The reflected relationship: the science of transference

This week’s Science News has an article on transference, originally a Freudian concept of how feelings from one relationship can affect another if the two people share similarities.

In its simplest sense, transference is taking out your feelings of frustration on your partner when you’ve just had an argument with the bus driver. You’ve just transferred them from one person to another.

More commonly, it’s used to describe the idea that you re-experience certain feelings and relationship patterns you developed with important people in your childhood when you meet new people who share similarities with the original person.

In other words, if you didn’t trust your father, you’re less likely to trust people who remind you of your father.

Transference is key in Freudian psychotherapy, where the therapist attempts to be a ‘blank screen’ onto which the patient can project and transfer their feelings through the therapeutic relationship.

This allows the therapist to see the process in action and make the patient aware of it, so they can change and improve their relationship patterns.

This is one Freudian concept that has remained quite popular in modern psychology, although it’s rarely been subjected to controlled research.

This is beginning to change, however, as some researchers are starting to test the idea experimentally, and finding that the effects seem to be measurable in the lab.

The Science News article looks at some of the research being conducted by Profs Susan Andersen and Glen Gabbard that has been exploring this interesting interpersonal effect.

Link to Science News article ‘Past Impressions’.

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