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When my team at the NYC Chair Massage Company – www.eventschairmassage.com – offers stress management programs we are always concerned with which come first; the body or the mind. We combine both and offer chair massage, speakers, corporate yoga, and meditation classes.
An import issue for all bodyworkers and somatic therapists is countertransference – the emotional reaction of the analyst to the subject’s contribution. Body-centred countertransference. Countertransference developed within psychology theory. It is defined as redirection of a therapist’s feelings and emotional entanglement with a client.
The phenomenon of countertransference was first defined publicly by Sigmund Freud in 1910 (The Future Prospects of Psycho-Analytic Therapy) as being “a result of the patient’s influence on [the physician’s] unconscious feelings”; although Freud had been aware of it privately for some time, writing to Carl Jung for example in 1909 of the need “to dominate ‘counter-transference’, which is after all a permanent problem for us”. Freud stated that since an analyst is a human himself he can easily let his emotions into the client. Because Freud saw the countertransference as a purely personal problem for the analyst, he rarely referred to it publicly, and did so almost invariably in terms of a “warning against any countertransference lying in wait” for the analyst, who “must recognize this countertransference in himself and master it”. However, analysis of Freud’s letters shows that he was intrigued by countertransference and did not see it as purely a problem.
Though many pioneers of psychiatry and psychology speak of countertransference in their own professions any bodyworker or somatic therapist need only insert their own profession into Freud’s or Jung’s statements and it applies to them as well. The potential danger of the therapist’s countertransference – “In such cases the patient represents for the analyst an object of the past on to whom past feelings and wishes are projected” – became widely accepted in psychodynamic circles, both within and without the psychoanalytic mainstream. Thus, for example, Jung warned against “cases of counter-transference when the analyst really cannot let go of the patient…both fall into the same dark hole of unconsciousness”. Similarly Eric Berne stressed that “Countertransference means that not only does the analyst play a role in the patient’s script, but she plays a part in his…the result is the ‘chaotic situation’ which analysts speak of”. Jacques Marie Émile Lacan a French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist who has been called “the most controversial psycho-analyst since Freud” acknowledged the analyst’s “countertransference…if he is re-animated the game will proceed without anyone knowing who is leading”.
In this sense, the term includes unconscious reactions to a patient or client that are determined by the therapist’s own life history and unconscious content; it was later expanded to include unconscious hostile and/or erotic feelings toward a patient that interfere with objectivity and limit the therapist’s effectiveness. For example, a therapist might have a strong desire for a client to get good grades in university because the client reminds her of her children at that stage in life, and the anxieties that the therapist experienced during that time. Even in its most benign form, such an attitude could lead at best to “a ‘countertransference cure’…achieved through compliance and a ‘false self‘ suppression of the patient’s more difficult feelings”.
Another example would be a therapist who did not receive enough attention from their parents perceiving her client as being too distant and resenting him for it. In essence, this describes the transference of the treater to the patient, which is referred to as the “narrow perspective”.
As the 20th century progressed, however, other, more positive views of countertransference began to emerge, approaching a definition of countertransference as the entire body of feelings that the therapist has toward the patient. Jung explored the importance of the therapist’s reaction to the patient through the image of the wounded physician: “it is his own hurt that gives the measure of his power to heal”. Heinrich Racker the noted psychoanalyst, philosopher and musicologist emphasised the threat that “the repression of countertransference…is prolonged in the mythology of the analytic situation”. Many experts agree that the therapist’s countertransference is not only part and parcel of the therapeutic relationship, but it is the client’s creation, actually part of the client’s personality. As a result, “counter-transference was thus reversed from being an interference to becoming a potential source of vital confirmation”. There are many different points of view on this issue. One might dissaprove of allowing counter-transference take place on the grounds that therapists who have not done enough work on themselves could excuse their own emotional difficulties. One therapist famously warned that countertransference can be the best of servants but is the most awful of masters.
By the last third of the century, a growing consensus appeared on the importance of “a distinction between ‘personal countertransference’ (which has to do with the therapist) and ‘diagnostic response’ – that indicates something about the client…diagnostic countertransference”. A new belief had come into being that “countertransference can be of such enormous clinical usefulness….You have to distinguish between what your reactions to the client are telling you about their emotional state and what they are merely expressing about your own. A distinction between “dysfunctional countertransference” (or “illusory countertransference“) and “countertransference proper” had come (despite a wide range of terminological variation) to transcend individual schools. The contemporary understanding of countertransference is thus generally to regard countertransference as a “jointly created” phenomenon between the therapist and the client. The client pressures the therapist through transference into playing a role congruent with the client’s internal world. However, the specific dimensions of that role are colored by the therapist’s own personality. Countertransference can be a therapeutic tool when examined by the therapist to sort out who is doing what, and the meaning behind those interpersonal roles (The differentiation of the object’s interpersonal world between self and other). Nothing in the new understanding alters of course the need for continuing awareness of the dangers in the narrow perspective – of “serious risks of unresolved countertransference difficulties being acted out within what is meant to be a therapeutic relationship”; but “from that point on, transference and counter-transference were looked upon as an inseparable couple…’total situation'”.
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