So, what is transference?

The concepts of transference – and the accompanying idea of projection – provide a vantage point on some of the most frustrating behaviors that we can all encounter in our daily relationships. In psychotherapy these concepts are used to consider and interpret feelings that seem difficult to understand in our present lives.

Transference refers a person bringing their past experiences into the relationship with the therapist. The most important types of experiences that are transferred are those carried from earliest infancy but are not remembered. Those early experiences are forgotten and later, can become attached to the therapist in the present.

In other words, the patient reenacts those experiences from early childhood in the therapeutic relationship. This “transference neurosis” becomes one of the focal points of the therapy.

Transference occurs in all types of psychotherapy. Therapists who use cognitive behavioral therapy, brief psychotherapy, couples therapy and other types, can become the target of transference feelings and wishes. In these types of therapy however, the therapist does not focus on transference, there is no need to intensity the therapeutic relationship because that is not the goal of the treatment. Instead, the focus is on the here and now in the life of the patient and not on the past.

Sadly a pioneer of American psychoanalysis, Harold F. Searles (1918-2015) passed away last week. Countertransference: My analysis with Harold Searles provides an interesting account of Ann-Louise Silver’s analysis with him and sheds light on the use of transference in the therapeutic relationship.