How to Deal with Transference So You're Done Sooner - myShrink

How to Deal with Transference

dealing with transference in counseling and neediness: shows a young toddler trying to get attention of her mother who's

You started therapy to solve one problem but now you’re facing an even greater one. Your therapist has taken on a huge role in your life, and you’re not sure this is a good thing. 

One thing's certain, you can’t stop thinking about him/her - and it’s interfering with your life!

Psychologist and therapy coach Dr. Susan LaCombe

Psychologist / Therapy Coach, Dr. Susan LaCombe

Hi there, I'm a psychotherapist/psychologist of 20 years. This is Part 3 of a 3-Part series on transference.

If you want to get more traction with your transference - begin by becoming familiar with my brain-wise approach. 

Click here for a quick summary of transference using developmental and evolutionary psychology. (top of Part 1)


Common misspellings: transferance, transferrence, transferrance, transferece.

How to read this article

This is Part-3 of a 3-Part article (See links to other pages below).

You're just curious - maybe a new therapy client - wondering if you're dealing with transference?

  • Feel free to skim - jump around or not.
  • Below each sub-heading the 1st paragraph has a larger font size - you may want to just read those to quickly get the gist of the articles.
  • Identify your own transference in the comments below each article with meaty responses from yours truly.

You're definitely working through transference however it's getting out of hand and you don't know what to do.

  • You already know about transference - get familiar with my developmental approach (top part of 1st article).
  • Read this Part 3 thoroughly.
  • Once you've grasped the model I propose, pay particular attention to the section, 'How to stop transference'.

You're so into your transference you want to know everything about it or you're a therapist and want to know how to help your client.

  • Read everything in Parts 1-3 plus the "extra credit" information in the Brain Facts section.

Related terms: projective identification, transference neurosis, parataxic distortion.

Transferential relationships

As a young pre-adolescent I was obsessed with teen idols. Davey Jones, Peter Noone and Paul McCartney comforted me as I slept. They were my waking-hour companions. My life felt magical to think of them.

By early adolesence my idols were replaced with a real live human being.

Let me tell you if you're embarrassed by your transference to your therapist, try having a crush in the worse public arena you can imagine: junior high.

Of course I was not to know that both experiences served a purpose. 

By the time I was an adult in ongoing therapy I already knew to distrust my inclinations in regards to transferential relationships. 

Not to say I was immune to what feelings emerged in regards to my therapist - just that I could hold the feelings at a distance enough to feel I had a measure of control.

Gaining control over your transference

Consider that transference to some degree operates in all our relationships. That not only includes your family but your friends as well (even imaginary relationships triggered by teen idols 🙂

Similar to other psychological phenomena, it's useful to see the tendency towards transference on a continuum - the degree to which it's experienced within you is a matter of more or less.

It's the variability in your experience that holds a bit of a clue to gaining more control and moving through your transference faster.

A transferential relationship is an experience

Well, recall your earliest friendships. Would you experience a childhood friend the same way if you were to meet him or her for the first time today?

In fact, would you even become friends today? 

What about meeting an old love? Would the attraction still be there after all the experiences you've had in the intervening years?


I am a part of all that I have met.

Tennyson

How you experience someone is unique to you.

Here's an example from my personal life. There's a professional colleague whom I regard as a father figure, even though we’re a similar age. I look up to him, and if I were honest with myself, I’m a little in awe.

But that’s not how my friend sees him. She finds him pompous!

So we all see each other based on our unique histories.

In effect, we 'transfer' the feelings, memories and sensations associated with our past significant relationships onto others in the present, in our own unique way.

Because transference is deeply rooted in your unconscious, in your early emotional experiences in particular, those memories will guide your moment-to-moment thoughts, feelings and behaviors today.

Of course, those who cared for us early on - typically our parents - have the deepest impact shaping how we experience others.

Why transference shows up in therapy

Transference occurs when you unconsciously 'transfer' or attribute, the feelings, memories and desires you experienced in your early important relationships to your therapist.

Therapy heightens this unconscious propensity for bringing your feelings into the therapeutic relationship. It's intensified because therapy happens privately, within strict personal boundaries, and where the conversation is typically one way. 

"I don’t understand what's happening. I’m not into women and now I’m attracted to my therapist who’s female.
It doesn’t make sense."

Within the therapeutic boundaries of a therapist - client relationship, there are no distractions to dilute how you experience your therapist. Indeed, the feelings that surface can feel as though they’re caused by the therapist.

Brain facts for working through transference

If you’re in therapy you already know that the relationship you have with your therapist is not a ‘typical’ relationships. For one, the focus of conversation is all about you

Good therapists rarely say anything about themselves that isn’t in the service of helping you, the client.

