Constantino, M.J., Boswell, J.F., & Coyne, A.E. (2021). Patient, therapist, and relational factors. In Barkham, W. Lutz, and L.G. Castonguay (Eds.) Bergin and Garfield’s Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change (7th ed.). Wiley. Chapter 7.
Countertransference is one of the oldest concepts in psychotherapy dating back more than 100 years. More recently, some writers view countertransference as a pantheoretical concept, in other words it affects all therapists and occurring in all therapies. One definition of countertransference is that it is the “internal and external reactions in which unresolved conflicts of the therapist, usually but not always unconscious, are implicated”. Countertransference may provide important information about a patient’s interpersonal patterns, but it may also be an impediment to the therapist’s effectiveness. One prominent model of countertransference identifies its component parts to include: origins within the therapist (i.e., unresolved issues within the therapist that may interact with patient qualities); triggers caused by the patient’s transference (i.e., patient maladaptive interpersonal patterns) and other patient behaviors that may interact with the therapist’s unresolved issues; manifestations – or how the countertransference affects the therapist’s behaviors and responses toward the patient; the effects of these behaviors on the therapeutic relationship or the patient; and the therapist’s management of countertransference responses – or what the therapist does to maintain an equilibrium. In this part of the chapter, Constantino and colleagues review two meta-analyses of the impact of countertransference and its management on the patient. A meta-analysis of 14 studies indicated a small but significant correlation between therapist countertransference and poor patient outcomes (r = -0.16), and a second meta-analysis of 9 studies indicated a moderate and significant association between successful countertransference management and patient improvement (r = 0.39).
Despite countertransference being a well-established topic in psychotherapy, the research is relatively new. The findings suggest that regardless of what type of therapy is practiced, therapists should be mindful of their countertransference reactions. It is important for therapists to monitor their internal mental and emotional states during a therapy session, and to note when they feel something that is not typical for them (bored, annoyed, attracted, overwhelmed, disgusted, distracted). A therapist’s management of these feelings may include remaining calm in the moment, self-reflection about the origins and triggers of their reactions, seeking consultation with a trusted colleague, and personal therapy to work on unresolved issue