I get asked a great deal about the subject of transference in hypnotherapy and so I thought I would write about it today and look at a hypnotherapist’s viewpoint of it.

Transference was born out of the psychoanalytic schools of therapy, initially through the work of Freud. The concept of transference is one whereby a client applies attitudes transferred to the therapist which were originally directed towards another person, such as a parent or influential person in earlier life.

This is incredibly important in psychoanalysis and when attitudes of love, hate, dependence and so on are transferred toward the therapist, the psychoanalyst deals with these as a large part of the work they do with that client/patient.

Freud, in the 1944 Encyclopaedia Britannica (p. 674) explains transference is this way:

By “transference” is meant a striking peculiarity of neurotics. They developed toward their physician emotional relations, both of an affectionate and hostile character, which are not based upon the actual situation but are derived from their relations toward their parent (the Oedipus complex). Transference is a proof of the fact that adults have not overcome their former childish dependence; it coincides with the force which has been named “suggestion”; and it is only by learning to make use of it that the physician is enabled to induce the patient to overcome his internal resistances and do away with his repressions.

The field of clinical hypnosis actually saw a decline due to the emergence of psychoanalysis and even though Freud did explore the field of hypnosis with Professor Jean Martin Charcot for a while, he eventually abandoned it as he believed it was not a reliable method of gaining access to “the unconscious” according to his findings that he publicly described in 1895 in Studies of Hysteria.

This notion of transference then, is whereby emotional conflicts experienced in relation to influential figures in life then re-emerge in therapy and are projected on to the therapist. Resulting in good and bad feelings being felt by the client toward the patient. As I said earlier, this is important for the analyst to work with and on. The psychoanalyst then adopts a very neutral and passive role within the therapy so that this transference can develop (almost encouraged) and be dealt with – something which is inconsistent with what we want in hypnotherapy or clinical hypnosis.

In psychoanalysis, a client/patient may fall in love with the therapist, have anger towards them, want to know intimate details about them, develop a possessive attitude towards them and so on, in ways that reflect the client’s earlier relationships with parents, teachers and figures that have been instrumental in their life.A patient may project fantasy onto the therapist.

I myself have had clients who worried about my judgment of them prior to coming for a first session – having been branded a failure throughout their life by parents, and therefore had similar fears about what I would think regarding their presenting issues.

The psychoanalyst then deals with these things that have been recreated in the therapy session in order to resolve the presenting issues.

Hypnotherapy has many facets and differing fields and clinical hypnosis practitioners tend to avoid transference developing in therapy.

If such things develop or show signs of potential development, I tend to use Socratic questioning techniques to ask what evidence the client has for the projection of certain feelings. For example, in the case mentioned above, the client was asked for any evidence that had led them to be worried about what I may think, and upon realising that there was an absence of any evidence within our own interactions, the fear was abated. The realisation was that fear was being generated by the client and not from anything that was happening between myself as hypnotherapist and the client.

Another good way to stop transference developing is to accept it and not resist it, show that it is understood and again highlight through careful questioning that the feelings are being generated by them.

As Carl Rogers (Reprint in 2000 p. 203) states in his book Client Centered Therapy, when helping a female patient realise her transference was coming from herself due to all the evidence making it plain that it did not come from the therapist, thus taking out any immediate threat from the therapeutic relationship:

Thus, in a few moments she goes from the clear transference attitude, “I feel badly because you think I am sordid,” to the feeling, “I am passing judgment on myself, and attempting to transfer those thoughts to your mind.”

I think also, for those wishing to avoid transference development, a number of things can be explained and explored within the assessment and when explaining the roles and responsibilities of client and hypnotherapist, and much can be done during the pre-talk and education about hypnosis prior to the hypnotherapy getting fully underway.

One of the biggest issues of transference developing in hypnotherapy is that a client may become dependent upon the therapy and/or therapist, so again, the client developing responsibility and being shown to take responsibility for them self as much as possible throughout the hypnotherapy is incredibly important. Again, if explained from the beginning and holding the client accountable to this notion, the focus can go elsewhere.