Sitting with a psychotherapy patient, a therapist can suddenly feel pain, empathy, fear, rage, envy and even boredom. Images and memories spring to mind. Meanwhile, as far as the patient is concerned, they are simply telling their story. For them, little is happening.
At these times, the therapist may be in touch with intense emotions that the patient is not accessing. This process is generally referred to as counter-transference.
Counter transference is a powerful therapeutic tool. By thoughtfully introducing their experience into the process, the therapist helps move the therapy forward.
There are obvious dangers. Does that deep feeling of loneliness, or explosive rage, belong to the patient or the therapist? Even if the feeling does belong to the patient, would it be better to wait and let them discover it themselves?
Over the years, I’ve come to trust the value of my inner experiences, and my ability to employ them in the work.
As I’ve pondered on Bertha Pappenheim, attempting to develop a sense of her from the scant details Joseph Breuer provides, I’ve come to see her as wistful, like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz.
More of that in the next blog. For now, I’ll just let Judy Garland introduce us to Dorothy. Or is it Bertha?