Not too long ago, I had a client ask me what transference was. She had heard of it and wondered if I have experienced it ever and how it works. Questions like these make me smile. I would say that the average person has not heard of this term, or has ever really thought about it. We all experience transference, we just might not be aware of it.
The term was originally a psychoanalysis terminology to describe feelings or emotions that get redirected to a substitute, usually a therapist, that were originally felt in childhood. Whether that means liking or disliking someone because they remind you of someone from your past, or viewing an authoritative figure as your mother or father, or even displacing feelings of love and comfort with a caregiver, healer, or another nurturing professional. Transferring these feeling and emotions onto a therapist of any kind is not uncommon. The patient or client and therapist relationship is intimate. You may be baring your soul and mind to a psychologist, or you may be baring your skin and body to a massage therapist. Both place the client in a vulnerable position and may more readily express forms of transference that may be projected upon the therapist due to past experiences and feelings.
Another form of transference that I have heard a lot about is that of pain. In the massage industry, I feel that this form of transference is more noticeable. I have heard of other massage therapists say that after working on several clients who came in complaining of neck pain and headaches, will end up with a neck pain and a headache by the end of the day. Or maybe they had several clients who had low back pain and then when the therapist gets home they realize that their low back feels achy. Usually those clients will leave at the end of the session feeling relief, but then the therapist is now feeling that pain. It is as if the therapist took the pain away from their client and then took on that pain, a form of displacing the pain and transferring it.
The form of transference that I have dealt with the most, and I would say that most people have been exposed to, is that of energy transference. Have you ever been in a really good mood and then you get to work and everyone around you is upset or in a bad mood, then before you know it, you are in a bad mood? Or maybe you were tired and you meet up with some friends who are all happy and full of energy and you started to perk up? Well, that is a form of energy transference. We pick up other people’s energies and vibes and they can be transferred back and forth. As a massage therapist, we tend to describe clients energy as either good energy or negative energy. I always like when my last client of the day of is “good energy”, because I leave feeling uplifted or possibly energized, even after a long day. This is similar to a post workout high you might get after a good gym session. “Negative energy” usually pertains to a client who comes in feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, frantic, or maybe they are just high strung. Their energy disrupts the calming demeanor that the therapist has set up, sometimes ruffling the therapists feathers a little, and by the time the client leaves, the therapist may feel drained, while the client floats away in a much calmer state. Now, please keep in mind that most clients are not at the extremes. Energy can be subtle and not have a strong influence on others that they come into contact.
Transference is a common occurrence that happens to everyone, although it is usually an unconscious act that happens. Most are not aware of the displacing feelings, emotions, pain, or even energy unto others. The same may be true for those who are on the receiving end of the transference. Learning how to protect yourself and to practice grounding techniques will help in not taking on the negative transference, but I will talk more about that in my next blog. Stay tuned!!
Courtney Truax, LMT is a graduate of East West College of the Healing Arts in Portland, Oregon. She is licensed through the Oregon Board of Massage Therapy and a member of the American Massage Therapy Association. She has her own studio massage practice in the heart of downtown Lake Oswego, Oregon.