Patterns of Transference and Countertransference

Therapists know that clients often react to them because of the client’s patterns, a phenomenon called transference. This situation also happens in coaching, of course, though only some coaching systems pay attention to it.

Each pattern has typical transference issues. For example, clients with the Caretaking Pattern may try to take care of their therapist, while clients with an Entitled Pattern often push the therapeutic boundaries by asking for special treatment. The Pattern System can help you recognize how a client’s patterns may be playing out in their relationship with you.

Therapists also know that it is important to recognize when our countertransference reactions to a client are interfering with their therapy or undermining the therapeutic alliance. You have probably felt that niggling, uncomfortable feeling when you know that something with a particular client isn’t quite going right. You know you are being more reactive to a client than you like. The Pattern System can help you understand what might be going on in these situations in two ways.

(1) Each of a client’s patterns elicits typical countertransference reactions from therapists. For example, therapists can get into power struggles with clients with a Controlling or Rebel Pattern. Therapists can become overly involved with clients with a Dependent Pattern. By seeing clearly the interpersonal patterns of any given client, you can be on the lookout for reactions of yours that might be interfering with their therapy.

(2) You can also get insight into possible countertransference reactions by examining your own patterns. For example, if you have a Caretaking or Dependent Pattern, you might try to connect with a defended client too quickly because of your need for connection or your need to take care of them, thus frightening the client. If you have a Prideful Pattern, you might become dependent on having your clients idealize you. This gives you important insight into issues of yours to work on outside of your sessions with clients.

The Pattern System can be particularly helpful when a client’s treatment seems to be stuck. By understanding the client’s patterns, you can gain an understanding of where the bottleneck lies. The client may have one particular pattern that is blocking their going deeper into the issues they need to explore or is keeping them from changing. Or the client might have a pattern that is undermining their therapeutic alliance with you or triggering certain reactions in you that are waylaying the therapy.

Let’s look at some examples of transference and countertransference patterns. In the descriptions below, I will assume that you are the therapist.

Dependent Pattern

Transference of Dependent Client

The client sees you as a nurturing mother (or father) and becomes overly dependent on you.
The client sees you as a non-nurturing mother (or father) and feels hurt and angry.

Countertransference Toward Dependent Client

You become overly involved in caring for the client.
You are repulsed by the client’s excessive needs.

Countertransference of Therapist with Dependent Pattern

You become too emotionally involved with your client because of your dependency needs.

Caretaking Pattern

Transference of Caretaking Client

The client tries to take care of you.
The client picks up on clues about your pain or life struggles and tries to engage you in talking about them.
The client notices your insecurities and tries to assuage them.

Countertransference Toward Caretaking Client

You allow the client to take care of you more than is appropriate.

Countertransference of Therapist with Caretaking Pattern

You take care of the client so much that it interferes with the client’s feeling necessary pain or interferes with their taking responsibility for their life.

Rebel Pattern

Transference of Rebel Client

The client refuses to cooperate with much of the therapy.
The client fights with you and criticizes your approach.

Countertransference Toward Rebel Client

You feel ineffective and incompetent. You feel hurt by the client’s criticisms and refusals.
You become frustrated with the client.
You get into arguments and power struggles with the client.

Countertransference of Therapist with Rebel Pattern

If you have a client with a Controlling Pattern, you become angry at them.

Passive-Aggressive Pattern

Transference of Passive-Aggressive Client

The client experiences you as pressuring them to perform. The client consciously wants to please you but fails to do therapy in a way that produces change. Or if the client does the therapy well, the client fails to progress in their life or denies any therapeutic progress. Unconsciously, this is an expression of anger at you and an attempt to defeat you because the client experiences you as attempting to control them by changing them.

Countertransference Toward Passive-Aggressive Client

You become frustrated with the client for failing in therapy.
You feel ineffective and incompetent as a therapist.

Countertransference of Therapist with Passive-Aggressive Pattern

If you are annoyed with the client about something, you unconsciously act out your anger at the client passive-aggressively by being late for sessions, double-booking, or being unattuned to the client.

Victim Pattern

Transference of Victim Client

The client complains to you about their misery in an unconscious attempt to get you to fix them without their needing to do any work.
The client blames you for their problems or inability to change.

Countertransference Toward Victim Client

You fail to see the client’s victim stance and keep trying to reassure and encourage the client inappropriately rather than challenging them to take responsibility for participating in the change process.

You become angry and frustrated at the client for not changing.

Countertransference of Therapist with Victim Pattern

You can’t take responsibility for your mistakes when challenged by clients.
You tend to blame difficult clients and feel that they are impossible.

Distancing Pattern

Transference of Distancing Client

The client avoids a personal/emotional relationship with you or denies that anything like that is happening.

Countertransference Toward Distancing Client

You allow the client to treat your relationship as if it were purely instrumental and had no personal side to it.
You move too quickly to connect with the client and scare him or her.

Countertransference of Therapist with Distancing Pattern

You see yourself as simply an expert clinician and ignore the personal/emotional side of your relationship with clients.

Self-Effacing Pattern

Transference of Self-Effacing Client

The client is afraid that you feel judgmental toward them or don’t like them.

Countertransference Toward Self-Effacing Client

You become overly involved in reassuring the client that you like them.
You are turned off by the client’s insecurities.

Countertransference of Therapist with Self-Effacing Pattern

You need reassurance from the client that the client likes and respects you.
If a Caretaking or People-Pleasing client gives you a lot of reassurance, you just soak it in and don’t see the client’s pattern.

Controlling Pattern

Transference of Controlling Client

The client refuses to allow you to do very much because the client feels that they must be in control of the therapy.

Countertransference Toward Controlling Client

You get into a power struggle with the client.

Countertransference of Therapist with Controlling Pattern

You are too directive with your clients, so they don’t gain enough sense of personal power and being in charge of their growth. And your clients either become too compliant, or you get into power struggles with clients who are Rebellious or Controlling.

These are just a few of the patterns that have implications for transference and countertransference.