Home » Blog » The Case of Countertransference  

It may take a session or two for a coach,before he/she begins to see a pattern in their behaviour. Before they realize that they are feeling under pressure to placate and reassure the client over and above the way that they would normally feel or behave towards the other clients.

One big clue: What you might be feeling is: Countertransference

What you may be experiencing  is called a countertransference, where you find yourself experiencing feelings and/or acting outside of your normal pattern of behaviour towards a coaching client.

The theory of transference and countertransference applies to fields of both coaching and psychology. One must not confuse one with another. We will be looking at the concept from both the angles for better understanding. 

Now, people, it is a very vast topic to understand. Here we will steadily go into defining countertransference to establish its differences with transference. Along with answering related questions like:-

How do we identify our countertransference patterns?

How to know that our coach-client relationship has been a victim of countertransference?

To begin with, you can not understand Countertransference without understanding Transference.

Transference And Countertransference

Transference and countertransference are not simple concepts to grasp, and many new coaches struggle with them.

Transference is a concept that comes from Psychodynamic Therapy and references to a client’s unconscious conflicts that might cause problems in everyday life. It is the process through which an individual transfers feelings and attitudes from a person or circumstance in the past to a person or situation in the present, and it is likely to be inappropriate to the present, at least to some degree. Although the concept originated as a therapeutic tool, it is now utilised to comprehend what might occur in any form of connection, personal or professional, such as the coaching relationship.

Transference in coaching can wreak havoc on a coach’s and client’s trust and relationship. The coaching process can be disturbed when a client projects profound feelings onto their coach, typically subconsciously, that originate from another period or person in their life. This is often due to incorrect assumptions and misinterpretation.

If dynamics from the client’s previous relationships creep in, the therapist-client relationship can become complicated. Transference is a process in which a client transfers feelings or behavioural patterns from another connection to the therapeutic relationship. While transference can give a therapist insight into a client’s thought patterns and behaviour, it’s crucial for the client to recognise when it’s happening and where it’s coming from.

When a coach is lured into the transference dynamic owing to a lack of boundaries or awareness, it is referred to as countertransference. It can also refer to a coach who is caught up in transferring their own feelings to a client on their own. Countertransference can have a negative impact on a client’s growth, thus therapists must deliberately avoid it. We’ll look at how transference and countertransference manifest in the coach-client interaction in this piece, as well as some examples of transference and countertransference in session.

It’s critical for the coach to accept and work with countertransference feelings after they’ve been identified in the coaching pattern. This can take a variety of forms, some of which are more problematic than others. Due to his or her own desire to be respected and liked by the client, a coach charmed with a client’s attractiveness may avoid questioning that client. A coach who is experiencing financial difficulties or has recently had a disagreement with their spouse may allow these emotions to spill over into a counselling session with an unaware client.

It is critical for the coach to grasp the role of transference and countertransference, as well as how to deal with those emotions so that the coaching relationship’s core is not damaged.

What is Countertransference?

Countertransference is defined as any sentiments, ideas, or preoccupations, fantasies, or sensations that a therapist or coach has while working with a client. 

On the plus side, countertransference can be a helpful therapeutic tool in that it replicates how others may be experiencing the client.

On the other hand, if the therapist is unable to discern between his or her personal concerns and those of the client, countertransference has the potential to produce major disturbances in the therapeutic process.

In therapy, countertransference is frequently the source of boundary crossings and breaches. Countertransference can harm the therapist-client relationship and cause treatment to be delayed. It may introduce additional challenges that the client must work through with another practitioner in severe circumstances.

Lesser forms of countertransference, on the other hand, are quite typical. Coaches and therapists are simply human, and their own formative relationships can still have an impact, even if they’ve done extensive work to recognise and cope with the consequences. When countertransference emerges, it’s critical for a coach or therapist to recognise it and actively attempt to counteract it.

Example of Countertransference

When a therapist transfers feelings to a client or acts out of a formative relationship, this is known as countertransference. It can manifest itself in a variety of ways. Let’s look at various ways countertransference can manifest itself in the therapist-client relationship.

Excessive revelation of personal information – If a therapist and a client “click,” it’s easy for the therapist to think of the client as a friend. This may lead to the therapist disclosing personal information that isn’t helpful to the client’s treatment.

