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Meerloo, J.A. Coleman, M.L. (1951). The Transference Function: A Study of Normal and Pathological Transference. Psychoanal. Rev., 38(3):205-221.

(1951). Psychoanalytic Review, 38(3):205-221

Original Articles

The Transference Function: A Study of Normal and Pathological Transference

Joost A. M. Meerloo, M.D. and Marie L. Coleman


In its original sense, transference means the conveyance of objects or ideas from one person or place to another, either directly or through the use of intermediaries. (L.—trans, across + ferre, to bear.) The specialized application of the term in psychoanalytic theory tends to obscure this broader meaning, and with it, our recognition of transference as a universal component of human thought and behavior.

Psychoanalysis regards transference as an inescapable repetition of old patterns, a misunderstanding of the present in terms of the past, and an interpersonal situation between analyst and patient in which the latter strives to gratify infantile wishes. Fenichel pointed to the fact that one aspect of transference, at least, is present in other relationships: “In everyday life, too, there are transference situations. It is a general human trait to interpret one's experience in the light of the past” (8). Freud differentiated therapeutic transference from other affective relationships largely in terms of the emotional energy mobilized: “The peculiarity of the transference to the physicians lies in its excess, in both character and degree, over what is rational and justifiable …” (10). Frazer applied the term to the principle of vicarious suffering—“the notion that we can transfer our guilt and sufferings to some other being who will bear them for us” (9).

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