Transference and Countertransference

Book Review


Vassilis Maoutsos

‘Transference and Countertransference’

A Unifying Focus of Psychoanalysis

Edited by Jean Arundale and Debbie Bandler Bellman

KARNAC, 2011


I will start with a most interesting article by Riccardo Steiner (2011) that I was recently reading. It is about psychoanalysis in the thirties and its tribulations under Hitler in Berlin, Vienna and the world. I wouldn’t be surprised if it will be categorized as one of the most clear-minded and classic papers of its kind. It does not simply refer to those authoritarian years that divided and disrupted the development of Freudian psychoanalysis perhaps more than anything that has ever happened and we wish that never happens again. I think that this paper goes much beyond that. It creates an atmosphere so that every psychoanalyst reading it may well feel embarrassed how well-respected  ‘psychoanalysts’ of the time could be so ‘elastic’ in accepting the ‘Nazis’ demands. For ‘practical’ reasons they reached the point of advocating the necessity of making a distinction between ‘Aryan’ and ‘no-Aryan’ colleagues leading even to the expulsion of the later from their Institutes. As a first reaction I know that it sounds as an understatement if I said that it has an air of advanced madness to claim that any psychoanalyst worth his name could fall so low and give into his ‘homosexual’ and unresolved inner currents thus betraying in such a gross way his own identity. And yet it happened!

Not only that but as I write these lines I can be sure that it may happen again today and it will probably happen again tomorrow under similar circumstances! Am I a pessimist? No, because in parallel with it I also strongly believe that whenever this or something similar was to happen there will always be afrustrated Freud shouting to another Boehm (the President of the Berlin Society)“You may make all kinds of sacrifices, but you are not to make any concession”. Do we have any good reason to think that Freud was so much better analyzed than Boehm that enabled himself to resist to the unacceptable demands and to simply say the right thing? I do not think so. But then, do we perhaps have any good reason to think that Freud’s death wishes were stronger than Boehm’s in provoking the authoritarian regime? I doubt it very much. When I compare the life of the man and his 23 lively volumes with their revolutionary ideas with the very minimal psychoanalytical contribution on the other side I conclude that Freud loved life much more than Boehm did.

The difference therefore between the two men has to be searched for elsewhere. It must be found in the very essence of Psychoanalysis which is also the central theme of my present review. It has to do with the theme of Belief. In making this assertion – that I am about to qualify – I am fully aware that I touch upon an issue which for some people is an anathema. On the surface it appears as if the role of Belief in psychoanalysis supports the view of ‘liquid pluralism’ (Steiner, R. 2011) under which everything could more or less be acceptable in psychoanalysis as long as it is strongly believed. Indeed, the concept of Belief at a first glance sounds not scientific enough and potentially calling for rejection. I never thought of myself even remotely adhering to the ‘liquid pluralism’ view of psychoanalysis and I have written extensively (albeit in Greek) against all currents that distance psychoanalysis from the letter and the spirit of the Freudian 23 Volumes (Maoutsos V. 1998, 2002). However, as it is always the case with Freud, one must be very mindful of how he reads him. In the quotation above he obviously adheres to the view that as psychoanalysts we always say yes to ‘sacrifices’ if they are on behalf of psychoanalysis but we will always insist in saying no to any ‘concession’ regarding its fundamentals. Metapsychologically speaking he implies that as psychoanalysts we should not compromise real life experiences, nor should we step back from difficult choices or tough decisions that destiny calls upon us to take. We cannot afford pseudo-scientific life, or ‘practical’ solutions or obedience to ‘demands’ that will certainly make our unresolved Oedipal (homosexual) anxieties in practice ending up much worse than they were before. These are both difficult routes for a psychoanalyst to choose from in the unfortunate event that the need arises. They are mutually exclusive because they are looking into opposite directions. Concession represents a sort of bad death and psychological misery whereas sacrifice is potentially a step towards inner development. Economically, the dilemma has simply to do with how masochistic one needs to be in living a life of unconscious guilt and injured identity. Therefore, the concept of real ‘Belief’ in psychoanalysis is extremely useful because it clearly distinguishes the analyst who pushes himself forward in psychological development from the one who is static or goes backwards using rationalizations in the form of being realist, practical and the rest. According to Freud without deep Belief (i.e ability for sacrifice) in Psychoanalysis there will always be the danger for concession in Psychoanalysis. Perhaps this was the big difference between Freud and Boehm!

