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Freudian Dictionary

The patient sees in his analyst the return-the reincarnation-of some important figure out of his childhood or past, and consequently transfers on to him feelings and reactions that undoubtedly applied to this model. It soon becomes evident that this fact of transference is a factor of undreamed-of importance-on the one hand an instrument of irreplaceable value and on the other a source of serious dangers. This transference is ambivalent: it comprises positive and affectionate as well as negative and hostile attitudes toward the analyst, who, as a rule, is put in the place of one or other of the patient's parents, his father or his mother. So long as it is positive it serves us admirably. It alters the whole analytic situation and sidetracks the patient's rational aim of becoming well and free from his troubles. Instead of it there emerges the aim of pleasing the analyst, of winning his applause and his love. This becomes the true motive-force for the patient's collaboration; the weak ego becomes strong; under the influence of this aim the patient achieves things that would otherwise be beyond his power; his symptoms disappear and he seems to have recovered-all of this simply out of love for his arralyst. ... Therapeutic successes that take place under the sway of the positive transference are under the suspicion of being of a suggestive nature. If the negative transference gains the upper hand they are blown away like spray before the wind.[1]


In psychoanalysis, transference (transfert) refers to the process by which affect and desire originally associated with one person, such as a parent or sibling, are unconsciously shifted to another person, especially to the analyst.[2]


The actualization of unconscious wishes during psychoanalytic treatment.

Prototypes, memories and desires are transferred by projection onto the analyst, who is often identified with an important or significant figure fromt he patient's childhood.

The term is also used more generally to refer to all aspects of the patient's relationship with the analyst. The analyst's unconscious reactions to the patient - and to the transference itself - are described as the 'counter-transference'.

Freud initially took the view that transference was a displacement of existing affects or emotional charges, and that it was a facsimile of old emotions or something to be analyzed like any other symptom.

The transference was an obstacle because it induced repetitions and blocked the emergence of new free associations.

In his account of the 'Dora' case, Freud concluded that his inability to complete the analysis was the result of his failure to analyze the transference.[3]

Later Freud still views trasnference as an obstacle to analysis but also accepts that without it the actualization of repressed emotions would be impossible.

Lacan initially refers to trasnference as a dialectic of identifications; in later formulations, it is said to be associated with the fantasy of the 'subject supposed to know."[4]

The possession of knowledge is, that is, ascribed by the analysand to an other who can understand his or her innermost thoughts.

According to Lacan, any pedagogic relationship is underpinned by a similar fantasy.

Transference and Freud

The term transference first emerged in Freud's work as simply another term for the displacement of affect from one idea to another.[5] Later on, however, it came to refer to the patient's relationship to the analyst as it develops in the treatment. This soon became the central meaning of the term, and is the sense in which it is usually understood in psychoanalytic theory today. The use of a special term to denote the patient's relationship to the analyst is justified by the peculiar character of this relationship.

Freud was first struck by the intensity of the patient's affective reactions to the doctor in Breuer's treatment of Anna O in 1882, which he argued was due to the patient transferring unconscious ideas onto the doctor.[6] As he developed the psychoanalytic method, Freud first regarded the transference exclusively as a resistance which impedes the recall of repressed memories, an obstacle to the treatment which must be 'destroyed'.[7]

Gradually, however, he modified this view, coming to see the transference also as a positive factor which helps the treatment to progress. The positive value of transference lies in the fact that it provides a way for the analysand's history to be confronted in the immediacy of the present relationship with the analyst; in the way he relates to the analyst, the analysand inevitably repeats earlier relationships with other figures (especially those with the parents). This paradoxical nature of transference, as both an obstacle to the treatment and that which drives the treatment forward, perhaps helps to explain why there are so many different and opposing views of transference in psychoanalytic theory today.

Transference and Jacques Lacan

Lacan's thinking about transference goes through several stages. His first work to deal with the subject in any detail is 'An Intervention on the Transference,'[8] in which he describes the transference in dialectical terms borrowed from Hegel. He criticises ego-psychology for defining the transference in terms of affects; "Transference does not refer to any mysterious property of affect, and even when it reveals itself under the appearance of emotion, it only acquires meaning by virtue of the dialectical moment in which it is produced."[9]

In other words, Lacan argues that although transference often manifests itself in the guise of particularly strong affects, such as love and hate, it does not consist of such emotions but in the structure of an intersubjective relationship. This structural definition of transference remains a constant theme throughout the rest of Lacan's work; he consistently locates the essence of transference in the symbolic and not in the imaginary, although it clearly has powerful imaginary effects. Later on, Lacan will remark that if transference often manifests itself under the appearance of love, it is first and foremost the love of knowledge (savoir) that is concerned.

