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Bálint, A. Bálint, M. (1939). On Transference and Counter-Transference. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 20:223-230.

(1939). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 20:223-230

On Transference and Counter-Transference

Alice Bálint and Michael Bálint

A question which frequently arises in psycho-analytical discussions on technical themes is whether transference is brought about by the patient alone, or whether the behaviour of the analyst may have a part in it too. On such occasions one opinion is always put forward emphatically by certain analysts. It runs roughly as follows: 'If and when the analyst has influenced the transference situation by any means other than his interpretations, he has made a grave mistake.' The purpose of this paper is to investigate whether and how far this opinion corresponds to the facts.

The phenomenon of transference can best be demonstrated if its object is an inanimate, lifeless thing, e.g. the door which was banged because the cause of our anger was behind it. With a living being, the whole situation becomes infinitely more complex, because (a) the second person is also striving to get rid of his unvented emotions by transferring them on to the first, and (b) he will react to the emotions transferred on to him by the first person. The situation is hopelessly inextricable, unless one of the persons involved will voluntarily undertake the task of not transferring any of his feelings on to the other for a definite period, i.e. to behave as nearly as possible like an inanimate thing. This conception is the basis of Freud's often quoted simile: the analyst must behave like the surface of a well-polished mirror—a lifeless thing. Analysis has also often been compared with a surgical operation, and the behaviour of the analyst with the sterility of the surgeon. Again we have the condition of lifelessness, for the word 'sterile' originally meant 'not producing a crop or fruit'.


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