Explaining Transference and the Therapeutic Dyad to the Layperson

I have not dropped off the face of the planet, despite not having written for over a week.  I do, just about, remain in this plane of existence.  I just have been unable to get motivated to write anything at all for the last few days.  I do plan to rectify this sorry state of affairs later this week.

I did see C on Thursday past; it was the last time I’ll see him for three weeks; I will miss him.  I wasn’t as distraught about it as I was expecting to be, however, which is a bit odd.  I’ll write about the session in full later in the week; at present A and I are at his parents’ caravan, so I am typing this from my mobile – not the best place to write a full, in-depth, potentially analytical post!

This post is little more than a quick query, really.  Aside from my myriad of Internet compatriots also undergoing psychotherapy, no one else I know seems to understand the nature of the therapeutic relationship nor the phenomenon of transference.  To be fair, why would they?  It is the weirdest relationship one can ever have.  Hat-tip to Behind the Couch for that quote.

Speaking of BTC, to my considerable regret, she has had to take down her truly excellent blog on the nature of psychotherapy.  This is a real shame, as it was a brilliant resource for exploring and explaining the nature of therapy and the odd asymetrical relationship inherent in the process.

So, the point is this, dearest readers.  Everyone knows I am obsessed with C, and in my view that, given the nature of the therapeutic relationship, is entirely normal – if I didn’t experience some sort of transference (and I didn’t in previous therapeutic settings), then I don’t think it would be functioning as it should.  But my real life associates find the obsession bizarre.  I’ve been accused of ‘fancying’ or being ‘in love’ with him (not true).  I’ve been told that what I think of him is pure ‘fantasy’ (not true as I don’t fantasise about him in any way!).  I’ve even been told that I should quit seeing him and ‘perhaps go to a woman instead’ (not a good idea when one is a mysoginst-feminist, as I am).

When I protest against these comments, explaining that I should feel some sort of transference for the process to be working properly, it seems that the belief is that this is a case of ‘the lady doth protest too much’.  People seem to think that my belief that I should feel this (or something, anyway) is all just part of my delusional belief that C is going to fall on his knees, declare undying love for me and that we’re going to run off into the fucking sunset together.  Or something.

So, two questions arise.  Is my transference abnormal?  I don’t think so, but I’m biased.  So I leave the answer to you.  Secondly, do you know of any good books / leaflets / (preferably) websites that adequately explain the nature of the therapeutic dyad to the person that’s never been there?  I’m looking for something non-academic, but in-depth enough to convey the concept, as long as it’s clear and in understandable layman’s terms.

BTC was the obvious choice for this in the past, and I really miss that blog (though this should not be read as a criticism of BTC herself; she had to take the blog down so it’s not her fault it’s gone.  It’s others’).  But is there something comparable out there in the ether?

Or am I just being delusional again?  Does such a thing even exist?  Can such a thing exist – or are transference and the inherent strangeness of the relationship just too odd to covey by mere words?

Any suggestions, comments and discussion would be most welcome and appreciated.

EDIT (22 October, 2009): Although Behind the Couch as a blog (ie. periodically updated journal, with comments) no longer exists, the author has very kindly created an archive of her posts from the original site.  As such, I am pleased to be able to direct any readers of this post interested in the dynamic of the therapeutic relationship to http://couched.wordpress.com.  For information on transference specifically, there is an introductory post here.  I also quite like this explanation of the dyad as the ‘weirdest relationship you’ll ever have’.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Thanks to the artist formerly known as BTC for creating this archive.  She put up nearly a year’s worth of posts, which must have been a hell of a lot of work, all for the benefit of us saddos who are still trying to understand therapy.  Kudos.
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9 Responses to “Explaining Transference and the Therapeutic Dyad to the Layperson”

  1. Hmmm, isn’t ‘misogynistic feminist’ an oxymoron?

    I am not sure where the best place to point non-therapy types is really. There is a nice explanation here http://sissisblog.active24blog.com/23595/ though, that I like.