For many, therapy might be the first time in their lives they’ve gotten so much personal attention.*

This experience can easily trigger early memories (good and bad) of being cared for as an infant, when someone had to feed, clothe and bathe them.

*In fact, this attuned care can be so unsettling in therapy, some clients never return!


Brain image like a light bulb.

Brain Fact: All memories are interconnected.

For example, it’s easier to remember who you hung out with in high school when you can picture what you did together back then. The names are all inside you, but they're easier to connect when you can 'see' what they look like.

More neural connections are advantageous because greater complexity leads to greater creativity, which maximizes our ability to adapt, and ultimately to survive.

This propensity for interconnectivity is also why one seemingly innocent event can trigger anxiety - it's tapping an earlier, not so pleasant memory.

It's also why our - in regards to transference - present day relationships can trigger earlier relationship dynamics.

Brain image like a light bulb.

Brain Fact: The sense of “you” and your self-image arises out of the thousands of experiences you've had since birth.

  • The more emotionally charged a memory is, the more impact it has over you (though it's sometimes hard to connect the dots).
  • The more emotionally charged a memory, the harder it is to contain the charge.

That either means we have easy access to the memory (whether we want to or not) or we're working like crazy to keep it at bay - not to mention it's using up limited internal resources (ie. like all defenses it takes energy to keep it up).

The most potent of these experiences were those that occurred when your brain and nervous system were still developing in infancy. 

That's because it's also a time when you knew nothing of the world, you were totally dependent on your caretakers and your survival is at stake. 

So yeah, big time charge!

Brain image like a light bulb.

Brain Fact: Emotional memories are different from other memories because they persist
              (ie. they don't fade away).

Emotional memories laid down early in infancy and childhood are first to shape how you feel about yourself. 

They’re called implicit memories (as opposed to explicit memories, like remembering what you ate for dinner last night).

When implicit memories are triggered, it’s like hearing a piece of music and being filled with a soothing feeling but not remembering where or when you heard it before. 

You experience it happening right now and you feel all the comfort, safety and security you did back then.

This dynamic contributes to why we feel the same yearning to be loved - if these feelings did not get to run their natural course in infancy - we feel them today as if they are originating from the present.

Brain image like a light bulb.

Brain Fact: It doesn’t matter how far back emotional memories go, they can be triggered in circumstances similar to those when they were first laid down 
(eg. being cared for by a good therapist is like being cared for as a  child).

You may not remember that it was the same music your mother played when you were a child, but your nervous system does.

So Tanya's memory  (from previous article)  of the father who ignored her is still intact, and it's behind how she experiences her therapist. 

If she could take a step back, she might see that’s the same way she experiences other guys - especially those who are emotionally distant.

Brain image like a light bulb.

Brain Fact: The brain's inborn drive for growth and wholeness will unconsciously pressure you to seek out experiences that complete you.

That means, if any stages of your emotional development gets skipped over for some reason, there still remains a subtle urge to complete what didn’t happen. Tying up those loose emotional ends could be the primary benefit. 

That’s the task that needs to be worked through with your transference.

In other words, as your relationship with your therapist evolves, familiar feelings related to previous connections with others (even other therapists!) are triggered. You begin to experience your therapist - in the present - in much the same way you had experienced a significant person from your past.

Again, transference happens when you unconsciously transfer the feelings, memories and desires you experienced in your early important relationships onto your therapist.

So why would I experience my colleague as a warm father figure when my friend finds him pompous? One clue is that my biological father wasn’t in my life very long, and a stepfather who came along later was emotionally unavailable.

From an emotional development point of view it stands to reason that inside I feel incomplete - I yearn to have a 'make-up' experience that would help me feel whole.​

How to deal with transference

Basically, transference provides an opportunity for these early events to be re-experienced, not just endlessly talked about in therapy.

Transference brings these buried memories to life, where you can work through the underlying unmet needs or developmental gaps. It’s also why Jennie, Robert and Tanya could benefit by broaching how they feel with their therapist.

Therapy can easily get stalled for a long time when ‘the elephant in the room’ isn’t brought into the work.

And yes, doing this will be risky for each of them, and not just because they'll feel embarrassed. The greater risk is in how their therapists react.

Some therapists disregard transference, seeing it as an irrelevant but unavoidable by-product of therapy, more of a nuisance.

In other words, even if you disclose your true feelings, your therapist may not think anything of it and continue working as though it didn't exist. He or she may simply not understand the potential transference holds for deep personal change.

Other therapists may feel uncomfortable if their skill set is not up to handling your disclosure. Some may even refer you to another therapist.

But even if he’s never dealt with transference in his practice, your therapist can simply do what others have done in similar situations: get supervision from a therapist who knows how to handle these situations.

