Managing Countertransference in Mental Health Professionals
By Fiona McDermut
Although mental health professionals are trained to treat a variety of disorders and psychological distress, we cannot discount their own psychological reactions. Therapists are human too, and they experience similar ups and downs to the people seeking their help. Additionally, many therapists feel a secondary wave of emotions when they can strongly identify with a client’s obstacles. For many people, it is difficult to react to others without involving personal emotions—it is no different for psychologists. In the world of mental health, this reaction based on personal mentality is known as countertransference.
A therapist’s ability to work objectively with a client is dependent on the management of their own countertransference. Although therapists may develop strong emotional opinions about situations in their clients’ lives, it is important to always decide what is in the best interest of the clients.
Some examples of countertransference in practice include:
- Disclosing too much personal information to a patient
- Having unclear boundaries in the patient-doctor relationship
- Being overly supportive or critical of the client
- Any other actions in which the therapist allows their personal emotions to interfere with providing proper treatment
Identifying with a patient’s strife is not necessarily a bad thing. It is important for mental health professionals to feel empathy, and to fully understand a client’s situation in order to develop a comforting therapeutic environment. However, this becomes unproductive when this empathy turns into extreme distress in the therapist and/or interferes with providing high quality care.
Luckily, there are two main ways in which mental health professionals regularly work on managing countertransference:
- Participating in individual or group supervision or consultation with other therapists
- Seeking therapy of their own which provides an outlet to discuss and handle personal emotional needs without projecting it onto the patient.
The role of the therapist is ultimately to help the patient, not create more stressors in the client’s life. If the therapist or patient feels that this cannot be done successfully, it may become necessary to terminate the relationship and pursue treatment with a new therapist.
If you or someone you know is experiencing countertransference, please contact our psychotherapy offices in New York or New Jersey to talk to one of our licensed professional psychologists, psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, or psychotherapists at Arista Counseling & Psychotherapy. Contact our Paramus, NJ or Manhattan, NY offices respectively, at (201) 368-3700 or (212) 722-1920 to set up an appointment. For more information, please visit http://www.counselingpsychotherapynjny.com/