NUMBER 604• 4 OCTOBER • TRANSFERENCE AND COUNTERTRANSFERENCE
In classical psychoanalytic usage ‘transference’ describes the phenomenon whereby the patient transfers to his analyst the emotions and feelings he had for his parents. The ramifications of this are enormous but all that matters here is that this is an observable fact and understandable even in non-psychoanalytic, learning-theory terms. Contrariwise, the analyst is liable to transfer to the patient his emotions deriving from the analyst’s early family experiences. This is the ‘countertransference’. It seems reasonable to suppose that these two processes are liable to arise in any intimate relationship between two people and that their influence can become more powerful according to the degree of intimacy attained and the strength of feeling patterns existing in the people involved. Further, such processes can be contained, and to some extent managed by structuring and limiting the relationship in certain ways. For example, this could be done by analysing the processes as they occur, or by controlled experience of such processes occurring alongside or prior to a particular transference or counter-transference situation for which the person is professionally responsible as in training analysis or some kinds of supervision.
It is fairly widely accepted in social work practice that these processes will take place to a greater or lesser extent. It seems to be less widely recognized that they are, if anything. more likely to take place between residential workers and children in their care. The greater likelihood in residential work seems to derive from three sources:
The residential worker is in direct contact with the child over a greater proportion of his life space and often over a larger total life span.
The residential worker is functionally closer to the parents in necessarily providing a large pa<rt of ‘parenting’.
The child is to some extent separated from his home base and often resentful and pained by this so that he is likely at least to transfer some of his angry feelings towards his ‘absent’ parents on to those nearest to him, i.e., the residential staff.
There may well be other factors working in the opposite direction, e.g., that a residential unit provides so little opportunity for direct personal contact that transference is unlikely, or that the child is so hurt by a real or phantasied rejection by parents that he withdraws from all intimate relationships with adults. But these are less likely to apply in any unit whose task is to build enabling relationships.
Comparatively little has been written directly about the management of transference and counter-transference in the residential unit though it was consciously used by Aichorn (1925) and is mentioned by Wills (x947), Shields (1962), Jones (1962), Dockar Drysdale (1962, 1968) and Miller (1964).
One important implication of this discussion is that outside consultant services to staff of a residential unit are often most effective when they are directed to helping the staff, individually and collectively, to manage their own counter-transference towards the children and the children’s transferences to them as individuals.
Beedell, C. (1970) Residential life with children. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, pp. 140-142
Aichhorn, A, (1925). Wayward Youth. London: Imago
Dockar-Drysdale, B. (1962). The outsider and the insider in a therapeutic school. Ventures in Professional Co-operation II: Interprofessional collaboration. Assoc. of Psychiat. Social Workers
Dockar-Drysdale, B. (1968). Papers on residential work: Therapy in child care. London: Longmans
Jones, H. (1962). Reluctant rebels. London: Tavistock
Miller, D. (1964). Growth to freedom. London: Tavistock
Shields, R. (1962). A cure for delinquents. London: Heinemann
Wills, D. (1947). The Barns Experiment, London: Allen & Unwin