Most clients are willing to work with therapists when an authentic connection has been made, even when a therapist openly acknowledges limited experience in this area.

(What client wouldn’t be thrilled to work with a therapist who values an authentic, attuned connection?)

My personal opinion on transference

However, even if the underlying emotions are released by talking about them, any fundamental, lasting change is unlikely if certain brain-wise conditions aren't met. (Otherwise, talking to a trusted friend would have similar results as therapy.)

Here's the problem.

Conventional therapy takes one of two approaches to change, both of which I believe have serious limitations and a higher risk for emotional harm.

One involves the therapist presenting as a blank screen upon which you, the client, verbally project a picture of your emotional state (this is the psychoanalytic approach described above).

The idea is that you will change as a result of any insight into you achieve.

The second approach assumes that changing your thoughts will change your emotions.

​For clients working through intense transference feelings, these approaches are tantamount to sending children out into a winter storm without jackets. They end up re-experiencing pretty much what got them to therapy in the first place: insufficient attuned care.

Unless they see themselves in the non-judgmental eyes of a therapist, there is nothing for the brain to learn from, no protection to help them navigate the "cold".

These approaches leave out what research in emotional development and neuroscience have confirmed over and over - that personal change in therapy depends upon your experience in therapy.

A therapist who is empathic, attuned and vitally engaged with you provides that life-changing experience in spades.

If resolving the transference is left to chance, it takes much longer than need be, often years longer.

Given what we know now about how therapy changes the brain, that should not be happening.

So let me be clear about this. Can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy resolve transference? Yes, as long your therapist goes beyond the standard technical aspects of the model. However, being emotionally available, being present with clients, and focusing on moment to moment interactions are not taught as part of that model.

Even so, there are always a few heartfelt CBT practitioners who manage to help their clients in deep and meaningful ways 🙂

What if your therapist is psychoanalytically trained? The transference can be resolved but only to the degree that your therapist departs from the traditional ‘blank slate’ model (ie. this model discourages the therapist from saying too much, does not emphasize emotional availability, and prefers analysis over present moment experience).

​And yes, there’s some heartfelt psychoanalytically-trained practitioners who just can’t help themselves and manage to help their clients in deep and meaningful ways 😉

Can transference be resolved if your therapist is ‘body-based’? Yes, and probably faster than the average therapist could do.

You see, the body-based approach is the clinical application of the best of brain science for one very important reason:


"Brain-wise, body-based therapy reaches areas of the brain that 'talk therapy' never can."

(especially pre-verbal developmental patterns).


The basic tenets of body-based work, includes attachment, emotional containment, moment to moment interactions, and presence. Each ensures that any transference reactions will be recognized, examined, and worked through in your therapy.

It’s also the best treatment model for anxiety because body based therapists know more than anyone that their ability to regulate clients’ high states of emotion is based on their own nervous system capacity to modulate sometimes overwhelming emotional energies.

Body based therapists also have numerous tools ("self-regulating techniques") that enable clients to manage overwhelming emotions on their own.

In particular, these self-managing techniques help the clients to resolve and move beyond transference, and to fully developing their self-regulation skills.

On the other hand, even a body-based practitioner can take much longer to resolve transference if his or her nervous system can't contain and regulate a client’s emotional states.

How to get over transference

Here's two tips that'll help you to move through your transference faster.

The first is to understand that recognizing transference is only the first step in working with it. No amount of reading about transference is going to change it - including this article 😉 

It's also good to recognize that some therapists leave it at that. The assumption is "hear the message enough times and you'll finally get it". 

This is a thinly-disguised  left-brain approach.

Change happens in a moment

In order to get the most out of your therapy and to experience deep personal change, the brain needs to "experience" feelings associated with your transference in the present moment.

Just discussing your feelings in the abstract, disconnected from your emotional reactions in the here and now, will do very little to resolve the transference.

There's a caveat to this idea though. (Covered in the next paragraph.)

You need a healing experience

Secondly, you need a new “healing” experience to override old patterns in the brain. Emotional unloading isn't sufficient.

These "healing" experiences generally emerge organically through the interactions with your therapist.

The not-so-good news is that these pivotal moments tend to occur at random, which needlessly prolongs your time in therapy.

Fortunately, we've learned from body-based clinical practice that there are some fairly simple concrete steps you can take to focus on the transference and deliver the kind of experience your brain needs.

In other words, you can be much more purposeful in moving through your transference. For one, these "pivotal moments" can be recalled repeatedly, automatically triggering the good feelings you had back then. This practice in effect "fills" you up on the inside by creating new neuropathways in the brain.

With persistence you can promote any change you want by replacing outdated or non-existent connections.