Parent-Child Dynamics- The therapist’s personal attachment issues may be triggered by a client’s conduct if the therapist is dealing with their own attachment issues as a result of poor childhood caregiver connections. If a parental dynamic kicks in, the therapist may react out of an inner child dynamic, or they may become domineering or harsh.

Harsh reaction Cultural beliefs — One of the most challenging examples of when a client’s damaging ideas provoke a therapist’s protector dynamic, this is an example of countertransference. Rather than striving to understand where the beliefs come from and gently discussing it with the client, the therapist may lash out in this scenario.

Classic countertransference, on the other hand, is not the same as beneficial self-disclosure. Knowing that their therapist has struggled with a similar issue or seeing how they deal with a comparable circumstance can be beneficial to clients. The issue arises when the therapist unconsciously reacts to a client as a result of a negative dynamic.

What is Negative Countertransference?

Countertransference is not always helpful. 

It can certainly obstruct effective therapy when it goes undetected — or worse, unacknowledged. Even positive countertransference can lead to this, such as when a therapist is so pleased by a patient’s humour that the underlying bitterness is overlooked, or when an attractive patient is never challenged because the therapist urgently wants to be liked.

Countertransference, on the other hand, is more commonly problematic when it is negative.

Countertransference can be used as a sensitive interpersonal gauge and a finely tailored social interaction tool. For example, a therapist who is offended by a patient for no apparent reason may later reveal subtle unconscious provocations by the patient that irritate and repel others, keeping the patient lonely and isolated without realising it.

In the presence of a specific patient, the therapist may feel bored, irritated, paralysed, or scornful. It is the therapist’s role to notice and address these feelings. When the initial therapist’s countertransference is intolerable, a therapist may need to refer the patient to a colleague. Fortunately, if recognised by the therapist, these unpleasant sentiments can not only be understood, but also be employed productively in the session.

How to Handle Countertransference in Coaching

Countertransference has the potential to substantially damage the “working alliance” in a coaching engagement as well as the “therapeutic alliance” in psychotherapy.

Coaches may find it challenging to accept their own lack of knowledge and “not knowing.” Unwanted feelings that are difficult to restrain can be inadvertently stuffed into the coach. Coaches may come to regard themselves as persecutory and unimportant.

What can a coach do about countertransference once they notice it?

You can always take a breath and return to the client’s agenda and the present moment during a coaching session. You might even reveal that you’ve become sidetracked. You may opt to offer your countertransference as potentially beneficial data for your client in some instances and with competence.

Outside of coaching sessions, monitoring is critical for examining your reactions to clients and distinguishing our stuff from theirs. A coach can also assist you in working through those reactions if they are repetitive and stressful.

Working through countertransference for a coach:-

  • Learn how to do “reflective practise,” also known as “active reflection.”
  • Make use of oneself as a tool for learning.
  • Establish a “working relationship” and “fit” with a client.
  • Do not attempt to resolve issues that are incompatible. Be at ease with your ignorance and lack of knowledge.
  • To make challenging subjects more manageable and comprehensible, reframe and even “detoxify” them.

How do I spot countertransference in myself?

Self-awareness is, in a nutshell, our strongest ally. We must be conscious of and inquiring about whether our reactions are appropriate for the time and with this client. It’s also about recognising when we’re responding to alleviate our own discomfort rather than in the best interests of the client. There are three red flags to keep an eye out for:

  1. Keeping A Tab on Intensity of Emotion

When your strength of feeling about a client seems out of proportion to the context, this is a red flag. For example, when you are facilitating a group in which one man dominates the conversation, often speaking over his female colleagues. You may become more and more enraged by this man and demand in strong terms that he let his colleagues speak.  When you cannot stop thinking about this intervention and your anger with this man is so strong after the session that you call your supervisor in tears.  It is better to explore your feelings about it. 

  1. Holding A Grudge or Judgement

This is a warning flag if you find yourself making snap judgments on a coachee or client group. Consider the following scenario: one of your clients has received feedback from her CEO that she has to dress more professionally in the office. You seem to agree that this information could be beneficial to her. Your colleague, on the other hand, becomes enraged with the CEO who provided the critique. This individual was raised to believe that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Ironically, he/she begins to condemn the CEO for providing dress code input, presuming the CEO has some type of negative motive.

