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Little, M. (1951). Counter-Transference and the Patient's Response to It. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 32:32-40.

(1951). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 32:32-40

Counter-Transference and the Patient's Response to It

Margaret Little


I will begin with a story:

A patient whose mother had recently died was to give a wireless talk on a subject in which he knew his analyst was interested; he gave him the script to read beforehand, and the analyst had the opportunity of hearing the broadcast. The patient felt very unwilling to give it just then, in view of his mother's death, but could not alter the arrangement. The day after the broadcast he arrived for his analysis in a state of anxiety and confusion.

The analyst (who was a very experienced man) interpreted the patient's distress as being due to a fear lest he, the analyst, should be jealous of what had clearly been a success and be wanting to deprive him of it and of its results. The interpretation was accepted, the distress cleared up quite quickly, and the analysis went on.

Two years later (the analysis having ended in the meanwhile) the patient was at a party which he found he could not enjoy, and he realized that it was a week after the anniversary of his mother's death. Suddenly it came to him that what had troubled him at the time of his broadcast had been a very simple and obvious thing, sadness that his mother was not there to enjoy his success (or even to know about it), and guilt that he had enjoyed it while she was dead had spoilt it for him. Instead of being able to mourn for her (by cancelling the broadcast) he had had to behave as if he denied her death, almost in a manic way. He recognized that the interpretation given, which could be substantially correct, had in fact been the correct one at the time for the analyst, who had actually been jealous of him, and that it was the analyst's unconscious guilt that had led to the giving of an inappropriate interpretation.

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