During my training, I was part of a supervision group where counsellors would converge for 2 hours a week to discuss our cases, as part of the supervision requirements. What stood out for me the most during these sessions was the way in which the cases were presented. It was almost as though we were a group of medical doctors, sitting there diagnosing and making suggestions for treatment, totally de-personalising our therapeutic load.
Now, I understand that it may be difficult to address or admit to our deep feelings in front of a group of peers, but I had hoped that as practicing therapists we had come to terms with our emotions. Taking part in this process caused me to feel somewhat uncomfortable, only because my beliefs include the value of personal feelings as a guide to the therapeutic process.
As therapists, it is often easier to deal with transference rather than countertransference. Our understanding that clients may at times place their feelings of shame, anger, love, affection or eroticism upon us is something that most of us learn before we even start practicing. However, addressing the fact that, as therapists, we may transfer those same feelings towards our clients appears to be rather shrouded in shame.
The idea of countertransference is often covered during training, however the practicalities are usually only illuminated when it occurs in real life. Acknowledging that it may be happening can be challenging, which makes it fairly difficult to understand. However, countertransference can be as insight provoking as transference during therapy, so surely it’s important to talk about?
In an analysis of countertransference, Pope, Keith-Spiegel, & Tabachnick, state that countertransference is the therapists own unresolved conflicts that get transferred onto the client, often triggered by the client’s own transference (1986). Failing to admit that we have emotional responses to our clients not only defeats the therapeutic process, but may mean that we are not offering the best therapy for that particular client.
Having the strength and ability to recognise countertransference and how it might impact the therapeutic relationship is a vital skill for therapists to develop. Being able to know which clients we can best serve, and those who may need onward referral is imperative for best practice.
As long as countertranference remains a taboo topic among therapists, practicing with integrity and responsibility may be overlooked. Whether we deal with clients in a counselling, psychotherapeutic, psychological or case work setting, acknowledging countertransference and dealing with our own issues first is crucial to uphold ethical standards.
Reference: Pope, K. S., Keith-Spiegel, P., & Tabachnick, B. G. (1986). Sexual attraction to clients: The human therapist and the (sometimes) inhuman training system. American Psychologist, 41(2), 147.