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Freud on Transference

By Richard Snowdon MA (Merit) Psychoanalysis

Sigmund Freud, 1938. Source: Wikimedia Commons.INTRODUCTION ‘The Dynamics of Transference’ (Freud 1912), addresses the origin of transference. It explains how transference necessarily emerges in analysis and how it both aids, and hinders (as resistance), the recovery of the analysand. ‘Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through (Further Recommendations on the Technique of Psychoanalysis II)’ (Freud 1914), explains Freud’s developments on transference. It provides a new way of thinking about transference as a repetition of the past. It also introduces a new technique to overcome the resistance through the working-through. The critique compares and contrasts both of these papers, with particular attention to prototypes, the reasons for dependence in the analysand, and the counter-transference.

For Freud, the erotic life of an individual is formed as a “stereotype plate” during “early” childhood. This process happens through the “combined” effect of both innate and acquired influences. It is unique to each individual. It determines how he falls in love, what instincts* are satisfied and which aims** are set in adulthood. If circumstances allow, this process is “constantly repeated” during his life. Freud uses the development of the erotic life of an individual to explain how the transference appears in analysis. A portion of libido that is conscious and is directed towards reality has passed fully through development.  A portion of libido that is unconscious and is directed away from reality has been held up during development. Both portions of the libido form the erotic attitude of an individual. If “unsatisfied”, he will meet new people with both conscious and unconscious “libidinal anticipatory ideas”. When he enters analysis and becomes an analysand he transfers these anticipatory ideas on to the analyst. This is the transference. More specifically, the analysand transfers on to the analyst either his father, mother, brother or sister “imago” from childhood. The imago is an unconscious prototypical figure which determines the analysand’s way of apprehending other people. It is formed on the basis of the first real and phantasised relationships from childhood. (Freud 1912:99/101).
Freud writes that transference can also appear as a resistance. The resistance is everything in the words and actions of the analysand that obstructs the work of the analysis, which is to gain access to his unconscious. Freud considers the part that the resistance plays in relation to the free association of the analysand. Free association is “the fundamental rule of psychoanalysis which lays it down that whatever comes into one’s head must be reported without criticising it”. Resistance appears when the free association of the analysand stops. It can be removed by the analyst, who assures the analysand that he is being “dominated” at that particular moment by an association which is “connected” with the analyst. Transference appears as resistance because it is hard for the analysand to admit any “wishful impulse” if it has to be revealed to the person that it relates to; the analyst. However, the transference of “affectionate and devoted dependence” can “facilitate” admissions. (Freud 1912:101/107).

Freud uses the “sources” of the resistance to explain more fully why transference appears as resistance in analysis. He writes that there are two “sources” of the resistance. The first source derives from “forces” which are responsible for regression. The portion of libido that is unconscious and is directed away from reality increases. Simultaneously, the portion of libido which is conscious and is directed towards reality decreases. This “regressive” course revives the analysand’s infantile imagos. The work of the analysis here is to discover the portion of the libido that is unconscious in order to make it conscious. However, the “forces” which made it regress “rise up” as resistances against the work of the analysis. The second and “largest” source of resistance derives from the “attraction of the unconscious”. A portion of the libido that is conscious is under “the influence of the attraction” of “the portions of those complexes belonging to the unconscious”. The work of the analysis here is to remove the resistances which accompany each association of the analysand. Free association represents a “compromise” between the work of the analysis and the resistance. (Freud 1912:103).

