Tuesday, 17 June 2008

The joy of transference

Two things have happened this weekend. Two entirely inconsequential things, in the course of a whole lot of other entirely inconsequential things. They are so inconsequential that I may be in danger of winning a Blogging That Scrapes The Barrel Award. (Surely someone has built a little widget for that by now? And if not, why not?)

Inconsequential event #1

Shopping on Saturday morning, in our local (20-minute drive away) Spar. The fact that we are shopping at the Spar, and not the local (30-minute drive away) Booths means that this is a 'small' shop and not a 'proper' shop.

"A bottle of diet coke?" I ask Stray, holding up a small bottle. What I really mean to say is "do you want this small bottle of coke to drink whilst we walk Ruby?" but this is implied rather than said. 

"Okay" she replies, though what she actually means is "what I would really like is one of the big bottles so I can have coke all weekend, given that this is the only remaining bad habit from my misspent youth. However, I know that you disapprove of this ethically-corrupt multi-national polluting the environment with their over-production of plastic containers, so I'll just take the small one. Also, this is a 'small' shop and not a 'proper' shop, so perhaps I can buy a large bottle next time we go to Booths."

For the record, Stray has never been in trouble with me for buying a large bottle of diet coke.

We buy the small bottle. 

Saturday evening. I cook. 

"Diet coke?" I ask her.

"We don't have any", she replies wistfully.


Inconsequential event #2

Saturday evening. I am cooking. I am picking absent-mindedly at a bowl of nuts whilst making a tomato salad. I am in a quiet reverie, listening to Roy Harper.  

I hear the kitchen door open and it surprises me. It surprises me so much that I drop the nuts and my hand starts to shake. I wait for Stray to shout at me for picking at food whilst I am cooking.

For the record, Stray has never shouted at me for picking at nuts whilst I am cooking. 

*******

Stray has an unconscious expectation that she can't have what she wants.  

I have an unconscious expectation that I will be punished for......well, to be honest, for pretty much anything. 


Such is the power of transference. Those blueprints for relating that we learn in childhood and carry with us throughout our life; that set of organising principles that informs the way we both respond to and initiate contact with others. 

We behave as if the thing that we unconsciously expect to happen is already happening. And somehow we end up sort-of making it happen. Such is the paradox of transference. The thing that we most fear is the thing that we end up recreating.  

It's not rocket science. And yet this is precisely the 'thing' that generates the most debate within different therapeutic modalities.

Should we or should we not pay attention to the transference within the therapeutic relationship?

is the question that arises time and time again between cognitive and analytic therapies.

Should we understand and challenge our belief systems, in accordance with cognitive-behavioural principles, or should we re-experience and transform them, in accordance with analytic-relational principles.   

It seems to me that we have little option. Transference is neither a choice nor a disease. We cannot avoid it and we don't catch it: it simply happens. Mostly it will be inconsequential. Stray survived her lack of diet coke, and I was fine once my hand had stopped shaking.  

It did serve to remind me just why I am a relational therapist, however. 

22 comments:

Böbø said...

THREE inconsequential things! Actually. You, Stray and Badger all had a convivial Sunday lunch with a semi-exhausted Bobo and Hullaballoo. Obviously there was no transference there. None.

Stray got the blue cheese burger that she wanted. You weren't punished for your lamb henry. And I got to have my mine without being abandoned. Result!

Awwww, you like Roy Harper too.

Reading the Signs said...

Ms M, I am much preoccupied with questions about transference at the moment. For I think sometimes it can happen that what occurs between client and therapist isn't transference but the 'real' thing. For example, I recently brought a question to my T about parking because a couple of times I nearly didn't find a space. It's a particular issue with me because of M.E. and needing to find a place where I won't have to walk up hills at certain times of day. I thought I detected a kind of coldness when he seemed unwilling to enlighten me. It transpires he thinks I'm deliberately inviting the negative response by asking the question at all (could have found it out "for myself", that I am (presumably?) testing boundaries. It's an interesting one really, because perhaps I should have remembered that this is how it is in psychoanalytic therapy. My husband's T (T.A.) actually sent him a text on his birthday and gave him a card, and that is how it is in the context of that therapy.

As it turned out, I lost my temper about T's response to the parking thing and then felt terrible about my "bad" behaviour. A whole mixed soup of things going on here: a dash of negative transference to spice things up.

And we've barely even started. Gawd!

Stray said...

Hey Bobo - thanks for choosing such a lovely venue. I did wonder if we were going to be abandoned for having pineapple in our burgers at one point ;)

Ms Signs - goodness. I think there is a danger sometimes that in therapy we can imagine that everything is transference. As you say, sometimes the real stuff is happening too. Apparently American therapists think Brits talk about transference as if it was a disease that should be eradicated!

I think your therapist sounds like he's over-analysing on the parking thing. Sometimes people can help you and sometimes they can't. He might have had a simple helpful suggestion. I can imagine that if you'd not asked him and then it had come up later that you'd not asked, then there would have been something to 'make' of that as well ;)

I'm sure lovely Ms M will have much wiser things to say :)

Miss Tickle said...