Lacan returns to the subject of the transference in the seminar of 1953-4. This time he conceives it not in terms borrowed from Hegelian dialectics but in terms borrowed from the anthropology of exchange.[10]

Transference is implicit in the speech act, which involves an exchange of signs that transforms the speaker and listener: In its essence, the efficacious transference which we're considering is quite simply the speech act. Each time a man speaks to another in an authentic and full manner, there is, in the true sense, transference, symbolic transference - something which takes place which changes the nature of the two beings present.[11]

In the seminar of the following year, he continues to elaborate on the symbolic nature of transference, which he identifies with the compulsion to repeat, the insistence of the symbolic determinants of the subject.[12] This is to be distinguished from the imaginary aspect of transference, namely, the affective reactions of love and aggressivity. In this distinction between the symbolic and imaginary aspects of transference, Lacan provides a useful way of understanding the paradoxical function of the transference in psychoanalytic treatment; in its symbolic aspect (repetition) it helps the treatment progress by revealing the signifiers of the subject's history, while in its imaginary aspect (love and hate) it acts as a resistance.[13]

Lacan's next approach to the subject of transference is in the eighth year of his seminar,[14] entitled simply 'The Transference'. Here he uses Plato's Symposium to illustrate the relationship between the analysand and the analyst. Alcibiades compares Socrates to a plain box which encloses a precious object (Grk agalma); just as Alcibiades attributes a hidden treasure to Socrates, so the analysand sees his object of desire in the analyst (see objet petit a).

In 1964, Lacan articulates the concept of transference with his concept of the subject supposed to know, which remains central to Lacan's view of the transference from then on; indeed, it is this view of the transference which has come to be seen as Lacan's most complete attempt to theorise the matter.

According to this view, transference is the attribution of knowledge to the Other, the supposition that the Other is a subject who knows; 'As soon as the subject who is supposed to know exists somewhere . . . there is transference."[15]

Although the existence of the transference is a necessary condition of psychoanalytic treatment, it is not sufficient in itself; it is also necessary that the analyst deal with the transference in a unique way. It is this that differentiates psychoanalysis from suggestion; although both are based on the transference, psychoanalysis differs from suggestion because the analyst refuses to use the power given to him by the transference.[16]

From quite early on in the history of psychoanalysis it became common to distinguish between those aspects of the patient's relationship to the analyst which were 'adapted to reality' and those which were not. In the latter category fell all the patient's reactions which were caused by 'perceiving the analyst in a distorted way'. Some analysts used the term 'transference' to refer to all aspects of the analysand's relationship to the analyst, in which case they distinguished the distorted 'neurotic transference' or 'transference neurosis' from the 'unobjectionable part of the transference' or 'therapeutic alliance."[17]

Other analysts argued that the term 'transference' should be restricted to the 'unrealistic' or 'irrational' reactions of the analysand (William Silverberg, Franz Alexander). However, the common assumption underlying both of these positions was that the analyst could tell when the patient was not reacting to him on the basis of who he really was but rather on the basis of previous relationships with other people. The analyst was credited with this ability because he was supposed to be better 'adapted to reality' than the patient. Informed by his own correct perception of reality, the analyst could offer 'transference interpretations'; that is, he could point out the discrepancy between the real situation and the irrational way that the patient was reacting to it. It was argued that such transference interpretations helped the analysand to gain 'insight' into his own neurotic transference and thereby resolve it or 'liquidate' it.

Some of Lacan's most incisive criticisms are directed at this way of representing psychoanalytic treatment. These criticisms are based on the following arguinents:

1.The whole idea of adaptation to reality is based on a naive empiricist epistemology, involving an appeal to an unproblematic notion of 'reality' as an objective and self-evident given. This entirely neglects what psychoanalysis has discovered about the construction of reality by the ego on the basis of its own mÈconnaissance. Hence when the analyst assumes that he is better adapted to reality than the patient he has no other recourse than 'to fall back on his own ego' since this is the only 'bit of reality he knows'.[18] The healthy part of the patient's ego is then defmed simply as 'the part that thinks as we do'.[19] This reduces psychoanalytic treatment to a form of suggestion in which the analyst simply 'imposes his own idea of reality' on the analysand.[20] Thus 'the inability [of the analyst] to sustain a praxis in an authentic manner results, as is usually the case with mankind, in the exercise of power."[21]

2.The idea that the analysand's 'distorted perception of the analyst' could be liquidated by means of interpretations is a logical fallacy, since the transference is interpreted on the basis of, and with the instrument of, the transference itself.[22] In other words, there is no metalanguage of the transference, no vantage point outside the transference from which the analyst could offer an interpretation, since any interpretation he offers "will be received as coming from the person that the transference imputes him to be."[23]

Thus it is contradictory to claim that the transference can be dissolved by means of an interpretation when it is the transference itself which conditions the analysand's acceptance of that interpretation; "the emergence of the subject from the transference is thus postponed ad infinitum."[24]

Does this mean that Lacanian analysts never interpret the transference? Certainly not; Lacan affirms that "it is natural to interpret the transference,"[25] but at the same time he harbours no illusions about the power of such interpretations to dissolve the transference. Like any other interpretation, the analyst must use all his art in deciding if and when to interpret the transference, and above all must avoid gearing his interpretations exclusively to interpreting the transference. He must also know exactly what he is seeking to achieve by such an interpretation; not to rectify the patient's relationship to reality, but to maintain the analytic dialogue. "What does it mean, to interpret the transference? Nothing else than to fill the void of this deadlock with a lure. But while it may be deceptive, this lure serves a purpose by setting off the whole process again."[26]

