What is transference-focused psychotherapy?

Transference-focused psychotherapy is a practice of therapy that works to help people identify patterns that could be problematic in both their interpersonal and intrapersonal skills. This form of therapy was actually developed to be used primarily for people with borderline personality disorder (BPD), and helps people with this diagnosis develop positive feelings about themselves, and build more constructive behaviors, rather than practice the self-destructive ideas that BPD may be causing.

A transference-focused psychotherapist can ask their clients to identify, or identify themselves, examples of behavior that are happening in the course of therapy, rather than mainly focusing on behaviors outside of therapy. Both client and therapist benefit from this, as they both can better recognize and build positive alternatives to destructive or unhealthy behaviors as they occur. This makes it easier to transition and use the healthier behaviors.

Transference-focused psychotherapy was, as mentioned, developed to help individuals with borderline personality disorder. Transference psychotherapy works to alleviate symptoms associated with this disorder, such as impulsivity, anger, self-harm, and irritability. Transference-focused psychotherapy, as discussed in this article by BetterHelp, has shown to be effective at improving emotional regulation, lowering depression and anxiety, improving interpersonal relationships, and reducing suicidal thoughts or actions

How does transference-focused psychotherapy work?

Transference is a theory in itself where emotions are passed from one person to another. The concept of transference is key to transference-focused psychotherapy; feelings that one may have about people in their life can and will be transferred to the therapist.

Building a strong relationship between patient and therapist is crucial to the efficacy of transference-focused psychotherapy. Since forming a bond is so important, transference-focused psychotherapy follows a regular, twice-a-week approach. During a session, as mentioned, a transference-focused psychotherapist will work with their clients and focus on what is going on during the session, rather than talk about what is going on outside of the office. Therapists first must establish trust, and figure out boundaries that could possibly act as a trigger for the client. The therapist must then study the individual’s mind, emotions, and recurring behavior patterns. Therapists also encourage their clients to take responsibility for their actions and understand that, no matter what has happened in the past, there is always opportunity to grow and improve along with their symptoms. This push, along with working through identity issues, can oftentimes cause the session to become very uncomfortable. Also, as mentioned, clients oftentimes will project their feelings about individuals onto the therapist, causing them to lash out. Each time a client expresses their discomfort through some medium, whether it be anger or defensiveness, this offers an opportunity for the client and therapist to focus on what exactly is triggering these responses.

Research has been extremely supportive of transference-focused psychotherapy for those diagnosed with BPD, and research is still being done about its effectiveness.

Is transference-focused psychotherapy right for me?

Transference-focused therapy might be an option for you if you are in need of help with relationships, both with yourself and the people around you. However, it is a very specific type of therapy that follows an established routine. Additionally, transference-focused psychotherapists will rarely give you advice or teach you what to do. They also are not usually available after sessions, unless it is an emergency. Instead, your therapist will try to work with you during therapy sessions, building a strong relationship with you and essentially trying to figure out what makes you tick.

Talking to your therapist can help you decide if transference-focused psychotherapy would be right for you. Ask them if this is a service that they offer, and if not, if they can give you a referral to someone who does if they think that it would be right for you. Finding someone that you can relate to and build a relationship is extremely important for this kind of therapy, so it is vital to take the necessary time to find the right provider that will work for you. Additionally, research has only been performed on those with a diagnosis for BPD; no research has been performed to study the effectiveness for someone without a BPD diagnosis. If you still think that transference-focused psychotherapy would be right for you, talk to your health care providers to discuss the benefits and drawbacks of this kind of therapy.