The Usefulness of Transference

Though I must confess that I hardly ever want to leave the Lake House to head out to the city to my office, once there and once in person with a patient, I am very present and rarely ever outside the moment, outside the now experience of being with a patient in the room and securely attached to the transference/countertransference matrix….

I had several very wonderful analysts and even the analyst which I seemed most prone to love to hate was a growing experience beyond what i could have previously imagined.  Although, it might be a stretch to think of the process of psychoanalysis as fun, it is always in the arena of pleasure and hardly ever in the arena of pain.  I attribute that to the very mission of an analysis. When two people sit together to undertake an analysis, they enter a contract to develop a deep and very real intimacy with the mission of the relationship being to assist the analysand to review and inventory the content and the manner in which their individual mind operates, processes and in general works with the internal and external events of life.

A psychoanalysis is not a psychotherapy.  The most glaring difference between a therapy and an analysis lies in the process of the activity.  In most psychotherapies the mission is to help the client to resolve identified problems.  In an analysis the primary mission is to build a deep and intimate relationship.  It is the relationship in analysis that cures.

In analysis the process of how the relationship is developing become a major aspect of the content of an analysis.  That process is called “transference.”

So what exactly is a transference?  Perhaps, the most simple definition of transference is the process in which one person transfers a feeling that they have for one person onto another person.  It exist in the world at large, but in psychoanalysis it becomes the focal point for the analyst to understand some aspect of how the patient is relating to him or her.  We all have had the experience of saying something like..”oh, i can not stand that person, she reminds me of…………”

In the worst of these examples a person may so transfer a feeling about one person onto another that they actively refuse to know who the person in front of them actually is.  In more minor or unconscious manner we might shy away from a person because they remind of  another person and then begin to relate to that person “as-if” they are the person who they remind them of.

For Freud and the early analyst, the transference became an important dimension.  The early analyst began to see certain positive or negative feelings that were transfered unto them as prohibiting the patient from taking in a new thought or a new suggestion.  A very simple way to recognize a transference is to consider the example of a mood.   We can recognize that there are moments in our lives when a certain mood is so strong that even if we know that it might be beneficial we decide on principle no to do it.

The concept of resentments fall into this category.  There are some resentments that are so deeply engrained that even if the person knows that the other person is right, that person will not change his or her mind because the power of the resentment is stronger that the knowledge of the truth.

Transference’s grow slowly in an analysis.  Overtime, the patient begins to develop either a love or a resentment toward the analyst, not because of any particular thing that the analyst is doing or not doing, but because of how the patient if feeling about the analyst.

Case in point:  Lucinda began an analysis because she had recently lost a job and it reminded her of other losses that she has experienced.  She noticed that although she had lost the job because of a shortcoming that she had often recognized in her life, she also felt that there would never be a job where she could fit in.  Lucinda spoke for several weeks about the helplessness that she felt, but she was also aware that she was not at all angry toward the people responsible for her recent lay-off.

After several weeks of the patient sitting facing the analyst, Lucinda said that she did not think that anything we could talk about would make a difference in her life.  I asked her if she might want to try a technique that may at first seem outdated. Would she take the couch?  Lucinda did not even ask any question about the process.  I told her she could start today and she moved from the chair and took the couch.

The first thing she asked was, “how is this going to make a difference?”  I answered that it was not going to make a difference it was designed to make both the patient and the analyst more comfortable and that it was more conducive for the patient to follow the first rule of analysis which is to say everything.  I went on to explain that when sitting facing each other there seems to be an expectation of a conversation.  But from this unique position, she might feel less inclined to converse and more inclined to simply free associate from one thing that occurs to her in her mind to the next.

A few minutes of silence followed and the next thing that she said was, “this reminds me of when my father would send me to my room.”  I asked her if she thought that knowing her own thoughts on any matter felt a bit like punishment rather than discovery.  She responded that she mostly thought of her feelings in general as unpleasant and that when she feels something to be unpleasant she immediately looks to what ever is around her as the source of that unpleasantness.  ”I have been unhappy a lot lately and it makes me think that I want to move to a new apartment…..”

Her next statement was an example of transference.  Lucinda said, “I do not think that I am going to like this because this feels like I have no control and I do not like that feeling.  I commented that it might therefore feel to her like she needs to blame the environment of the analytic office as the new fault for her feelings.

She was quiet for a few more moments and she said–”I hated having to go to my room because I was left alone with all the thoughts in my head.”  I hated my father for sending me to Siberia.  Essentially, Lucinda was telling me that the use of the couch was going to feel like I, the analyst, was sending her to Siberia, to that location in her mind where  the feeling of her feelings felt like a punishment.

Through the transference, I was aware that feelings were going to be the major risk of she leaving the analysis unless I could find a way to address the pattern that since childhood was interfering with her ability to manage her life and emotions.

I would love to hear from other folks, therapist and non-therapist alike about this concept of transference.  Is it out-dated?  Is it an understandable phenomena?  Do you have questions to ask about it?

Looking forward to hearing feedback…..

2 comments on “The Usefulness of Transference

  1. KL says:

    I guess I am in analysis. It snuck up on me. I thought I was just going to be in therapy, like the last time, only better. Because I was more mature. Readier. And that’s true. But after a while, I found myself lying on a mattress (bioenergetics), coming twice a week, and becoming very very involved in the relationship between me and my therapist. This has been the greatest growing of my life, as we tease strand after strand of transference and emotional reaction from a state of overwhelming snarl to simple (so tragically simple!) and difficult feeling. He has never backed away. We’ve quarreled, well I have anyway. He isn’t squeamish, he stays with me every inch of the way.
    Now I struggle as I realize that in some ways this relationship is more important and more intimate than my marriage. Can I make my marriage more intimate? Can I stick with my spouse every inch of the way? Is that even good? I don’t know, but what I do know is that my therapist will stick with me as I ponder.

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