Transference and Tele: Section I, Transference

This is the second post while doing a close reading of Moreno’s lecture on Tele, “given by the author during his European journey, May- June, 1954.”

Note: I continue to edit these posts, they are a work in progress for now, not really be good blogging practice. If anyone comments or there are track backs, I will not change what I wrote so conversations make sense.

First Post
Transference and Tele (tag).

Quotes from the lecture, some research on Google and my detailed comments follow.

The opening paragraph of Section I (page 3):

Mesmer asserted that hypnotic cures are due to animal magnetism. Liebeault and Bernheim demonstrated that it is not animal magnetism which produces cures, but the suggestibility of the subject. Freud discarded hypnotic therapy and claimed that the core of suggestibility is transference. We can go a step further and declare that also psychoanalysis as a therapeutic method has not fulfilled many of the hopes it aroused. Whatever unconscious material is delivered on the couch, group and action methods can elicit more easily and, in addition, materials which the couch vehicle hinders in being delivered.

First a bit of research on the people he mentions:

Ambroise-Auguste Liébeault
“father of modern hypnotherapy” (Wikipedia)
Hippolyte Bernheim
Hypnotist. “Bernheim also had an influence on Sigmund Freud, who had visited Bernheim in 1889, and witnessed some of his experiments, though he was known as an antagonist of Jean-Martin Charcot (Freud was a student of Charcot).” (Wikipedia)
Primitive and flawed as some of these early therapies were, they were steps on the way. The fact is that Mesmer’s therapies worked a lot of the time by the sound of it… (Check out the podcast I mentioned in the previous post.) And yes, to attribute the cure to a “force” called “animal magnetism” was an error, but it is ironic that Moreno is critical (Is he critical?).

A note on naming
Moreno is into explaining phenomena by creating words, and there is some use in that. Postulating something that causes events explains things, it is both helpful and deceiving at the same time (perhaps always). The Phlogeston story is a good example, it is not just a silly idea. It is worth reading this essay by Jim Loy who asks us (even though we know it is not a true) to suspend our “righteous contempt for this phlogiston theory” and goes into some detail to show how the science of combustion and metabolism evolved. Moreno is in the tradition of the Phlogistians and the Antiphlogistians here, and like the Antiphlogistians he relies on research and experimentation. More about the question of naming will come up in my comments I expect.

“Freud discarded hypnotic therapy and claimed that the core of suggestibility is transference.”

I don’t know enough about what Freud said on this but the two words (to me) describe related phenomena both of which I have experienced. Did Freud discard hypnosis or simply prefer his own “talking cure”, with his insights into what he called transference? Whatever the plusses and minuses of hypnoses and Freud’s methods, Moreno is setting the scene for us to warm-up to a reflection, an exploration of what happens between people.

“We can go a step further and declare that also psychoanalysis as a therapeutic method has not fulfilled many of the hopes it aroused.”

Couch vs Action
Moreno leaves us in no doubt that he is dismissive of Freud’s method, and the word ‘also’ means he dismisses animal magnetism & suggestion. He is not as open minded as he advocated in the Intro! He then boldly dismisses the couch in favour of the group and action. Analysis elicits whatever unconscious material analysis delivers and Moreno’s method elicits whatever unconscious material they deliver. Knowing exactly what is delivered is a tricky thing. You had to be there. It different every time. How can we research this? How would we know what is easily elicited here, and to what end?

OK, onto the next paragraph (2) of Moreno’s lecture, he goes on to talk about group research:

Contrary to current opinion, group psychotherapy has within scientific medicine no therapeutic ancestor to emulate or reject. It is a new device. In order to develop as a therapeutic method it required a preliminary study of concrete groups and their dynamics, a carefully organized expedition into “group research”. But no group research in the specific sense of the word existed before 1923, the year when the Viennese Stegreif laboratory was founded. The task and study of “real” groups through direct observation and calculated experimentation is, whatever its merits or demerits, the achievement of our generation. Neither the theoretical formulations and suggestive insights of LeBon and Freud, nor the lecture techniques of Pratt and Lazell can be considered as based upon “group research”.*


* Because of the rapid growth of small group research inside and outside the borders of sociometry, it may be useful to define “group therapy research” as dealing directly with therapeutic problems and “group research” as dealing only indirectly with therapy.

