How To Identify The Signs Of Countertransference In Therapy

By Stephanie Kirby

Updated May 08, 2019

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When you attend therapy sessions, you probably aren't expecting to have to deal with anything unprofessional from your therapist. If you're like most people, you just assume that anyone that is a licensed therapist knows what they're doing and will provide you a good experience where you get the help that you need. However, we need to remember that therapists are humans too. They aren't perfect and don't know everything even if they want you to think that they do.

One issue that can arise during counseling sessions is countertransference. This is when therapists transfer their feelings and unresolved issues onto the patient. This can happen when the patient reminds the counselor of someone from their personal life or past. This can be detrimental to counseling sessions, so it's important to know the signs of countertransference in therapy.

Types Of Countertransference In Therapy

There are four different types of countertransference that can take place in therapy.

The first is called subjective. This is when the therapist has unresolved issues that they are placing on the patient. This can be damaging to the patient.

The second type is called Objective. This is caused by the maladaptive behaviors of the patient.

The third type is called Positive. When this happens, the therapist is overly supportive of the patient. They can cross the line by trying to be friends with the patient and share more than what they really should.

The last type of countertransference is Negative. This results in the therapist negatively treating the patient. It could be that they are overly critical of them or that they try to punish or reject them.

Therapists with less experience are more likely to fall victim to countertransference. That's why it's important that they have time working directly under a supervisor when they first start with patients, so there is someone to help them be aware if this is starting to happen.

Signs Of Countertransference In Therapy

There are many signs of countertransference so we won't be able to cover them all here. However, detailed below are some of the most common signs that you should watch for.

  • Your therapist is overly critical of you. They seem to be in a bad mood and are taking it out on you, and there doesn't seem to be an apparent reason for it.
  • As you deal with difficult situations, your therapist is overly sympathetic to you.
  • They provide judgments on situations and people from your life that they are coming up with on their own instead of ones that you are arriving at.
  • Your therapist constantly provides you with advice without letting you arrive at the decisions on your own.
  • They give you the impression that they want to "save" you.
  • You are asked questions and encouraged to provide details that aren't needed for your therapy session and healing.
  • Shows that they are upset or angry about an opinion or belief that you have.

Why Countertransference Is A Bad Thing

Your therapist's job is to remain impartial throughout your sessions. They are there to help you through your situation and to do that they need to keep their own experiences out of your sessions. They should not be passing judgment on you or anyone else in your life. If they do, it can be easy for them to lead you into thinking certain things that you might not have arrived at on your own.

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Therapists that are experiencing countertransference are not giving you the therapy session that you need to address your challenges. If they are putting their emotion onto you, then you end up with another problem to have to overcome. You can't work through your feelings, emotions, and situations when you have to sort through the emotions your therapist is putting on you as well.

You need a therapist that can set aside their life situations, unresolved past, and emotions and focus on helping you get the breakthroughs that you need. Your therapist is not there to be your friend, your parent, or your judge. When they take on any of these roles, they are not doing you a favor. They are wasting your time and your money and could be setting you back further instead of helping you make progress.

How To Break Up With Your Therapist

If you think your therapist is showing signs of countertransference, you have a few options on how to proceed. The first is to confront them about it. Let them know what you are experiencing and why you feel that way. This gives them a chance to respond. If you like them and they can correct their behavior you could consider moving forward. However, if you'd rather not deal with this awkward conversation or you aren't confident that they will change their behavior then it's time to break up with them.

Countertransference, while it might not be on purpose, can be one of the signs of a bad therapist. It can also be a sign of an inexperienced therapist. Either way. When you are putting yourself in a vulnerable situation with a therapist that you need to trust it might be easier to start over with a different therapist.

How To Find A Good Therapist

Just because a therapist is licensed does not mean they are a good therapist. You want to do some research before choosing which therapist to work with. Start by asking for recommendations and checking reviews. The internet is full of reviews for therapists and counselors so you can hear the experience that others have had with the professional.

Credentials

You also want to check their credentials and find out about their experience. Look for what degrees they have and when they were licensed. If they are a newer therapist than you'll want to find out who is supervising them and learn about that therapist as well. You should also look into what type of experience the therapist has. You'll want to find someone that has helped people work through things similar to what you're going through. For example, if you are looking for a therapist that can help you learn how to cope and handle your anxiety and depression, then you probably aren't going to want to go to a therapist that specializes in marriage counseling. While licensed therapists can cover a wide array of mental health challenges, it's likely that they will be more experienced in some areas than compared to others.

Other Considerations

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When searching for a therapist, you will also want to consider things like the cost, location, and availability that a therapist can provide. Start by checking with your health insurance company to find out if they have any coverage for mental health treatment. If they do, then you'll want to look for a therapist that is in the right network. If they don't, then you can move on to comparing the costs of other options. Make sure to ask at the office if they offer any discounts or sliding scales for pricing. These work to make treatment more affordable by lowering the cost based on your income.

You'll also want to find a therapist that can fit you into their schedule. You don't want to have to wait for weeks every time you want to have a counseling session. Along with their availability, you'll want to find an office that is located near you. If you have a busy schedule, the last thing you want is to struggle to make it to appointments on time.

If you don't want to attend therapy sessions in person than you can look into your options for online therapy or teletherapy, these services allow you to have access to therapists without having to leave your house. It allows you to maintain more of a feeling of anonymity because you don't have to sit in front of someone in their office. It can also be easier to get access to the help you need because you don't have to find the time for travel and appointments. Many services offer text or email access making it easy to stay connected throughout the week.

Trust Your Instincts

Therapy is going to be the most effective when you are comfortable with the direction you are going. If you leave therapy each week feeling as bad or worse than when you showed up, there's a problem. This is a good sign that you need to break up with your therapists. The purpose of therapy is for you to find ways to cope with and recover from the challenges that you face. The goal is for you to improve your life. If your therapist is getting in the way of that progress being made than a change needs to happen. Trust your instincts and follow your gut. If things don't "feel" right then there is a good chance they aren't. It's better for you to find a new therapist that you are comfortable with than to continue down the same road.


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