Countertransference is one of the pillars of therapeutic work. It is the bedrock of kleinian theory, together with transference, phantasy and projective identification. As therapists we are constantly trying to monitor our countertransference states and the patients verbal and non verbal associations to the moment to moment interaction in the relationship between patient and therspist.
The transference and countertransference are the vehicles of learning about the internal world of the patient, where they place themeselves within that spectrum, the nature of their desires and anxieties and how they in turn relate to the world.
We are trying to help the partient learn about themeselves and to offer them a new way of thinking about themeselves and the world they inhabit. Their world can be seen as the only place they have to “reside”, it often feels very restricted, oppressive, joyless, a place of servitude, dangerous and eerily familiar.
Their is also a direct correlation between the way people treat other people and the way that they treat themeselves. This is where internal objects get projected onto external objects. In this way we see the interplay between phantasy, projective identification, transference and in the therapy room, our reaction to those projections, commonly known as countertransference.
One of our goal as therapist is not to limit the amount that we get pulled into their world and become a known figure in their vast of characters, but to try and understand how they try and capture and absorb is into the world.
As a quick example. I had a patient who never was at a loss for words, she always had some anecdote to share. I often felt entertained but also kept at a distance as I was only a spectator or an audience. So my countertransference was feeling I was there only to applaud or praise. What made this difficult to analyse at first was that she was very amusing and often hidden in these narratives were some kind of struggle or conflict. So at first, I thought of her way of relating as a soft and safe way of conveying difficult feelings. After a while I began to analyse the nature of her amusing stories, they were often about how she was in interaction with some person who was in authority or power. She would often make some clever comment or quip but I noticed that it had a certain “trying to get the better” tone. I sat on these feelings for some time and contained them until I had further material.
What came out later was that at school she was called a delinquent and slow learner and was often badly treated by a particular school teacher. These awful and degrading comments made an indelible imprint on her psyche.
In the sessions we were eventually able to talk about the function of her slightly barbed “humour”. On the one hand she was able to trump over her internal “teacher”bully, but the humour served a second function within our relationship. She felt she had to constantly entertain me and come up with all wonderful and exciting stories about her life. This was on the one hand to keep us together but it was also there in a somewhat defensive manner. She was worried that if she stopped doing that and just brought what she thought was her “boring” old self, I would not be pleased and see her as another dumb patient in my class.
I hope I have been able to convey in this example, the way the patient related and the way that I managed or I would rather say tried to contain these feelings that her behaviour invoked in order to gain and further leaning and understanding