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How to Put Countertransference to Positive Use
In the last section, we discussed the feelings of inadequacy and burnout that may occur in a supervisee when a battered woman enters the cycle of leaving and returning to her partner.
In this section, we will look at countertransference the supervisee may have either towards his or her client or towards the supervisor. We will also discuss three shields a supervisee can use to protect his or herself while treating battering relationships.
As you know, countertransference is both the conscious and unconscious feelings, associations, thoughts, and fantasies a supervisee connects with a particular client. These feelings and connections can often reveal something about the client as well as something about the supervisee. Here's what I mean.
When a therapist is so fully involved, as in family violence treatment, it is easy for the therapist to be affected deeply causing countertransference; depending on earlier unresolved experiences. As you know, feelings, both positive and negative, are an integral part of the therapeutic process. Two issues can present themselves for the therapist. These two countertransference issues are: putting these feelings to positive use, and avoiding being so drained by the feelings that burnout is the result.
Countertransference Issue 1: Putting Countertransference to Positive Use
Have you found, like I, that by recognizing countertransference, a supervisee can use it positively and on the battered client's behalf? I have found that the anger aroused in me while treating battering relationships can help me to understand the element of anger that is intrinsic in the couple's battering relationship. If I can admit these feelings, thereby not being afraid of them, the client may be more willing to do the same.
Countertransference Issue 2: Avoiding Burnout
In addition to the recognition of how countertransference can be used positively, I have found that I need strategies for preserving my energies so that I don't become burned out. These strategies, I find, can form a shield for myself, protecting me from emotional overwhelm and burnout.
A Therapist's 3 Shields
The following 3 shields are written from the supervisor’s perspective, talking with a supervisee.
Shield 1: Say No
As you know, it is always ok to say no if you are not comfortable treating a particular case. There have been times that I do not accept family violence cases in order to give myself a breather from this type of emotional work. Think of your current workplace. Would your coworkers be supportive of you passing on a battering case for you own well-being or not? If not, do you see anything you can do to change the agency dynamics? If not, and you stay, can you make an action plan based on the content of this course or other materials for self-care?
Shield 2: Have Passion
As you know, working with battering relationships is not for everyone. I have found those therapists who are best suited to deal with these types of cases find something appealing and satisfying about the work. For example, a coworker of mine stated, "I really struggled to find passion when working with battering relationships until violence struck close to home. I learned my sister was being abused by her husband, and ever since then have been very passionate about treating family violence, now that it means something to me personally."
Shield 3: Believe
In addition to the shields of saying no, and having passion, I have found the most important step to avoiding burnout is to believe. I am a firm believer that a batterer can stop battering, and that the presenting violent situation can improve. Or that even though the woman may return, she may return with a few more resources and perhaps a certain level of increased self-esteem. Without this belief, as you know, I find I start to have little motivation to continue the emotional battle of treating battering relationships and I quickly become burned out.
By utilizing the three shields discussed in this section, I have found myself able to maintain my emotional perspective and deal with the stresses of treating violent relationships more effectively. Do you have similar shields of saying no, having passion, and believing to avoid burnout? If not, perhaps you might consider using them with your battering relationship cases in the future.
In the next section we will discuss the role of client denial and resistance to the basic protocol for educating a battered woman and how this can affect a supervisee.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Baumann, E. F., Ryu, D., & Harney, P. (2020). Listening to identity: Transference, countertransference, and therapist disclosure in psychotherapy with sexual and gender minority clients. Practice Innovations, 5(3), 246–256.
Carsky, M. (2020). How treatment arrangements enhance transference analysis in transference-focused psychotherapy. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 37(4), 335–343.
Deak, Z. T. (2019). Using in-depth phenomenologically informed interviews in a study of archetypal transference in jungian psychoanalysis: An intuitive inquiry. Qualitative Psychology, 6(3), 320–338.
What are three shields that can prevent burnout when working with battering relationships? To select and enter your answer go to .