Transference – A Human Encounter

If we look at the Greek definition of Transference, we can see that the word means in that context ‘to carry across’. For some, Transference is all that happens within the therapy session, it is totally what the client carries over to the Therapist.

Freud, in his earlier writings, stated that when people enter therapy, the way they see and respond to the therapist are influenced by two major tendencies.

Firstly: they will observe the relationship between the therapist and themselves in the light of Early significant relationships ,and Secondly ,they will try to engender replays of their earlier ones to reinforce their view of themselves and their existence.

Freud saw Transference in the way of the client transferring onto the therapist their old patterns and repetitions. Freud realised that Transference may take different forms, it could be the simple repetition of how the client had experienced the original relationship, or in some cases it could represent a replay of how the client had wished it were. So, if my mother had, in my past, been a tyrant and withholding, I might see my therapist as that, or I may see him as warm and caring, thus giving myself the ‘mother’ I had always sought for and wanted.

In his early days, Freud saw the Transference as helpful, if it consisted of positive feelings. For Freud, liking and wanting to please your therapist was seen as a prerequisite for the cementing of the therapist/client bond for the different journey ahead.

Freud, in an ‘Outline of Psychoanalysis’ 1940, says:

“It is the Analyst’s task constantly to tear the patient out of his illusion (of the Transference) and to show him time and again that what he takes to be new real life is often a reflection of the of the past. Careful handling of the Transference is a rule richly rewarded. If we succeed, as we usually can, in enlightening the patient on the true nature of the phenomena of Transference, we shall have struck a powerful weapon out of the hand of his resistance and shall have transformed dangers into games. For a patient never forgets again what he has experienced in the form of Transference; it carried a greater force of convictions than anything he can acquire in other ways.”

It seems, from the above, that Freud believed and hoped that recall of early impulses and relationships would be enough to effect change, and if that failed, he hoped that a more convincing recall within the Transference would show the client that his patterns/relationships in the here and now are often a distraction of reality, and then change would follow.

However, as Michael Kahn states in his book ‘Between the Therapist and the Client’, Freud, to his bitter disappointment, realised that in some cases this was not enough in itself, remembering old patterns impulses, fears were vital and therapeutic but in itself it sometime seemed something else had to happen for change to occur.

Merton Gill, a Psychoanalyst, and long time member ,of the American Psychoanalytical Establishment, writing in 1982, saw the value of Transference as slightly different than Freud. For Gill, the value of Transference lay in the client receiving different responses within the Transferential relationship from the therapist than he had received from the original person in his past.

To Gill, this is the major therapeutic opportunity provided from the phenomena of Transference. This view of therapy implies that it is to the client’s advantage to be more in touch with the experiences of the therapist and the therapeutic relationship, and of course by definition, it means the therapist using his sense of self within the therapeutic relationships in the services of the clients.

Merton Gill represents a growing number of Psychoanalysts who had begun to believe that the client’s remembering or uncovering of their story may not be enough for real cure. Gill and others would then argue something else had to occur for change and liberation. Gill did not argue that the client’s uncovering their particular story was not in itself therapeutic, he agreed that this was so. He just went a step further in saying that more had to happen, sometimes within the therapeutic relationship of the therapist and client to realise real cure.

Gill went on in later works to state that what was then missing was ‘re-experiencing’. Gill believed that as the client’s problems were acquired experientially, they must be changed at that level as well. For Gill, logic and rational were not enough. For him, ‘re-experiencing’ must also happen within the therapeutic relationship.

Gill says:

“The transference is primarily a result of the patients efforts to realise his wishes and the therapeutic gain results primarily from re-experiencing these wishes within the transference, realising that they are significantly determined by something pre existing within the patient and experiencing something new in experiencing them together with the analyst, the one to whom the wishes are directed.” (1982)

Gill’s view of what he calls ‘Therapeutic re-experiencing’ is for me at the heart of the Transferential relationship, and thus a vital process on the road to real cure. Indeed, I have put forward so far in this article that the understanding of the Tansference experience is vital for effective Psychotherapy, and also to realise that recall and Interpretation of the client’s history, fears and patterns, may not be enough for real change to occur, and that we must step into the Transference to encourage what Gill calls ‘Re-experiencing therapy’, or what Franz Alexander, a Psychoanalyst writing in the 1940’s called the ‘Corrective emotional experience’.

