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Page Contents: Transference and counter-transference in psychotherapy.                    


If my psychologist provoked a transference experience through suggestion (and I quote: “You have to admit your feelings.” “??” “You’re falling in love.” “??” “With me.” “??!!!?”) do my emotional feelings become real or are they simply a reaction to his suggestion? And if I experienced transference, does this automatically mean that I have unresolved issues or is there a real possibility that I simply became attracted to him?

I wrote him a letter outlining my concerns and discomfort over his willingness to be emotionally vulnerable and he did not respond, either by writing or by discussing it face-to-face during our sessions, other than to say no, I did not hurt his feelings, when I asked him directly about the letter. What does his reluctance to discuss the contents of my letter mean? Is it possible that he either had or initiated his own counter transference issues before I experienced transference? And if all transference means unresolved issues—of abandonment, neglect, etc.—then what are the basis for the issues that must be resolved for someone who experiences counter transference?

If he experienced and resolved counter transference already with one patient, why would it be re-opened or re-experienced with me or any other patient? Or was his reaction to me unique and not likely to happen as an unresolved issue over and over again? (I kept reminding myself during our sessions not to take anything he said personally, but convinced myself that this is how he treats all his patients. Problem with that approach though, is that I didn’t end up trusting him or anything he said, as I believed his comments were insincere.)

Would I have to resolve transference issues with the psychologist who provoked the reaction, or could I see a new psychologist with whom I would feel is more safe and neutral? In other words, could I get help, indirectly, through another psychologist instead of confronting or dealing with the original psychologist? If I saw a new psychologist, would I necessarily experience transference again? If I do not resolve my issues with the original psychologist, am I doomed to run the risk of transference with subsequent psychologists until resolution? And finally, how long could this take, provided I’m willing to be as emotionally accessible and pure in my feelings as possible?

Transference in psychotherapy is not a “bad” thing, like some sort of infection. Nor is it something you need to feel embarrassed about. Transference is simply a fact of life.

Transference is a fact of life because transference refers to the fact that a person’s emotional experiences from childhood will be re-experienced in all relationships throughout adult life.

In this sense, transference has a lot to do with love—but nothing to do with romance, because romance is a perversion of love. The love with which transference is concerned is the matter of having one’s being affirmed by one’s parents in childhood.

People end up in psychotherapy as adults largely to remedy the problems stemming from not having had their beings affirmed as children. And once they begin the psychotherapy they will have to confront their unmet needs from childhood and work to listen to and understand the unconscious desire, grief, and anger they still carry within them.

Now, in regard to your questions, it seems that your psychotherapist has failed to understand the true meaning of erotic transference. He has tried to pervert it into romantic love, making it something personal to himself, and he has been reluctant to provide you with an honest answer to your questions. And yes, this would most likely be the result of his counter-transference issues that he has not resolved. It would be a good guess that he, too, has unmet needs from childhood that have not been understood, and so he has acted them out with you. Moreover, it is likely that he will act out this counter-transference with other clients as well.

The consequence of any client’s experience with such a psychotherapist is, well, just what you have experienced: a lack of trust in him and a perception that all his comments are insincere.

So, if you saw another psychotherapist, would you experience transference again? Well, yes, I would hope so. That is, the only way to acknowledge and understand your unmet needs is to experience them as they happen, right under your nose, so to speak, in the treatment itself. Those transference feelings are at the core of your unconscious, and to live an honest and emotionally healthy life you will have to resolve those issues. Resolving the transference is the psychotherapy. You can do this if you find someone who understands transference and can teach you to respect and understand it as well.


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Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.
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