The Psychoanalytic Theory of Transference

Your Therapist Can Experience Transference, Too

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In psychoanalytic theory, transference occurs when a client projects feelings about someone else, particularly someone encountered in childhood, onto her therapist.

Frequently spoken about in reference to the therapeutic relationship, the classic example of sexual transference is falling in love with one’s therapist. However, you might also transfer feelings such as rage, anger, distrust, or dependence.

There are three types of transference:

While transference is typically a term for the mental health field, it can manifest in your daily life when your brain tries to comprehend a current experience by examining the present through the past and, to your detriment, limiting the input of new information.

Transference Is Multilayered and Complex

Transference can sometimes be an obstacle to therapy, as the client may feel a temptation to cut off the relationship altogether, or may become sullen and withdrawn during sessions, which impedes progress.

Working through transferred feelings is an important part of psychodynamic therapy.

The nature of the transference can provide important clues to the client’s issues, and working through the situation can help to resolve deep-rooted conflicts in the client’s psyche.

Positive Transference

Transference can be a good thing. You experience positive transference when you apply enjoyable aspects of your past relationships to your relationship with your therapist. This can have a positive outcome because you see your therapist as caring, wise and concerned about you.

Negative Transference

Negative transference sounds bad but actually can enhance your therapeutic experience. Once realized, the therapist can use it as a topic of discussion and examine your emotional response. This type of transference is especially useful if your therapist helps you overcome an emotional response that is out of proportion to the reality of what transpired during the session. 

Sexualized Transference

Are you feeling attracted to your therapist? You might be suffering from sexualized transference if your feelings for your therapist are:

  • Intimate and sexual
  • Reverential or worship
  • Romantic and sensual


The therapist must always be aware of the possibility that their own internal conflicts could be transferred to the client as well. This process, known as counter-transference, can greatly muddy the therapeutic relationship.

Some studies suggest 76% of female therapists and 95% of male therapists admit to having felt sexual feelings toward their clients at one time or another.

Despite the negative connotation of counter-transference, some psychotherapists are finding ways of using it in therapeutic ways.

Discussing Transference With Your Therapist

Once your therapist recognizes that you're experiencing transference, they probably won't want to discuss it right away. However, it will be necessary to address it at some point. If the topic is avoided, it could lead to an impasse in therapy down the line and negatively impact your relationship with your therapist because you, the client, may:

  • Become embarrassed, uncomfortable, and withdraw emotionally
  • Feel stress
  • Regress, which can negate some of the positive progress you already achieved

Common misspellings include: transferance, transferrence, transferrance


Michelle became very angry with her therapist when he discussed the possibility of homework activities. Through the exploration of the anger with the therapist, Michelle discovered that she was experiencing transference of unresolved anger toward an authoritarian elementary school teacher.

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2 Sources
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  1. Andersen SM, Przybylinski E. Experiments on transference in interpersonal relations: implications for treatment. Psychotherapy. 2012;49(3):370-83. doi:10.1037/a0029116

  2. Dahl HSJ, Hoglend P, Ulberg R, et al. Does therapists' disengaged feelings influence the effect of transference work? A study on countertransference. Clin Psychol Psychother. 2017;24(2):462-474. doi:10.1002/cpp.2015

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