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Grey, A.L. (1979). Countertransference and Parataxis. Contemp. Psychoanal., 15:472-483.

(1979). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 15:472-483

Countertransference and Parataxis

Alan L. Grey, Ph.D.

EVEN THOSE MOST DEDICATED to the search for knowledge sometimes are dismayed by what they find. A noteworthy instance was Freud's initial report (1910) of the phenomenon he called "countertransference". Early references to it reflect that the idiosyncratic reactions of the analyst were a source of considerable dismay. A fault had been uncovered in the most fundamental strata of psychoanalysis, unreliability in the very evidence on which it is based. How to sort out the pure gold mined from the patient's unconscious from the contaminating leaks of the therapist? In short, the initial assessment saw "countertransference" as a grave, even disqualifying flaw in the analyst.

That view proved unduly pessimistic and was, in the course of time, revised. Certain of its conceptual sources, however, lie so deep within the theoretical structure of classical psychoanalysis that vestiges of that negative attitude persist to this day. Such preconceptions only add to the difficulties of analysts in dealing with themselves, so they are best laid to rest. Toward that goal, it becomes useful to expose some implicit premises in which the classical idea of countertransference are rooted. The sketchiest of reminders can suffice for present purposes. One of them is to recall that "countertransference errors" originally were understood to be psychopathological in origin and not as providing useful information. Thus they were grossly inappropriate to the analyst's function in the treatment process.

The obvious solution was to eliminate such occurrences by requiring candidates to undergo training analysis, but it was at least a decade after 1910 until the training analysis became mandatory. Put another way, it took that long before countertransference was acknowledged to occur in the work of all candidates. And it took even longer for general acceptance of the fact that even successful training analysis does not eliminate such subjective reactions. Happily, another discovery came along to temper these discouragements.

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