    I’d be interested to read other’s responses …

    • Mysogist-feminism is the made-up name I’ve given to a branch of feminism that espouses the position that (some) women perpetuate discrimination against themselves. It’s also the only way I can express that I am, in principle, very much a feminist, but that (in real life, not online!) I tend not get on especially well with other females.

      Anyhow, thanks for the link hun; I can’t check it out now due to the intermittent cellular service, but I will when I’m home tomorrow. I’ve tried Googling it but with only very limited success :-/

      Take care x

  2. Got a tweet from one of “the accused” linking to Google search results for “I feel an emotional attachment to my therapist”. Misses the point. The issue is not about my feeling an “emotional attachment” to C; it’s how the necessity and normality of that us explained to those not in therapy.

    • Ok, first off, I think transference is an amazing phenomenon. Second, I should state that I am NOT a doctor, but rather a patient. Perhaps I should mention the fact that I absolutely LOVE studying transference. Putting these aspects together (academics, therapy, etc.), one may conclude that I’ve been on “both sides of the couch”–it’s clearly not that simple.

      I hear what you’re saying about your experiencing transference toward your therapist. It is completely normal, and, depending upon the type of therapy (i.e., psychoanalytic and psychodynamic situations), actually expected.

      On a personal note, I first became interested in the transference phenomenon a few years back. I was seeing a therapist biweekly back then. Interestingly enough, I never really consciously felt anything toward him in the way of love, tenderness, or sexual feelings…UNTIL he gave me a hug (which is a whole different story). Without getting too deeply into the surrounding circumstances, I can tell you that soon after this experience, I realized my feelings toward him (my therapist), which were mainly of a loving and sexual nature. In my case, I now realize retrospectively that those feelings (as any in the transference experienced in the therapeutic situation), stem from much more primitive longings with regards to wanting certain needs gratified that should have been (and were not), at an earlier phase of development (i.e., childhood). This theory is VERY psychoanalytical — so is the phenomenon of transference. Basically, the feelings you have toward your therapist are reenactments of earlier relationships (i.e., those experienced with parents). However, this certainly does NOT mean that the feelings you have toward your therapist are to be swept under the carpet or brushed off as JUST infantile longings. I’m assuming you are very much an adult. Try to think of your feelings as adult representations of these quote “previously unmet wants and needs” which I briefly described previously. As you may be aware, Freud clearly delineated such as “psychosexual stages of development”: http://www.victorianweb.org/science/freud/develop.html. Of course the child is unaware of the extent or ramifications of the sexual nature of their needs, but the adult usually is. To simplify, it is extremely common for patients to sexualize their perceptions of the therapist.

      Hopefully, I’m making some sort of sense. What I’ve said so far comes from my own personal experience (which is definitely the best teacher, in my experience), and years of extensive research on the subject). Remember, your feelings toward your therapist are completely normal and common and are by no means unreal — they just have an extremely complex subtext. Also, there are several different types of transference. I don’t want to define your feelings are experiences for you, but given my experience, it seems as though you are experiencing what is called “erotic transference,” which is basically the sexualization of the feelings. Personally, I’m struggling with that at the moment (and have been for a while), with a different therapist than previously mentioned. My friends have made the same suggestions, telling me to “get a new therapist — a female one.” They don’t know shit.

      Another thing — you may have mentioned this, but have you discussed any of your feelings toward your therapist with him? I’ve tried and am getting closer (I often “hint” at things and become very vague), but haven’t come right out and told him that I love or want to fuck him (which I must admit has crossed my mind on several occasions).

      I hope I’ve been somewhat helpful. As I said, I’m also a patient, and have done extensive research on the subject entailing writing numerous papers and presenting at several conferences. I’m currently working on 2 papers: “Unmet Wants and Needs: Understanding the Transferences Concurrent with the Borderline Personality,” and something addressing why Freud’s ‘Wild Analysis’ is not a good idea for patients with borderline personality disorder. Please let me know how things are going…I’d LOVE to discuss this more with you and hopefully be of more help.

