Transference vs. Countertransference: What’s the big deal?

By Kristie Overstreet on December 18, 2018

You may be feeling overwhelmed by the number of new terms, theories, and practices you are learning. With all of the clinical information, you are consuming it can be easy to gloss over the concepts of transference and countertransference.

You know it makes sense that as a clinician you may be triggered by a client or you remind the client of someone they know. You may feel it’s common sense and it will be easy to identify in the clinical setting. However, transference and countertransference can be the areas that cause the most significant issues for you as a clinician. Here is why these concepts are a big deal and what you need to know.

What is transference?

To define transference, start by thinking about the word transfer. When you transfer something, you move it from one place to another. The transference definition in psychology is when a client redirects their feelings from a significant other or person in their life to the clinician.

Think of it as the client projecting their feelings onto you as they would another person in their life. In most cases, the client experiences unconscious transference and is unaware that they are doing it. The client’s feelings transfer onto you and may be positive or negative. Transference in therapy is normal. Expect to experience transference in counseling and discuss any concerns you have with your supervisor.

Transference examples:

  • The client places unrealistic demands on you.
  • A client admires you and tells you how much you remind them of their best friend.
  • A client displaces anger onto you during a session when talking about his abusive parent.

Why is transference a big deal?

Transference has benefits in the counseling session. The client can relax and be real during the session allowing themselves to experience growth. As a clinician, you can utilize the transference as a tool to help the client gain insight into their strength to handle situations outside of the session. You can help your client to see their reality of the event they are dealing with.

Just as it can benefit the process, negative transference can hinder your client’s growth. If you become activated during transference and react negatively or defensively, it can stop the growth process. For example, if the client speaks to you in anger as they would to their partner and you personalize it, then you may miss an opportunity to help your client. Transference is a powerful way to improve your client’s ability to change their behavior and gain insight.

What is countertransference?

Countertransference is when you as the clinician transfer your feelings onto your client. Often clinicians don’t realize when this happens. The countertransference definition can be thought of as the clinician’s response to a client’s transference.

Countertransference is an excellent reminder that clinicians are human beings with feelings and emotions. During a session, a client may open up and bare their souls causing a strong emotional reaction. The experience of the clinician during the session can affect the outcome. Clients can remind you of someone you know currently or in the past. As a clinician, you need to be aware of countertransference at all times.

Countertransference examples:

  • A clinician offers advice versus listening to the client’s experience.
  • A clinician inappropriately discloses personal experiences during the session.
  • A clinician doesn’t have boundaries with a client.

Why is countertransference a big deal?

Countertransference can occur in many different ways and have adverse effects. It is a big deal when a clinician brings in their outside experiences and they lose their perspective which can lead to a reaction that hurts the client. Countertransference is common and can happen regardless of your years of clinical experience.

A crucial area to be aware of is erotic countertransference which is when the clinician experiences attraction, love, or sexual feelings towards a client. With strict ethical and legal guidelines, relationships with clients are prohibited. If you experience a strong reaction to a client, then you need to seek supervision for your countertransference.

Your awareness of transference and countertransference is crucial in your growth as a clinician. Remember that these occurrences are normal and don’t be afraid to seek supervision when they happen. Don’t jeopardize your career as a clinician because of your pride. Your openness to accept feedback and guidance from a seasoned clinician can help you sharpen your skills in this area as well as prevent you from harming your client.


Dr. Kristie Overstreet is a clinical sexologist, certified sex therapist, licensed professional clinical counselor, author, speaker, and consultant. She holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Sexology, Master of Arts in Professional Counseling, and a Bachelor of Science in Biology. She is a licensed counselor in California, Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana. She is also a Certified Sex Therapist and Certified Addiction Professional. She has over 12 years of clinical experience specializing in sex therapy, transgender healthcare, relationships, and helping counselors build their private practice. She is president of the Therapy Department, a private practice that provides counseling, training, speaking, and consulting services across the United States.  For more information about Dr. Kristie's work visit


Commenter Name
May 31, 2019

Thank you for sharing your info. I truly appreciate your efforts
and I will be waiting for your further post thanks once again.

Commenter Name
June 1, 2019

If your dealing with a client who is resistant to therapy. You can use their transference to pick up on where they are and use it as a tool to identify unspoken issues. If you are mindful. You can use this as a tool to gain much needed information from a client who has not yet opened up

Commenter Name
June 9, 2019

My therapists touches me during therapy and frequently winks at me outside of counselling. I dont feel weird about it ...but is it okkkk? She gives me the extra attention than other clients....

Commenter Name
August 9, 2019

How do you know she treats you better than the others? Is it group therapy?

Commenter Name
December 16, 2019

Thank you for your information a bout this important matter