From counter-transference to interpretation

Alberto Eiguer

 The most accurate and powerful interpretations are those inspired by our counter-transference. Have they been touched by our emotions? Do we give birth to them painfully?

The answer to these questions brings us to recognise that our counter-transference (CT) is one of the essential springboards of our therapeutic care and the echo within us of the recent changes which have occurred in couples and families. The feeling of strangeness regularly bothers the analyst. Family therapy puts him in front of a structured group whose members fully master inter-functioning. They have several means at their disposal of triggering behaviours which tend to avoid changes. Being a stranger to the family group, the analyst feels gradually overwhelmed. The situation reminds him of the stranger within, of his unknown. Thus counter-transference implies some regression, going back to our childhood fears and impressions. We find ourselves feeling immature and sometimes under pressure. But we get over it through using analytical elaboration, among other methods, to overcome these unexpected reactions. This will be our interpretations’ platform. They will bear the marks of our personality. Consequently,

  1. Generally, CT implies a regression: we can see the most infantile outlines of our psychic functioning appear. We have possibly touched upon these outlines during our personal analysis, but sometimes it wasn’t enough to totally overcome our difficulties. Conter-transference seeps into the cracks, the wounds, the folds and the shady area of our psyche.
  2. CT is an answer to transference of families who give certain features to the analyst and « ask » him to feel these features, imagine them or act accordingly. The analyst identifies with what is « asked » of him. For example the family is often seeking acknowledgement: it begs us to acknowledge that it is capable of bringing up children and of living in harmony. Many of its members seem to fear that their forefathers and ancestors are blaming them: they haven’t done their duty, achieved their goals and the functions for which they got together. It is maybe because of this that we feel on our part like powerless children under the effect of the identification projected upon us by the family.
  3. c) The analyst has the feeling of being affected (to be concern) by the family’s difficulties, suffering and paralysis.
  4. d) The analyst can experience an identity deconstruction.

He has the challenge of being there while being unobtrusive, to be somebody but also the one designated by transference. His is a huge task: to be there and forget he is there at the same time. And on top of that, he is supposed to suggest interpretations without blocking the exchange, without smothering it; to be reassuring without making light of the difficulties. He reacts to the attempts made to affect him in reality while avoiding anger so as to highlight their fantasy dimension. He has to remain strong while receiving conflicting opinions, to show himself as liberal while making it clear that there are limits. He recognizes that being firm brings security and organisation, but also resistance: he will work towards using this as a springboard.

Blurred boundaries, surrender of identity status (M. de M’Uzan, 2005)

Discoveries in group psychoanalysis enable us to understand why the therapeutic process swamps us into a totally unpredictable reciprocity. Psychic functioning, when considered individually cannot explain what happens in sessions: when together, those who form the group develop a new psychology. For example fantasies which burst in during the collective move towards messianism (working hypothesis) has no equivalent in individual psychoanalysis (Bion, 1952 ; cf. M. Baranger, 1993).

In family therapy, even though all the members of the family know each other, some unusual psychic dimensions will emerge, because they find themselves in a new place with somebody they don’t know. From this new situation an original unconscious totality emerges, one aspect of which is a singular mentality.

Within us, the process of healing for families and couples brings about some unforeseeable experiences in relation to our past and our knowledge. Each session is different. The session will reawaken for the family anxieties linked to specific fears (situational anxiety; Eiguer, 1987).

It is through elaborating and then integrating his own feelings that the analyst will tackle the most thorny and current at the time family conflicts. CT is the revealer. Of course, the analyst wishes to do something, but in reality he is led by his psychic working where is also found his internal objects and links. He remains active/passive, echoing his patients while keeping in mind how important it is for them that he should establish his presence. The dilemma is not to be or not to be anymore, but to be a subject within the links which help create an echo in him of others who are different from him.

It is a questioning about the ultimate aim of analysis, the very meaning of his profession. The analyst exists inasmuch as he can be somewhat unobtrusive until he finds the way to change.

Resistance and strongholds

The analyst will occasionally be tempted to justify himself: he might trivialise the destructive projections, saying it is not important or that the family wants to test him. Or he could set up long term resistance, compromises or more or less perverse complicities.

I am tempted to mention here the differentiation between transference on the analyst and the analysis: the process and the meaning of PFT. That’s what we expect.

In short, shouldn’t we give the same interpretation we would like to give to ourselves or our family?

Concordant, complementary and supplementary counter-transference

I find it interesting to mention here CT variations described by H. Etchegoyen (1984), which belong to specific transference movements. He defines concordant CT as one which lines up with the patient’s own Ego movements, the analyst thus feels through identification feelings or fantasies at the same level as his own Ego. Complementary CT refers to representations concerning the patient’s o