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countertransference (contre-transfert) Freud coined the term

'countertransference' to designate the analyst's 'unconscious feelings'

towards the patient. Although Freud only used the term very rarely, it became

much more widely used in psychoanalytic theory after his death. In particular,

analysts soon divided over the role allotted to countertransference in discus-

sions of technique. On the one hand, many analysts argued that counter-

transference manifestations were the result of incompletely analysed

elements in the analyst, and that such manifestations should therefore be

reduced to a minimum by a more complete training analysis. On the other

hand, some analysts from the Kleinian school, beginning with Paula Heimann,

argued that the analyst should be guided in his interpretations by his own

countertransference reactions, taking his own feelings as an indicator of the

patient's state of mind (Heimann, 1950). Whereas the former group regarded

countertransference as an obstacle to analysis, the latter group regarded it as a

useful tool.

In the 1950s, Lacan presents countertransference as a RESISTANCE, an obstacle

which hinders the progress of psychoanalytic treatment. Like all resistances to

treatment, countertransference is ultimately a resistance of the analyst. Thus

Lacan defines countertransference as 'the sum of the prejudices, passions,

perplexities, and even the insufficient information of the analyst at a certain

moment of the dialectical process' of the treatment (Ec, 225).

Lacan refers to two of Freud's case studies to illustrate what he means. In

1951, he refers to the Dora case (Freud, 1905e), and argues that Freud's

countertransference was rooted in his belief that heterosexuality is natural

rather than normative, and in his identification with Herr K. Lacan argues

that it was these two factors which caused Freud to handle the treatment badly

and provoke the 'negative transference' which led to Dora breaking off the

treatment (Lacan, 1951a).

In 1957 Lacan presents a similar analysis of Freud's treatment of the young

homosexual woman (Freud, 1920a). He argues that when Freud interpreted the

woman's dream as expressing a wish to deceive him, he was focusing on the

imaginary dimension of the woman's transference rather than on the symbolic

dimension (S4, 135). That is, Freud interpreted the dream as something

directed at him personally, rather than as something directed at the Other.

Lacan argues that Freud did this because he found the woman attractive and

because he identified with the woman's father (S4, 106-9). Once again,

Freud's countertransference brought the treatment to a premature end, though

this time it was Freud who decided to terminate it.

The preceding examples might seem to suggest that Lacan aligns himself

with those analysts who argue that the training analysis should give the analyst

the capacity to transcend all affective reactions to the patient. However, Lacan

absolutely rejects this point of view, which he dismisses as a 'stoical ideal'

(S8, 219). The training analysis does not put the analyst beyond passion, and to

believe that it does would be to believe that all the passions stem from the

unconscious, an idea which Lacan rejects. If anything, the better analysed the

analyst is, the more likely he is to be frankly in love with, or be quite repulsed

by, the analysand (S8, 220). If, then, the analyst does not act on the basis of

these feelings, it is not because his training analysis has drained away his

passions, but because it has given him a desire which is even stronger than

those passions, a desire which Lacan calls the DESIRE OF THE ANALYST (S8,


Hence Lacan does not entirely reject Paula Heimann's position. He accepts

that analysts have feelings towards their patients, and that sometimes the

analyst can direct the treatment better by reflecting on these feelings. For

example, if Freud had reflected a bit more on his feelings towards the young

homosexual woman, he might have avoided interpreting her dream as a

message addressed directly to him (S4, 108).

No one has ever said that the analyst should never have feelings towards his

patient. But he must know not only not to give into them, to keep them in

their place, but also how to make adequate use of them in his technique.

(Sl, 32)

If countertransference is condemned by Lacan, then, it is because he defines it

not in terms of affects felt by the analyst, but as the analyst's failure to use

those affects appropriately.

In the 1960s Lacan becomes very critical of the term countertransference.

He argues that it connotes a symmetrical relationship between the analyst and

the analysand, whereas the transference is anything but a symmetrical relation-

ship. When speaking of the analyst's position it is both misleading and

unnecessary to use the term countertransference; it is sufficient to speak of

the different ways in which the analyst and analysand are implicated in the

transference (S8, 233). 'The transference is a phenomenon in which subject

and psycho-analyst are both included. To divide it in terms of transference and

counter-transference . . . is never more than a way of avoiding the essence of

the matter' (Sll, 231).
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