‘Countertransference’, a term first used by Freud in 1910 (pp. 144–145), has a rich, varied and controversial history. Much of the early thinking on the subject was influenced by Freud’s view that unconscious reactions by the therapist (these may also include feelings projected by the patient onto the therapist) are to be guarded against, contained or controlled and ultimately overcome. If countertransference is seen as a deficit in the therapist, attention is given to the defensive manoeuvres of the therapist and the need to vigilantly maintain a projective mirror or surface upon which to project. According to this understanding, the therapist is a blank screen onto which fantasies are projected; distortions of the screen are produced by the qualities and conflicts unique to the therapist. Over time this view has changed radically, so much so that today we see countertransference as potentially productive: that is, it may both constrain and enable the work of therapy. In her seminal 1950 essay, ‘On Countertransference’, Paula Heimann, a student of Melanie Klein’s, argued that countertransference could be used as a means of both perceiving and exploring communication. With Klein’s idea of projective identification (see entry, projective identification) subsequent thinking about countertransference has been thoroughly transformed.
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