Therapist Countertransference and Countertransference Management of Client Sexual Issues: A Qualitative Study Open Access
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This qualitative study was an exploration of therapists’ countertransference (CT) in therapy sessions addressing client sexual issues. The purpose of the study was to better understand how therapists experience and manage CT in or between sessions and how they appraise their work when sessions addressing client sexual concerns trigger their vulnerabilities. The study included interviews with 10 licensed, experienced therapists who described their experience and management of CT in and between therapy sessions that focused on client sexual issues. The researcher employed a qualitative methodology to understand the many layers of influence and facets of therapists’ CT. Six conclusions emerged from this study. First, the findings support the claim that CT is a dynamic and co-created process. Second, evidence from this study suggests that cultural CT operates both overtly and subtly. Third, the findings suggest that client sexual issues are not consistent, primary triggers of CT. Therapists in this sample experienced CT related to client sexual issues, but only when an additional client behavior or trait also affected the therapist’s vulnerability. Fourth, the data suggest that CT commonly manifests by narrowing therapists’ perceptual fields and empathetic strain. Fifth, flexibility in the therapeutic process and resolute boundaries that the therapist sets support effective management of CT. Finally, CT events may result in a rupture of the therapeutic relationship or may facilitate therapeutic gains. This study adds to existing research that depicts CT as a dynamic, multifaceted, and layered process that occurs between a therapist and a client.