What is countertransference? (+3 signs)

In this brief article we will be discussing the signs of countertransference. These signs include: 

  • Therapeutic sessions have changed.
  • You take extra care of how you look.
  • Sympathy rather than empathy. 
  • Making judgements in therapy. 

What is countertransference? 

Countertransference was once seen to be an obstacle to the analyst’s comprehension of the patient, but it is now thought to be a source of insight into the patient’s effect on others by modern analysts and therapists. 

Countertransference must be recognised and analysed by the analyst or therapist in order for it to be useful in the therapeutic process.

Your understanding of transference and countertransference is critical to your professional development as a clinician. Remember that these events are common, and don’t be hesitant to seek help if they occur. 

Don’t let your pride get in the way of your career as a physician. Your willingness to take comments and advice from a seasoned clinician can both help you improve your abilities and keep you from injuring your client.

History of countertransference

The notions of transference and countertransference were first articulated by Sigmund Freud. He defined countertransference as a mainly unconscious phenomena in which a person in therapy influences the psychologist’s emotions, and the psychologist responds with countertransference. 

Classical psychoanalysts, such as Carl Jung, who struggled with countertransference himself, describe it as a potentially troublesome phenomena that, if left unchecked, can obstruct psychiatric treatment.

To put it another way, therapists must conquer the tendency to engage in unconscious countertransference by establishing appropriate boundaries and keeping aware of the harm that countertransference poses to the therapeutic relationship as well as the therapist’s work with persons seeking treatment.

Clinicians in modern psychology usually distinguish between beneficial and detrimental countertransference. 

Many modern psychologists openly communicate their own sentiments with those they are treating, and they may employ countertransference to explore disparities between their own experiences and those of the individual in therapy.

When a therapist transmits mistaken feelings to a person in treatment, or when a therapist utilises a person in therapy to achieve personal psychological needs, unhelpful countertransference, or even harmful countertransference, can occur.

What is the significance of countertransference?

Countertransference can take many different forms, many of which have negative repercussions. 

When a clinician draws in their outside experiences and loses their perspective, it might lead to a negative reaction in the client. Countertransference is a common event that might happen regardless of how long you’ve been in therapy.

Erotic countertransference, which occurs when a doctor feels affection, love, or sexual feelings toward a client, is an important concept to understand. Client contacts are prohibited by strict ethical and legal constraints. 

If you have a strong reaction to a client, you should seek supervision for your countertransference.

Understanding transference and countertransference is crucial to your clinical development. Remember that these things happen all the time, and if they do, don’t be afraid to seek help. 

Allow your pride to come in the way of your medical profession. Accepting feedback and suggestions from a seasoned clinician can help you develop your skills while also preventing you from hurting your client.

Four Types of Countertransference

Countertransference manifests itself in four ways. Three of them have the potential to wreak havoc on the therapeutic partnership.

  • Subjective: The cause is the therapist’s own unresolved difficulties. If not detected, this can be dangerous.The cause is the therapist’s response to their client’s maladaptive habits. This could help with the healing process.
  • Positive: The therapist is overly supportive, attempting to befriend their client too hard, and providing much too much information. This has the potential to harm the therapeutic relationship.
  • Negative: The therapist expresses dissatisfaction with the client in a negative way, such as by being too critical, punishing, or rejecting the client.

Countertransference is especially common in new therapists, therefore supervisors keep a careful eye on them and work with them to help them become more self-aware. 

The mental health community encourages experienced physicians to seek peer review and supervisory help when necessary. Rather than completely eliminating counter-transference, the idea is to make productive use of it.

Self-disclosure to a therapist isn’t always a negative experience. However, if your treatment is being harmed by your self-disclosure, or if you believe your therapist is making therapy about them, it may be time to find a new therapist.

Some therapists choose to convey the impact and feelings that their clients have on them. This can be used as a way to establish trust, as well as for the therapist to show genuineness to their clients, among other therapeutic purposes.

Therapy should be about you, the client, and if your therapist’s sentiments are interfering with that, it can be detrimental to the process. Useful countertransference in therapy, on the other hand, can help you grow.

“What are the Signs My Therapist is Attracted to Me?”

“I believe my therapist is drawn to me,” you reason. Clients who are experiencing transference are frequently told that they may feel this way regardless of whether or not countertransference is occurring.

The following are some indicators that your therapist is interested in you:

  • Therapeutic Sessions Have Changed: Extending sessions needlessly in order to lower the charge for your advantage.
  • Dressing a certain manner, becoming closer to you during sessions, and wanting to touch you more frequently are all examples of behavioural changes. 
  • Aspects of your life are also omitted for fear of upsetting you and obstructing your healing. They make an unjustified request to meet with you outside of therapy.
  • Sympathy rather than Empathy: Instead of comprehending, the therapist begins to share the clients’ feelings (sympathise) (empathize). It’s possible that the sympathy is overdone.
  • Therapists frequently begin to provide personal details about themselves to their clients. Crying is a common occurrence for them.
  • They make judgments about your life and the people in it, regardless of your feelings. Instead of allowing clients to reach their own judgments, they start giving them advice.

How to Deal with Countertransference in Therapy?

It is critical for a client suffering therapist countertransference to communicate openly. 

  • Discuss: Feel free to share your feelings with the therapist.
  • Explain: You must inform your therapist if their acts and behaviour make you uncomfortable. Given that therapeutic encounters are one-of-a-kind and every connection is different, it’s likely that they simply don’t know how to interact with you yet.
  • Transparency: It’s critical to be honest with your therapist and determine whether you can still work together or whether he can assist you in finding a new therapist. 
  • Being upfront and honest, as tough as it may be, is the best thing you can do for your own and your therapists’ well-being.

It can be highly useful to openly address “romantic” countertransference. Imagine how beneficial your sessions would be if your therapist assertively expressed and enforced strict boundaries while investigating these interactions.

How to Deal with Countertransference as a Therapist?

The most efficient way to manage countertransference is to be aware of it.

  • Recognize: Therapists can avoid harm by identifying countertransference as soon as it occurs. 
  • You must be aware of your emotions when working with clients. Is it critical for you to have access to the client’s information? Stay neutral and aware of your reactions whenever you’re working with a client.
  • Private Life: Countertransference is easily triggered by a therapist whose personal life is hectic or stressful. Therapists must exercise self-care and have a happy mentality in order to effectively deal with clients. Make sure you and your client both understand each other’s actual goals.
  • Consult your peers in the mental health area if you notice yourself becoming defensive or reactive in response to your client’s condition. They can assist you in dealing with countertransference efficiently.
  • Make Reference to Others: The patient should always come first for the therapist. Clients who have trouble avoiding or controlling countertransference should be sent to a different therapist.
  • Set suitable boundaries for scheduling, payment, and acceptable in-session behaviour with clear boundaries. Any misconceptions of aim or emotional projection should be discussed as soon as possible.
  • Mindfulness: To explore personal ideas and feelings, practise mindfulness both inside and outside of sessions. 
  • Learn more about compassion fatigue, burnout, excessive stress, and the inability to perform high-quality therapeutic work. Make appropriate thinking reactions by observing the space between stimuli and response.
  • Empathy: According to Lichtenberg, Bornstein, and Silver (1984), empathy is the foundation of human intersubjectivity, and failure to demonstrate it is the most significant hindrance to therapy.
  • Countertransference can be triggered by a lack of empathy. As practitioners, when we use empathy, we are looking at the issue and client from a different perspective, making countertransference.

It would be absurd to expect a therapist to never experience a countertransference reaction. It’s also beneficial for therapists to recognise their own triggers and distinguish them from those of their clients.

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