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Kulish, N.M. (1986). Gender and Transference: The Screen of the Phallic Mother. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 13:393-404.

(1986). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 13:393-404

Gender and Transference: The Screen of the Phallic Mother

Nancy Mann Kulish


The question of how an analyst's gender might affect the transference has currently stirred the interest of psychoanalytic writers. Two questions have been raised in the literature: how analyst's gender might determine whether the transference takes a 'maternal' or 'paternal' cast, and how it might contribute to a highly eroticized transference. In both these questions, the concept of the 'phallic mother' has been raised in the explanation of the observed differences. The author critically examines the concept of phallic mother in this context. The concept is reviewed historically to demonstrate how it has reflected changes in psychoanalytic theory. Clinical examples are presented to illustrate how transference can become organized around analyst's gender, how maternal and paternal images in the transference can become confused, and how male patients' erotic fantasies may become inhibited by the female analyst. The fantasy of the phallic mother, which is prominent in the clinical material, is a projection of the patient which can be centred upon the analyst's gender. Phallic mother as a concept can also contribute to gender-related blindspots and countertransferences. It is suggested that such theoretical constructs may become obstructions preventing analysts from perceiving themselves in the opposite-sexed roles within the transference.

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