Using Transference in Therapy

What is Transference?

Technically speaking, transference is “an exceedingly complicated concept… best defined, for practical purposes… 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.”

*from Psychoanalysis, The Major Concepts. Edited by Burness E. Moore, M.D. And Bernard D Fine. M.D.

Examples of Transference

More to the point as it relates you and therapy, consider these examples.

For instance, you may have started thinking about your therapist outside the therapy hour.

Maybe you started to have friendly or even romantic feelings toward your therapist.

Conversely, you may have 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. Do 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 therapeutic process. In other words, don’t worry about it. It’s supposed to happen.

Therapeutic Uses and Abuses

Often patients worry that if they reveal feelings they have about their therapist, positive or negative, the therapist will send them away. This should never happen.

Unless you are working with someone at a “coaching” level who does not understand transference and how to work with it. A therapist who has been trained to work with patients at the level of a mental health professional should always be able to work through transference with you. And work in such a way that you come out the other side benefiting from a continuously 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 the other way around 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, is not doing what you have paid them for. Especially, if they will not discuss it with you when you tell them that is what happened.

How Transference Benefits You

Understand that your feelings may seem like the “real” thing. They are real because any feelings we have are real. However, in the therapy situation, rather than acting on those feelings we use them to understand you. We do this 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.

This 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. As a result, you 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. Even though it may be difficult, 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 this. 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.

It really helps to understand the concept of transference to get the most out of your therapy. Click HERE to watch a short video I made on the subject.

Interested in putting transference to work for yourself? Give me a call. We’ll talk.

Leah Benson Therapy icon

Contact me now to set up your free 15-minute phone consultation.

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