That's right, it fills in the gaps!

Pat yourself on the back if you're in therapy!

It's the most efficient and effective personal change agent I know. Within the safety and confidentiality of the therapeutic relationship, you can experience the powerful emotions of transference and use them to make incredible personal changes (and only two people in the world know anything about it! 🙂 )

Final musings

I can't confirm that a lot has changed in therapeutic circles since we first starting working with transference ie. in terms of how health professionals deal with transference today. 

However neuroscience has a few things to say about the process from which we can take some lessons. It needn’t be the scary process many people describe. 

Indeed, if approached with these insights in mind, transference need not be prolonged. In fact, I'd advise every therapy client to take advantage of transference and get all that you can out of it.

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Shrinklady

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From Dr. LaCombe . . . 

Related Topic

External Resources

Transference among people online

Feeling attached and ashamed

** It's not to say that the therapists during this era weren't caring individuals, it's just that the theories at the time promoted value in "analysis". In truth, I imagine the field attracted those folks who were good at analysis - whether they were also "caring" seemed to be less important. It wasn't until decades later that we had the science to back up the idea that the therapist's emotional availability was playing a key role.

Readers Comments

Therapy Guru Avatar

Jack

Love and hate my therapist

Transference is a hard thing to deal with in therapy. I'm a man and I'm having a bad transference with my T currently. I feel like I Love her and I've told her and faced it all my feelings as honestly as I can, but it still hurts.

My transference goes back and forth between positive (love) and very negative(hate) with her. I also have trouble surrending to it and just working it through because I feel my T. has all the power and I'm the one who is very vulnerable.

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychoshrink

Shrinklady

Please know you're not alone Jack. Having conflicting feelings is not unusual in regards to transference.

It’s good that you brought your feelings out in the open. . . . a good beginning. The healing part comes - as you correctly identified - in working through the feelings - both negative and positive that emerge in your session.

On a practical level it requires you to be present to the feelings and at the same time to experience a positive interaction with your therapist. I understand from what you’re saying that this is turning out to be a difficult task given the feelings of vulnerability that are arising and where you feel your therapist has all the power.

Can I suggest that these feelings are not unfamiliar to you Jack? You see, as you may know, what's projected onto our therapist - in the absence of truly knowing our therapist - are unmet needs from our early life.

You can imagine then how it wouldn’t be unusual for you to experience these conflicting feelings if for example in the case when you felt natural love towards your caretaker (ie. your Mom) and when the same caretaker was the source of pain (eg. through her own dissociative trauma).

For the infant who’s totally dependent on the caretaker for most of his needs, it can create enormous conflicted “push pull” feelings. It’s this conflict that I believe is emerging in your transference and that is triggering the feelings of helplessness.

The feeling that your therapist has all the power relates to not having a measure of control over feelings. This is something that you develop when you harness the power of the nervous system. As I have attempted to explain elsewhere - with practice - you can grow this capacity.

Hope this gives you some ideas to work with,

Shrinklady


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Hannah (Manitoba, Canada

Feel like a stalker

I have a similar situation to that of Dale's. I am a lesbian as well, but I am married to my partner of 11 years and very much in love with her. I have been very concerned with my feelings that I have had towards my Psychiatrist (also female, but much older).

I have serious issues with talking to people about my personal 'stuff' so seeing a Dr. was a difficult choice to make for me. My first 10 sessions were very very quiet on my part. But yet after my 4th session I realized that I had significant sexual feelings towards her and started to research her on the net, finding out such personal things as her home address (which I have driven by).

I feel like a stalker and my partner is also becoming concerned with how interested I am in the Dr's life! I'm afraid to tell her (Dr.) how I feel because like everyone else, the thought of the rejection is horrifying. By the way, she has diagnosed me with an Anxiety Disorder with Panic Attacks.

I really noticed that I had deep feelings for her when she had suggested that our sessions end until I felt I was able to participate in the Talk Therapy she was offering me. I freaked and started to cry (the first time I showed any emotion in an appointment). I told her that we couldn't end the sessions because I wasn't ready and I didn't think that I could handle not coming, then explained how stressed I was when our appointments were cancelled over Christmas.

She decided to continue the sessions as I had made a breakthrough at that point. I should have said something at that point but didn't understand the feelings myself, let alone have to explain them to her.

I googled 'being in Love with your therapist' and came upon the word 'transference', I've now realized, after reading your site and others, that I am normal (so to speak). I think that because I had a very poor connection with my mother as a child/young adult (before she died) that I am possibly confusing sexual feelings with that of wishing she were my mother because of the compassion she shows, and her ability to make me feel like she cares.

Anyway, thanks for having such a great site, it's motivated me to talk to her about transference, if I can manage to get it out of me.

