Preparing for a career as a counsellor will mean learning how to effectively provide counselling to individuals and groups through a variety of contexts. You’ll be able to help clients work through issues like trauma, abuse, addiction, family issues, relationship problems, and more. As a professional counsellor, you’ll be adept at listening carefully, locating solutions, and coaching clients through a path to wellness and integration.
However, there can be obstacles along the way that prevent healthy counselling relationships. As a counsellor, you should be aware of how to identify, assess, and overcome these barriers. One of these is the issue of countertransference. This is the opposite of transference, wherein a client projects their own conflicts onto their counsellor (Fritcher, 2020). There are varying definitions and theories of countertransference, but all involve the ways the counsellor reacts to the client. Read on to learn more.
Defining the Concept of Countertransference
The conceptualization of countertransference is first attributed to the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. Freud believed that countertransference was a projection onto the client arising from the counsellor’s past trauma, and that it should be attended to and avoided (Gelso, 2018). Since then, different definitions and theories of countertransference have arisen. Today, it’s typical for countertransference to be thought of as encompassing all the reactions a counsellor has towards their client, and that these subjective reactions are inevitable (Gelso, 2018).
Professionals today generally agree that it is impossible to be a truly objective counsellor. After undergoing professional counselling training, your own experiences, ideas, and beliefs will always colour how you engage with clients (Walton & Pardasani, 2014). However, counsellors still need to be attentive to how countertransference is influencing the client relationship. It should never impede the goals of counselling.
Possible Benefits of Countertransference
Countertransference is seen as potentially beneficial at times. Counsellors can use their reactions to the client as a way to understand the client more deeply, and understand how the client impacts the people around them. However, this is only useful if the counsellor successfully understands their reactions (Gelso et al, 2018).
When considering the possible benefits of countertransference, it’s useful to distinguish between positive and negative countertransference. Positive countertransference can involve the projection of positive feelings onto the client. This can be useful in many ways. However, when maladaptive, it can result in trying too hard to befriend the client, disclosing too much, or becoming overemotional (Fritscher, 2020).
Negative countertransference can potentially be more harmful to relationships with clients. This involves the projection of negative feelings onto the client, resulting in a dislike for or annoyance with the client. The potential results of this include an unreasonable dislike, dread of meetings, being overly critical, or punishing and rejecting the client (Fritscher,2020). After online professional counsellor training, it’s important to remain attentive to these feelings or impulses.
Managing Countertransference After Counsellor Training
Counsellors emphasize the importance of rigorous self-awareness when attempting to address countertransference (Murphy, 2013). The negative impacts of countertransference can be avoided by engaging in your own deep and personal exploration through self-reflection (Murphy, 2013). Countertransference does not necessarily need to be harmful. It’s only when countertransference is ignored that it can negatively impact the relationship with the client.
Some professionals use the Countertransference Factors Inventory to assess whether countertransference can be successfully managed by a counsellor. This scale considers several different characteristics to gauge whether countertransference will negatively impact a counsellor’s work. These factors are: self-insight, the ability to understand their own feelings and thoughts; conceptualization, the ability to draw on theory while working; empathy; anxiety management; and self-integration, the possession of a generally healthy and intact character structure (Gelso et al, 2018).
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Linn-Walton, R., & Pardasani, M. (2014). Dislikable Clients or Countertransference: A Clinician’s Perspective. The Clinical supervisor, 33(1), 100–121. https://doi.org/10.1080/07325223.2014.924693
Murphy, S. (2013). Attending to countertransference. Counseling Today. https://ct.counseling.org/2013/09/attending-to-countertransference/
Gelso, C., Goldberg, S., Hayes, J., and Kivlighan, D. (2018). Countertransference Management and Effective Psychotherapy: Meta-Analytic Findings. Psychotherapy. 55(4), 496-5017. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pst0000189
Fritscher, L. (2020). Counter-Transference in Therapy. VeryWellMind. https://www.verywellmind.com/counter-transference-2671577