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Transference, countertransference, and reflective practice in cognitive therapy


  • Funding: None.

  • Conflict of interest: None.

Claire Cartwright, Department of Psychology, University of Auckland, Tamaki Campus, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand. Email:


Background:  The concepts of transference and countertransference developed within psychodynamic paradigms. While there is an increasing interest by cognitive therapists in the therapeutic relationship, there is less discussion of the relevance of transference and countertransference. Understanding these concepts may be useful to cognitive therapists as part of reflective practice, especially in regard to understanding and managing countertransference responses.

Methods:  This article briefly examines the concepts of transference from a number of different perspectives, including social-cognitive, attachment, cognitive analytic therapy, and schema perspectives. Two aspects of countertransference that are sometimes termed “subjective” and “objective” are also examined. A case example is given to illustrate a cognitive conceptualisation of countertransference.

Results:  There is some evidence that therapists' countertransference responses can provide insight into clients' experiences and patterns of relating to others. Cognitive therapists may therefore benefit from applying psychodynamic perspectives of countertransference in reflective practice.

Conclusions:  Transference and countertransference can be understood using cognitive perspectives. These concepts may be helpful for cognitive therapists to consider during reflective practice in self-supervision and in clinical supervision. It seems important that cognitive therapists do not dismiss these concepts because of their origins but rather investigate the potential applications of these concepts within cognitive frameworks.