Displacement of the Transference

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Displacement of the transference, also called lateral transference, is a defense in which transference is directed away from the analyst to a third party or an activity that both conceals and represents undesirable aspects of the transference. The idea of displacement of the transference originated in Freud's technical writings. In "On beginning the treatment" (1913), Freud cautioned analysts about sessions that were too infrequent, which allowed the analysis to wander down side paths, and about patients who discussed their treatment with close friends every day, which would cause a "leak" in the analysis and the transference. In "Remembering, repeating, and working-through" (1914), he also said that the patient's transference is revealed "not only in his personal attitude to his doctor but also in every other activity and relationship which may occupy his life at the time" (p. 151).

Later, other authors (for example, Daniel Lagache and Michel Neyraut) mentioned displacement of the transference when discussing transference, usually speaking of it as resistance of a sort. Not until the work of Alain Gibeault and Evelyne Kestemberg (1981) was a positive role attributed to it. For these authors, the displacement of the transference prevents only the awareness of the transference, not the analysand's unconscious cathexis in the analysis and with the analyst. In the analysand, the external object nevertheless maintains a symbolic link with the analyst and really represents the internal-object relation resulting from the repetition of an infantile experience. These authors nevertheless recognize that the displacement of the transference, even if it is sometimes useful (notably in cases of character neurosis, where it moderates the direct confrontation with an archaic imago that is too threatening), may also interrupt the analytic process if it becomes too fixed and impervious to interpretations.

In the work of François Duparc, the displacement of the transference has been linked to analysands' difficulties in representing traumatic experiences in their histories and in connecting the affects mobilized by treatment to sufficiently elaborated representations. Thus the displacement of the transference could be considered as a less apparent aspect of negative transference, that is, of the invisible transference that Freud complains about in "Analysis terminable and interminable" (1937) in connection with his analysis of Sándor Ferenczi. Lateralization of the transference would be a primary defense and counter-cathexis of a nonrepresentable or not yet represented experience. By means of a displacement of the transference, the patient might be trying to protect the analyst from a violent discharge in the transference, which the analyst could not bear without a traumatizing counter-transferential reaction.

One can describe a range of transferences, according to their greater or lesser lateral aim: the direct transference, which in the case of traumatic material induces disturbing and strange counter-transferential experiences; transference on a model, which is more protective because the model is the inert part of the transference that limits the involvement of nonrepresentable experiences; and finally displacement of the transference, which aims at protecting both the patient and the analyst from a traumatic outbreak.

FranÇois Duparc

See also: Counter-transference; Negative therapeutic reaction; Transference.


Duparc, François. (1988). Transfert latéral, transfert du négatif. Revue française de psychanalyse, 52 (4), 887-898.

Freud, Sigmund. (1913). On beginning the treatment (further recommendations on technique of psycho-analysis I). SE, 12: 121-144.

. (1914). Remembering, repeating, and working-through (further recommendations on the technique of psycho-analysis II). SE, 12: 145-156.

. (1937). Analysis terminable and interminable. SE, 23: 209-253.

Gibeault, Alain, and Kestemberg, Evelyne. (1981). Le personnage tiers. Cahiers du Centre pour la psychanalyse et la psychothérapie, 3, 1-84.