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TRANSFERENCE &
COUNTERTRANSFERENCE
School of Spiritual Direction: SDS – Spiritual Direction Supervision
WHAT IS TRANSFERENCE?
A phenomenon characterized by unconscious redirection of feelings
from one person to another.
The natural, to-be-expected process by which a person seeking help
in a direction relationship (or any helping relationship) transfers his
or her own feelings, thoughts, impulses and fantasies about a person
from one’s past (feelings not fully resolved) to the spiritual director.!
The directee in the midst of transference is not aware that he or she
is doing this “transferring” of feelings.
WHAT IS
COUNTERTRANSFERENCE?
The process by which the person providing help—in this case the
spiritual director—reacts to his or her own feelings, thoughts,
impulses and fantasies aroused by the directee.!
Commonly expanded to include any feelings, emotions, or reactions
that the director has for or toward the directee.
THE ORIGINS OF TRANSFERENCE
Transference was first described by psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud, who
acknowledged its importance for psychoanalysis for better understanding of the
patient's feelings.
When Freud initially encountered transference in his therapy with patients, he thought he was
encountering patient resistance, as he recognized the phenomenon when a patient refused to
participate in a session of free association. But what he learned was that the analysis of the
transference was actually the work that needed to be done: "the transference, which, whether
affectionate or hostile, seemed in every case to constitute the greatest threat to the treatment,
becomes its best tool". The focus in psychodynamic psychotherapy is, in large part, the therapist and
patient recognizing the transference relationship and exploring the relationship's meaning. Since the
transference between patient and therapist happens on an unconscious level, psychodynamic
therapists who are largely concerned with a patient's unconscious material use the transference to
reveal unresolved conflicts patients have with childhood figures. (Wikipedia)
ORIGINS OF
COUNTERTRANSFERENCE
First defined publicly by Sigmund Freud in 1910 as being "a result of the patient's influence
on [the physician's] unconscious feelings.
Includes unconscious reactions to a patient that are determined by the psychoanalyst's own
life history and unconscious content; it was later expanded to include unconscious hostile
and/or erotic feelings toward a patient that interfere with objectivity and limit the
therapist's effectiveness.
More positive views of countertransference began to emerge, approaching a definition of
countertransference as the entire body of feelings that the therapist has toward the patient.
The contemporary understanding of countertransference is thus generally to regard
countertransference as a “jointly created” phenomenon between the treater and the patient.
The patient pressures the treater through transference into playing a role congruent with the
patient’s internal world. However, the specific dimensions of that role are colored by
treater’s own personality.
Countertransference can be a therapeutic tool when examined by
the treater to sort out who is doing what, and the meaning behind those interpersonal roles
(Wikipedia)
IMPACT OF TRANSFERENCE
& COUNTERTRANSFERENCE
Unrecognized and/or unacknowledged transference/
countertransference can result in the direction relationship being
derailed, growth for the directee being inhibited, and the potential
for harm to the directee increases.
On the other hand, transference reactions can be an opportunity
for the directee to experience growth, healing, and strengthened
relationship with God, as can appropriately used
countertransference.
EXAMPLES OF
TRANSFERENCE
Feeling sexual attraction for the director
Treating the director as a friend, parent, spouse…
Assigning certain attributes to the director and relating to the director
accordingly:
!Being fearful that the director will be shaming and so withholding details/
information
!Treating the director with disdain for no apparent reason
!Assuming the director won’t understand
!Becoming overly reliant on the director, etc.
Constantly being late or running over time
*Similar dynamics can occur in the supervisor – director/supervisee relationship
EXAMPLES OF
COUNTERTRANSFERENCE
Feeling like the director needs to take care of the directee
Romantic or sexual feelings for the directee
Feeling a need to please the directee
Running over time or being late to sessions
Feeling inhibited or intimidated by the directee
Feeling toward the directee in a way similar to the director’s parent, sibling, or
any other person in director’s past.
*Similar countertransference issues may appear in the supervisor-director/supervisee
relationship.
HOW TO WORK WITH
TRANSFERENCE/COUNTERTRANSFERENCE
Notice any intense feelings, urges, tensions, body sensations. Any of those might
suggest a transference/countertransference dynamic.
Take what you notice into supervision.
Use the information of the transference/countertransference in direction.
You may bring up the transference/countertransference to the directee in the form
of noticing: “I’ve noticed that…” without blaming, shaming, or guilting…and without
labeling what you’ve noticed as “transferene”.
Joseph Driskill (“Preventing Ethical Quagmires in Spiritual Direction”) posits that in spiritual direction,
the transference is focused on God, so the directee can be invited to take any concerns, emotions,
expectations, etc. to God in prayer.
OTHER DIRECTOR/DIRECTEE
ISSUES
Blindspots on part of either director or directee with regard to the Dimensions or Arenas of
Human Experience
The director not engaging in adequate self-care
Director’s skills need further development
Environment for direction is distracting
Either director or directee feel the match is not appropriate
Director or directee is experiencing major life crisis
Director or directee struggling with psychological or emotional issues
The director’s spiritual life is being neglected
Lack of understanding about directee or a psychospiritual tool/approach they are using
The directee feels s/he knows more than the director
The director or directee is struggling with issues of faith, doctrinal belief, theology
Director triggers past issues/trauma in directee or vice versa