  1. Stuckness in A Situation

It’s possible that countertransference is at work when you’re stuck and unclear about how to approach a client. For example, a coach may be torn between continuing to work with a client who has requested further sessions. He realises with his supervisor that he is irritated that the client does not appear to be standing up to his leadership role and becoming more self-sufficient. When he realises the connection to his own struggle with reliance and independence, he gains some perspective on the situation with his supervisor.

A Freudian Overview of Countertransference 

The emphasis on the use of transference and countertransference to inform the therapy distinguishes psychodynamic psychotherapy from other modalities of psychotherapy.

The concept of countertransference has evolved from a negative connotation that the therapist required further examination (Freud’s narrow view) to a broad understanding that countertransference is a collaborative effort between the patient and the therapist.

Countertransference’s origins, function, and management have been a source of debate among psychodynamic therapists. In one of his few comments on the subject, Sigmund Freud 2(pp144-145) identified the original viewpoint in 1910.

He wrote:

We have become aware of the “countertransference,” which arises in [the analyst] as a result of the patient’s influence on his unconscious feelings, and we are almost inclined to insist that he shall recognise this countertransference in himself and overcome it. Now that a considerable number of people are practising psychoanalysis and exchanging their observations with one another, we have noticed that no psychoanalyst goes further than his own complexes and internal resistances permit; and we consequently require that he shall begin his activity with a self-analysis and continually carry it deeper while he is making his own observations on his patients. Anyone who fails to produce results in a self-analysis of this kind may at once give up any idea of being able to treat patients by analysis.”

Because it was simply the analyst’s transference to the patient, this Freudian concept became known as the “narrow” view. Countertransference was a hint that the therapist needed more investigation because it was interfering with the patient’s analysis.

A continuing discussion sprang from this early viewpoint, which has been evident in the psychoanalytic literature for the past 100 years. The original Freudian interpretation of countertransference has a negative connotation, implying that the therapist is experiencing countertransference as a result of unresolved personal problems. The suggestion is that someone who has done their homework should not be distracted by such things. This obnoxious tone is now regarded as a relic of the past.

The Broad View of Countertransference in Modern Era

The idea of countertransference began to broaden in the mid-twentieth century, with countertransference being defined as the therapist’s complete emotional reaction to the patient. In other words, none of the analyst’s emotional reactions were simply a reflection of his or her unresolved issues. The patient provoked some of the analyst’s feelings, which revealed more about the patient than the analyst.

This broadened definition also helped to normalise the notion, allowing countertransference to be seen as a source of essential information about the patient rather than a barrier to aiding the patient or a hindrance in therapy. It became an important therapeutic and diagnostic tool with the “wide,” or “totalistic,” view, which could tell the therapist a lot about the patient’s interior world. Countertransference has gained legitimacy as a useful aspect of psychoanalysis as a result of the move from a 1-person to a 2-person psychology.

Difference between Transference and Countertransference

Within a counselling relationship, two prevalent possibilities are transference and countertransference. Both transference and countertransference describe how the client acts and feels toward the therapist, as well as vice versa. If used correctly, transference and countertransference can be strong therapeutic tools, but if not acknowledged and addressed, they can be damaging to the therapeutic relationship and process.

Transference is defined as when your sentiments for one person are inadvertently diverted to another. It happens on a daily basis in a variety of situations, but it may be both destructive and harmful in a therapeutic session.

Imagine meeting someone who reminds you of a favourite aunt while supermarket shopping. You may treat that individual with kindness and perhaps engage in a more in-depth conversation than you would with a stranger without realising it since you are projecting your aunt’s thoughts onto this person.

Transference gives the counsellor insight into how a client could engage with someone in public in a therapeutic relationship. A professional therapist can both detect and use transference to steer a therapy session, allowing the client to work through emotions with the therapist that they may not be comfortable addressing with others. 

Countertransference is the reaction to a client’s transference, in which the counsellor unwittingly projects his or her sentiments onto the client, just as transference is the concept of a client redirecting feelings meant for others onto the therapist. Countertransference can be beneficial or harmful depending on how it is employed in therapy.

A counsellor may discover that a client who reminds them of an old friend or colleague makes them feel more cheerful, or that a client who reminds the counsellor of a parent makes them feel more parental.

These feelings can be recognised by a qualified therapist, who may even bring them up in session.

The therapist might be able to utilise his or her own feelings toward the client to figure out how other people in the client’s life feel about him or her. When used properly, it can be a valuable tool for gaining information from individuals in a client’s life; nevertheless, if it goes unnoticed, it can jeopardise both the therapeutic relationship and the therapy goals established by the client and counsellor.