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychoshrink

Shrinklady

Hannah, thanks for sharing your story with us. As you may have read elsewhere, transference is often a good sign that it feels safe enough to let your emotions out. There just might be enough connection in the relationship that the therapist is likely able to acknowledge and to help you work through these feelings. So I'm glad to hear you are on this journey of healing.

If you haven't already brought up the subject (it's been some time since you posted) I'd encourage you to do so – it can be a real door opener for you and a healing moment and more for your therapy.

You mentioned that "I should have said something" in reference to your breakthrough. You know, you can always pick this up at any time during your sessions and make it your right time.

For example, you can take a moment and recall that session with her. Tell her you've given it some thought and you realize now what you didn't realize then, that you've become attracted to her. Even if you've already raised the subject of transference with her, remember that earlier sessions and your interactions with your therapist always make for good therapy material.

Another observation: I felt it was unfair and unfortunate for your therapist to threaten abandonment because you weren't saying enough. When I read your post I was reminded of my own experience many years ago with a psychiatrist. I would sit there, session upon session, saying little. She was kind enough towards me, but now I know that being "nice" isn't the stuff that makes for good therapy.

Good therapists help clients learn to regulate their emotional states and that requires the hard work of being emotionally attuned and engaged in the present moment and throughout the session.

From neuroscience, we've learned that it is essential for our emotional brain to have safety. Yet my therapist then did little to foster the sense of safety I needed, other than to gently ask me questions. We never talked about the need to reduce my fears or find ways to help me feel safe in the sessions.

It's my belief that the therapists who get results teach folks to “ground" themselves through the body and/or to resource themselves by recallling pleasant experiences (i.e. using body psychotherapy techniques such as belly breathing and focusing). They make the task of grounding an explicit, concrete part of the therapeutic work.

The therapist's job is to meet the client where ever he or she is at. If a client isn't able to embrace the therapy approach - particularly when the presenting problem is around self-expression - then the working through might entail what blocks her from sensing into the energy of her words. (For instance in your case, what happens when you think about speaking. What shows up in your body? What are the sensations?)

You see, therapy isn't about getting it right before we arrive at the front door. It shouldn't be a sink or swim experience. Ideally, the therapist is there to help you take your small steps and to show you the way to your best life ever!

If you find these thoughts worthwhile, you might think about opening up a dialogue for further discussion with your therapist – I suspect it just might lead to a new line of therapeutic encounters.

All the best,

Shrinklady


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Shaz, London

Transference is not cool and should never be encouraged

I have suffered extreme transferance and don't find it cool at all. It has left me with feelings of rejection and abandonment and I will never get over the intense pain I felt. It has taken me two years to get to some sort of normal and I still get waves of deep sadness. I have spoken to many, many sad hurt people who suffer this and some,including myself, have been suicidal. I believe, until you know enough about the damage that can be done, it should not be encouraged at all. The last thing I would describe as is cool.

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychoshrink

Shrinklady

I stand corrected Shaz. What you experienced is definitely not cool. The reality is that much can be gained in therapy without working with transference or encouraging it to develop. Without sounding self-serving, I wrote a whole program that took over three years to develop for just that purpose. You can get beyond it whether you’re still in therapy or not.

I also agree that transference need not be encouraged. I personally don’t ascribe to those therapies that purposely try to induce it (where the therapist says very little or is barely available emotionally to the client etc.). What’s worse is that I’ve heard from folks who’ve been in this situation and they’ve described having been left to their own resources to get through it. Like nothing is explained to them and no tools to speed up the process are provided.

In this latter instance in my view, the therapist’s role tends to perpetuate the same dynamics that the client experienced at the hands of an ill-suited caretaker.

Transference though is a reality in all relationships to some degree albeit it can be quite small in some regards. So whether the therapist encourages it or not, it’s bound to occur in some instances.

What I hope to make known is that neuroscience offers us a hope and the tools to get through much faster and much easier than was previously thought.

I hope that one day you will feel you’re beyond it and that your life is the richer for it.

Best regards,

Shrinklady


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Carol. Omaha, USA

Can my CBT therapist help me resolve my transference?

My therapist of 3 1/2 years recently told me I was getting close to being ready to terminate therapy. I originally went to him as part of a compulsive gambling treatment program (I was also abusing prescription drugs at the time) I have truly turned my life around to a miraculous degree--I have not practiced my addictions since about 6 weeks into treatment.

However, my gut reaction to my therapist's pronouncement was to feel extreme fear of abandonment. He has been very like my own father to me throughout my process of reclaiming my life. (My dad died in 1991)

Anyway, my question is this: Must the therapist be psychodynamically oriented for me to resolve my transference? My therapist is very CBT focused and does not express very much emotion. I read something you wrote about a therapist needing to be emotionally responsive enough in the therapeutic relationship for the transference to resolve. Am I out of luck if this man chooses to remain somewhat emotionally unavailable.