I think this is an excellent and eloquent post about transference, especially for me since I am only just beginning to dip my toes into its depths. Transference Made Simple by Ms Melancholy and Stray. Your next textbook perhaps? ;)

Misssy M said...

Meeester is the King of Transference.

I have second bag of crisps and he's all "oooh Missy...second bag of crisps, aaah aaaah!" or I sit and wire my way through too much chocolate and he's "Oh Misssy, too much chocolate". It will be his fault if I start hinding in the bathroom or getting up in the middle of the night like some eating disorder sufferer to eat (two, or three) Twixes.


Yet I'm the 8 and a half stone stick and he's the one with the double chin problem....(he does not see booze as being fattening, but his birthright)

Aaah, it's so therapeutic over here..how much do I owe?

enidd said...

wow, enidd has never understood this before. a ray of light! she too, isn't allowed to get what she wants. (she thinks her parents thought it was bad for her). she hadn't realised that it still happens, 40 years later.

this is sad, and as she can't afford therapy, presumably permanent.

trousers said...

Wonderful reading. I too have the unconscious expectation that I can't have what I want. Which then prevents me from asking for what I want. Lose=lose. Damn!

Ms Melancholy said...

Hey lovely Bobo, Stray was almost punished for having a pineapple in her burger - dirty, dirty, dirty! - which would've been another kind of transference altogether. Thanks for a lovely lunch, by the way.

Hey there Signs, this is a tough one! Given that transference is simply a replay of the groove that we have been reinforcing most of our lives, I think there is always an element of transference in all of our relating. However, sometimes there is just a simple need for an exchange of information too. If you trust that you have a good therapist I would go with the flow of the interpretation and see what happens - and getting angry sounds like a good outcome, by the way...it's a very good way to get to know ourselves.

Enjoy your therapy. Ultimately it doesn't really matter what is and what isn't transference, so long as your therapist is willing to work with the process in some way and not just ignore it. Oh, and I too have sent a client a text on her 30th birthday!

Darling Stray, you can have whatever you want, so long as it doesn't involve putting fruit on a burger ever again. It's just soooooo wrong.

Hi there Miss Tickle, why thank you - and there's a thought indeed.....( although it does get much more complicated than this too, as you will find out! )

Hi Misssy M , aha! That is a classic case of projection - Meester eats like a piggy then splits off from his piggy self, projects it on to you and then persecutes you for it. I don't want to be responsible for you telling him this however. Best just to gloat over the fact that you are lovely and slim and he is the one with the chin problem. Passive smugness is far better than marital discord, in my experience.

Hey there enidd how lovely to see you here. Years of therapy could help you with that - or at least help you to see that life is just full of disappointment anyway and that not getting what you want is the way of the world....and then you die. Now, aren't you really, really sad that you can't afford to put yourself through that?

Hey lovely trousers, I refer you to the above answer. God, life is so complicated sometimes!

Political Umpire said...

No no, "Blogging That Scrapes The Barrel Award" should be awarded to those without the time to say anything profound, and therefore just post pictures of pretty girls.

Political Umpire said...

Which Roy Harper were you listening to btw? Have a Cigar by Pink Floyd remains one of my favourites

trousers said...

The other thing to bear in mind is how often the anticipation (in wanting something) is greater than the realisation.

Anyway, I wanted to concur with political umpire - this is certainly not barrel-scraping blogging ms m. Though if political umpire has any recommendations in that respect?

(Not really. I wouldn't be interested in looking at such low-level blogs. Or would I? Doth I protest too much? Should I go for a lie down?)

Political Umpire said...

Well mine of course - the source of the said pretty girls. I've also been accused of sexism (by Stephen, a thoroughly civilised sort so I'm sure he doesn't really mean it) for calling a non-Scottish girl a 'lass'; does anyone have a view on that? I see it as no different from calling a man a chap, still who knows.

Ms Melancholy said...

Hi there Pumpy, why, Flat Baroque and Berserk, of course. It's a classic.

I couldn't agree more that people who just post pictures of pretty girls should be publicly humiliated....and that people who refer to women over the age of 21 as 'girls' or even 'lasses' should suffer the same fate...

Pumpy, you are skating on thin ice, it seems. How lovely to have you back :)

Hey Trousers, hop over to Pumpy's place...he's doing a special on 'pretty girls' at the moment (both of them super talented, but apparently we're not mentioning that bit.)

Reading the Signs said...

Stray, I'm going to remember that transference-as-disease notion :)

lovely Ms M, thanks for those words, which are helpful and come at a good time.

Political Umpire said...

Well it's always nice to be here too Ms M. And I'm not just posting pictures either, I've even learned how to do videos too.

Does it make it any better that the two pretty (and super talented) girls I've referred to are in fact older than me?

There once was a lawyer named Guy Chapman. It was suggested he change his name to Person Personperson to avoid causing offence to his colleagues ...

