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Countertransference: Understanding, Recognizing, and Countering It

countertransference

Countertransference is a term that has been around for over 100 years. But it is only recently that we have begun to understand it. This phenomenon can be extremely disruptive in both our professional and personal lives, and it is important to learn how to recognize and counter it.

In this blog post, we will explore the history and development of countertransference, as well as the different types of countertransference.

We will also discuss risk factors and signs of countertransference, as well as ways to evaluate and counteract it. Finally, we will hear from experts in the field about their experiences with countertransference.

Understanding Countertransference

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Countertransference is a phenomenon that occurs in our professional and personal lives when we become emotionally attached to our clients. It can manifest as feelings of love, hate, or obsession, and it can be extremely disruptive to our work and relationships.

History And Development

Countertransference is a term that was first coined by Sigmund Freud in 1910. However, it was not until the 1950s that we began to understand what it actually was.

Freud originally used the term to describe the feelings of hostility and eroticism that therapists can sometimes feel towards their patients. However, over time, the definition of countertransference has expanded to include any emotional attachment that we may feel towards our clients.

Types Of Countertransference

There are four main types of countertransference: personal, erotic, idealizing, and hostile.

Personal Countertransference

Personal countertransference occurs when we become emotionally attached to our clients on a personal level. This can manifest as feelings of love, friendship, or even envy.

Example: I once had a client who was going through a very difficult time. I felt so connected to her and I wanted to help her in any way that I could. I ended up spending a lot of extra time with her, and I started to feel like she was my friend. However, as our sessions went on, she became more and more dependent on me. And I realized that I was starting to feel like her mother rather than her therapist.

Erotic Countertransference

Erotic countertransference occurs when we become sexually attracted to our clients. This can be a very dangerous type of countertransference, as it can lead to unethical and inappropriate behavior.

Example: I once had a client who was a very attractive woman. I found myself thinking about her all the time. And I started to feel sexually attracted to her. I knew that it would be inappropriate to act on these feelings. But I could not help but fantasize about what it would be like to sleep with her.

Idealizing Countertransference

Idealizing countertransference occurs when we become overly attached to our clients and start to see them as perfect. This can be very damaging, as it can lead to unrealistic expectations and disappointment.

Example: I once had a client with who I really connected. I started to see her as this perfect, idealized version of herself. And I began to expect that she would always be there for me. However, one day she told me that she was moving away. And I was absolutely devastated.

Hostile Countertransference

Hostile countertransference occurs when we feel hostility or anger towards our clients. This can be dangerous, as it can lead to verbal or physical abuse.

Example: I once had a client who was really difficult to work with. I started to feel really angry and frustrated with her. And I began to lash out at her during our sessions. I knew that it was wrong, but I couldn’t help myself.

Risk Factors of Countertransference

Several risk factors can increase the likelihood of experiencing countertransference. These include:

Working with challenging clients: We are also more likely to experience countertransference when we are working with challenging clients. This is because they tend to evoke strong reactions in us.

Having a history of trauma: We are also more likely to experience countertransference if we have a history of trauma. This is because we can be triggered by our clients’ stories and our own emotions can become overwhelming.

Working with clients who have been victimized: We are more likely to experience countertransference when we are working with clients who have been victimized. This is because we can feel empathy for their situation and want to help them in any way that we can.

Working with clients who are similar to ourselves: We are more likely to experience countertransference when we are working with clients who are similar to ourselves. This is because we can easily relate to them and our emotions become amplified.

Encountering client issues that trigger our own personal issues: We are also more likely to experience countertransference when we encounter client issues that trigger our own personal issues. This is because it can be difficult to differentiate between our feelings and the client’s feelings.

Having an unresolved issue with a previous therapist or significant other: We are also more likely to experience countertransference if we have an unresolved issue with a previous therapist or significant other. This is because we may project our feelings onto our clients.

Recognizing Countertransference

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Several signs can indicate that we are experiencing countertransference. These include:

Feeling overwhelmed or emotional: We may feel overwhelmed or emotional when we are around our clients. This is because their emotions can be intense and overwhelming.

Having strong reactions to our clients: We may have strong reactions to our clients, such as feeling anger, frustration, or anxiety. This is because we are invested in their well-being and their stories can trigger our own emotions.

Fantasizing about our clients: We may start to fantasize about our clients, such as imagining what it would be like to date them or sleep with them. This is because we are attracted to them and maybe trying to sexualize the relationship.

Projecting our own feelings onto our clients: We may start to project our own feelings onto our clients, such as thinking that they hate us or that we are similar to them. This is because it can be difficult to differentiate between our feelings and the client’s feelings.

Case Study

To better understand countertransference, let’s take a closer look at a case study:

Client A is a young woman who has been seeing therapist B for six months. Client A is struggling with anxiety and depression. During their sessions, therapist B has been noticing that she has been feeling more and more impatient with her client.

She has also been having trouble sleeping at night due to the worry that she is not helping her client enough. Therapist B’s reactions are causing her to harm her client.

The Key Message

This is an example of countertransference.

Evaluating Countertransference

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It is important to evaluate our countertransference to determine if it is helpful or harmful. There are several factors that we should consider, such as:

The intensity of our emotions: We should consider the intensity of our emotions and whether they are manageable. If we are feeling overwhelmed or out of control, then our countertransference may be harmful.

The duration of our emotions: We should also consider the duration of our emotions and whether they are temporary or long-term. If our feelings are lasting longer than they should, then our countertransference may be harmful.

