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In psychotherapy, countertransference is a condition where the therapist, as a result of the therapy sessions, begins to transfer the therapist's own unconscious feelings to the patient. For example, a therapist might have a strong desire for a client to get all 'A's' in university because the client reminds her of her children at that stage in life, and the anxieties that the therapist experienced during that time.

Countertransference is also sometimes defined as the entire body of feelings that the therapist has toward the patient, and also includes cases where the therapist literally takes on the suffering of his/her patient [1]. In the most extreme of cases, it can result in the therapist taking on the neurosis or psychosis of the patient, such as bouts of paranoia or psychotic intervals, illustrated by Jung in the case of schizophrenia.[2]

Countertransference is defined in opposition to transference, where a person in therapy begins to transfer feelings (whether positive or negative) to the therapist. For example, the person in therapy may begin to look at the therapist as if the therapist were the patient's mother, transferring their feelings for the real mother to the therapist. This is considered a positive sign in psychoanalytic therapy, showing that the patient is making progress.

In On Becoming a Counselor, Eugene Kennedy states that countertransference has the potential to be present in any counseling relationship [3]. He states that it is often one of the biggest challenges for a new counselor to overcome, and while there is no way to totally overcome the problem of counter-transference (since as humans we all form opinions of others) learning to not let countertransference affect a counseling relationship is key. The mantra "only connect" is often associated with this effect.

Countertransference can also be seen as a useful phenomenon for the therapist because it can allow them to gain insight into the kinds of emotions and reactions the client often tends to induce in others. In this way, the countertransference is a welcomed phenomenon which can prove invaluable to the clinical relationship. In this way, countertransference is related to the psychoanalytic concept of projective identification, a defense mechanism in which the client projects onto and induces their own inner experience within the clinician.

A related concept is counterresistance, which includes therapist behaviours that influence the therapeutic process through such "blockings" as (hostile) silence, attempting to change the subject, or otherwise preventing unwanted ideas or feelings from rising to the fore. Counterresistance can result from a therapist's colluding with the patient's resistance to explore or work through unpleasant issues but can also originate exclusively from the therapist. An example would be an overweight therapist consistently steering an equally overweight client away from discussions about weight loss.

See also

References & Bibliography

  1. Jung, The psychology of the transference, pg 8
  2. Jung, The psychology of the transference, pg 8
  3. On Becoming A Counselor, Revised Edition : A Basic Guide for Nonprofessional Counselors and Other Helpers by Eugene Kennedy

Key texts


  • Gabbard, G.; Wilkinson, S.: Management of Countertransference with Borderline Patients; Northdale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc., 1994, 2002.


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