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
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.
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).