Transference is a psychoanalytic term for when a person projects his or her aspirations onto another person. The most prevalent example is when a client develops an emotional bond with the coach, raising them to an idealised position in which the coach replaces a parent or partner.

When a coach responds to transference by accepting the psychological ‘promotion,’ this is known as countertransference.

As a result, the relationship subtly changes.

Transference can also occur in coaching, when the coach admires the successful CEO and everything they have accomplished.

When a coachee is with their coach, for example, they feel completely at ease. It reminds them of a kind priest in various aspects. As a result, she begins to admit to mistakes she has made. The coach ‘forgives’ the manager and assigns them atonement assignments in counter-transference.

Common Patterns of Countertransference 

Therapists are aware that clients frequently react to them as a result of their own behaviours, a process known as transference. Of fact, this predicament also occurs in coaching, though only a few coaching systems pay attention to it.

Each pattern has its own set of transference problems. Clients with the Caretaking Pattern, for example, may endeavour to look after their therapist, whereas clients with the Entitled Pattern frequently push therapeutic boundaries by demanding special attention. The Pattern System can assist you in seeing how a client’s patterns are manifesting themselves in their interactions with you.

Therapists are also aware that recognising when our countertransference reactions to a client are interfering with their therapy or eroding the therapeutic partnership is critical. You’ve undoubtedly had that nagging, uneasy sensation when you realise something isn’t quite right with a particular client. You’re aware that you’re reacting to a customer more than usual.

In two ways, the Pattern System can assist you figure out what’s going on in these scenarios.

(1) Therapists’ normal countertransference reflexes are elicited by each of a client’s patterns. Therapists, for example, may find themselves in power confrontations with clients who have a Controlling or Rebel Pattern. Therapists who work with individuals who have a Dependent Pattern may become overly involved. By clearly observing a client’s interpersonal tendencies, you can be on the lookout for your own reactions that may be interfering with their therapy.

(2) Examining your own habits can also provide insight into possible countertransference reactions. If you have a Caretaking or Dependent Pattern, for example, you may try to connect with a defended client too fast to satisfy your need for connection or to take care of them, frightening the client. You may grow reliant on your clients idealising you if you have a Prideful Pattern. This gives you valuable insight into personal difficulties that you may work on outside of client sessions.

When a client’s therapy appears to be stuck, the Pattern System can be especially useful. You can figure out where the bottleneck is by studying the client’s behaviour patterns. The client may be stuck in a routine that prevents them from delving deeper into the issues they need to address or from changing. Alternatively, the client may have a tendency that is damaging their therapeutic connection with you or causing you to react in ways that are delaying treatment.

(This is an excerpt from the book The Pattern System.)

To Conclude

The key word in matters of transference is change. When one person transfers, the relationship changes. This can be a sharp change. It can also be subtle and imperceptible. The real danger is that it stops being a coaching relationship and becomes something else.

The main message here, then, is one of vigilance by the coach and refusal to accept what can be a very flattering request.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the modern definition of countertransference?

Any sentiments, ideas, or preoccupations, imaginations, or sensations that a therapist has when working with a client are included in a modern definition of countertransference. In therapy, countertransference is frequently the source of boundary crossings and breaches. Countertransference can harm the therapist-client relationship and cause treatment to be delayed.

How are transference and countertransference different from each other?

Both transference and countertransference describe how the client acts and feels toward the therapist, as well as vice versa. If used correctly, transference and countertransference can be strong therapeutic tools, but if not acknowledged and addressed, they can be damaging to the therapeutic relationship and process.

Give some countertransference examples?

Here are some examples of how countertransference might manifest itself in a therapist-client interaction.

  • Excessive disclosure of personal matters
  • Parent-child dynamic
  • The harsh reaction to racist or homophobic beliefs


How is negative countertransference not helpful?

Countertransference isn’t necessarily a good thing. It can certainly obstruct effective therapy when it goes undiagnosed — or worse, unacknowledged. When countertransference is negative, it might be harmful. Countertransference can be used as a sensitive interpersonal gauge and a finely tailored social interaction tool.

How to use countertransference in coaching?

You can always take a breath and return to the client’s agenda and the present moment during a coaching session. You might even reveal that you’ve become sidetracked. You may opt to offer your countertransference as potentially beneficial data for your client in some instances and with competence.