Laplanche and Pontalis describe a complex as an organised group of ideas and memories of great affective force, which are either partly or totally unconscious. They write that complexes are formed on the basis of childhood relationships, and structure emotions, attitudes, and adapted behaviour. (Laplanche and Pontalis 1973:72). Freud views the complex as becoming conscious in portions during analysis. He writes that a portion of the complex that is suitable for transference on to the analyst produces the next free association. The transference is often announced by a resistance in the form of a stoppage in the free association. Freud infers from this process that the “transference-idea” has become conscious ahead of other free associations because it “satisfies the resistance”. This process also indicates the close proximity of the complex. The work of the analysis is to remove the initial resistance, and then remove subsequent resistances as they accompany other portions of the complex which are becoming conscious. Freud writes that an analysand who knows that distortions will not keep the complex unconscious, hinders the work by using the “greatest” distortion; transference. Therefore “every conflict has to be fought out in the sphere of transference”, which is the “strongest weapon” of the resistance. (Freud 1912:103/104).
Freud states that transference as resistance cannot be understood without distinguishing between a “‘positive’” affectionate transference, and a “‘negative’” hostile one. A positive transference is more “admissible” to consciousness than a negative transference. Both positive and negative transferences can occur simultaneously in neurotics. Freud writes that people who we admire or respect in adulthood may represent the unconscious sexual objects of childhood. Transference on to the analyst causes a resistance only when it is a positive or negative transference of “repressed erotic impulses”. Both  positive and negative transferences can be removed by the analyst making them conscious to the analysand. The portion of the transference that is the analysand’s affection, devotion and dependence on to the analyst continues as it is “admissible to consciousness and unobjectionable”. This portion of the transference is the “vehicle of success” which helps the analysand to achieve a “permanent improvement in his psychical situation”. (Freud 1912:105/107).
Freud writes that the transference resistance can cause the analysand to disregard his commitment to free associate, the “logical arguments” of the analyst, and recovery. He writes that when the unconscious impulses of the analysand are “awakened”, he wants to act on them. The analyst tries to get the analysand to intelligently consider and understand the unconscious impulses within the framework of the analysis and his life. This “struggle” between the analyst and the analysand, “between intellect and instinctual life, between understanding and seeking to act”, is the domain of transference. This struggle must be won to achieve the “permanent cure of the neurosis”. Although transference presents the analyst with the “greatest difficulties”, it does him the “inestimable service” of making the “hidden and forgotten erotic impulses immediate and manifest”. (Freud 1912:107/108).
(Further Recommendations on the Technique of Psychoanalysis II) (FREUD 1914)
Freud writes that the analyst should study whatever is on the surface of the analysand’s mind. The analyst makes interpretations mainly to recognise and uncover the resistances. He then makes these resistances conscious to the analysand. When the resistances are overcome the analysand “often relates the forgotten situations and connections without any difficulty”. The work of the analysis is therefore to “overcome resistances due to repression” and to then “fill in gaps in memory”. The analysand however, often does not remember his forgotten past. Instead he acts it out. The analysand repeats his forgotten past without knowing that he is doing so. Freud gives an example of an analysand who does not remember that he was critical towards the authority of his parents. Instead the analysand “behaves in that way” towards the analyst. This repeating which Freud refers to as the compulsion to repeat, “replaces the impulsion to remember”. Freud is interested in the relationship of the compulsion to repeat to the transference, and to the resistance. The transference is a repetition of the forgotten past on to the analyst. The resistance, when increased, results in an increase of the acting out. (Freud 1914:147/151).
Freud separates further the remembering from the repeating of the analysand by their relations to either a positive or negative transference. During a positive transference the analysand is remembering. During a negative transference the remembering is replaced with repeating. Like the remembering of the analysand, his repeating is also “under the conditions of resistance” which “determine the sequence of the material” that becomes conscious. This repeated material consists of once repressed “inhibitions”, “unserviceable attitudes”, “pathological character-traits”, and “symptoms”. The material is treated “not as an event of the past” but as “a present day force” which is traced “back to the past”.  The work of the analysis involves the analyst pointing out to the analysand that these are “necessary and temporary aggravations and that one cannot overcome an enemy which is absent or not within range”.  There is a “perpetual struggle” for both the analyst and the analysand. However, the positive “attachment” of the analysand on to the analyst through the transference is useful in maintaining the analytic relationship. Problems arise when the “untamed instincts assert themselves” before the positive attachment can be utilised or when it is broken  by a “repetitive action”. (Freud 1914:151/154).
Freud states that the “main instrument” for turning the compulsion to repeat into a “motive for remembering” is the “handling of the transference”. The compulsion to repeat is admitted into the transference where it can display the forgotten past of the analysand. If he complies with the “necessary conditions” of the analysis his symptoms are given a “transference meaning”. The “ordinary neurosis” is replaced with a “transference neurosis”. This transference neurosis has all the “features” of the ordinary neurosis. However, the transference neurosis represents an “artificial illness” which is “accessible” to the intervention of the analyst. For Freud, transference is “an intermediate region between illness and real life through which the transition from the one to the other is made”.(Freud 1914:154).
