15 Nov What is Transference?
Technically speaking, transference is “an exceedingly complicated concept… best defined, for practical purposes… [as] the tendency to repeat, in a current setting, attitudes, feelings, impulses, and desires, experienced or generated in early life in relation to important figures in the individual’s development.”*
More to the point as it relates you and therapy, perhaps you started thinking about or wondering things about your therapist outside the therapy hour. Perhaps you started to have friendly or even romantic feelings toward your therapist, or you convinced yourself NOT to have any feelings toward your therapist because they would get in the way of your therapy. Perhaps one of your therapist’s habits annoys you to no end or you hold information back from your therapist because of what he or she might think. Perhaps you give your therapist a “free pass” for things that generally annoy you about other people. All these examples and countless others are transference; it is a natural and very important part of the process. In other words, don’t worry about it. It’s supposed to happen.
Often patients worry that if they reveal thoughts and feelings they have about their therapist, positive or negative, the therapist will send them away. Unless you are working with someone at a “coaching” level who does not understand transference and how to work with it, this should never happen. A therapist who has been trained to work with patients at a level of a mental health professional should always be able to work through transference with you in such a way that you come out the other side with benefit to you and a continued positive therapeutic relationship. Therapy is about you. Part of what you pay your therapist for is to make sure that your needs are being met and not their own when it comes to transference issues. Any therapist who takes something you tell them and turns it back onto you in a way that is embarrassing, hurtful, humiliating, rejecting or degrading in any way and does not discuss it with you if you tell them that is what happened is not doing what you have paid them for.
Understand that your feelings may seem like the “real” thing. They are real because any feelings we have are real, but in the therapy situation, rather than acting on those feelings we use them to understand you by talking about them and by talking about the feelings that come up for you due to the fact that action cannot be taken. As mental health professionals, we are bound by law, ethics and morals, to use the transference for your benefit, not our own. You pay us to help you by use of the transference, which means we talk about things, we don’t act on them. With practice, you become a master of understanding the feelings that motivate your actions, and you then truly have the ability to think before you act in even the most emotionally charged situations. Working through transference is some of the most important work you will do with your therapist. It may be difficult, but in the long run it is the most beneficial work you can do to learn how to “control” yourself.
Now that you know a little something about the concept of transference, remember that when you avoid verbalizing the things you think and feel in relation to your therapist, you are probably undermining your therapy and wasting your money.
*from Psychoanalysis, The Major Concepts. Edited by Burness E. Moore, M.D. And Bernard D Fine. M.D.