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychoshrink

Shrinklady

Yes, Carol, that's right. In order to heal we need some of the same conditions that were present when we first developed our emotional template. We need our therapist to be emotinally available to us. In this way we feel some of the same type of feelings that we had as infants. This helps us to reconfigure neuropathways and old emotional patterns.

When your therapist has been with you over a period of time, this helps to heal that part of you that didn't get consistent care. This care, in effect, helps heal old wounds. It seems that this might be the case with your therapist as he's been there with you for 3 1/2 years.

What's also necessary for healing is a therapist that is sufficiently present and attuned. This describes a therapist that appreciates the importance of relationship and being emotionally available. He or she works to be there for you. For instance, he might pull back and/or challenge you as he senses you're readiness for the next step. You feel he really "gets" you.

What troubles me Carol in your description of your therapist are the words, "this man". They appear to reflect a lack of felt connection (and maybe healthy anger at suddenly feeling dropped).

Let me propose a hypothesis. We all choose a therapist based on our history. We either choose the familiar or the scary (albeit not too scary) "expansive-for-us" therapist. In the former, the "familiar" feels comfortable. So, for example, if a lack of connection is all we know, then it feels "just right"--at least initially.

Carol, it is very possible this is how you initially came to your therapist. You chose what you knew. However with your growth over the years, you are now recognizing a need for more connection. Sometimes we don't know how we've grown until it is brought to our attention. And, your recent experience with your therapist may have been one of those times. That is, how you feel about connection with another may have become more apparent to you when he suggested terminating your therapeutic relationship.

However, crappy this proclamation by your therapist feels, it is all well and good as an indicator of your emotional growth.

It is true that some treatment approaches are not sensitive to relational dynamics. This doesn't necessarily mean that the therapist isn't. If you are up for the task of bringing your feelings into the therapy, he may respond in kind.

Let me give you an idea of the kind of optimal reflections a therapist that's concerned about the therapeutic relationship might make. So, he might say for instance, "You know, I think you're doing really well. And I have noticed all these changes during our work together (such as x, y and z) and I'm so excited about how far you've come. Given this, I have an inkling that we may be heading into a home stretch. What do you think and how do you even feel that I am bringing this up to you today?"

These of course are just a sample of ideas but hopefully they give you an idea of what's possible. It strikes me that a therapist that is able to work with a client for 3 1/2 years might have the kind of qualities that makes it easy for clients to continue i.e. he has some of the emotionally available traits I'm referring to. (Clients tend to leave therapists sooner who aren't good at relationship building.)

I think he might also be able to apply his treatment model to your issue and help you work this out. But it'd be good to tell him how you felt when he mentioned termination (hate that word...sounds like there's no hope and the image of Arnold Schwartzanager doesn't help) and ask him if he felt he could help you work it out. Based on his response, you can decide if he is up to the task.

Carol, it's not unusual that one therapist is good for only a part of our journey. In fact, my therapist today would not have been a good fit for me years ago. So in your case, if you feel he is not making the kind of effort to connect with you especially over this issue, you may need to seek out someone who can take you to the next level.

I wish you well on your journey,

Shrinklady and Dr. Carole (we all need helpers )


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Audrey

Constantly worried about being close to anyone

I have issues with people walking out of my life. I am constantly worried about being close to anyone. However, I notice that i have a serious attraction to my therapist. I feel like I need to stop going to her because I feel like she will realize this and stop seeing me. I find it hard to open up to her like i sholud because of my feelings for her.

What is your advice to this problem. ps I am thinking of telling her how i am feeling. Is this a good idea?

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychoshrink

Shrinklady

Hi Audrey, should you tell her? Yes, that's what therapy is all about.

It's been some time since I'm responding to your question Audrey so you may have already taken this step. And I believe you already answered this question for yourself in your post. You mentioned that you have a hard time being close to someone. Yet, here you are...deep into the beginnings of a new level of closeness with another human being and your fear of abandonment is coming up. Good.

We need the feelings to be present in order to change them. This is what therapy offers, a new experience from which the brain can learn from.

Try to remember that your fears arise from experience - experiences you likely had as an infant. What we've learned through neuroscience is that what develops in relationship, must be healed in relationship.

So, it is natural that you would be fearful of becoming close and then abandoned. Good therapy offers a chance for us to tease these crossed wires apart so that one day, feeling emotionally close is synonymous with trust and safety.

