Earlier this year (Hay, 2018) I included some fairly brief information about transference and countertransference in an article about boundaries that included a section on professional boundaries. In the second edition of my Transactional Analysis for Trainers book (Hay, 2009) included more information in the chapter about professional super-vision. Several years before that (Hay, 2003) I have related the same idea to trainers and facilitators working with groups of managers within organisations – this version is extracted from below.
Trainers sometimes find that groups of grown-up participants will behave as if they are children at school – not asking questions, whispering to each other, even treating the trainer as someone who may ridicule them if they give a wrong answer.
Facilitators sometimes find that group members will behave as if they are with their own family – acting as if the facilitator or group leader is a parent or grandparent, behaving like the children they once were, even engaging in displays of ‘sibling rivalry’ as they try to impress the leader.
We can understand these and similar situations by using the concept of transference.
Everyday use of English tells us that ‘transfer’ means something gets shifted across – as in footballers joining new teams. From a TA perspective, transference is the term for what is happening when we shift across the characteristics of one person (ourself or someone else) onto another.
So we may project our own good or bad points onto somebody else, which will mean that we like them a lot because they seem to be just like us, or we dislike them a lot because we have invested them with our own failings – in this case we probably also manage to repress our own awareness of having the faults ourself. This is why it is easier to get on with people once we accept that we are not perfect ourselves; once we recognise that we are still OK even with faults, we no longer have to project those faults onto others and can relate to people as who they really are.
Or it may be the characteristics of someone else that we transfer, as when we relate to authority figures as if they are one of our parents or caregivers, or to junior employees as if they are our children (or nieces or nephews or children of friends). This accounts for the common pattern in organisations where each successive level of management relates to the level above as if they are the parent and to the level below as if they are the child. An interesting reversal of this pattern is when a male manager relates to a female secretary as if she is his mother – often reinforced by her responding to him as if he really is a small boy who needs to be scolded into getting to meetings on time and so on.
Countertransference is the term used for the ways in which a therapist responds to the transference of their client. However, what is thought of as countertransference will sometimes be simply the person’s own transference. For example, managers will often claim on training programmes that they are forced to behave as parents because their subordinates behave so much like children – when their subordinates are on the training courses, they of course claim that they act like children only because their managers are incapable of behaving in any way other than as parents!
Professional helpers monitor their reactions for countertransference because this gives then valuable information about how to help their clients. If a consultant recognises feelings of wanting to take care of the client, they can check whether this is a realistic, here-and-now reaction that is also an appropriate thing to do – or whether it is a reaction to helplessness being exhibited by the client. For instance, if a course participant is clearly unable to deal with being bullied by their local manager, it may be appropriate (and an organisational requirement) for the trainer to report this to senior management. However, a strong urge by a coach to intervene with the client’s manager over something like management interference in a project may be outside the contract, part of a game of ‘Let’s you and them fight’; and triggered by a combination of the client’s avoidance tactics and the coach’s Rescuer tendencies.
Categories of Transference
When we look more closely at transference, we can identify several formats. Novellino & Moiso (1990) relate transferential relationships to three levels of impasse: monadic, where the client merges themself with the therapist; diadic, where the client projects all of the ‘good’ or all of the ‘bad’ that they believe exists within themself onto the therapist; and triadic, where the client projects their own Parent ego state (P2), the content of which has been copied from others, onto the therapist. Clarkson (1992) writes of: complementary, where the client seeks a symbiotic relationship with their therapist; concordant, where the client projects aspects of themself onto the therapist so they seem to be alike; destructive, which is acting out or similar that means therapy cannot proceed; and facilitative transference, where the client chooses a therapist so the client can still use effective behaviour patterns from the past.
For developmental TA purposes, we can categorise on two dimensions:
In later parts of this blog I will provide some examples, show how a refracted transaction (Gill, 1986) is a form of transference, give some ideas for avoiding transference, and conclude with ideas for using transference.
Clarkson, Petrūska (1991) Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy London: Routledge
Gill, Vivienne (1986) TA in Education ITA News, No. 13 p.1
Hay, Julie (2003) Transference INTAND Newsletter 11:1 1-8
Hay, Julie (2009) Transactional Analysis for Trainers 2nd edition Hertford: Sherwood Publishing
Hay, Julie (2018) Psychological Boundaries and Psychological Bridges: A Categorisation and the Application of Transactional Analysis Concepts International Journal of Transactional Analysis Research & Practice 9:1 52-81
Novellino, Michele & Moiso, Carlo, (1990) The Psychodynamic Approach to Transactional Analysis Transactional Analysis Journal 20:3 187-192
© 2018 Julie Hay
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