Analytical Music Therapy (AMT) techniques III


Transference and countertransference

In AMT, the therapist and individual are believed to be connected strongly by transference and countertransference. These are 2 common concepts within psychoanalysis. “Freud referred to the phenomenon of transference as “wrong association,” as he recognised that some of his patients were regarding him with emotions that were relevant to previous relationships in their lives, usually parental”. (Priestley 1994) Transference can also be the projection of conflicting parts of the individual’s psyche to the therapist to get rid of it and coming to terms with it. (Priestley 1975) This gives the possibility of playing out repetitive emotional reactions, re-educating it during therapy and to change it and to develop and grow. The therapist “must survive being the bearer of the projections and penetrations by projective identification of his patients, without himself identifying with them”. (Priestley 1994)  “If the therapist cannot work through the negative transference of a patient, the patient then cannot withdraw her bad projection and introject a good-enough therapist object”. (Priestley 1994) As such, the therapist needs to be strongly anchored and have a deep understanding of his or her own psyche without slipping into the projections from the individual during therapy. When this happens, the therapy will go in the other direction and will be harmful for both the therapist and individual.

Countertransference refers to “the therapist’s identification with unconscious feelings, self-parts (instinctive self, rational self or conscience) or internal objects of the clients, which, being conscious in the therapist, can serve him as a guide to the client’s hidden inner life”. (Priestley 1975) This can also be seen as the intuition of the therapist and an inner connection to the psyche of the individual. To have this form of countertransference, the therapist needs to adopt the role of an inner objective observer with lots of practice to discern which emotions are from the individual and which are the therapist’s own impulses. In addition to this active observation ongoing, the therapist will still need to play an active role in playing and responding musically to the individual.

The complexity of the situation is that the therapist may find it hard to separate his or her emotions with that of the individual’s. This is the reason why Priestley advocated strongly on the need for Intertherapy work to be done before the therapist begins his or her own therapy work with individuals. This can be seen as a form of inner work and self-development of the therapist.   

Countertransference can be a very useful tool to help the therapist be guided to the individual’s repressed energy. “It is a very remarkable thing that the unconscious of one human being can react upon that of another, without passing through the conscious”. (Priestley 1994)  Sometimes, countertransference or emotions of the individual can also be felt physically in the therapist’s body which in the case of Priestley was usually in her stomach area.

“There is an inner way of feeding back to the patient her unconscious feelings as experienced by the therapist in the countertransference”. (Priestley 1994) For instance, the music played by the therapist may express sadness but the therapist can be emotionally calm and balanced without being drawn into the emotions expressed during the musical improvisation. There are both inner and outer stimuli which the therapist needs to observe.  The ability to change the harmonies is a good way to change and control the mood during the therapy. An example from Priestley is that of a manic-depressive patient playing very angry music but yet producing in the therapist through countertransference a feeling of deep sadness. This sad feeling was then given a musical expression by the therapist which changed the patient’s music to be one of very quiet and then later remarked by the patient that “you were playing me.” (Priestley 1994)

In AMT, it is important to express the feelings but not be taken over by them and the therapist needs to maintain his or her own centre and balance. Hidden, repressed emotions that are expressed through music or verbally during the review need to be given back to the individual in order for the therapist not to be affected by them and for the individual to accept, own and work through these emotions.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Powered by

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: