Transference and Counter-Transference
Transference is a process through which a counsellor tries to understand a person who is not known to them (the counsellor) but who is significant to the client. This is so that they can understand the other person’s attitudes and feelings.
Transference basically involves the projection of feelings or attitudes (Myers & Salt, 2000). Counter-transference on the other hand involves any feelings, reactions or attitudes displayed by the counsellor and which have the potential to interfere with the counselling process.
It is a fact that counselling as a profession is very stressing owing to the fact that the clientele is comprised of people suffering in one way or another (Geri, 2004).
In the case of addiction counselling, the clientele is comprised of people suffering from the ravages of a certain factor in their life and the counsellor is their main hope in overcoming such a problem. This makes transference and counter-transference a major issue to be dealt with by the counsellor.
Think of a scenario where a counsellor is overwhelmed with personal problems such as finance and family issues and they are expected to help an alcoholic client.
Such a counsellor is likely to experience sympathy fatigue and eventually a burn-out (Geri, 2004). Sympathy or compassion fatigue can make a counsellor feel unaccomplished, empty and depressed. All these feelings can be transferred or counter-transferred to the client.
The first step to prevent such a situation is the acceptance by the counsellor that they are susceptible to fatigue. The symptoms of sympathy fatigue include absenteeism, sarcasm, criticizing other people and even foregoing appointments with clients.
The best and most effective way of managing counter-transference and transference in addiction counselling is maintaining awareness so that a counsellor can identify symptoms early enough and seek treatment. Social support and trying to balance one’s life is also very effective when it comes to managing these issues.
Limits in Addiction Counselling
A counsellor is apparently one of the very few groups of people in the world who other people open up to completely. There is thus the possibility of an over-personal relationship occurring between a client and the counsellor, sometimes to the extent of them becoming intimate if they are of opposite sex.
These are just invisible lines that separate the counsellor and the client. The counsellor is aware of them and in some way, makes them clear to the client.
There are two main different sets of boundaries. These are professional and personal boundaries. Personal boundaries help in differentiating personal issues from professional issues. They allow the counsellor to understand how far they are expected to go while in the process of helping the client. This in turn helps in preventing transference and counter-transference.
The process of helping someone during counselling involves a lot of sharing. The counsellor, in the process of trying to make the client feel comfortable, may end opening up to the client.
In such close relationships, it is possible that the counsellor may lose focus and end up disregarding the client’s needs while discussing theirs. Professional boundaries help in informing the counsellor just how far they are expected to go in terms of sharing personal issues with the client.
In activity 8.3 (regarding whether or not a counsellor should seek treatment), it is my view that this depends on the availability of treatment. A counsellor must always find time to examine themselves and find out if there is a problem in their life. Where necessary, they should take some time from work and seek treatment.
Geri, M. (2004). Learning the language of addiction counselling. New York: Wiley Publishers.
Myers, P, L., & Salt, N. R. (2000). Becoming an addictions counsellor. New York: Jones and Bartlet Publishers.