All the best on your journey Audrey,

Shrinklady


Q & A’s covered in the Transference eCourse

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TJ (USA)

I’m afraid my therapist will leave me

Oh my god............it helps so much to hear other people feeling the same! I have been in therapy for close to 12 years (twice a week), following one year in therapy where a therapist had me admitted to the hospital and had the hospital tell me that she was terminating with me. Soon after discharged I overdosed and was in the ICU for five days.

After years of being ambivalent about attaching myself to this therapist, I am terrified that she will leave me some day. I have told her that she is going to find me dead in her house when she retires......this is no joke and I am scared to death! When she goes away my symptoms are so bad and the only way I can deal with it is to overdoes on my medications and stay in bed for weeks until she returns. I just don't see a good way for a termination to happen. I only think of the pain that I will be left with and it isn't something that I will be able to manage! I just know I will die.

I keep telling her that I need a plan in place, in the event that something happens to her, and she still hasn't developed a plan for me. I think therapy just doesn't work for everyone and in some cases it makes people worse.........it provides you with one of the best relationships then takes it away. I can't even stand the thought of the pain...............I just know I will die! And I want her to know that pain.......not physically hurting her, I just want to die in front of her and have her see my pain. TJ (so distraught at the thought)


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Tania, London, UK

My therapist acted on her feelings

I once had a really good therapist / alternative practitioner - After seeing her twice a week for six months, she terminated the sessions saying that she could no longer be my therapist/healer because of the way she felt about me. - I of course had real feelings of attatchment and love, but knew about transference and therefore had ignored those feelings.

She on the otherhand chose to act on hers and invited me to have a sexual relationship with her...... 10 years on we are no longer together - the relationship was short-lived on her part - but I am left unable to achieve resolution and have been left with acutely painful feelings of rejection, sadness, low self-esteem, and anger at what now feels like un-requited love.

What am I to do?


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Dale, New Jersey, USA

I think about my therapist sexually

I have been in therapy for 4 months now and i am having transferrence issues. i am a female with a female therapist. i think about her sexually as well as being a friend after termination, neither of which will happen i am sure. i can never wait until the next session and is all i ever think about. i am really worried about termination and i feel i won't be able to deal with it without going crazy.

we have not discussed transferrence issues yet. i refuse to bring it up. i am hoping she will ask me, and even then i might not say anything about it. i am also a gay female and i dont want to scare her in any way.

Also, is counter-transference as common as transference?? I feel so dependent i cant stand it.. Thank you..


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Caroline, South Carolina, USA

How do I tell if my therapist is genuine?

How do you know as a client whether the interaction you have with your therapist is genuine or just the reaction of a very well trained practitioner?


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Woodensoul

I don’t trust my therapist

Sometimes I think I am just addicted to therapy and can not get out of it. I have been through some wretched experiences lately. I wish I could get help but I really do not know where to go for help.

I do not trust my current therapist. She has done a couple of things that I was shocked by. I am trying to sort out whether these things were called for on her part or not. I feel she uses my words against me. Uses the information I give her to set up traps.

Is it me being uncooperative or is it her being a bad therapist or something in between? I guess I'd have to devulge more here to really get any answers. But I am new here. I am glad I found this site though. Helps me know I am not alone however I get the feeling that therapy and transference is a bit like drug addiction. I live in Minneapolis (I know how boring)


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Female

Is it okay to fantasize about my therapist?

Is it okay for me to fantasize sexually about my therapist? Will this prove detrimental to the therapeutic process?

I am doing my best to resist it, but I also don't want to make too much of it. I sorta feel like it's only natural and normal to fantasize about persons I find sexually attractive, and I am trying to undo my conflation of sex and shame.

On the other hand, I am afraid that if I do, I will someday have to admit it to her. I definitely do not want to discuss a sexual attraction. I am considering opening up about the transference that is precipitating this, but I do not feel it would be necessary or beneficial to mention this part.

What is your take?

P.S. We are mainly focusing on CBT, not standard talk therapy.


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Dorothy (CA, USA)

My fantasies are getting out of control.

I need to get over my obsession with him and am hoping I can. I still think we would be great for each other. We grew up in the same area and he is about 10-12 years older than me. I have always been attracted to older, intelligent men. I do have a boyfriend that I have been with for over 25 years but he is not smart enough for me. We do have a satisfying sex life but I love the shrink for his smart intellect, sense of humor and caring abilities. I am definitly,"shrink-rapt"!!

I want to get over him and am hoping to find some relief from websites like this. At least I know I am not alone. A lot of people are experiencing what I am. I just wish he would reach out to me now that we are no longer patients of his. Is this still taboo? We are not patients anymore and it has been over a year since my son and I have seen him. I would love to invite him to a casual lunch but don't have the guts to ask. I am afraid of rejection.

