the therapist as a person – pt 2

this is a continuation from an article started a few days ago …

The influence of the therapist’s personality and history on the therapeutic process is recognized in psychoanalysis and is subsumed under the notions of countertransference and counterresistance. However, although psychoanalytic theory recognizes the existence and importance of countertransference, it is not a topic writers of the psychoanalytic persuasion are eager to discuss. The term countertransference is first mentioned by Freud in 1910. Johansen explains that in the controversies over countertransference, there are two main categories of definitions. One sees it strictly as conscious and unconscious responses to the client, the other includes all personal responses to the client, including those that arise out of the therapist’s past.

Many writers insist that countertransference consists of “emotional” and “irrational” responses that interfere with therapist objectivity. Racker, an oft-cited writer on the matter, speaks of countertransference as “psychopathological processes” in the analyst, indeed a form of neurosis, which influences the therapist’s perception and/or interpretation of the unconscious processes of client and therapist in the therapeutic context. Singer contends that countertransference can be grouped into roughly three categories: irrational kindness, irrational hostility, and anxiety reactions. Robertiello & Schoenewolf, in “101 common therapeutic blunders”, a delightful – and sometimes frightening – book of teaching tales, give examples of the following categories: erotic (e.g., “The therapist who feared his sexual feelings”), sadomasochistic (e.g., “The therapist who had to be The Boss”), and narcissistic (e.g., “The vain therapist and the slob”).

Robertiello & Schoenewolf also discuss counterresistance, a phenomenon that other writers often subsume under countertransference. While countertransference can be understood as a type of projection in which, for example, the therapist treats the client as if he were her father, counterresistance can be seen as therapist behaviours which influence the therapeutic process through such “blockings” as (hostile) silence, attempting to change the subject, or otherwise preventing unwanted ideas or feelings from rising to the fore. Counterresistance can result from a therapist’s colluding with the patient’s resistance to explore or work through unpleasant issues but can also originate exclusively from the therapist. Robertiello & Schoenewolf’s tales of counterresistance have titles like “The therapist who denied his own obesity” and “The religious therapist and the atheist”. All of the titles cited speak for themselves as illustrations of some of the types of countertransference and counterresistance that can be found.

Generally, however, countertransference connotes therapist irrationality and unwanted lack of objectivity, even though many writers stress that countertransference can be used productively. Partly because of this connotation, I will avoid the use of the term “countertransference”, preferring in my discussion terms like “the influence of the personal”, “social influence”, etc. If the influence of the personal is not a favourite topic for many writers, social influence is even less so. It appears that when issues of social influence arise, they are frequently decontextualized or dealt with by tokenism. For example, a therapist’s values might indeed be recognized as intruding in the therapeutic process – but implicitly they are HER values. The question of how these values relate to prevailing ethics, politics, or other social contexts, and how THAT influences the therapeutic process is rarely asked.

(stay tuned for the next instalment before the end of this week)

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

Categorized as therapy

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