Resolution of the Transference

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The resolution or dissolution of the transference means the end-point of a transference neurosis and the full recognition by the analysand that his or her relationship to the psychoanalyst is based primarily on the repetition of earlier relationships, namely those of childhood.

Freud's first explicit mention of the resolution of the transference was in "Recommendations to Physicians Practising Psycho-Analysis," where he described it as "one of the main tasks of the treatment" (1912e, p. 118). The introduction of this idea, implying as it did an overall view of the transference, was part of Freud's conceptualization of the transference neurosis, and of the analytic treatment as a process: "on the whole, once begun, it goes its own way and does not allow either the direction it takes or the order in which it picks up its points to be prescribed for it. . . . A man can, it is true, beget a whole child, but even the strongest man cannot create in the female organism a head alone, or an arm or a leg. . . . He, too, only sets in motion a highly complicated process, determined by events in the remote past, which ends in the severance of the child from its mother. A neurosis as well has the character of an organism" (1913c, p. 130).

The "resolution of the transference" is one of the most important issues of all for psychoanalytic technique. The transference is at once the motor of the treatment and a means for combating resistances, but it may also itself be the source of resistances to the progress of the analytic work. It can be seen as the manifest content where the latent content is the infantile neurosis. Transference is not just a kind of "acted-out" repetition whose elucidation opens the way to the patient's remembering; it is at the same time a new experience"a piece of real experience, but one which has been made possible by especially favorable conditions, and it is of a provisional nature" (1914g, p. 154). The resolution of the transference (or its "overcoming" by the analysand) necessarily subsumes all this, as well as the patient's eventual detachment from the analyst once this "piece of experience," with its "provisional nature," has come to an end.

Freud was always much concerned with the proper handling of transference phenomena, with restricting the power of suggestion to what would advance the analytic work, and with the danger of embarking on some kind of mutual analysis or love relationship, even in the most limited sense. As he wrote in "The Dynamics of Transference," "We take care of the patient's final independence by employing suggestion in order to get him to accomplish a piece of psychical work which has as its necessary result a permanent improvement in his psychical situation" (1912b, p. 106). Freud's view was that the intensity of the transference neurosis must be limited, so that the patient could "recognize that what appears to be reality is in fact only a reflection of a forgotten past" (1920g, p. 19).

Freud viewed the resolution of the transference as an imperative in psychoanalysis, which was properly so called solely "if the intensity of the transference has been utilized for the overcoming of resistances. Only then has being ill become impossible, even when the transference has once more been dissolved, which is its destined end" (1913c, p. 143). That this resolution had to occur by degrees, along with the progress of the treatment, was something that Freud indicated implicitlyas for example when he recommended that "the transferences" (considered here by analogy with symptoms) be destroyed one by one, as the work proceeded, or when he observed that negative aspects of the transference "in good time" (1905 [1901], p. 118). The "dissolution" of the transference, which coincided necessarily with the end of the treatment"At the end of an analytic treatment the transference must itself be cleared away" (1916-17a [1915-17], p. 453)was possible only if its progress towards resolution had paralleled the evolution of the analysis itself.

Thus the resolution of the transference was not just an ethical necessity for Freud, it was also an intrinsic aspect of the treatment; the patient's presenting neurosis was transformed into a transference neurosis, a kind of relay condition whose cure by means of the resolution of the transference secured a general therapeutic outcome: "All the patient's symptoms have abandoned their original meaning and have taken on a new sense which lies in a relation to the transference. . . . But the mastering of this new, artificial neurosis coincides with getting rid of the illness which was originally brought to the treatmentwith the accomplishment of our therapeutic task. A person who has become normal and free from the operation of repressed instinctual impulses in his relation to the doctor will remain so in his own life after the doctor has once more withdrawn from it" 1916-17a [1915-17], pp. 444-445).

James Strachey (1934) introduced transference interpretation, a method of relating current transference experience to the past as a way of helping resolve the transference; he saw this method as a model of "mutational" interpretation and as a specifically psychoanalytical therapeutic approach.

Paul Denis

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


Freud, Sigmund. (1905e [1901]). Fragment of an analysis of a case of hysteria. SE, 7: 1-122.

. (1912b). The dynamics of transference. SE, 12: 97-108.

. (1912e). Recommendations to physicians practising psycho-analysis. SE, 12: 109-120.

. (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.

. (1916-17a [1915-17]). Introductory lectures on psycho-analysis. SE, 15-16.

. (1920g). Beyond the pleasure principle. SE, 18: 1-64.

Strachey, James. (1934). The nature of the therapeutic action of psycho-analysis. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 15, 127-159. Reprinted in International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 50 (1969), 275-291.

Further Reading

Modell, Arnold H. (1988). Treatment, psychic structure: Resolution of the transference. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 36 (S), 225-240.

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Resolution of the Transference

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Resolution of the Transference