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Ehrlich, F.M. (1999). Countertransference to Internal Objects. Contemp. Psychoanal., 35(4):603-615.

(1999). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 35(4):603-615

Countertransference to Internal Objects

Frederick M. Ehrlich, Ph.D.

When we say “mother” in poems,

we usually mean some woman in her late twenties

or early thirties trying to raise a child.

We use this particular noun

to secure the pathos of the child's point of view

and to hold her responsible.

— Robert Haas

THROUGHOUT MY PROFESSIONAL CAREER I have followed two streams: one is psychoanalysis of adults, the other is treatment of families, including families with children of all ages. My work with families reflects my psychoanalytic understanding of individuals and my work with individuals reflects my work with families.

The differences between psychoanalysis and family therapy are obvious; the similarities are less apparent. In this essay I look at some issues in psychoanalysis from the perspective of the family — the family of the analyst as well as the family of the analysand. In particular, I explore the analyst's reactions of love and hate, and affection and revulsion, toward the internal objects of patients. This inquiry leads to a related question: Why are parents so consistently presented in negative terms in the analytic literature?

An answer to this question, which I explore in detail, is suggested in the verses quoted from the poem “Dragonflies Mating” by Robert Haas. When we look at things from the child's perspective, it is difficult to keep in mind that the mother was also a young person with problems and needs of her own.

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