Case Study

Case Study

Crossing Cultures: The Surprising Complexity of Countertransference

By Anatasia Kim, Lambers Fisher

July/August 2020

I wish my mom was more like you,” Kevin, my 16-year-old client, blurted out just as our session was wrapping up. His voice was sheepish as usual, but his tone was clear and decisive. No sooner had he spoken these words then his head fell downward. Staring at his mop of unkempt black hair, I opened my mouth to respond but realized I was at a loss for words. Even though we’d been working together for a few months, something about Kevin’s confession had caught me off guard.

Transference is nothing new in therapy. For those of us who work with children and teens, comments like Kevin’s are not uncommon. And if we’re being perfectly honest, we too may have thought, Why can’t my client’s parent be more like me? That is to say, countertransference is also nothing new in therapy.

Over the years, I’ve responded to many confessions like Kevin’s with the conventional clinical approach: wonder aloud about the feelings my young clients are attempting to redirect; gently explore their fantasy further; and then, even more gently, connect it back to their challenges with their own parent or caregiver. But Kevin’s case was different—more personal, in a way that took me by surprise. It made this ordinary occurrence of transference much harder to process. But in doing so, I learned some valuable lessons about examining my…

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