Countertransference: Full and Empty Spaces

The understanding of the analyst’s countertransference has progressively become a crucial tool in the technique of psychoanalysis, corresponding to the increase in the number of borderline patients who come for treatment. These patients suffer from a lack of capacity to mentalize and represent states of mind in themselves and others. In several of her papers, Perelberg proposes two categories of patients who differ in terms of their impact in the countertransference. At one extreme, there are patients who create an empty space in the analyst’s mind. The response they evoke is a kind of depressive feeling that remains after they have left. They may bring dreams and associations, but these do not reverberate in the analyst’s mind. The experience is one of dryness, a dearth of memory, which may, at times, leave the analyst with a sense of exclusion from the patient’s internal world. At the other extreme, there are patients who fill the consulting room—with their words, dreams, and associations, but also with their emotions and their actions. For the analyst, the experience is one of being over-included in the patient’s world. Despite the differences between them, these two categories of patients share an experience of something that cannot be represented in their internal world and is expressed in terms of either an absence or an excess of affect. The pathway through which the analyst can understand both these types of patients is via the counter-transference or, to put it differently, the analyst’s passion.

Key Publications:

Perelberg, R.J. (2003). Full and Empty Spaces in the Analytic Process. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 84:579-592.

Perelberg, R.J. (2015). Excess, Trauma and Helplessness: Repetitions and Transformations. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 96: 1453-1476.