Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Fathoming Freud 13

Two Sides of the One Coin:

Transference is one of the essential Freudian categories par excellence in my opinion.  As a trainee psychotherapist, I am very aware of this reality, and of its brother-in-arms counter-transference, of which I will write in the next paragraph.   The author I’m discussing in these posts, Mark Edmundson, is singularly insightful into both transference and counter-transference.


Freud had begun his career as a medical doctor, and hence it is not to difficult to understand that he essentially saw himself as a “healer” and often referred to himself as such.  Freud had used many techniques throughout his long career, hypnotism (very early in his practice), free association (somewhat later), dream-interpretation (most of his career) and then what he termed “the transference” (late career).  Let us read the illuminating words of Edmundson here:

With one case in particular, late in his life, Freud had reportedly become aggravated.  When the patient did not make progress after weeks and weeks, Freud cried out in frustration “You do not think that it is worth your while to love an old man.”  In the final phase of therapeutic practice – the mode of healing that Freud finally settled upon after trying a number of others – love was, in fact, the heart of everything… Freud now put himself, the physician, at the centre of the drama.  He became an analyst of what he called “the transference.” (The Death of Freud, 209)

Transference is where the patients transfer their love for their significant others onto the therapist.  Let me explain.  He believed that the patient transferred feelings, once directed to the mother and the father, and later to other figures of authority, onto the person of the psychiatrist, psychotherapist or counsellor.  Let us return to Edmundson’s insightful comments here once again:

From the transference of feelings, the analyst can learn the dynamics of the patient’s erotic life.  All the failures and sorrows that have been part of his past relations with objects of desire and authority will in time be manifest in what Freud thought of as “the theatre of the transference.”… Finally, because the analyst does not reciprocate, but instead analyses the offering of love from a detached disciplined position, he can help the patient see his old frustrating patterns [of behaviour]. (Ibid., 209-210)

All our relations, it would seem, are repetitions of old prototypes, and probably mirror our original attachment styles to our mothers.  The relationship of love, then, Eros, between Freud and his patients was indeed intense, but never reciprocated.  It was always, one-wayFreud, unlike Carl Gustave Jung, who often fell in love with his patients and indeed had sexual relations with some of them, always remained on guard and was able to analyze his own counter-transference, and in so doing disempowered it.


Freud realised that we were all sick – doctor or therapist as well as patient.  he was singularly alert to his own weaknesses and to his own transference onto the patient, viz., counter-transference.  Let us return finally to Edmundson:

At one point during Dora’s analysis, Freud, caught in what he would call the “counter-transference,” the web of fantasies the analyst spins about the patient, concluded that what she wanted most was a kiss – and from no one other than himself. (Ibid., 105)

But mostly Freud was a cold and clinical observer, and his consulting room was a sort of laboratory where he often regarded patients as repositories of data – very fascinating data at that, too.

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