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Transference phenomena in psychoanalytic group psychotherapy: A review of the literature and a case illustration

13 December 1991


The role of transference phenomena in group psychotherapy has been underestimated and neglected despite their significance to clinical practice. Problems associated with investigating the subject have included lack of universal definition as well as methodological difficulties, and the problems remain. Recently, there has been increased interest and a theoretical shift in how transference phenomena in psychoanalytic group therapy are conceptualized. However, even within the psychoanalytic camp, theories overlap, interfering with comprehension of these key elements now considered central to the therapeutic process. This dissertation organizes the literature on transference phenomena in psychoanalytic group psychotherapy and provides a case illustration of a composite borderline client in order to demonstrate the clinical significance of these phenomena throughout the varying. stages of group treatment. The literature review revealed that the early focus was on individual dynamics evolving to group dynamics-in particular, the group as an entity. More recent theorists have incorporated both individual and group dynamics. This shift in orientation has led to a recognition that group therapy is no longer reserved for neurotic disorders, but is also now considered a viable treatment modality for both borderline and narcissistic clients. Contemporary theorists have also recognized that (a) in-depth transference experiences do occur in analytic group therapy, (b) they are thought to be a major curative factor, and (c) they can be observed in full force and in a life-like manner in group therapy. Group psychotherapy offers a unique opportunity for all members to witness and experience a wide array of transference phenomena. Thus, transference phenomena are now perceived as multidimensional, and their conceptualization and integration into clinical practice vary considerably. The current belief is that transference phenomena are never totally resolved. Through continuous exploration, insight, and confrontation, they can be controlled and brought further into the client's consciousness, thus facilitating the working through of client issues and conflicts. Transference phenomena are believed to have a relationship component which assists the client and the therapist in organizing and understanding the therapeutic process. In this transformation from singular to plural, transference phenomena have been brought more into the foreground of psychoanalytic group therapy. However, because psychoanalytic concepts such as transference phenomena are major vehicles for client change, they must also be given more attention in research and in university training programs as well as in clinical and private practice.


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