Could someone kindly explain the difference
between counter transference and projective identifications?
Let me give it a try....
Transference is a universal tendency (according to psychodynamic theory) for all people to project issues from their past onto their current significant others. Essentially (in lay terms) we expect people in our present lives to behave the way we were treated as children...so we respond accordingly.
Countertransference is when a helper projects their personal issues onto their clients ... same exact mechanism.
Projective identification is a primitive defense in which someone induces in another person the feelings they are struggling with. In a sense, they communicate their feelings nonverbally and evacuate them by provoking the same feelings in someone else. They dont feel them anymore but you do.
Where countertransference and projective identification meet, is when a client is able to induce feelings in the helper that trigger them, but the feelings are actually NOT a projection from the helpers past but a form of communication where the helpees feelings are put into the helper.
The only way to know the difference is through a lot of soul searching around our feelings with our clients...is this my issue or theirs? Supervision helps a lot, because by definition we are never aware of these mechanisms when they are happening.
Good luck with this! It's heady stuff!
Varda R. Mann-Feder
JB: Both countertransference (CT) and projective identification (PI) have numerous definitions. Increasingly, CT has come to mean the array of emotional reactions that are evoked in our work with clients: anger (and even hate), love, guilt, despair, etc. Some of this might be considered a rational response to various events (anger at a client who threatens you) and some might have more to do with one's personal issues (i.e. a client who reminds you of a family member).
PI is a phenomenon that evokes CT responses. The way I like to conceptualize it as a sort of an interpersonal re-dramatization of one's intrapsychic life. For example, a client (unconsciously) pushes the therapist's "buttons" which gets him/her to act as if he/she were the client's (i.e. nagging) mother. This certainly happens in non-clinical situations (friendships, workplace, marriages, etc) as well. It can be worth reflecting on this if you find yourself acting (often repetitively) in a pattern of behavior vis a vis a given client which seems unproductive.
One can ask: is the client somehow enlisting you in
recreating an interpersonal drama from his/her past? Note: it is
usually a bad idea to interpret this with clients; however, the simple act
of reflecting on this can be useful.
I have an article which addresses issue of compassion fatigue and countertransference which is available online at www.clarewinnicott.net.
See the link for "clinical applications" and the article "compassion fatigue".
Silver Spring, Maryland
Many thanks for the replies - it has made it much clearer for me :-)