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Transference

Transference is a Freudian term used to describe the unconscious assignment to others of feelings and attitudes associated with significant figures from the person's early life. It is considered a most important element of psychoanalytic treatment. It can be defined as an unconscious phenomenon in which the client projects onto the nurse or therapist attitudes, feelings, and desires originally linked with early significant persons. The nurse or therapist represents these figures in the client's current life.

The Transference Relationship

The therapist encourages the client to "transfer" these feelings into the therapy relationship where the client is helped to explore the way in which past relationships are being used inappropriately so as to help in understanding the present. This "unreal" or transference, relationship is central to psychodynamic approaches and is used by the therapist to help the client gain insight into current distortions in their relationships caused by internalised experience of which they may not be aware. It is the exploration of and working through the transference relationship that are central in helping the client change.

Transference is the phenomenon where the client reacts to the therapist not objectively as a real person but as a virtual reincarnation of a parent or other significant figure from the client's past. More generally, "transference is used to label any feelings the client expresses toward the counselor"..

This is to say that if "John" grew up with a demanding father, a person of authority throughout John's life, and if John has unresolved feelings such as fear or anger caused by his conscious or unconscious memories of his demanding father, John could end up responding to all male authority figures as he has to his father. Maybe he will constantly feel the need to defend his actions and become argumentative. And if the therapist is male, and therefore a male authority figure, the transference of John's unresolved feelings onto the therapist is highly likely.

Transference reactions can be played out in ways other than the way the original situation was experienced. The patient may play out the transference as he/she desires or hoped it would have taken place, instead of the way it actually did.

John, instead of reacting to male authority figures in the fashion described in the last scenario (which is just one possibility of many), could be searching for, in his current reactions to male authority figures, the loving and nurturing father figure he did not have. One example could be that in his relationships with male authority figures John always does his best to please, hoping to receive favorable praise or "love and nurturance" for his deeds. In therapy, John could feel the need to respond in a manner he believes the therapist wants him to, rather than the way John actually feels.

Transference is not looked upon identically by different schools of therapeutic thought. Freudian psychology, the practice of psychoanalysis, holds transference as a necessary and most desired piece of the therapeutic process and something that, given the chance, the client will probably produce with no prompting from the counselor. It is believed by Freudians that should the client experience a truly intense transference reaction it is possible for the client to "relive" the past in the therapy session and successfully resolve the issues causing the transference. The counselor, often being more accepting of the client than the people who, in part, caused the original feelings to occur, creates an atmosphere conducive to the client's being able to resolve the issues.

Some believe that transference experiences pervade our everyday existence. "It [transference] doesn't apply only to clients and therapists; it applies to all of us in all our relationships. Everywhere we go, we are ceaselessly replaying some aspect or other of our early life".

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