Three alternate responses to transference

This is what Eric Berne called the transference transaction. The client misperceives what the therapist is saying and doing and sees it as critical when it isn’t. The response then often involves an inappropriate amount of emotion. The therapist may say something innocuous or be late for an appointment and the client responds with an inappropriate amount of anger. In his own mind the client has transferred the face of father or mother onto the therapist and is reacting to the therapist how they originally felt toward their parents years ago and hence the inappropriate anger.

transference transaction Jpeg

This of course does not just happen in therapy but can, and does, happen in many marriages. The wife may begin to feel unhappy and disappointed with her husband. She has transferred father’s face onto the husband and he becomes the focus of her considerable angst (originally at father) for no reasonable here and now reason. The husband can of course do the same and transfer his mother’s face onto the wife and begin expressing all his long held disquiet about his relationship with mother at the wife.

However if the above transaction happens in therapy there are three ways it can be dealt with.

1. Transactional analysis. In classical TA the therapist would draw and explain the transaction as shown above. This is presented to the client so they understand what is happening. They become aware of the problem transactions and then they can avoid it in the future.

2. Reparenting or relational. Instead of explaining the transactions, the therapist invites the client to express the anger at the therapist directly. This allows the client to live out the original problem feelings first hand with another, in this case the therapist. The therapist then responds appropriately and the old feelings can finally be resolved in this relationship. The old unresolved feelings the client may have had for many years finally begin to subside and the problem lessens.

3. Redecision. Instead of the client expressing the anger or angst at the therapist directly the therapist offers the empty chair to the client. He can then visualise mother in the empty chair and express the unresolved emotion at her with the therapist’s guidance so this time it ends up resolved.


These are of course not mutually exclusive and one can use a combination of them at different times for different reasons.

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