The term transference denotes a shift onto another person—usually the psychoanalyst—of feelings, desires, and modes of relating formerly organized or experienced in connection with persons in the subject's past whom the subject was highly invested in. Transference (Übertragung ; literally, "carrying over") was first used in Studies on Hysteria (Freud and Breuer, 1895d), and it gradually developed a more precise meaning over time with progress in the understanding of psychoanalytic treatment in its different dimensions. As of 2005, the term covers all the transference phenomena met with in analytic practice, more specifically, transference love, the transference relationship, transference neurosis, narcissistic transference, negative transference, and so on.
Transference involves transferring libidinal cathexis from one person to the form, personality, or characteristics of another. The quantity of libidinal energy deployed in such transfers varies and may be considerable, comparable in strength even to the original cathexes. There are two important points to note in this connection. First, what is mobilized here is libido; the other forms of instinctual energy evoked by Freud are not involved. Self-preservation, for example, plays no part in transference. Second, the withdrawal of libido from one object and the cathexis of another with it, as in states of mourning, is not a transference phenomenon. Transference implies maintenance of a particular relational form and fidelity to a past relationship that have been preserved in the unconscious.
The experience of psychoanalysis supports the conclusion that transference phenomena occur naturally in the course of ordinary life, especially with love relationships. Such "wild" transferences usually structure new relationships with outcomes very different from what happens during psychoanalytic treatment. As Freud put it, "Psycho-analysis does not create [transference], but merely reveals it to consciousness and gains control of it in order to guide psychical processes towards the desired goal" (1910a , p. 51). In its full meaning, transference is what is observed in the course of the treatment and what constitutes an essential precondition of the effectiveness of treatment. A subject incapable of any kind of transference is unsusceptible to treatment by analysis.
At first, in Studies on Hysteria, Freud viewed transference in terms of the hypnotic analyst-patient relationship, that is to say, solely in its relational, emotional, and amorous aspects. Freud considered establishing such a relationship to be a prerequisite of success with the cathartic method, just as establishing a hypnotic state is a prerequisite for hypnotic suggestion. For patients who put their trust in the analyst, Freud wrote, it is "almost inevitable that their personal relation to him will force itself, at least for a time, unduly into the foreground. It seems, indeed, as though an influence of this kind on the part of the doctor is a sine qua non to a solution of the problem" (1895d, p. 266). On several subsequent occasions Freud again related transference and suggestion, reiterating that transference was a precondition of suggestion. At the same time, he connected the intensity of the patient's relationship with the analyst with what he called a mésalliance (false connection) between a memory from the subject's past and the therapeutic situation: The content of a past wish arises "in the patient's consciousness unaccompanied by any memories of the surrounding circumstances which would have assigned it to a past time." The wish is then linked to the analyst, with whom the patient is already legitimately connected. "As the result of this mésalliance—which I describe as a 'false connection'—the same affect is produced which had forced the patient long before to repudiate this forbidden wish. Since I have discovered this, I have been able, whenever I have been similarly involved personally, to presume that a transference and a false connection have once more taken place" (p. 303).
Thus a transference is not only the patient's love of the analyst but also the transposition of an old relation onto him. Once Freud had reached this conclusion, he perceived that this second aspect of the transference took the form of a new illness, and that it could derive from very ancient relationships indeed. In "Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria" (1905e ), for instance, he writes, "But the productive powers of the neurosis are by no means extinguished; they are occupied in the creation of a special class of mental structures, for the most part unconscious, to which the name of 'transferences ' may be given" (p. 116).
Gradually the notion of transference neurosis came into relief for Freud: "Provided only that the patient shows compliance enough to respect the necessary conditions of the analysis, we regularly succeed in giving all the symptoms of the illness a new transference meaning and in replacing his ordinary neurosis by a 'transference-neurosis' of which he can be cured by the therapeutic work. The transference thus creates an intermediate region between illness and real life through which the transition from the one to the other is made. The new condition has taken over all the features of the illness; but it represents an artificial illness which is at every point accessible to our intervention" (1914g, p. 154). Repetition in the transference becomes the means whereby the patient remembers forgotten, unconscious mental attitudes: "The part of the patent's emotional life which he can no longer recall to memory is re-experienced by him in his relation to the physician" (1910a , p. 51).
Thus transference is the motor of the psychoanalytic cure, in more than one sense. For one, the transference introduces a new element into the patient's mental situation, a "piece of real experience" (1914g, p. 154). For another, the transference is a necessary precondition of the patient's acceptance of interpretations: "When is the moment for disclosing to [the patient] the hidden meaning of the ideas that occur to him? . . . Not until an effective transference has been established in [him], a proper rapport with him. It remains the first aim of the treatment to attach him to it and to the person of the doctor. To ensure this, nothing need be done but to give him time" (1913c, p. 139). Lastly, it is the energy of the transferred affects that supplies the force needed to remove resistances.