      -Vanessa (aka the eTransference Doc)

      • Hi Vanessa

        Thanks very much for your very informative reply. I think this goes some way to explaining the phenomenon to my doubting friends 🙂

        …it seems as though you are experiencing what is called “erotic transference,” which is basically the sexualization of the feelings…

        I don’t think this actually is the case to be honest, as I don’t have any sexual or romantic interest in him at all. Do I love him? Love is a strong word, of course. I certainly don’t feel as if I am in love with him, but then the concept is nebulous itself. I swing between caring deeply about him, being intensely irritated with him, and outright hating him.

        My view, at a rational level at least, is that my form of transference is actually more along the lines of parentification. The link that fromthesamesky posted above details kind of how I feel about his current absence to some extent. I’ve written about the nature of the transference in several other posts on this blog – here, for instance. I also wrote here that C himself was of the view that I don’t necessarily parentify him, but that in many ways the transference is indeed, as you’ve written, about early childhood relationships, But I don’t think it’s just about parentification either; it’s more nebulous than that. I wrote somewhere on this blog (can’t remember which post, sorry) that I kind of want him to be my friend – and yet I don’t, because I don’t know him, and it would be really bizarre. It is strange how you can feel two impossibly polar things at the same time. Finally, I am intensely reliant on him, which is probably about as normal as it gets.

        The nature of the therapy, although more broad than this, is essentially psychodynamic, which as you’ll know is based to some extent on psychoanalysis and therefore typically involves transference. I keep trying to explain to everyone that this is therefore not just normal, but as you say expected. But no one seems to get it.

        I alluded briefly above to a discussion I had with him re: parentification. I also admitted my reliance on him and indeed one day challenged him to admit that he’d been probing me on the transference issue without actually stating that he was doing so. So in short, yes; it’s been discussed – but not in significant detail, I have to say. I always know when he’s investigating this issue – he never comes right out and asks me, which is fucking irritating, because I have enough of a bloody brain to work it out – so I end up playing mind-games with him, which I know is a stupid thing to do in the circumstances but it’s not something I do consciously (as a general rule anyway). As you know yourself from your own therapy, actually confronting the issue with the therapist is incredibly difficult – in the case of erotic transference, I imagine it would be especially mortifying – but I have read in many publications that when it’s actually done and both parties know where they stand, it’s actually kind of liberating and, in the case of psychoanalysis and related blank-canvas-esque therapies, productive. But that’s all easy to say.

        You’re obviously very knowledgeable about the phenomenon and as you’ve stated transference is expected (in some therapies, at least) – I suppose I am just wondering a wee bit why you find discussing your own feelings towards your psychologist/psychiatrist so difficult? I can well imagine that it would be very embarrassing but then as you know they’re trained to deal with and indeed expect stuff like this. But, again, it’s easy to say that. It’s all very well for us to be analytical and logical about things, but when you get into that room with them all rationality can fly straight out the bloody window!

        Anyway, I’ve rambled on for ages as I always seem to do. I would like to thank you for providing such a well-explained and interesting insight into the topic. I’m not sure if it would be possible, but I’d love to read your upcoming papers on transference and ‘Wild Analysis’ in borderline patients – like yourself, I find the whole phenomenon fascinating, but obviously am no where near being such an authority as you 😉 Obviously I can understand why you probably can’t just go about giving this material to random strangers on the internet, but if it were possible, I’d love to read it. And I’d be delighted to discuss it more with you – thank you for that offer 🙂 – so I’ll drop you an email.

        Thanks again. I’ll be presenting your post to those family and friends that are struggling to understand all this.

