and objective acceptance of the client’s feelings, offers an interpretation of the defences leading to gradual insight regarding own inner processes that leads to better organization of key life experiences.

Remember that transference is an absolutely natural phenomenon almost all human beings experience it from time to time. What sets mental health professionals apart is their rigorous training that makes them more aware and more in control of this process so that they can remain neutral for the well-being of their clients.

Psychotherapist in Kolkata
Unit N210A-211, 2nd Floor,
North Block, Ideal Plaza,
11/1, Sarat Bose Road
Kolkata 700020
+91 90735 55522,

Author
Soumali Bardhan
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