A Transference of Relationships… (Part 2)

In my previous post I mentioned that there are 5 basic relationships that we witness in therapy. In this post I explore a type of relationship that involves a transference of behaviours. It is often referred to as the:

Transference/Counter-transference relationship

Have you ever fallen into a pattern with someone – having the same discussions, reactions, and maybe even arguments? It’s almost like groundhog day. You just always seem to end up in the same spot…

Have you ever noticed when you meet someone new you respond to them the same way you did previously? You almost prepare to hear the same response you’ve heard time and time again…?

Transference is a little like that.

In its simplest terms it’s projection of your previous experiences and emotions onto the current situation. Even if the current situation is nothing like your previous experiences…

Imagine saying:
“I know you’re going to say xxx, because everyone always has”…

Creating this expectation of the world can often bring about repeated patterns or destroy relationships. This may be because your mind just can’t accept that this time really is different.


What about when this happens in therapy?

You will naturally start to present these expectations towards your therapist. Perhaps using the same inner dialogue from before. You may begin to treat the therapist as a friend, parent, sibling or anyone that matters to you.

However, with your help and honesty, the therapist can respond. He/she can begin to point out patterns of behaviour and expectations that you might have.

In creative arts therapy this can be done in lots of different ways. You might decide to role play interactions you have had in the past – both as they were and as you wish they could have been.

You might alternatively decide to use objects, images, drawings or puppets (to name a few). This will allow you to watch the interactions taking place and respond as a spectator.

The process you use to unravel what is at the heart of your responses is up to you, but that the key thing.

Once you know why you respond the way you do – be that fear, anger, struggling self-value, or anything else – you can work on how to overcome it.

circles transfer from red into a progressive stream of dark to light colour. Representing a transference in thought pattern from old to new.
One change in mindset, action or behaviour will make all the difference


So what is counter-transference?

Well, you need to remember that your therapist is also human – with baggage and expectations of his/her own.

That means there might be times when you, as a client do something that makes the therapist remember or fall into an old pattern.

Now, to put your mind at ease, your therapist has more than likely been in therapy, and gone through the same processes as you – to make sure that their unconscious doesn’t interfere with your process. Your therapist will also be going to clinical supervision, so that if they sense there might be something unresolved that is getting in the way, they can deal with it without impacting on your intervention.

That helps, but doesn’t mean this is impossible – after all your therapist is only human.


What about the things you can’t prove?

There are other forms of counter-transference that are a little more mystical – but it’s more like a gut reaction.

Have you ever had a sudden gut feeling that you can’t get rid of, but you can’t explain where it came from? Some theories say that this is a form of counter-transference – where a client is so out of touch with themselves, that the therapist can unconsciously sense the underlying emotions on their behalf.

There is no way of proving this can happen, but I have had moments where I’ve got a sense that there was something unconscious or undiscovered going on. For this reason I can’t totally discount it.

Personally, I relate it to the idea of your spirit or soul telling you something you already know, or guiding you along the way. There is no magic formula to therapy, but you are dealing with people, and sometimes you get a gut reaction when you meet someone that can tell you a lot about your response to them if nothing else.


As I said before, therapy is all about your unconditional relationship with the therapist. This is just a phase of the therapeutic relationship, and it can help you acknowledge and respond to your behavioural patterns at the core.

In my next blog I’ll continue exploring the different relationships and the way they support your intervention.

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