When describing the transference as 'positive' or 'negative', Lacan takes two different approaches. Following Freud, Lacan sometimes uses these adjectives to refer to the nature of the affects, 'positive transference' referring to loving affects and 'negative transference' referring to aggressive affects.[27]

Sometimes, however, Lacan takes the terms 'positive' and 'negative' to refer to the favourable or unfavourable effects of the transference on the treatment[28] (where Lacan argues that when the analysand's resistance opposes suggestion, this resistance must be 'placed in the ranks of the positive transference' on the grounds that it maintains the direction of the analysis).

Although Lacan does speak occasionally of countertransference, he generally prefers not to use this term.


The displacement of one's unresolved conflicts, dependencies, and aggressions onto a substitute object (e.g. substituting a lover, spouse, etc. for one's parent). This operation can also occur in the psychoanalytical cure, when a patient transfers onto the analyst feelings that were previously directed to another object. By working through this transference of feelings onto the analyst, the patient can come to grips with the actual cause of his or her feelings.


Transference is a phenomenon in psychology characterized by unconscious redirection of feelings of one person to another. For instance, one could mistrust somebody who resembles an ex-spouse in manners, voice or external appearance; or be overly compliant to someone who resembles a childhood friend.

In a therapy context, transference refers to redirection of a client's feelings from a significant person to a therapist. Counter-transference is defined as redirection of a therapist's feelings toward a client, or more generally as a therapist's emotional entanglement with a client.

Transference was first described by Freud, who acknowledged its importance for psychoanalysis for better understanding of the patient's feelings. Transference is often manifested as an erotic attraction towards a therapist. It's also common for people to transfer feelings from their parents to their partners (emotional incest) or to children (cross-generational entanglements).

Although transference is often characterized as a useful tool for building trust between a client and a therapist; transference can also interfere with a therapist’s ability to help a client. Some therapists become confused between clients and intimate partners.

In The Psychology of the Transference, Carl Jung states that within the transference dyad both participants typically experience a variety of opposites, and that in love and in psychological growth, the key to success is the ability to endure the tension of the opposites without abandoning the process; and that in essence it is that tension that allows one to grow and to transform.[29]

Transference is common. Only in a personally or socially harmful context can transference be described as a pathological issue, however, there is an experimental new theory of tranference known as AMT (Abusive Multiple Tranference), put forth by David W. Bernstein, in which the abuser not only transfers negative feelings directed towards their abuser to the victim, but also transfers the power and dominance of their own abuser to themselves. This is often the case with murderers, for example the serial killer Carroll Cole. While his father was away in WWII, Cole's mother engaged in several extra-marital affairs, forcing Cole to watch, and later beat him to ensure that he would not alert his father. Cole would later come to murder many women whom he considered "loose", and those in general who reminded him of his mother. AMT also ties in very closely with Power/Control Killers, as the feeling and view of control is passed from one abuser to those proceeding him or her.

See Also


  1. Template:OoPA Ch. 6
  3. 1905C
  4. 1951a, 1977
  5. Freud, 1900a: SE V, 562
  6. Freud, 1895d
  7. Freud, 1905e: SE VII, 116
  8. Lacan, 1951
  9. Ec, 225
  10. Mauss, LÈvi-Strauss
  11. Sl, 109
  12. S2, 210-11
  13. see S4, 135; S8, 204
  14. Lacan, 1960-1
  15. Sll, 232
  16. see E, 236
  17. Edward Bibring, Elizabeth Zeztel
  18. E, 231
  19. E, 232
  20. E, 232
  21. E, 226
  22. S8, 206
  23. E, 231
  24. E, 231
  25. E, 271
  26. Ec, 225
  27. Ec, 222
  28. see E, 271
  29. Jung, Carl C. The Psychology of the Transference, Princeton University Press, ISBN 0-691-0175-22
  1. Freud, Sigmund. (1905e [1901]). Fragment of an analysis of a case of hysteria. SE, 7: 1-122.
  2. ——. (1910a [1909]). Five lectures on psycho-analysis. SE, 11: 5-55.
  3. ——. (1912b). The dynamics of transference. SE, 12: 97-108.
  4. ——. (1913c). On beginning the treatment (further recommendations on the technique of psycho-analysis I). SE, 12: 121-144.
  5. ——. (1914g). Remembering, repeating, and working-through (further recommendations on the technique of psycho-analysis II). SE, 12: 145-156.
  6. ——. (1915a). Observations on transference love (further recommendations on the technique of psycho-analysis III). SE, 12: 157-171.
  7. ——. (1916-1917a [1915-1917]). Introductory lectures on psycho-analysis. SE, 15-16.
  8. Freud, Sigmund, and Breuer, Josef. (1895d). Studies on hysteria. SE, 2: 48-106.