To do this, as said above, the therapist must understand the whole notion of the transferential relationship and in my opinion not only what happens between the client and the therapist but also what occurs back from the therapist to the client, commonly known as the ‘counter transference’

In reviewing some of the literature on Transference and Counter Tansference written up to date, we can see that this may be a complicated task, certainly it will be a long one. To make this simple, in some senses, we could simply split up the Transference into negative and positive Transferences.

The negative Transference being the negative images, feelings and thoughts of past significant figures that the client then transfers on to the therapist. The positive Transference being the opposite. Both these Transferences need to be understood within the context of the client’s history and unfulfilled wishes.

Kohut, a Psychoanalyst writing in the 1970’s talked of Cure being most easily realised within the Transferential relationship.

He went on to expand on this and to talk of different types of Transferences which he linked with the developmental needs of the self. They are as follows:

1. Mirroring Transference.

2. Idealising Transference.

3. Merging Transference

4. Twinship Transference

The Mirror Transference, according to Kohut, arises from a basic and vital human need for ‘Empathic resonance’. We all need mirroring in order to recognise ourselves, to see ourselves, and we need empathic resonance in order to feel that we exist and that we are accepted by others.

Indeed for Kohut, we as vulnerable human beings all need praise, resonance and mirroring of our own existence. As Marco Jakoby says in his book the ‘Analytical Encounter’ (1984):

“If nobody in the whole world is taking jo, in the fact that I exist, if there is nobody who understands, appreciates and loves what I am ,and what I do, then there is hardly any chance of keeping a healthy narcissistic balance, a realistic sense of self esteem”

Kohut himself used the phrase ‘the gleam in the mothers eye’ when describing the infant’s first mirror when it is reflecting joy in the baby’s existence and its various activities. Therefore, for Kohut children need to be mirrored and shown by the parents that they are special and unique.

The Second major type ofTtransference need, according to Kohut, is the need for Idealisation.

What Kohut believed was that this form of Transference is based on the repetition of the fact that the infant needs, for the development of self, not only empathetic mirroring of its existence, but also to experience fundamentally that the significant other (usually the Parent) is all powerful and perfect.

It is the infant’s need and longing to be protected, when necessary by an alliance with an admiring, powerful figure ,which gives rise to the Idealising transference. The security, safeness and reassurance conveyed to the baby and small child by the parents, form the basis for this reaction. If this need is fulfilled, then the infant can count on help from the significant other, that powerful ally, the calm, safe person who will deal with the external world in a secure way, in a way that the small child could not possibly do.

For Kohut, this inner confidence gained through the process of ‘Transforming internalisation’ is the key part of the self and its healthy growth. Thus as with Mirroring, it may be necessary for the therapist within the Transferential relationship to facilitate the repair of the internal deficit by providing the Mirroring and idealising functions that were missed in childhood.

The Third Transference that Kohut talks about is the child’s need for Merger. He talks about the child needing to be able to merge with the parent, to feel safe and secure in the reliability of the other. This ‘Merger’ experience is a very early need for merger with the all powerful and comforting idealised parent figure which protects the baby against over-stimulation.

The Fourth Transference that Kohut talks of is, the need for Twinship. In other words the need to be in the presence of someone who is similar, so that you know that you are not all alone in the world.

This is a stage at which the child, usually between the ages of four and six, feels a likeness and sameness with the Parent, usually of the same sex. Children around this age often have imaginary friends or animals which are like-minded (Kohut 1971)

However, Kohut later suggests that the need for Twinship may well have its own developmental line which extends throughout life.

A final Transferential need which I think also needs mentioning here is the Adversarial Transference. This is the need for the person to define themselves, often the need to fight with ,and feel supported by another, the need to fight to define themselves by their differences.

An understanding of these Transferences/needs within a developmental framework is essential to any therapist working within the Tansferential relationship, as it gives the clues to the therapist , to if possable, step into the Transference  in the repairing of the interpsychic deficit, and perhaps to help heal the wounds of the past with the client.

Bob Cooke

Bob Cooke

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Bob Cooke is Psychotherapist, Trainer, Consultant and Supervisor with an international reputation.  In 1987 he founded the Manchester Institute for Psychotherapy (to the present day), of which he is the director. He is also responsible for the Institute’s training programme and oversees trainees from first year to full clinical membership of the UKCP.

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