Why is it viewed as "breaking boundaries" if two people could possibly connect and could both have more meaningful lives? I am pretty sure he lives alone, I heard that from a reliable source at our behavioral health facility. This receptionist just kept on talking about him to me when I asked questions about him, probably not the right thing for her to do either. She seemed to be fanning the flames.

I do have one thought in the back of my mind, however, and I must finish with it. He may be a homosexual. I am not sure but maybe he is in the closet. I can't imagine someone like him being all alone. I wish I could know that and then maybe I could get over him.

I really am stuck here with these feelings, please give me some advice so I can move on with my life. Thank you, ShrinkLady!


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Tina (Reno, NV, USA)

How do I bring transference up?

I have recognized that I am experiencing transference with my counselor. I still have issues of fear of talking about things because of always having bad repercussion from my child hood.

She is a great counselor and I want to work through this but I do not know how to bring it up and talk to her about it.

Can you give me some advise on that?


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Lost and Curious (Illinois, USA)

Can I heal from transference on my own?

I'm really confused with this whole transference issue. I recognize that I'm having very strong transference feelings for my therapist right now... and I also recognize that I've done this in the past with other people as well -- where I feel an overwhelming attachment for no logical reason.

It is very painful for me because I feel sooo dependent. I'm finding any excuse I can to have a reason to contact him between sessions... and find that just a simple phone call or e-mail from him can literally turn my day around. But when I don't have any contact, each day between sessions seems to last forever. This is not a healthy way to live!

I also recognize that I seem to have all the major pre-disposing factors to this: Early childhood neglect, mom died when I was six, neglectful / abusive family dynamics after that.

Here's my question though... is there any way to work through these feelings and achieve healing on one's own?!? Two reasons I ask -- one is that I'd be mortified to bring up the intensity of the feelings with my therapist... I know where they stem from, and I know I'm not 'in love' with him, etc... but I'd be really embarassed to talk about this and I don't know how he'd react. I'm also quite worried that he'd take steps to eliminate any extra contact with me so as not to make the problem 'worse'...but in so doing it would remove the little bit of comfort I get from that extra contact!

The other reason is that my husband is really getting unhappy with the amount of money spent on therapy and does not want me to continue if at all possible. He won't absolutely prevent me... but he does not see the value for the money, and feels that normal, relatively healthy people (which I do consider myself to be) do not need this. I can see his point... and I almost see it as an addiction... I'm willing to pay almost anything in order to have time with my therapist... because of these transference feelings... so how do I get out of this loop?!??!? I recognize the source... I feel the pain... how do you go from feeling to healing?


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Kats, Ontario, Canada

I’m obsessing over my therapist

I have been in therapy for approx. 6 months now, and am having huge issues with transference. So much so that I am starting to pull away from my therapist.

I was making great progress, until my feelings for her just got too be too much. I was thinking of her all the time, wanting to be with her, having sexual feeling. I do realize that this is all part of transference, but I am very vulnerable right now, and am having a hard time separating my feelings and the realization of transference.

I should bring this up to her and explain how I am feeling, but I do not want to scare her away. We do work well together, and she has been there for me through some really rough times. Any advice would be appreciated.


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Kel (Texas, USA)

My email contact was suddenly dropped

Reading these comments has been so helpful in helping me realize what has been transpiring between my therapist and me the last 7 months. I went initially to see her to be hypnotized to stop smoking - however, I continued going to see her for therapy and began interactive hypnotherapy. Covering issues and fears of abandonment. (I was adopted) and a heterosexual female.

She's 12 years older than me. Several times a week for the past 6 months I would email her and she would respond with such kind, caring, positive ideas. I would come home from work and sit at the computer waiting for her to respond - and she always did usually within 12 hours. Sometimes she would respond from her Blackberry. I was beginning to feel sexual feelings for her which completed freaked me out! I was aware, and expressed this to her several times that she had qualities that I wish my Mother had. That she always makes me feel so secure and safe.

Just this last Tuesday, we had an ice storm and I became worried about her. I emailed her to let me know that she was okay, and the response I got was devastating. She asked me not to email her any longer between sessions. Keep my questions for our therapy appointments just like she does with all her other clients. That she loves her clients and working with them - including me, but that she only has so much energy and time, and would kill herself if she tries to meet everybody's needs and not her own. The tone of the email was 180 degrees from what she has written before.

We have an appointment in two days - as it's driving me crazy what I did that made her not want to interact with me anymore between sessions. We both are educated and were very complimentary towards either other. I understand now it is transference. This is very different for me as I just recently let the 'guard' down and allowed myself to feel feelings and emotions. I'm not sure how to handle this situation as I feel such a loss now.

Thank you for website!

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