Psychology for Lawyers

transference | countertransference


"[T]ransference might be thought of as a means used by the brain to make sense of current experience by seeing the past in the present and limiting the input of new information."

—Darnell Ladson & Randon Welton, Recognizing and Managing Erotic and Eroticized Transferences, Psychiatry (2007)

"[T]he greatest cause of our alienation from our real selves is our neurotic involvements with other people, the historical hangovers from childhood, the irrational transferences, in which past and present are confused, and in which the adult acts like a child."

—Abraham H. Maslow, The Farther Reaches of Human Nature 65 (New York: Viking Press, 1971)

Thomas L. Shaffer & James R. Elkins, Legal Interviewing and Counseling 61-65
(St. Paul, Minnesota: Thompson West, 4th ed., 2005) (revised)

It is uncommon, in professional relations outside the therapeutic setting, for the professional ("helper") to learn how to take account of his feelings; feelings are simply left to take care of themselves or we find ways to help us forget the feelings we have. They are just there, to be left alone, undisturbed, or perhaps, more problematic, actively ignored or suppressed. They receive little attention (in legal education or continuing legal education programs) or conscious thought, and there is generally no effort to understand how they might influence interactions with clients (or with other lawyers, or judges), or how one might identify and make use of these feelings. We take our feelings for granted, and in doing so, give little thought to the kind of questions that might make us more aware of these feelings: Do I approach all my clients with the same kind of attitude, a professional attitude that has become a legal persona? Or do I allow myself to put aside the mask and respond to each client as the person he or she is or wishes to be? Do I respond to the story the client tells with its unique particulars or to the story as a genre whose plot I have memorized so well that there is no longer a need to listen?

When we talk about the feelings of a client for a lawyer, or the lawyer for and about a client (including negative feelings), we have entered the realm of transference and countertransference, terms probably not familiar to most lawyers. Feelings associated with a countertransference can be witnessed in unexpected behavior, strong feelings (affection and hostility are common), a quick reply, a rebuke, browbeating, abruptness, verbal threats, power moves, seductive behavior. Here are a few clues, from Saxe and Kuvin's "Notes on the Attorney-Client Relationship," clues that signal countertransference in lawyer-client relationships. [David B. Saxe & Seymour F. Kuvin, Notes on the Attorney-Client Relationship, 2 J. Psychiatry & L. 209 (1974)] When these signals are ignored, the client rather than the lawyer is made to bear the burden of them:

—Feelings of discomfort during or after meetings with the client ("most likely indicate inability on the part of the attorney to understand and honestly deal with certain kinds of material which touch on the attorney's own problems").

—Carelessness and discourtesy toward the client, such as being late for appointments, permitting avoidable interruption, or making appointment arrangements that are inconvenient for the client. ("Despite the rationalizations . . . this is usually an . . . indication of his hostility toward his client or his fear that the coming appointment will further produce material that will cause anxiety in the attorney.")

—Strong affectionate feelings for the client, which feelings are usually recognized when the client is of the opposite sex and repressed when he or she is not.

—Inclinations to boast, to colleagues or client, on the importance of the matter the client brings in ("indicative of the attorney's damaged self-concept and his lowered self-esteem . . . a reparative maneuver").

—Avoidance of the client and neglect of his case (the principal source of complaint about lawyers to bar-association grievance committees) ("may indicate serious neurotic conflicts").

—Gossip with others about the client ("[C]ausations may include . . . need to associate with peer group . . . psycho-sexual pathology . . . self-defeating or self-destructive mechanism").

—A tendency to "hammer away at minutiae beyond the scope of even the most intelligent lament." Saxe and Kuvin see this as a manifestation of aggression, and note that it often occurs with a client who is perceived as dissatisfied with the lawyer. "If the attorney is blind to his vulnerability in this area, and contracts with a client who is neurotically 'pain-dependent,' the conduct of the case is usually chaotic, and the end result is usually a disaster for the client . . . ."

—Boredom or drowsiness—"the most important of all responses." Saxe and Kuvin believe this to be "almost inevitably an indicator of extreme anxiety produced in the attorney." The agenda then, of course, would be to locate the source of the anxiety.

