Transference & Psychodynamic Therapy

A powerful aspect of psychodynamic therapy is that a client’s (unconscious) conflicts that are causing problems in their everyday life and relationships emerge in the therapy relationship itself.

The thoughts and feelings that a client develops towards their therapist are what is referred to as transference.  It's based on the idea that each of us sees the world through a lens that is unique to us and that is influenced by our unconscious and our past experiences, generally with early caregivers. Sometimes our lens is distorted and without our realizing it, is interfering with our ability to accurately perceive the world and people around us.

Unlike CBT,
psychodynamic psychotherapy makes use of the relationship that develops between the client and the therapist as a means of learning about how a client relates to others in his or her life.  The relationship that a client develops with their therapist can provide important clues to thoughts and feelings happening in the client that may be just outside of their awareness.

Does Therapy Create Transference?
No, transference is not unique to therapy. It is a universal phenomenon which is largely automatic and unconscious. We all have it to some degree with everyone and everything. It's a part of why we choose our partner or spouse, our friends, and our career. What is unique about therapy, however, is that the therapist and client attempt to pay attention to transference and make it more conscious with the aim of helping clients discover aspects of themselves that may be operating outside of awareness and causing difficulties.

It Sounds Strange & Scary!
The phenomenon of transference is probably best illustrated by experiencing it oneself in therapy. It is not unusual for people to feel uncomfortable talking about their reactions, thoughts, feelings, or fantasies about therapy and their therapist. After all, this is not how we generally operate with our friends or partners. Some may prefer CBT where the relationship with the therapist is not a focus of therapy.

Generally people who choose psychodynamic therapy gradually become comfortable talking more openly about their experience of therapy and their therapist as they develop enough safety to take such a vulnerable risk. Often what makes them willing to continue doing so is that they begin to see the connection between what's coming up with the therapist and the difficulties for which they sought therapy. Click here to read about some simple examples of transference.

Transference as a Powerful Tool
Proponents of psychodynamic therapy claim that working through transference is one of the most powerful ways to learn about oneself. It provides the chance to actually experience one's difficulties with the therapist as opposed to talking about one's problems one step removed. It is through this, at moments, uncomfortable process with the therapist that lasting insights can be gained. These insights form the foundation for a different way of experiencing oneself and relating to others.