A bit more Google research:

Viennese Stegreif laboratory
“Psychodrama had its beginning in Vienna with the Theater of Spontaneity, which Moreno first conducted in 1921 … He invented the open stage in the center of the room with access from the audience all around. His theater invited actors and audience to portray their own dramatic situations from the here and now, and to speak impromptu, without written lines, in response to one another. He perceived this as a kind of dramatic religion, a theater to call forth the spontaneously creative self” Psychology of Religion, Paul E. Johnson
Gustave Le Bon (Wikipedia)
The Wikipedia article shows how Le Bon’s interest in groups left a lineage of influence through Trotter & Bion to the Tavistock clinic.
Pratt and Lazell (Google Search)
The search shows just how often they are attributed to being founders of group therapy.
Good item on origins here, mentions Moreno: A pragmatic approach to group psychotherapy By Henry I. Spitz, Susan T. Spitz

Groups are as old as humanity, but Moreno chooses his words carefully, and rightly so; “within scientific medicine”, “specific sense” of the word research, he is saying that to consciously investigate group in a scientific way, within the medical tradition is new. His footnote emphasises that he is talking about therapy here. Perhaps People who conducted groups were forerunners, but that was not really looking at groups in an investigative way. Whatever the outcome of this investigation, I think Moreno is stating that to look at groups, consciously to understand more is a new bold step, he certainly recognises it importance: “the achievement of our generation”. It is a wildly confused realm, with each school of thought having its own theory and language, it was then, and it still is.

I understand why he says this is “the achievement of our generation”. He sees a connection with his own sociometric approach and a whole new realm of science and a form of secular religion, its all linked in his work, and if widely understood would make a huge transformation of humanity.

Section I, Paragraph 3 (page 4 and 5):

But group research is an essential prerequisite to group psychotherapy. Regrettably, much group psychotherapy literature is written today in a dogmatic manner, with little or no emphasis upon research. Among the many concepts which are used uncritically and without sophistication are transference and countertransference. Therefore, we may consider first the smallest possible group which dominates modern counseling, the group of two, the “therapeutic dyad”. In every therapeutic situation there are at least two individuals, the therapist and the patient. The interaction taking place, for instance, between therapist and patient is the first point in this discussion.** Let us see how psychoanalysis views this interaction. Freud observed that the patient projects upon the therapist some unrealistic fantasies. He called this phenomenon “transference”: “A transference of feelings upon the personality of the physician . . . it was ready and prepared in the patient and it was transferred upon the physician at the occasion of the analytical treatment (Collected Papers, Vol. I, p. 475). . . . His feelings do not originate in the present situation and they are not really deserved by the personality of the physician, but they repeat what has happened to him once before in his life” (I, p. 477). A few years later Freud discovered that the therapist is not free from some personal involvement in return and this he called “counter”-transference: “Counter-transference arises in the physican as the result of the patient’s influence on his unconscious feelings” (Collected Papers, Vol. II). Actually, there is no “counter”. Counter-transference is a misrepresentation, it is just transference “both ways”, a two-way situation. Transference is an interpersonal phenomenon.


** J. L. Moreno, “Interpersonal Therapy and the Psychopathology of Interpersonal Relations”, Sociometry, Vol. I, 1937.

“Among the many concepts which are used uncritically and without sophistication are transference and countertransference.”

I imagine Moreno is exaggerating about the situation in 1954, however in my time as a psychotherapist there is plenty of sphisticated writing. Within the Jungian tradition I have learnt from Guggenbühl-Craig’s Power in the Helping Professions (1971). I will be quoting from Transference and Countertransference edited by Swartz-Salant and Stein (1984). An excellent collection of essays each one full referenced to indicate the fullness of the discussion. I imagine much of these Jungian writings would meet Moreno’s idea of sociometric research to some extent.

“…emphasis upon research”

Note the emphasis on research. It is a word used without (at least in his lecture so far) a clear description of what it means. He tells us he uses it in a “specific sense”. I have an inkling of what that is from a broader reading of sociometry. (see the entry in Wikipedia on sociometry that describes this more fully.) I think what he refers to is a finer delving into what is actually happening in the group (or dyad) in the here and now, in the work itself. It is more like what Carkhuff and Truax called “immediacy” (what is going on between us right now).

See my post on Freud, my take on Freud there would support his work as research too, much like Moreno’s, this post will come in handy later in this exploration too I think.

He quotes Freud’s description of transference. He is not at this point disputing the actual phenomena, he makes the point that the use of the counter pre-fix is not needed, as it is simply transference going the other way.

