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The term countertransference is used in a variety of ways and for the past few days I have been thinking about using this term to refer all of the reactions the therapist experiences in the course of therapy. Is something lost in using the term so broadly?
I am reminded of Otto Fenichels definition of transference as misunderstanding the present in terms of the past. This is actually quite close to the way we usually understand transference in Cognitive Therapy (as times when the clients responses to the therapist are based on preconceptions developed in emotionally important relationships). I realize that I usually think of countertransference in similar terms, as being a time when the therapists reactions are based on the therapists preconceptions developed in the therapists emotionally important relationships.
Would we gain something by drawing a clear distinction between the times when my reactions to a client are due to my misunderstanding the client in terms of my own past, and the times when my reactions are simply a reaction to what the client is saying and doing? My inclination would be to reserve the term countertransference for the former situation (assuming that I didnt come up with a more cognitive-behavioral-sounding term to use).
It seems that one would handle the two situations somewhat differently. If I become aggravated with a client due to my own distortions, I need to recognize this and handle it well enough that it doesnt disrupt therapy. However, my reactions probably reveal more about my psyche than they reveal about the client. They may turn out to be useful in therapy but they are more likely to be an impediment.
the other hand, if my aggravation is primarily a response to the clients
words and actions and is not strongly influenced by my own distortions, then my
reactions may provide some insight into how others experience the client. Our
interaction may be replicating some of the interpersonal problems the client experiences
in real life and thus provide us with an opportunity to understand the problems
and/or intervene in the here-and-now interaction within therapy. I still need
to recognize my reactions and handle them so that they do not disrupt therapy
but they may also provide us with a valuable opportunity.
Ethical Decision Making, Therapeutic Boundaries, and Communicating Using
- Yonan, J., Bardick, A. D., and Willmet, J. H. (2011). Ethical Decision Making, Therapeutic Boundaries, and Communicating Using Online Technology and Cellular Phones. Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy, 45(4). p. 307-326.
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