        All the best

        SI x

        • Hi SI,

          I’m glad my post was of some help to you  Hopefully others will also find such to be the case. In fact, I should probably mention that I’ve decided to embark upon a project of creating a book addressing transference in a way that, as you previously stated in your earlier question, is accessible to the layperson – for this I’d like to thank you for providing much inspiration and motivation. In short, this book will aim to help the patient understand and make sense of the transference, how to address and talk openly about the issues in the phenomenon with one’s therapist, reassure the patient and explain how their feelings are normal and common, discuss some of the various types of transference, explain how the various types of transference are related to and more common with specific disorders and why, how to safely and effectively cope with related feelings, and to provide a variety of additional sources for reference. I have lots of ideas for the project and am extremely open and receptive to those of others, so if you or someone you know has any suggestions, feel free to let me know!

          Also, I’m planning on interviewing as many people as appropriate (and whoever is willing), to share some of their personal experiences with transference and the psychotherapeutic situation at large. Obviously this is a long-term project. Please pass on this information. I have an e-mail account dedicated to this venue: etransference@gmail.com, and a corresponding blog under the same name (which I am in the process of creating). I’d also like to address some questions people have regarding transference and the therapeutic dyad in a more in depth yet easy to understand manner, so if you have a specific questions or know of anyone who might, please let me know.

          Okay, now I should probably get around to addressing a question I believe you asked me regarding my own transference situation – again, let me reiterate (hopefully I’m not belaboring the point to much here), that I am extremely open to any questions, including personal ones; in fact, I welcome and greatly enjoy them!

          So…you asked why I hadn’t gotten around to addressing the transference issue with my doctor, whom I should mention is both my psychiatrist and my therapist. Strangely enough, I don’t particularly like the term “therapist,” but that’s another topic for another time 😉 Of course this answer is very complex. Let me give you some background information first. Let me call the doctor “P.” I first saw P for a brief treatment surrounding some anxiety issues for only about 6 months or so. During that time, the treatment, due to its brief nature, was mostly cognitive-behavioral – or at least as I recall. Given this, I was not aware of a real transference bond. Fast forward a few years – I returned to treatment 2 or so years later after living elsewhere. Although I was receiving continuous treatment, it was more along the lines of counseling, at least in comparison to what I am currently receiving. I don’t feel it necessary to discuss the transference that may or may not have formed during that interim treatment as the circumstances were such that the therapy unfortunately came to an abrupt end. Anyways enough rambling.

          This time around, I’m in treatment once again with P, and it has been 3ish years. It’s hard to remember exactly, of course, but I believe I first noticed transference-related feelings about 4-6 months into the treatment. In my case, the feelings were definitely loving and erotic, and have basically grown and become increasingly present ever since. Dealing with them has been extremely difficult and has contributed, no doubt, to my 3 hospitalizations. The last was probably correlated with P’s 4 week vacation. This still isn’t answering the question, is it? I guess all I can say is that I think I can’t directly confront my sexual feelings toward him because perhaps in some way I feel that by doing so, I would be forcing myself to accept the reality of the feelings never coming to fruition in the manner in which I would find most desirable. What would I say? “I want to fuck you.”? I know it would change the dynamic of the relationship, which I don’t want to happen. We have talked openly about the concept of transference on several occasions, but nothing of a sexual nature. This is something I’m working on.

          Well, I hope you enjoyed that fun run of words :p Also, I’m going to have to say no with regards to reading my papers as they are not published yet and also, as you mentioned, the whole random internet situation. Perhaps some other time! I’ll talk to you later.

          Best,

          V 

  3. Haven’t visited this post in ages, so only just noticed this:

    Possibly related posts:

    * Top ten reasons why I dislike breastfeeding
    * Obamamania is Passed – And That’s a Good Thing

    Yep. Breastfeeding and Obama are so directly related to psychotherapy and transference.

    WordPress FAIL!

  4. Woundedgenius/BTC Says:

    Hey you, thanks for the shout-out

    I had a word doc of 192 pages in 6pt font.

    I uploaded about 2 thirds of the posts (the ones that I think are of most use) and changed all the links between posts to reflect the new site. It took about 8 hours.

    Enjoy

    🙂

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