- 1: the redirection of feelings and desires and especially of those unconsciously retained from childhood toward a new object (as a psychoanalyst conducting therapy)
Transference is the tendency for a client in psychotherapy, known as the analysand, to transfer emotional responses to their therapists that reflect feelings the analysand has for other significant people in his or her life. Transference often echoes clients' relationships with their parents or with other persons who played a central role in their childhood. They may become excessively dependent on or sexually attracted to the therapist; they may develop feelings of hostility or detachment. Whatever form transference takes, it is considered to be at the heart of the therapeutic process. Sigmund Freud believed that clients need to relive the central emotional experiences of their lives through transference in order to become convinced of the existence and power of their own unconscious attachments and motivations. The awareness gained through transference helps clients understand the sources of their behavior and actively aids them in working through and resolving their problems.
Sigmund Freud described the workings of transference using an analogy to chemistry. Likening the clients' symptoms to precipitates resulting from earlier emotional attachments, he compared the therapist to a catalyst and the effects of transference to a higher temperature at which the symptoms could be transformed. According to Freud, the phenomenon of transference is not unique to the psychoanalytic relationship between client and therapist—significant patterns of relationship are commonly re-enacted with "substitutes" other than psychotherapists. Psychoanalysis, however, is unique in drawing attention to this process and utilizing it for therapeutic purposes.