Transference is a psychoanalytic term originating in the early work of Sigmund Freud. The term has been utilized to refer to the same "experience" in therapy but, depending upon the theorist discussing the concept, it is always described in many different ways. This makes the term very unique, very powerful but also very difficult and sometimes useless.
The experience of transference occurs on the side of the the person engaged in therapy, that is it originates in the client's psyche. It is a psychological process that moves from the psyche of the client, via projection, onto the therapist. "Countertransference" is the term utilized when the therapist has the experience themselves. Just as the client is normally unconscious of the projection, so will the therapist not normally recognize or be conscious of the projection he imposes onto the client. The therapist may have the skill to prevent themselves from projecting and awareness to notice that they are projecting depending upon their level of skill and self-awareness.
The fact that there is a projection is what distinguishes transference, regardless of whether it originates in the therapist or client. However, to maintain a sense of simplicity and to entertain the idea in a basic way transference always begins in the client and moves toward, or is projected at the therapist. The essential qualifying factor for transference is that an emotion is engaged by and then elicited, projected by the client at the therapist and that the client then believes, consciously or unconsciously (more on the importance of it not needing to be conscious below), that the therapist behaved or acted in a way to warrant the emotion. The therapist, if conscious that he is eliciting the emotion can then investigate/analyze "why" the emotion was elicited, but if he is unconscious that it was elicited due to "transference" then the therapist is, at best without a direction to assist the client in healthfully processing the emotion--which is not good; and at worst, the therapist may become offended or lash out at the client--which is detrimental.
The therapist should know that the he should -- NOT -- engage on a personal, or directly emotional level with the client otherwise the therapist risks the relationship and any potential positive therapeutic value that is inherent to the projected emotion.
Jaques Lacan utilized what he called the "L schema" to assist would be therapists (Psychoanalysis calls a therapist a "psychotherapist" and a client and "analysand"). Without going into too great of detail the basic idea behind Lacan's schema is that the therapist should not engage with the client from a person-to-person, or ego based perspective. They should instead engage the client from the Symbolic Register (or Symbolic Level). They should attempt to remain in a virtual state of reflection and not submit to the emotions. What is the symbolic value of the emotion and NOT "why the hell did you [the client] call me a bastard!?!"
If the therapist doesn't know to NOT respond on the level of ego, or the Imaginary Register, then the therapy will more then likely devolve into an argument; thereby, greatly negatively impacting the relationship and potentially blocking any further positive therapeutic outcome. Transference can come from either direction but how the trained representative reacts to the individual situation is the key to any positive therapeutic outcome.
By Mathew Quaschnick
UPTOWN THERAPY MPLS
Edited and composed by Mathew Quaschnick
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