Freud considers the problem of when a new analyst acquaints the analysand with a resistance but there is often no improvement, and the resistance actually increases. He writes that this technique of the new analyst will not necessarily result in the “immediate cessation” of the resistance. The analyst must allow the analysand time to become “conversant” with the resistance and then “overcome” it. Freud here introduces and describes this process that the analysand must undertake as “working-through”. The analysand must adhere to the working-through whilst maintaining his free association. This is “arduous” for the analysand and “a trial of patience” for the analyst. However, it “effects the greatest changes” in the analysand. Only when the resistance is at its strongest can the analyst and analysand “discover the repressed instinctual impulses which are feeding the resistance”. When this discovery happens the analysand is convinced of the “existence and power of such impulses”. (Freud 1914:155).
In the 1912 paper Freud describes how conscious and unconscious libido form anticipatory ideas that are transferred by the analysand on to the analyst. Transference is connected with prototypes or imagos, either the father, the mother, the sister or the brother. The  analyst is inserted in to one of this psychical series which the analysand has already formed. Freud thinks of only one prototype at a time being represented in the transference, which for him was primarily the father. He does not differentiate between the sociological and psychoanalytical father. In contrast Klein wrote of the mixture in the analysand’s phantasy of the parents as one figure which she termed the “combined parent figure”. (Klein 1952:208)  The concepts of both Freud and Klein are limited. They do not take in to account the other real and phantasised infantile relationships of the analysand, which may have existed outside of the family. For Freud, the transference allows the analyst to begin to uncover the unconscious material of the analysand. Transference is therefore useful to the work of the analysis, but it also hinders it in the form of resistance. The irony is that the transference is often announced by the resistance. Overcoming the resistance is crucial as it often stops the free association of the analysand. If the transference and resistance are both due to the person of the analyst, then he also both aids and hinders the uncovering of unconscious material by his very person. 
In the 1914 paper Freud writes on the problem of the analysand repeating or acting out his unconscious material instead of remembering it. Although the concept of acting out appears in the 1912 paper, the notion of repeating is a development that is properly explored only in the 1914 paper. As with remembering in the 1912 paper, repeating happens under the constraints of resistance. In the 1912 paper Freud differentiates between a positive transference being more admissible to consciousness than a negative one. These two types of transference are developed further in the 1914 paper where Freud differentiates a positive transference in terms of remembering to a negative transference when repeating takes place. In the 1914 paper Freud puts forward the concept of replacing the ordinary neurosis with the transference neurosis, which is more amenable to treatment. The transference neurosis allows the symptoms and behaviour of the analysand to be related to the analytic relationship. Through it, Freud believes it is easier to turn the compulsion to repeat in to remembering. He expands the understanding of transference in the 1914 paper with the introduction of working-through. This allows the analysand to become familiar with and overcome the resistance; something that new analysts were not allowing for. Both papers similarly describe how difficult the work of the analysis is specifically in relation to the transference, for both the analyst and the analysand. What is also made clear in both papers is that the transference provides the opportunity of improved mental health for the analysand.
In both the 1912 and 1914 papers Freud writes of the devoted dependence of the analysand. For Freud, it maintains the analysand in the analysis which leads to an improvement in his mental health. However, it is also extremely useful for any analyst who wants to maintain financial income from analysands who are encouraged to be dependent. According to Norcross and Arkowitz there is a “lack of strong evidence to support differential outcomes among existing therapies”. (Norcross and Arkowitz 1989:2). From a financial point of view it is therefore hard for current day analysts to justify the existence of analysis. It is both a long and expensive form of treatment in comparison to others. This problem is only exasperated by the technique of analysis which encourages devoted dependence though the transference. Whilst Freud was establishing the fundamentals of psychoanalysis he often had a less than full consulting room. He also had a young family to support and no other form of regular income apart from lecturing for a few hours a week. As Gay points out, even in 1909 Freud’s financial income was a “touchy matter” for him. (Gay 1993:207). Freud was constructing a treatment that changed the ordinary neurosis into a transference neurosis. This meant that the illness of the analysand was focused on the analytic relationship. In addition, Freud encouraged the devoted dependence of his analysands. Perhaps he was also constructing a treatment that would improve his financial income.
What is striking is the total absence within both Freud’s 1912 or 1914 papers of any discussion on the subject of counter-transference. It is not clear as to why Freud makes this omission. Glover states that analysts are “afraid” to discuss their “true unconscious attitude” towards their analysands. (Glover1937:131). We do not know if this was the case with Freud. Prior to the writing of his 1912 and 1914 papers, Freud had stated that counter-transference is a “result” of the analysand’s “influence” on the “unconscious feelings” of the analyst. He also stated that because of the countertransference, “no psycho-analyst goes further than his own complexes and internal resistances permit”. He considered that the analyst must therefore submit to a personal analysis. (Freud 1910:144/145). Freud conducted his own self-analysis, informally with Fliess. Jung and Ferenczi analysed his dreams during their boat trip to America. (Gay 1993:209). However, these two attempts at understanding his own complexes and resistances, cannot adequately replace the self-knowledge that could have been achieved through a formal analysis with another analyst; something Freud never accomplished. It is ironic that Freud who is the man most associated with the idea of the unconscious, was perhaps not as knowledgeable as he could have been about his own. Although Freud contributed much which aided the theory and technique of psychoanalysis, the absence of an analysis in his own life is a hindrance to his analysis of others.
Freud’s 1912 paper addresses the origin of transference. It explains how transference necessarily emerges in analysis and how it both aids, and hinders (as resistance), the recovery of the analysand. Freud’s 1914 paper explains his developments on transference. It provides a new way of thinking about transference as a repetition of the forgotten past. It also introduces a new technique to overcome the resistance through the working-through. The critique compares and contrasts both papers with particular attention to prototypes, the reasons for dependence in the analysand, and the counter-transference.

