Transference and Countertransference

Transference and Countertransference

Transference and countertransference are relationship phenomena in social work. Transference is when the Client subconsciously or consciously connects with the social worker to represent another relationship like a father figure or mother figure (Weber, 2020). Transference is common when working with children for several reasons. Many children tend to observe the characteristics of their parents to their social workers. They entirely attribute fatherly or motherly feelings to their social workers. The feelings can be either bad or good. Transference also often happens when child attaches hostility, anger, adoration, love or other possible feelings to their therapists. Some therapists actively encourage it especially for children with Adverse Childhood Experiences as a way of trying to understand their mental processes. This helps them understand the behaviors, actions, and feelings of a child.

Countertransference is when the social worker transfers their own emotions onto the Client. Instead of the Client getting their needs met, the social worker gets his/her needs met. Any treatment that goes on long enough will include transference and countertransference. Countertransference is common when working with children due to the conflicting, intense, and frequent emotions that commonly occur (Malawista, 2004). Both children and parents are likely to be recipients of diverse countertransference emotions. Even when the parents are physically absent, the emotions can be transferred to imagined parent figures. Cases of abused children can trigger hostile feelings towards abusive parents or parents who have abandoned their children. Most therapists also experience countertransference when they feel protective towards children in their custody.

However, unaddressed transference and countertransference can be problematic. A social worker who is adequately trained is aware of these issues and can use them as a tool to better understand the child he or she works with and appropriately differentiate between what might be related to the child and the social worker’s issues being brought into the dynamic (Searles, 2017). Social workers also need to recognized and manage transference and countertransference by following a child’s encounter and have nonjudgmental encouragement of self. When a social workers can skillfully address both transference and countertransference issues, they can help children identify these patterns in their lives, enabling them to have more successful relationships and live a fuller life.















Searles, H. F. (2017). Concerning transference and countertransference. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 27(2), 192-210.

Malawista, K. L. (2004). Rescue fantasies in child therapy: Countertransference/transference enactments. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 21(4), 373-386.

Weber, C. (2020, July). The unknown and the horrific in the appearance of evil: On the borderline of presence and absence in transference and countertransference relationships. In International Forum of Psychoanalysis (Vol. 29, No. 3, pp. 148-158). Routledge.

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