If you read my entry about transference, you know I have been planning to talk about countertransference. I do recommend reading about transference before reading this, as the two occurrences build on each other.
Countertransference in its most simple form is when the clinician feels either positive or negative emotions toward their client, caused by their own life experiences. Oftentimes, countertransference is a response to transference, however, it can occur on its own as well. Since the 1950’s, clinicians have held a more benign view of countertransference, as compared to when Freud labeled the concept.
Some clinicians carefully use countertransference in a conscious manner to understand differences between their own experiences and those of their client. If the clinician is not aware of the occurrence of countertransference, it can be detrimental. It is important that the clinician be aware of both positive and negative emotions toward their client and understand where those feelings are coming from. In one example I read, a clinician who had survived breast cancer was counseling a client who was in end stage breast cancer. The clinician had to be aware of how her own emotions and experiences were affecting her ability to help the client.
One way countertransference can manifest is through excessive self-disclosure. Another such way is through an inappropriate interest in minor details of their client’s life. This is where awareness comes into play, if the clinician is aware of what is happening, they can examine it and react accordingly.
Overall, as with transference, when there is an awareness and an attempt to control the occurrence, countertransference can be helpful. However, if there is a lack of awareness or a lack of a willingness to understand what is happening, the therapeutic relationship can be damaged. It is the clinicians job to be aware of the countertransference, and the client need not try to identify if this is occurring. If the relationship is no longer therapeutic, there could be multiple reasons, and it is important to explore this with your clinician and/or find a new clinician.