Working With the Therapeutic Relationship
In Psychodynamic Therapy, patterns of thought, feeling and behaviour that have developed over time are examined closely. The intention is to become more aware, develop insight, and work on shifting these patterns towards a healthier way of experiencing ourselves and relating to others. These tendencies will manifest in how you interact with your world and your relationships, including your relationship with the therapist, where you might find yourself having strong opinions or feelings about the therapy, or even the therapist themselves. In essence, the therapy room becomes a laboratory, where you can explore your relationship patterns in a safe way, with a view to repairing and healing.
Transference, the unconscious redirection of feelings, beliefs and desires from one person to another, is an essential aspect of the therapeutic process in Psychodynamic Therapy. Psychoanalytic theory holds that transference from early (e.g., parental) to current relationships is continually occurring, and is the basis for presenting difficulties. Basically, when a person meets someone that reminds them of a significant person from their past, they unconsciously assume the new person has similar characteristics and motivations. The individual will then treat and react to the new person with the same behaviors and feelings they had with the original person, transferring reactions to past experiences onto a new situation.
Transference can manifest by seeing another person in any of the following ways:
As you perceived your parent when you were a child.
As being the way you wished your parent could have been.
As the child you were, and you behave as your parent did.
As the child you were and you behave as you wished your parent did.
Regular (frequent) sessions assist the development of transference, which provides insight into unconscious patterns, thereby enabling a shift to more healthy relating to occur. Analysing the transference is invaluable in working through presenting issues, which may include attending to and repairing relational challenges, unmet needs, and attachment wounds. At times this can feel comforting, or at other times confronting; in Psychodynamic Therapy, we use the therapeutic relationship to develop insight into, and work through, all experiences, both positive and negative.
It is normal for issues linked to unmet relational needs to arise in therapy, and it is essential that they are worked through as they come up. Making use of the attachment (transference) that forms between a therapist and client, addresses the issues that arise, helping you to get the most out of your treatment, and also acts as a template to help you develop self-esteem and fulfilling relationships in your life outside of therapy. Attending to a dynamic of discomfort and addressing (not avoiding) it, will support the healing of attachment wounds, and assist you in developing the capacity for deeper connection.
What does working through the transference look like?
Some ways this can happen is simply by the therapist inviting you to discuss how you are feeling in the session, how you are feeling about the therapeutic relationship itself and/or how you are perceiving them.
Whenever you notice any feelings coming up, whether positive or negative, you can also take the initiative to discuss them openly; these experiences can then be processed, so you can continue to benefit from the therapeutic relationship, and explore together how these feelings operate in real life.
Therapists experience transference as well (known as countertransference), which is also grist for the mill of therapeutic work. Open communication about the thoughts, feelings and behaviours that are elicited by the work, are explored for the purpose of nurturing your growing insight and awareness about how you relate to others.
An example of how you could open up about your transference experiences could be something like; “I’ve been experiencing anxiety when I think about coming to therapy; I want to explore if it might have something to do with our relationship.” The therapist will respond in a way to makes you feel more at ease with these challenging feelings, while helping you to safely explore their origin (i.e. earlier relationships), as well as ways they affect other, current, relationships. This safe exploration and experiencing can produce emotional shifts and insights that can be used to enhance your self-awareness and the quality of your relationships with others.
Transference is a normal human experience, by learning from it, Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy can empower you in your everyday relationships and self-esteem. When feelings become intense and confusing it can be challenging, but learning to deal with intense emotions within the therapy leads to enormous benefits. Talking openly with your therapist about your thoughts and feelings is the first step, they can then help you to identify and name the emotions, which will help make the intensity more manageable.
Feel free to get in touch if you would like to find out more about how Psychodynamic Psychotherapy could work for you.