And now after all these introductory remarks I am coming straight on to the book under review. It is a book that has a double significance. It is written mainly by members of the recently accredited by the IPA ‘British Psychoanalytic Association’. The authors have different theoretical orientations although the same more or less highly valued and multi-dimentional training background of the British Association of Psychotherapists from which they came. In the course of their careers each of them had the choice to choose from different theoretical orientations having been taught all psychoanalytical schools of thought. Some papers are more Freudian others are mainly Kleinian in their approach and others purely Independent. However, all works in this volume are very well thought off with really rich clinical material that in total covers almost half of the actual text of the book. This helps enormously to make difficult transference and countertransference issues most transparent and didactic for the reader and the whole book ‘a unifying focus in psychoanalysis’. Here we have analysts of different theoretical orientations who can treat therapeutically and very successfully these two most important analytic tools of transference and countertransference. In each one of the papers we can detect the considerable experience and expertise that the author carried as the result of his/her high quality of analytic work that was obviously able to perform long before he/she became BPA member. So, everyone working with patients has at least one good reason to indulge in this book.

The second reason is very important too. This is a book that was published in order to show that a second well organized psychoanalytical Society has now come dynamically into existence in London. Therefore, its contents are not the only outstanding feature that this book provides for the reader. There are after all many good books dealing with the inexhaustible issues of transference and countertransference. So, the other implicit contribution of this volume is hidden in the history of the membership of the BPA. It is this second theme that I found relevant to the paper of Riccardo Steiner that I mentioned above. Indeed, being in touch for many years with the careers of many of the authors and the others behind the scene BPA protagonists of this book and reading through the pages of their papers I felt that they are not just good analysts and clinicians but also great believers in psychoanalysis. Although they belong to different psychoanalytical schools of thought they are also very much within the spirit that Steiner describes in his article Freud to have been. Most of them for not less than thirty years were making all sort of sacrifices for psychoanalytical knowledge and consistency (i.e more clinical supervisions, second or third full personal analyses, peer group meetings, active Conference participations etc.) when other colleagues were abandoning the efforts for searching into the unconscious of their own and their patients making not infrequently all kinds of clinical and theoretical concessions. Their intention was to be psychoanalysts in the Freudian sense of Steiner’s paper. I think that out of modesty they mention  in the Prelude of their volume the year 2000 (Bellman, D. B.) as being more or less the year when it all started in making a group with the view of being included under the IPA umbrella organization. But this is not quite accurate. Those of us who can remember the Council Minutes of the British Association of Psychotherapists of the eighties as well as the famous at the time so called ‘Rugby Conference’ meetings for standards in practicing psychoanalysis and psychotherapy we will find that the ‘Freudian’ belief of the BPA membership in psychoanalysis has very deep roots.  The late Denise Taylor that we sadly lost recently was one of the first that had the vision of a second psychoanalytical society in London based on standards of excellence. There were then endless discussions and tremendous resistances. Most people had made practical concessions being convinced that this would never happen. Others, admittedly the minority, believed that it would inevitably happen over time as long as they were ready for sacrifices. This later group of people created the BPA.

I think that when we find individuals or groups of analysts who in their own contemporary way are metaphorically ‘freudians’ like the authors of the present book then we must listen carefully to their voice, to their training abilities, to their beliefs. Their capacity for sacrifice without concession has been tested out rigorously and over long time. They surely represent a very good hope for the future of psychoanalysis.


Maoutsos V. (1998) The ‘Three’ Great Schools of Thought were Only ‘One’ J. Cl. Psychodynamics 2; 9-11

Maoutsos V. (2002) The ‘Psychoanalyst’ at the Crossroads.  J. Cl. Psychodynamics 4; 11-15

Steiner R. (2011) In all questions, my interest is not in the individual people but in the analytic movement as a whole. It will be hard enough here in Europe in the times to come to keep it going. After all, we are just a handful of people who really have that in mind… Int. J. Psychoanal.92; 505-591