At the same time, transference is also responsible for resistance: "In analysis transference emerges as the most powerful resistance to the treatment, whereas outside analysis it must be regarded as the vehicle of cure and the condition of success" (1912b, p. 101). A kind of collusion may be struck up between resistance and transference if transference serves the aims of resistance or if a "distortion through transference" (p. 104) is used to mask a conflict. Thus analysis of the transference takes center stage, becoming the very heart, and a defining part, of the treatment. "The decisive part of the work is achieved by creating in the patient's relation to the doctor—in the 'transference'—new editions of the old conflicts; in these the patient would like to behave in the same way as he did in the past, while we, by summoning every available mental force [in the patient], compel him to come to a fresh decision. Thus the transference becomes the battlefield on which all the mutually struggling forces should meet one another" (1916-1917a [1915-1917], p. 454).
Freud described two forms of transference, negative and positive. Positive transference covers all aspects of attachment to, and confidence in, the analyst; it is essential to successful treatment. Negative transference denotes hostile cathexes or excess cathexis, which may lead the patient to break off the therapeutic relationship.
The treatment, as it progresses, may be accompanied by such ancillary transference phenomena as lateral transferences. Lateral transferences are cathexes, parallel with the cathexis of the analyst, of some figure capable of focusing that portion of the subject's libido and wishes that cannot be directly expressed to the analyst. Such transferences escape the sphere of transference proper, which is intermediate between the inner world and outside reality, and thus are inaccessible to analysis. But the relations they create may in reality be of great value in other ways to the patient.
The erotic dimension of the transference can constitute an obstacle to psychoanalytic cure in patients in whom disparate arguments connected by a nebulous logic prevents any shift in mental processes of the amorous cathexis of the analyst (1915a, pp. 166-167). Concerned by Ferenczi's experimentation in this regard, Freud warned against offering any direct satisfaction to the patient; the danger was, he felt, that the analyst would find himself in the position of the pastor who attempted the death-bed conversion of an insurance salesman, only to leave with an insurance policy but no convert (p. 165).
See also: Counter-transference; Displacement of the transference; Idealizing transference; Identification; Narcissistic transference; Negative therapeutic reaction; Negative transference; Psychotic transference; Resistance; Resolution of the transference; Therapeutic alliance; Transference/counter-transference (analytical psychology); Transference depression; Transference hatred; Transference in children; Transference love; Transference neurosis; Transference relationship; Twinship transference/alter ego transference; Working-through.
Freud, Sigmund. (1905e ). Fragment of an analysis of a case of hysteria. SE, 7: 1-122.
——. (1910a ). Five lectures on psycho-analysis. SE, 11: 5-55.
——. (1912b). The dynamics of transference. SE, 12: 97-108.
——. (1913c). On beginning the treatment (further recommendations on the technique of psycho-analysis I). SE, 12: 121-144.
——. (1914g). Remembering, repeating, and working-through (further recommendations on the technique of psycho-analysis II). SE, 12: 145-156.
——. (1915a). Observations on transference love (further recommendations on the technique of psycho-analysis III). SE, 12: 157-171.
——. (1916-1917a [1915-1917]). Introductory lectures on psycho-analysis. SE, 15-16.
Freud, Sigmund, and Breuer, Josef. (1895d). Studies on hysteria. SE, 2: 48-106.
Frank, George. (2000). Transference revisited/transference revisioned. Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Thought, 23, 459-478.
The tendency of clients to transfer to the therapist their emotional responses to significant people in their lives.
Transference is the tendency for a client in psychotherapy , known as the analysand, to transfer emotional responses to their therapists that reflect feelings the analysand has for other significant people in his or her life. Transference often echoes clients' relationships with their parents or with other persons who played a central role in their childhood . They may become excessively dependent on or sexually attracted to the therapist; they may develop feelings of hostility or detachment. Whatever form transference takes, it is considered to be at the heart of the therapeutic process. Sigmund Freud believed that clients need to relive the central emotional experiences of their lives through transference in order to become convinced of the existence and power of their own unconscious attachments and motivations. The awareness gained through transference helps clients understand the sources of their behavior and actively aids them in working through and resolving their problems.
Sigmund Freud described the workings of transference using an analogy to chemistry. Likening the clients' symptoms to precipitates resulting from earlier emotional attachments, he compared the therapist to a catalyst and the effects of transference to a higher temperature at which the symptoms could be transformed. According to Freud, the phenomenon of transference is not unique to the psychoanalytic relationship between client and therapist—significant patterns of relationship are commonly re-enacted with "substitutes" other than psychotherapists. Psychoanalysis , however, is unique in drawing attention to this process and utilizing it for therapeutic purposes.
Freud, Sigmund. New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. New York: W. W. Norton, 1933.
Hall, Calvin S. A Primer of Freudian Psychology. New York Harper and Row, 1982.
trans·fer·ence / transˈfərəns; ˈtransfərəns/ • n. the action of transferring something or the process of being transferred: education involves the transference of knowledge. ∎ Psychoanalysis the redirection to a substitute, usually a therapist, of emotions that were originally felt in childhood (in a phase of analysis called transference neurosis).