Erotic Transference

views updated

Erotic Transference

The term transference was first used by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) and his mentor Josef Breuer (1842–1925) in 1895 to describe a shift of feelings, desires, and modes of relating that were experienced in important past relationships, typically with one's mother and father, to another person. In psychoanalysis, the other person would be the psychoanalyst; in everyday life the shift could be to anyone with whom the subject has a significant relationship, including a colleague, supervisor, or spouse. Erotic transference is a shift to another person of erotic feelings, desires, and modes of relating, heterosexual or homosexual, that have some connection to past erotic attachments. In psychoanalysis, an erotic attachment occurs when, for example, a male patient wants to be loved by his female analyst and these feelings extend to a desire for a sexual relationship with the analyst. Or a male patient may want to be loved by his male analyst and by extension develop a desire for a sexual relationship with the analyst. If the feelings are prominent and sustained, they may constitute an obstacle to treatment. In everyday life erotic transference occurs when, for example, an employee, rather than simply having feelings of respect for a superior, falls in love with the superior and believes that a sexual relationship is the only possible mode of relating to that person.

Countertransference, a concept first described by Freud in 1915 as highly explosive forces, occurs when an analyst's feelings, desires, and modes of relating to a patient are derived from earlier experiences in the analyst's life and are transferred to the patient. The term countertransference arose in the context of misbehavior by early analysts that others in the profession thought should be controlled and suppressed. Rather than feeling temporary identification and empathy with the patient, the analyst identifies too strongly and loses neutrality and objectivity. In erotic countertransference, the analyst believes that some form of sexualized relationship, ranging from touching to sexual intercourse, is what the patient needs to be helped or cured. For example, a patient may arouse feelings in the analyst reflecting unresolved emotions over a previous love relationship, possibly with the analyst's mother, or some other significant love relationship. If these feelings are not understood through self-analysis and supervision, effective treatment is seriously jeopardized.

Erotic transference does not affect men and women in treatment in the same proportions. Women in treatment with men analysts exhibit the condition more often than men in treatment with women (Lester 1982). In the latter situation, patients often direct erotic feelings outside the treatment, because males are less likely to admit their erotic feelings to a female analyst.

In the early twenty-first century, much research focuses on erotic transference and erotic countertransference, but there remains considerable resistance to frank discussion of these topics. For example, there are few papers on homosexual erotic transference and fewer on homosexual erotic transference. Psychoanalysts Phylis Tyson and Helene Russ observed that female analysts may be so psychologically and culturally inhibited that they do not experience the full development of erotic transference with their male patients. Psychoanalyst Jodie Messler Davies suggests that European and North American child-rearing practices do not provide early interpersonal experiences in which sensual erotic contact is contained and given meaning. The result is that such encounters are dissociated and unformulated, and easily disowned as an adult.


Davies, Jodie Messler. 2001. "Erotic Overstimulation and the Co-Construction of Sexual Meanings in the Transference-Countertransference Experience." Psychoanalytic Quarterly 70(4): 757-788.

Freud, Sigmund. (1915) 1955. "Observations on Transference Love." In Standard Edition of the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud. Vol. 12. London: Hogarth Press.

Freud, Sigmund, and Josef Breuer. (1895) 1955. "Studies in Hysteria." In Standard Edition of the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud. Vol. 2. London: Hogarth Press.

Lester, Eva. 1982. "The Female Analyst and the Erotized Transference." International Journal of Psychoanalysis 66: 283-293.

Russ, Helene. 1993. "Erotic Transference through Countertransference: The Female Therapist and the Male Patient." Psychology 10: 393-406.

Tyson, Phylis. 1986. "The Female Analyst and the Male Analysand." Presentation to the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute.

                                           Michael R. Bieber