Countertransference and projective identification: What is the relationship between them, and how useful are they as a way of understanding the emotional nature of the therapeutic relationship?

Cox, Amanda
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Master of Health Science
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Auckland University of Technology

This dissertation explores the relationship between countertransference and projective identification by researching the ways in which each concept values the impact the therapist and client might be having on each other. This includes investigating how useful these concepts are when put into practice.

The literature suggests that there is a continuum of ways of understanding what is occurring emotionally between the therapist and the client, and countertransference and projective identification are words used to describe these. They are said to be used by therapists in imprecise ways and are often considered ambiguous and contradictory. In this dissertation I am investigating the history of these concepts as well as their usefulness in clinical practice. This dissertation also discusses whether these emotional responses experienced by the therapist are the creation of the therapist, the creation of the client, the creation of both (but initiated by the client), or the creation of both (initiated by either the client or the therapist). The literature suggests a general shift away from a one-person psychology to a two-person psychology, where the therapist’s subjective responses might be a valuable source of information regarding the origin of the emotional transactions taking place between both the client and the therapist, thus implying the existence of a more interactive dynamic. The method used is a modified, systematic literature review, including a clinical vignette to provide an illustration from which to apply and evaluate these concepts.

Countertransference (Psychology) , Psychotherapy , Projective identification
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