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Susan Jennifer Polese
Oct 01, 2012

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Countertransference

The old boy has been disavowed throughout the ages. But we all owe him and extra thank you – not only for providing the rich fodder for truly wonderful Woody Allen films, but for giving us the juicy concepts of regression, sublimation, denial – and my favorite (for the purposes of this blog post): countertransference. Yes, I am talking about Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, who even the most devoted of psychoanalytic therapists say was, well – just plain wrong in the majority of his assumptions and his approach to mental health.

Yet, Freud has been on my mind lately having just begun my practicum. I am enthralled with all things Freudian– particularly – with countertransference. Not only have I been aware of it happening in session, but it happens all over the place – in the supermarket, the hair salon, dinner with my in-laws. I’m countertransferring in Home Depot and even with characters on my favorite television show. It seems that, much to my chagrin, everything is about me these days. Of course, I know actual countertransference only occurs in session with clients – but the rest of it sure feels like countertransference. I am hyper aware of it in session in my new role as an intern counselor and I am trying to put it all into perspective.

Now, we have all been made aware of the dangers of countertransference and how important it is that the therapy we facilitate be about the client and not us. We counselors are, after all, human with feelings and reactions. We are not automatons who actively listen and process with clients void of pathos. Being newly educated and in a very “meta” state of mind I am very cognizant of my countertransference issues with clients and I have been processing them In supervision.

It is, however, amazing how much you can learn about yourself through processing countertransference. In only three weeks on the jobs clients have reminded me of my father, my mother, my husband and, of course, my ex-husband. The situations in their lives have mirrored mine again and again – although we are so very different. I suppose in the end this examination of countertransference simply brings forth the idea that we are all so similar to each other – we humans with our needs, wants and yearning to connect.

As a writer I try to vary the words that I use in my work so that it is engaging. Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that countertransference (there’s that word again!) has not one synonym. – my trusty online thesaurus came up with nothing, naught, nil, nada, zero. So please excuse all of the repetition. I suppose a phenomenon like – I won’t write it again! – is unique enough to be described by one word and one word only - which for some reason suddenly makes me think of my mother. Uh, oh. There I go again…

Susan Jennifer Polese is a counselor in training, a personal coach and a freelance writer. Her areas of interest are mindfulness, divergent thinking, and creativity in counseling.

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