Howard F. Stein in his work on countertransference in physician-patient relationships observes that "we discover and recognize" the power of the countertransference "only by stumbling on it, by feeling disturbed by it, or by having someone else identify it." [Howard F. Stein, The Psychodynamics of Medical Practice: Unconscious Factors in Patient Care 21 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985)] There is an element of surprise—sometimes confusion, anger, or shame—that comes from this stumbling onto our own feelings. "When we 'accidentally' let slip our feelings—through words, tone of voice, gestures, impulsive actions—we often feel surprised if not overwhelmed by such lapses in self-control." [Id. at 42] Whenever a feeling is denied or ignored and then finds its way back into the conversation or is acted out in behavior, it is overdetermined, which means it is differentiated from on-going reactions by having an unexpected power, a way of making itself known that is unexpected and that takes us by surprise. "It strikes us," Stein says, "unprepared." [Id. at 43]

The countertransference is threatening because it conflicts with the role expectations we have consciously defined for our work with a client. In the world of feeling, a lawyer has no more expertise or knowledge than her client. The compartmentalization of role and self collapse in professional life when we recognize and work with countertransference feelings. Role and persona are ways to institutionalize, that is, regularize and routinize, the professional's response in confusing and threatening situations. But feelings are embedded in even the most routinized response. By gaining insight into countertransference, we see an aspect of the unconscious operating inside and beyond the mask of professionalism.


"Transference and Countertransference," in Willard Gaylin, Talk Is Not Enough: How Psychotherapy Really Works 72-78 (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 2000)

Louis H. Hamel & J. Timothy Davis, Transference and Countertransference in the Lawyer-Client Relationship: Psychoanalysis Applied in Estate Planning, 25 Psychoanalytic Psychology 590 (2008)

Marjorie A. Silver, Love, Hate, and Other Emotional Interference in the Lawyer/Client Relationship, 6 Clinical L. Rev. 259 (1999) [online text]

Freud on Transference [, Romanian Association For Psychoanalysis Promotion]

Class Videos

Class Viewing 1: Perspectives on Transference
[1:51:33 mins.] [discussion featuring Charles Brenner, Norman Doidge, Walter Freeman, Arnold Modell, Bradley Peterson, & David Pincus] [begin presentation at 5:36 with David Pincus introducing a paper and the panel; end at 10:26 mins.] [David Pincus is a clinical psychologist] [interesting exchange, at 44:01 (David Pincus), 45:00 mins. (Charles Brenner), 45:37 mins. (Bradley Peterson); the exchange ends at 47:37 mins.] [a second interesting exchange begins at 57:28 mins. , end at 1:04:10 mins.]

[commentary by Charles Brenner begins at 11:28 mins. and ends at 18:32 mins.] [Walter Freeman commentary begins at 19:33 mins. and ends at 27:58 mins.] [Norman Doidge comments begin at 27:58 mins. and ends at 34:39 mins.] [Arnold Modell begins at 34:39 and ends at 37:10 mins.] [Bradley Peterson begins at 37:25 mins.]

Class Viewing 2: C.G. Jung on Transference and Archetypes [9:59 mins.] [begin video at 0:29 mins.; end at 1:19 mins., or for a longer version (that includes Jung's commentary on transference that includes an archetypal analysis, end at 7:52 mins.]

Class Viewing 3: Transference and Projection [41:53 mins.] [Richard Hill, psychotherapist at the Davis Health Centre in Sydney, Australia] [in-class presenation, end at 9:04 mins.] [the role of projection in psychotherapy] [unconscious patterns that play out in our encounters]

Class Viewing 4: What Is Transference? [6:08 mins.] [Toronto Psychoanalytic Society] [Susan K. Moore talks with Donald L. Craveth, a psychoanalyst]

Class Viewing 5: Susie Orback on Psychoanalysis [38:14 mins.] [commentary on an expansive view of counter-transference; begins at 6:48 mins., ends at 11:16 mins.]

Class Viewing 6: Effectiveness of Tranference Focused Therapy for Borderline Personality Disorder [8:41 mins.] [Frank Yeomans] [New York City psychiatrist & psychotherapist; Yeomans' primary interests are the development, investigation, teaching, and practice of psychotherapy for personality disorders] [end presentation at 7:22 mins.]

Class Viewing 7: David Richo: Transference in Daily Life and Relationships [21:50 mins.] [Richo is a psychotherapist] [Richo's presentation begins at 1:20 mins.; for a brief presentation end at 5:16 mins.; an extended presentation ends at 18:58 mins.] Pt2 [21:31 mins.] Pt3 [21:22mins.]

Class Viewing 8: Adam Phillips: One Way and Another [57:31 mins.] [comment begins at 50:58 mins., ends at 52:10 mins.] [focus on countertransference]

Reference (Videos)

Freud and Transference
[2:48 mins.]

[4:22 mins.] [School of Life] [end class presentation at 1:53 mins.]

