The term "counter-identification" has two different uses. For English-speaking authors, it refers to an analyst's unconscious identification with his or her patient and thus designates a counter-transferential attitude. For certain French authors, it designates the subject's adoption of character traits, drive tendencies, or of defensive modes that are opposite to those of an object that the subject fears or with which he refuses to identify.
The first meaning is generally recognized by Anglo-phone authors. Robert Fliess defined it specifically as an irregularity in the counter-transference that must become a topic of the analyst's self-analysis if it is to be overcome. Such a distortion of empathy results in a part of the analyst's ego identifying with a part of the patient's ego, causing the analyst to no longer observe the patient with the necessary analytic attitude. In consequence, the analyst might fail to recognize psychotic factors in the patient (Fliess, 1953). León Grinberg similarly described a "projective counter-identification" as "the result of an excessive projective identification that is not consciously perceived by the analyst, who consequently is 'led' by it. Thus the analyst conducts himself as if he had actually and concretely acquired, by assimilation, the features that were projected onto him" (Grinberg, 1962).
The other, less common meaning of the term characterizes the claims of certain patients who try to organize their lives opposite to those of their parents or intensely invested objects from their early childhood. A statement such as "I just don't want to be like them" indicates a tactic that belongs to the domain of consciousness. This tactic is most often an attempt at negating an unconscious identification. The analysis of such an identification remains one of the fruitful moments of the treatment.
Alain de Mijolla
See also: Counter-transference; Identification; Transference in children.
Fliess, Robert. (1953). Countertransference and counteridentification. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association. 1, 268-284.
Grinberg, León. (1962). On a specific aspect of counter-transference due to the patient's projective identification. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis. 43, 436-440.
Mijolla, Alain de. (1987). Unconscious identification fantasies and family prehistory. International Journal of Psychoanalysis. 1, 397-403.