The nature of our reactions: We should also consider the nature of our reactions and whether they are helpful or harmful. If we are reacting in a way that is harmful to our clients, then our countertransference may be harmful.

The impact of our reactions: We should also consider the impact of our reactions and whether they are helpful or harmful. If our reactions are harming our clients, then our countertransference may be harmful.

Countering Countertransference

There are several things that we can do to counter our countertransference, such as:

Self-help Tips

There are several things that we can do to help ourselves, such as:

Learning about countertransference: We can learn about countertransference and how to manage it. This will help us to understand our emotions and reactions.

Identifying our triggers: We can start by identifying our triggers and trying to avoid them. This will help us to prevent our emotions from becoming overwhelming.

Checking our assumptions: We can also check our assumptions and make sure that we are viewing our clients fairly and accurately. This will help to prevent us from projecting our own feelings onto them.

Monitoring our reactions: We can also monitor our reactions and make sure that they are helpful rather than harmful. If we notice that our reactions are harmful, we can try to change them.

Seeking help: If we are struggling to manage our countertransference, we can seek help from a therapist or supervisor. This will help us to learn more about how to deal with our emotions healthily.

Self-help Techniques

There are several techniques that we can use to help ourselves, such as:

Breathing exercises: We can use breathing exercises to relax and calm our emotions. This will help us to better manage our reactions.

Journaling: We can also use journaling to explore our feelings and thoughts. This will help us to understand them better.

Visualization: We can also use visualization to imagine ourselves in a more positive and helpful state. This will help us to better manage our reactions.

Talk therapy: We can also talk to a therapist about our countertransference. This will help us to gain more insight into how it is affecting us.

Self-help Tools

There are also several self-help tools that we can use, such as:

Yoga: Yoga can also help manage our countertransference. It can help to calm and focus our minds.

Meditation: We can try meditation to help us calm and relax our minds. This will allow us to better manage our reactions.

Mindfulness: We can also try mindfulness to help us stay in the present moment. This will help us to better manage our reactions.

Counseling and therapy: We can seek counseling or therapy to help us manage our countertransference.

Switching To New Professional

If we are struggling to manage our countertransference, we may want to consider switching to a new professional. This can help us to find someone who is better equipped to deal with our emotions.

When To Do It

There are a few different times when we might want to consider switching to a new professional. For example, when our current therapist is:

Not helpful: If we feel like our current therapist is not helpful, it may be time to switch.

Not available: If our current therapist is not available, it may be time to switch.

With our current therapist: If we are not comfortable with our current therapist, it may be time to switch.

Not available: If our therapist is unavailable, it may be time to switch.

How To Do It

If we decide to switch to a new professional, there are a few things that we need to do first:

Talk to our current therapist: We should talk to our therapist about our concerns and let them know that we are considering switching professionals. This will help them understand why we are making this decision.

Get referrals from friends or family: We can also get referrals from friends or family members who have had a positive experience with a therapist.

Interview potential therapists: We should interview potential therapists to find someone who is a good fit for us.

Check licensing and credentials: We should also check the licensing and credentials of any potential therapist to make sure that they are qualified.

Case Study

To better understand countertransference, let’s take a look at a case study:

Alice is a therapist who is working with Carl, a client who has been struggling with anger issues. Alice begins to feel overwhelmed by Carl’s anger and she starts to feel that she can’t handle the situation. Her reactions become more and more negative and she starts to feel that Carl is a burden.

Alice is experiencing countertransference. Her emotions are getting in the way of her ability to help Carl. To deal with this, she needs to find a way to manage her emotions. She could try some of the self-help techniques that we talked about earlier, such as breathing exercises, visualization, and journaling.

If these techniques don’t help, she may need to seek counseling or therapy to help her manage her countertransference.

Hearing From Experts

We can learn more about countertransference by hearing from experts in the field. For example, here are some quotes from therapists about countertransference:

“Countertransference reactions can obstruct the therapist’s ability to be empathically present and effective with the client. These reactions may take the form of attraction, love, hate, anger, or pity.” – Dr. Lynn Koerner

“Inappropriate emotional responses on the part of the therapist are common in countertransference and can seriously interfere with the therapeutic process.” – Dr. Judith K. Scheele

“The therapist’s task is to identify these transferences and counter them with interpretations that will lead to a better understanding of the patient’s problems.” – Dr. Arnold R. Modell

Movies And Books

We can also learn about countertransference by watching movies or reading books about it.

Movies

“The Therapist”: This movie is about a therapist who begins to have inappropriate feelings for one of her clients.

“Analyze This”: This movie is about a therapist who struggles to deal with his own issues while helping his client.

Books

“Transference and Countertransference”: This book is about how therapists can deal with their own emotions while working with clients.

“Countertransference in Psychotherapy”: This book is about how therapists can deal with their own emotions while working with clients.

Conclusion

In conclusion, countertransference is a very important topic that we should all be aware of. It can affect us and our clients in many ways, so it’s important to learn how to manage it. There are many tools and techniques that we can use, so we should explore what works best for us. If we are struggling to manage our countertransference, we may need to switch to a new professional. However, this is a big decision and should only be done if necessary. Thanks for reading!

A Word From Therapy Mantra

Your mental health — Your psychological, emotional, and social well-being — has an impact on every aspect of your life. Positive mental health essentially allows you to effectively deal with life’s everyday challenges.

At TherapyMantra, we have a team of therapists who provide affordable online therapy to assist you with issues such as depression, anxiety, stress, workplace Issues, addiction, relationship, OCD, LGBTQ, and PTSD. You can book a free therapy or download our free Android or iOS app.