Love in the Afternoon: a relational Reconsideration of Desire and Dread in the Countertransference

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(1994). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 4:153-170

Love in the Afternoon: A Relational Reconsideration of Desire and Dread in the Countertransference

Jody Messler Davies, Ph.D.

The psychoanalytic exploration of the analyst's erotic countertransference has remained a subject rarely addressed in open collegial dialogue. This paper addresses this professional reticence as a manifestation of two interwoven resistences. The first, an avoidance of the physiologically based substrata of self and object organization growing out of certain preconceptions derived from a structural-drive model. And the second, an unwillingness to view the parent/analyst as a full participant in the child's romantic oedipal struggles. An alternative formulation based on a reconfigured, relational model of mental structures is suggested. Here the physical experience of self in relationship to a host of significant internalized others becomes a meaningful organizing component for both the patient and the analyst, one that must be incorporated into the ongoing exploration of transference-countertransference manifestations. Likewise, the unfolding oedipal situation between parent and child, patient and analyst, is viewed from the perspective of a two-person model within which the shared symbolic participation of both becomes a necessary prerequisite for the kind of resolution that lays the groundwork for mature love. A clinical example in which the analyst felt it necessary to disclose the presence of erotic countertransference is explored from several perspectives.


Jody Messler Davies, Ph.D. is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychology at The Derner Institute of Advanced Psychological Studies; and a supervisor and faculty member at The National Institute for Psychotherapies. She is coauthor (with Dr. Mary Gail Frawley) of Treating the Adult Survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse: A Psychoanalytic Perspective, published by Basic Books.

© 1994 The Analytic Press, Inc.

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Love and passion, the favorite and timeless topics of poets and philosophers, have been subjects assiduously avoided in the psychoanalytic literature of our day. Especially when such pressures begin to exert their influence on the countertransferential experience of the analyst, we become measured and cautious in our response to patients and in the openness of our dialogue with each other. Patient and therapist together appear to lose sight of the distinction between thought and action. The universality of incestuous oedipal fantasy and boundaryless, preoedipal erotic terrors is lost within the horror and incomprehensibility of actual incestuous enactment. One inadvertent danger of the current interest and concern with early sexual trauma and with the equally real issue of actual sexual contact between patient and therapist is that it will further foreclose this already constricted arena for symbolic interpersonal dialogue, experimentation, and play.

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