Transference in Psychotherapy
[10:57 mins.] [Joseph Burgo, psychotherapist]

[9:21 mins.] [a fictional film about transference]

What is the Difference Between Transference & Countertransference?
[3:48 mins.] [Todd Grande] [comments on countertranference are not particularly nuanced]

What is Countertransference?
[1:10 mins.] [Rafael Sharón]

What is Negative Transference?
[2:50 mins.] [Rafael Sharón]

Evolution of Countertransference
[1:02:27 mins.] [Michael Geis]

Transference, Countertransference, Projection, and Counterprojection
[5:51 mins.] [Peter Walker]

Countertransference: Difficult Feelings in Therapeutic Work
[16:20 mins.] [Mark Sehl]

Transference & Countertransference
[3:45 mins.]

Transference in the Psychotherapy Process
[5:57 mins.]

Sexual Transference and Countertransference in Psychodynamic Therapy
[14:50 mins.]

Transference & Countertransference in Vicarious Trauma
[5:19 mins.]

Trauma & Transference in Therapy
[14:48 mins.] [Eric Wolterstorff describes the process of traumatic transference and how it emerges in the therapeutic context.] Pt2 [14:35 mins.] Pt3 [14:39 mins.] Pt4 [14:41 mins.] Pt5 [11:21 mins.]

"In Treatment": Testing Paul
[7:58 mins.]

[3:59 mins.] [Soul Salt Coaching]

Transference, Projection, and Boundaries
[3:52 mins.] [Soul Salt Coaching]

Take a Journey Inward. What Is Psychoanalysis?
[3:27 mins.]

[34:24 mins.] [Corey Human]

The Transference Along the Analytic Process
[1:3:28 mins.] [Jacques Siboni] [Lacian perspective]

Reference (David Richo)

On Wounds [1:53 mins.] On Trust [3:32 mins.] On the Journey [2:37 mins.]

David Richo with Scott London
[3:26 mins.]

On Coming Home to Who You Are
[3:56 mins.]

Reference (Videos)(Law School Library)

Murray Stein Interviews Dr. Mario Jacoby [AJC Seminar #2, "Transference, the Therapeutic Relationship and Transformation in Analysis, Dk. 1 of 2] [approx. 16 mins. of the first part of the interview] [On Dr. Jacoby's work on transference, see Mario Jacoby, The Analytic Encounter: Transference and Human Relationship (Toronto: Inner City Books, 1984)] [Mario Jacoby bio] [Murray Stein discussion of transference and countertransference; discussion begins at 3:03 mins.; video extends to 12:11 mins.]

Reference (Web Resources)

Transference: Uses and Abuses
[Joseph Burgo]

Clarifying and Re-mystifying Transference, Counter-Transference and Co-transference
[Gary Tompkins]

C.G. Jung on Transference
[Maxson J. McDowell]

A Client's Guide to Transference
[Psychology Today]

Transference and Countertransference in Communication Between Doctor and Patient
[Patricia Hughes & Ian Kerr, Advances in Psychiatric Treatment]

Transference and Countertransference
[Ch.9, Cecil Holden Patterson, in Counseling and Psychotherapy: Theory and Practice (Harper & Row, 1959)]

Recognizing and Managing Erotic and Eroticized Transferences
[Psychiatry, U.S. National Library of Medicine]

Transference and Countertransference in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
[Jan Prasko,]

Clarifying and Re-mystifying Transference, Counter-Transference
and Co-Transference
[Gary Tomkins]

Countertransference in Contemporary Psychotherapy
[Psychiatric Times]

Counter Transference in Therapy
[Brett Newcomb]

Transference Love and Countertransference Love in Clinical Technique
[Ronald J. Koshes & Colleen E. Sari, Jefferson Journal of Psychiatry]

Freud on Transference
[excerpt from Sigmund Freud, A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis (1920)]

Freud on Transference




What Is a Projection?
[4:19 mins.] [James Hollis, a Jungian analyst; Jung Society of Washington]

Carl G Jung Theory: Projection
[5:29 mins.] [Manuel Costa, a psychotherapist, San Jose, California]

[8:36 mins.] [Jon Frederickson]

Projection, Projective Identification, and Compassion
[14:56 mins.] [Mark Sehl] Pt2 [9:50 mins.]

Defense Mechanism of Projection in Psychology
[3:55 mins.]

Psychological Projection

Projective Identification

"In Treatment"

"In Treatment": Transference and Countertransference [Paul Weston and Lauria; Season 1, Dk.1, Episode 1; Dk.2, Episode 6; Dk.3, Episode 11, Dk4. Episode 16; Dk.5, Episode 21; Dk.6, Episode 26; Dk.7, Episode 31; Dk.8, Episode 36]


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