Countertransference (edited since I first posted)
Moreno’s main point is that there here is no qualitative difference between transference and countertransference, it is the same thing going the other way. His point, in discussion about countertransference is often made. However there is plenty of reason to identify the direction of the transference. I like the use of ‘counter-transference’ when it refers to the therapists “buying into” the transference of the client. For example thinking they are a truly great therapist is the client says “You are such a great therapist!”. There is probably transference involved in that, but I can see why we would call it counter-transference, much as we might talk of a counter role. I simply read “countertransference” to mean the therapists transference onto the client. It might be best to call it the therapist’s transference. However there is a rich tradition of the use of the word countertransference.

Moreno’s next paragraph elaborates the point about the symmetry of the transference:

The definition of transference as given to us by Freud is obviously made from the point of view of the professional therapist. It is the therapist’s bias. If the definition would have been made from the point of view of the patient, then the description given by Freud above could be reversed without change, except by substituting the word “physician” by the word “patient” and the word “patient” by the word “physician”. “A transference of feelings upon the personality of the patient . . . it was ready and prepared in the physician and it was transferred upon the patient at the occasion of the analytical treatment. . . His feelings do not originate in the present situation and they are not really deserved by the personality of the patient, but they repeat what has happened to him once before in his life.” If this phenomenon exists from the patient towards the physician it exists also from the physician towards the patient. It would be then both ways equally true. That educational psychoanalysis produces a basic change in the personality of the therapist cannot be taken seriously. Irrational trends in his behavior continue. It provides him at best with a method of therapeutic skill. According to this we could just as well call the physician’s response transference and the patient’s response countertransference. It is obvious that both the therapist and the patient may enter the treatment situation with some initial irrational fantasies. As I pointed out in the paper quoted above “a similar process—as in the therapeutic situation—happens between two lovers.” The girl may project into her lover on first sight the idea that he is a hero or that he has the mind of a genius. He in turn, sees in her the ideal dream girl he has wanted to meet. This is transference from both sides. Who can say which is “counter”?

Moreno makes clear he values the equality of two humans and is against a bias of professionalism.

Functional difference
I recall getting clear about equality between client and therapist in a discussion with George Sweet. Counselling involves two equal human beings, with a “functional difference”, i.e. each have a different job to do. (I just Googled it, and it does not come up, maybe it is an original George Sweet idea?

“According to this we could just as well call the physician’s response transference and the patient’s response countertransference.”

Exactly. Perhaps it is a more recent phenomena, perhaps because of Moreno’s work, to see the countertransference in a neutral way. We can use it withought bias. However there is more! Moreno has other problems with the term.

“That educational psychoanalysis produces a basic change in the personality of the therapist cannot be taken seriously.”

Or can we take that seriously? Look at the training we require, not just education but personal work. Look at this idea from Jung described by Harriet Machtiger quoted in an essay by Murray Stein (1984):

One of Jung’s basic premises was that the patient’s illness needs to be met by the analyst’s health. This interaction requires the confrontation and conscious interpretation of the conscious and unconscious contertransference/transference position of both analyst and patient, and the subsequent integration of the contents. (p. 100)

Note that there is not an assumption that the therapist does not have countertransference or health. All this needs attention.

It is obvious that both the therapist and the patient may enter the treatment situation with some initial irrational fantasies.

It is obvious. More than that these fantasies are the very substance of what is under investigation. Here he calls them “irrational fantasies”… yet they probably all makes sense in the full context of the encounter, with all the perspectives built on experience from the past included.

One of the healthy aspects we can expect a therapist to bring is an awareness that anything might be a fantasy, a projection, a transference and thus hold it more lightly than one who insists it is all “out there”.

Moreno makes the last point, still about what is “counter”, using the example of lovers. “This is transference from both sides.”

Indeed, love is blind.

After having eliminated the bias of the therapist as the one which defines the therapeutic situation, assigning to himself a “special status”, an unjustified status of uninvolvement and after some insight had come to display, still giving himself the benefit of being only “counter”, we arrive at the simple, primary situation of two individuals with various backgrounds, expectations and roles, facing each other, one potential therapist facing another potential therapist.

“… one potential therapist facing another potential therapist.”

His use of potential gives us that sense of equality, and allows for functional difference as well.

The rest of this Section moves onto “tele” and I will continue in a new post.

[stextbox id=”custom” caption=”References”]Guggenbühl-Craig, A. 1971. Power in the Helping Professions. New York, Spring Publications.

Stein, Murray, 1984. Power, Shamanism, and Maieutics in the Countertransference. In Swartz-Salant and Stein (1984)

Swartz-Salant, Nathan and Stein, Murray (Eds.), 1984. Transference and CountertransferenceChiron Publications, Illinoise.[/stextbox]

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