In psychoanalytic theory, transference occurs when a client’s feelings about someone else, particularly someone encountered in childhood, are projected onto the therapist. The classic example is falling in love with one’s therapist, but feelings such as rage, anger, distrust, or dependence can also be transferred.
Transference can sometimes be an obstacle to therapy, as the client may be tempted to cut off the relationship altogether, or may become sullen and withdrawn during sessions. However, working through the transferred feelings is an important part of psychodynamic therapy. The nature of the transference can provide important clues to the client’s issues, and working through the situation can help to resolve deep-rooted conflicts in the client’s psyche.
Therapists must always be aware of the possibility that their own internal conflicts could be transferred to the client as well. This process, known as counter-transference, can greatly muddy the therapeutic relationship. However, some psychotherapists are finding ways of using counter-transference in therapeutic ways.