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Setting Clear and Ethical Boundaries with Clients

Section 5
Effective Tools for Coping with Transference and Counter Transference

Question 5 | Answer Booklet | Table of Contents

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Ideally, when boundaries are effective and ethical, the relationship is honest, realistic, responsible, and safe. To accomplish this, the dynamic of transference and counter transference needs to be explored.

♦ Transference
As you know, your client may tend to relate to you in terms of how he or she has related to significant others in his or her past. In transference, a female client might see her domineering father in a therapist she views as domineering. Thus, the client may react with the same helpless anger and frustration that she felt as a child. When the transference reaction is carried to an extreme, the reality of the current therapy relationship is lost.

♦ Counter Transference
As you know, counter transference, by definition, is a set of conscious or unconscious emotional reactions to a client. It is identical to transference except that it applies to the feelings, wishes, and defensive operations of the therapist towards the client.

What are your counter transference issues? How do you control the effect they have on your therapy relationships? Think for a moment. The client, who is a manipulating child and outwits the school counselor in a conference, may arouse the same rage in you as did your childhood friend under similar circumstances.

We transfer not only feelings, but also ways of responding to these feelings, and when we utilize these responses without awareness of their true origin and meaning, they are often self-defeating. Ask yourself. How do I recognize the reality of a current situation? How do I become aware of my potential for counter transference? How do I become capable of both controlling counter transference in myself and utilizing it with clients to advance their therapeutic goals?

♦ Tool for Keeping Reality in View
One of the best tools for dealing with transference and counter transference reactions I find is to keep the reality of current situations in view. That is, regarding making a counter transference boundary, I use my self-talk as a grounding tool. If a client is raising his or her voice and I find myself feeling fearful and anxious, I repeat calmly to myself, "This is not your abusive father. This is the client, Harry, who is angry about his cancer diagnosis." Or I repeat affirmations like "I am okay, I am safe. I am worthy of love."

Transference occurred when my client remarked to me, "I can talk with you just like I did with my uncle." I replied empathetically, "But I'm not your uncle." This statement set a boundary and opened the door for consideration of how this relationship differed from the client's previous one, with his uncle, and how things had changed from the past.

QUESTION 5
One of the best tools in setting a boundary with transference or countertransference is to state what? To select and enter your answer go to Answer Booklet.


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