It’s inevitable that the therapist would feel something towards the client. Whatever she feel is always useful information to build the therapeutic alliance. Whether the client moves tender feelings or irritation, I believe that the therapist needs to allow those feelings to emerge. After the therapist acknowledges what she feels, she will have to decide what to do with those feelings. Does she want to ignore them? Does she want to share them with the client? Does she want to keep them a secret? Does she want to share them in supervision? Whatever decision she takes, she will make an ethical consideration.
Countertransference or co-transference
Therapists often refer to what they feel towards the client as countertransference. However, in my experience it is often impossible to establish whether the feelings ‘belongs’ to the client or to the therapist. As anything else in the therapeutic relationship, those feelings are co-created. In Humanistic Psychotherapy, and especially in Gestalt, we talk about co-transference. This is a term that I much prefer, because it stresses the shared nature of the phenomenon.
Ethical considerations and different approaches
How the therapist manages those feelings depends largely on their theoretical background. Freud, for instance, wrote that the therapist’s feelings can interfere with the outcomes of therapy and Jung’s view was not dissimilar. However in Humanistic psychotherapy we consider any feeling that emerges as an information.
4 Step to think about co-transference
In my experience I learned that there are a few steps that I usually take when working on my own feelings:
1) Acknowledging what I feel - Listening to my body and my emotions.
2) Allowing myself to feel what I feel. This means not holding back and really allowing myself to feel anything that emerges from the client. Do I feel tender and caring? Do I feel irritated? Do I feel angry?
3) Allowing time to reflect on my feelings. I might write some process notes or discuss with my supervisor or my therapist.
4) Decision making. What do I want to do with those feelings? As I mentioned earlier, this needs to be an ethical decision. I need to think about codes of ethics and consider what's best for my client.
I would only share what I feel when the therapeutic relationship is well established and if it is in the best interest for my client. The reason why I would carefully share what I feel, is that what happens in the therapeutic room might be similar to what happens outside. This is only a supposition and would not apply to every client. However, a carefully timed disclosure might give the client some insight into how other people perceive them. Again, this would only make sense if it is in their best interest.
Sitting with uncomfortable feelings
Most of the time I feel supportive and protective towards my clients, but I can also feel irritated and annoyed at first. However, what I learned is that if I sit with that uncomfortable feeling long enough and I become curious about it, I find something else. Without fail, I find within me some sort of compassion and empathy for them. I find the strength to stay present to the uncomfortable feelings and I ‘survive them’ with my client.
If the client is unable to inspire compassion in the therapist, then it could be the therapist’s job to create and cultivate that compassion. This, I believe, can be the aim of a relational and Humanistic approach: to allow the client to become more connected and connect-able.