Ms Melancholy said...

Hey lovely Signs, I think the implication of the transference-as-disease idea is that we can't actually be cured of it, which I find remarkably liberating. Glad to be of use. Go lightly x

Hi there Pumpy, Person Personperson? How fab!

Dandelion said...

Thank you so much for posting this, Ms M! I just nearly left my T (after 5 years) because of her using "transference" as the excuse for everything she does that upsets me. But sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes T's really aren't perfect.

Re-living hideous, upsetting, or even abusive experiences, in an environment which is supposed to be safe and therapeutic is not good for anyone, in my book, and a T that says it is, is sick. Aside from which, that would mean that those most in need of therapy are the least well treated by it.

Transference may not be a choice, but how the T responds to it is. Whatever my history, for eg, I cannot force someone to abuse me if they don't want to...can I? Even if I concede that I might be able to make them want to, isn't the other person still responsible for their actions?

Absolute Vanilla (& Atyllah) said...

I spent a lot of time, once upon a time, pondering the nature of transference - and fretting about it. Until I realised that once one became aware - or mindful - one could actually set about changing one's responses and behaviour. That, I think it this the hopeful part of it all, irrespective of whether one takes a cognitive or an analytical approach.

And what? Stray put fruit on burgers - that's as bad as putting fruit on pizza! Give her that large bottle of coke instead. Please!
;-)

Stray said...

Hey AV ...

Confession: I put fruit on everything.

Pizzas
Roast dinner
Rice
Cheese
Sandwiches
Burgers
Salads

It's not always the same fruit mind, and Ms M usually pulls a face at the suggestion but then bravely agrees to give it a go and discovers that actually she likes Shrimp and Mango thai salad or whatever I'm suggesting. She's good at taking risks ;)

I have realised in talking to my dad that actually it's not simply that I have an expectation that I can't have what I want, it's more like an expectation that I will be judged for asking for more than I deserve.

Good scottish working-class roots etc. Luckily Ms M has similar values about 'treating' yourself. We could be multi-millionaires and we'd still be scraping the fur off the top of the jam.

Hey Dandelion, I shall carefully sidestep most of the trickiness and leave Ms M to reply when she's back from the course she's on at the moment.

From my own perspective (I don't think this applies to anything that could be counted as abuse) one of the most important steps in my therapy was when I was finally able to recognise that I deserved 'better' therapy than I was getting. 'Better' in this particular case meant more frequent, more available in a crisis and in an environment that was less dangerous for me.

The way I see it, the facts were that my therapist had cut back her availability (to fortnightly), didn't provide crisis support, had an office which was in the middle of the city and had no space in which I could decompress before being out on the streets. The transference bit was that I genuinely believed that I deserved no better, and that somehow my therapist agreed that I didn't deserve better or else she would be either providing it or telling me to leave.

In many ways the circumstances which drew out the transference were a really helpful part of the therapy. In the therapy I had afterwards I addressed the practical stuff and that particular transference stopped emerging.

Lovely Yalom talks about valuing the fact that, given time, almost everything which emerges within the client's external world will emerge within the therapy room. It's only when it emerges that we have the opportunity to work with it in an experiential way. This is why computer-aided CBT (or any CBT in my opinion) is so limited. CBT is working with the reflective processes not the implicit-memory responses which are the source of most of our troublems!

My reflecting brain can answer 'what?', 'where?', and 'when?' and my implicit process memories can store automatic responses to 'how?', but 'why?' is the question which drives us as human beings, and our 'why?'s are the product of reflection upon limbic-stored implicit memories which cannot be translated into symbols. When transference is significant in the therapy then the therapist will respond limbically to the source of our transference. Their job is to be better at holding, reflecting upon and reacting to their limbic reponses than we are. They may still choose to act upon those urges, either consciously because they feel that there is something that needs to be drawn out or unconsciously because they haven't sufficiently digested their own counter-transference.

I think the most interesting aspect of relational therapies is that because significant change occurs within the un-symbolised, raw, emotional memory of the limbic system, most of what goes on cannot be fully understood symbolically. It can't be narrated or turned into a diagram.

Which is a bugger as I'm trying to write a couple of chapters on the neurobiology of how human beings create societies and it would be really neat if it was simpler to explain!

Jon M said...

Owwww! My head hurts! Let back in the shallow end!

Dandelion said...

Wow, stray, thank you so much for taking the bother to write all that out. It really makes a lot of sense to me, thank you so much.

Hullaballoo said...

Delicious lunch guys, thanks you.

And for the record, I don't beleive in transference. If I think it, it is so. End of. That way I can cut out all the crap in the middle. Now I just have to speak to that in TA terms for my case study. Should be a doddle really.

And that lovely Yalom chappie; yes he wears polo necks well and could teach Bobo a thing or two about facial hair, but what does he really know?

Oh dear, now you have become my primary school teachers to me and I am becoming overly concerned with poor punctuation. Bother. I still think transference isn't true though, so there.