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Stern, D.B. (1987). Unformulated Experience and Transference. Contemp. Psychoanal., 23:484-490.

(1987). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 23:484-490

Unformulated Experience and Transference

Donnel B. Stern, Ph.D.

TRANSFERENCE DOES NOT ATTAIN a form compatible with words until that moment in the treatment in which it is described. In fact, the words used to describe transference give it its shape and meaning. Prior to its description transference is not explicitly meaningful. Unformulated transference exists in a vague and indeterminate state which, if it were worded, could be spoken in more than one way, perhaps several ways. And since the description eventually chosen is jointly chosen by patient and analyst, the very shape and character of the patient's transference experience, its warp and woof and not just its meaning, is a product not only of the patient, but also of the analyst, and of the interaction between the two. These points have been approached from several directions in the psychoanalytic literature, especially from the interpersonal perspective. I will approach them through a discussion of language.

Transference is a description of certain aspects of the relationship between patient and analyst, and like any description it is a construction, a composition of elements abstracted from a whole (Schafer, 1983). It is in the interest of putting one foot in front of the other that we ignore in daily living the fact that description, however simple, requires the selection and crystallization of salient details, and their combination and interpretation. Multiple good descriptions of the same phenomenon co-exist. Which is chosen depends upon the deepest purposes that guide our involvement with the phenomenon to be described. In all of life, but with special emphasis in our own field, for "deepest purposes" read "unconscious purposes" or "character style." We can say, then, that which description we choose depends on a great deal more than our conscious orientation. And it is not only the personalities of analyst and patient which are at issue here, but also the part that any particular description of the transference plays in the evolution of the analytic relationship. And finally, the transference itself, as it develops over time, is an influence on its own further understanding.


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