*The instinct or drive (German: Trieb), is a process consisting of a pressure which directs the individual towards an aim. An instinct has its source in a bodily stimulus. Its aim is to eliminate the state of tension obtaining at the instinctual source. It is in the object that the instinct may achieve its aim. (Laplanche and Pontalis 1973:214).

**The aim of the instinct is an activity to which the instinct exerts pressure and whose outcome is a resolution of internal tension. The activity is sustained and orientated by phantasies. (Laplanche and Pontalis 1973:21).

This paper 'Freud on Transference' was written in 2000. It was first published on this website in 2006.

Freud, S., (1910), The Future Prospects of Psycho-Analytic Therapy, in Strachey, J., (Ed.), (1978), The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XI, Hogarth, London.
Freud, S., (1912), The Dynamics of Transference, in Strachey, J., (Ed.), (1978), The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XII, Hogarth, London.
Freud, S., (1914), Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through (Further Recommendations on the Technique of Psychoanalysis II),  in Strachey, J., (Ed.), (1978), The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XII, Hogarth, London.
Gay, P., (1993), Freud: A Life for Our Time, Papermac, London.
Glover, E., (1937), Symposium on the Theory of the Therapeutic Results of Psycho-Analysis, in Jones, E., (1969), The International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, Volume XVIII, Dawson, London. 
Klein, M., (1952), The Origins of Transference, in Mitchell, J., (Ed.), (1991), The Selected Melanie Klein, Penguin, London.
Laplanche, J., Pontalis, J.B., (1973), The Language of Psycho-Analysis, Norton, New York.
Norcross, J.C., Arkowitz, H., (1989), The Evolution and Current Status of Psychotherapy Integration, in Dryden, W., (Ed.), (1996), Integrative and Eclectic Therapy: A Handbook, Open University, Buckingham.

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