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

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The Recent Literature

The literature on countertransferential desire is sparse. Most recent contributions focus on the area of erotic transference, particularly the ways in which gender differences affect the development of the positive and negative oedipal transference within a female analyst/ male patient dyad. The controversy centers around the question of whether the fear of regression, raising the specter and threat of fusion with the omnipotent preoedipal mother, essentially inhibits the full intensity of more erotic desires (Lester, 1985; Goldberger and Evans, 1985; Goldberger and Evans Holmes, 1993; Person, 1985; Kulish, 1984, 1986; Karme, 1979, 1993 Diamond, 1993). Though several of these authors touch on the question of the analyst's countertransferential resistance to the development of an erotic transference, none move it to the center of clinical inquiry. There are, to my knowledge, four notable exceptions.

Searles (1959) is the first analyst to explore his erotic experiences, and his reactions to those experiences with both male and female patients. Searles believes that the experience of being in the oedipal situation is as important as its ultimate resolution and that although the renunciation of oedipal wishes becomes internalized via the superego, the internalization of mutual loving desire between parent and child becomes an important ego function. This, of course, would be replayed in the transference-countertransference processes between patient and therapist and would be present as a final stage in all successful treatments. He states:

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To the extent that a child's relationships with his parents are healthy, he acquires the strength to accept the unrealizability of his oedipal strivings, not mainly through the identification with the forbidding rival-parent, but mainly, rather, through the ego-strengthening experience of finding that the beloved parent reciprocates his love—responds to him, that is, as being a worthwhile and lovable individual and renounces him only with an accompanying sense of loss on the parent's own part [pp. 301-302].

Searles goes on to state, however, that the analyst's awareness of such feelings is enough, that the patient will “sense” them, and that overtly expressing such countertransferential experiences puts the analyst on “shaky” ground (p. 291). He does not comment extensively on the patient's oftentimes intense resistance to becoming aware of this transference but does imply that the stumbling block might be a countertransferential one.

According to Kumin (1985), the reaction to a growing awareness of erotic transference or countertransference can include feelings of such intense dysphoria, frustration, shame, humiliation, and disgust that it might best be termed “erotic horror.” Kumin believes that it is not the patient's desire that serves to inhibit the development and elaboration of erotic transference but the desire of the analyst. Wrye and Welles (1989; Welles and Wrye, 1991; and Wrye, 1993) go a step further. In their work a separate developmental line, “the maternal erotic transference and the maternal erotic countertransference,” stresses the movement from an early preoedipal dyadic, bodily sensuality to a more narrowly defined, triadic, oedipal, erotic mutuality, to an ultimately “adaptive and creative transformational attempt to view the mother/analyst as a more dimensionally integrated whole object” (Wrye and Welles, 1989, p. 675). Here, too, the need for the analyst to work through her own countertransferential resistances to this kind of mutual experience in the therapeutic relationship is stressed. Wrye (1993) states:

We have posited that in the preoedipal transference-countertransference situation, the countertransference problem may be less of behaving oneself than of allowing oneself to participate. Where even speech can be erotized, yet experienced as strangely inadequate, what is longed for is contact with the analyst's body or with bodily products; both participants may face the longing for and terror of the wish to be one being in the same skin. Not only the patient but also the analyst will have to recognize and deal with this wish [p. 243].

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