Counselors' Stress Appraisals as Predictors of Countertransference Behavior with Male Clients

Article excerpt

Countertransference is a double-edged sword for counselors and researchers alike. In counseling, when countertransference is unchecked, it can lead to countertherapeutic behavior (Gelso & Hayes, 1998; Strupp, 1980); conversely, if counselors are aware of countertransference, it can provide crucial insight into the nature of the counseling relationship (Singer & Luborsky, 1977). For researchers, conducting countertransference research is difficult due to definitional and methodological difficulties (Gelso & Hayes, 1998). Nevertheless, because the counselor's and the client's personal reactions and the manner in which they deal with these reactions are central to counseling effectiveness (Strupp, 1980), countertransference research is of critical importance.

Freud introduced the term countertransference (Freud, 1910/ 1959) to refer to the analyst's unconscious and neurotic reactions to the patient's transference. Subsequent writers broadened Freud's definition of countertransference to include all of a counselor's reactions to a client (Fromm-Reichmann, 1950; Kiesler, 1982; Levenson, 1995). Currently, many scholars distinguish between therapists' "real" and "unreal" reactions, defining countertransference as irrational reactions emanating from counselors' unresolved internal issues (Gelso & Carter, 1985, 1994; Gelso & Hayes, 1998). In the present study, we used this current view of countertransference, which retains the neurotic element of Freud's definition without limiting countertransference strictly to unconscious reactions in response to transference.

* The Current Countertransference Research Paradigm

In this section, we briefly describe the current countertransference research paradigm, focusing on three countertransference components (i.e., countertransference origins, triggers, and manifestations) identified by Hayes (1995) that are applicable to the current investigation. We have included this review for two primary reasons: (a) to highlight the empirical basis for the current investigation and (b) to serve as the historical context from which our reconceptualization of countertransference has emerged.

Within the current countertransference paradigm, counselors' unresolved issues (i.e., countertransference origins) are thought to interact with client characteristics (i.e., countertransference triggers) to elicit counselors' cognitive, affective, and/or behavioral reactions (i.e., countertransference manifestations; Hayes, 1995). To date, research has focused on counselors' intrapersonal (Hayes & Gelso, 1991; Yulis & Kiesler, 1968) and interpersonal (Cutler, 1958; Fauth, Hayes, Park, & Friedman, 1999; Rosenberger & Hayes, 2002) countertransference origins, with increasing attention being paid to countertransference origins of a cultural nature, such as homophobia (Gelso, Fassinger, Gomez, & Latts, 1995; Hayes et al., 1998; Hayes & Gelso, 1993; Latts & Gelso, 1995). These studies typically hypothesized that therapists' unresolved issues (i.e., countertransference origins) and clients' characteristics (i.e., countertransference triggers) would interact to elicit therapists' countertransference manifestations, such as withdrawal from (e.g., avoidance behavior) or overinvolvement with (e.g., enmeshed behavior) clients (Hayes et al., 1998). This notion that an interaction between counselors' and clients' unresolved issues triggers counselors' countertransference was partially supported in four of six studies in which it was tested (Cutler, 1958; Fauth et al., 1999; Gelso et al., 1995, Hayes & Gelso, 1991, 1993; Rosenberger & Hayes, 2002). For instance, Gelso et al. (1995) found that counselors' homophobia levels were directly related to increased avoidance behavior with lesbian clients but not with heterosexual clients.

* Countertransference as a Stress and Coping Process

The prevailing countertransference research paradigm has been successful in promoting increased empirical research. …