Academic journal article Journal of Theoretical & Philosophical Criminology

Dialogical Nature of Transferential Processes: Tacit Moral Frameworks

Academic journal article Journal of Theoretical & Philosophical Criminology

Dialogical Nature of Transferential Processes: Tacit Moral Frameworks

Article excerpt

Dialogical Nature of Transferential Processes: Tacit Moral Frameworks


John, a 16-year-old member of a local Crip gang, sat face-to-face with his therapist with whom he had worked for 4 months since he was admitted to a residential treatment center (RTC) for their substance abuse program.

The therapist set up the meeting to give John a heads up about threats being made against him. John listened carefully as the therapist explained that three members of a local Blood gang, also receiving treatment from the same RTC, had been plotting to "jump" him. The therapist reminded John that he was getting close to discharging to a lower level of care and a gang-related fight would not be looked upon favorably by this Child and Family Team.

The therapist worked hard to build rapport with John knowing from his prior placement at the same RTC, less than a year earlier, that John could not simply be told what to do or who to be. The therapist told John for four months that he would never be told what to do or who to be out of respect for the man. The therapist reminded John of this almost every therapeutic intervention: "This is just something for you to consider, John, to avoid fighting them at all costs, but I respect you too much to tell you what to do." The therapist's mentality had contributed effectively to building rapport with John.

John: "I appreciate the good lookin', but I have no business wit dem boys."

Therapist: "May I ask why?"

John: "I want outta here. If dis was the outs [this] would git real but I want outta here. And I want to be done wit all dis gang [stuff]."

Therapist: "I understand," the therapist recalled the many sessions John had processed about escaping the gang lifestyle. "Well, for what it's worth, I think you're making the right decision."

John: "I won't be startin' [stuff] but if dey attack me it ain't in me to just take it. I want to know where you, as my therapist, would stand on that to my team."

The therapist thought silently, imagining to himself what he would feel like if he was in John's position. "I would never take away a client's right to defend him- or herself. That is your Constitutional right regardless of therapy. So, I will make a deal with you: if you promise me to remain in eyesight of staff at all times and aren't the initiator of any fight, but you physically defend yourself if you're jumped, I will back you up to staff and your CFT all the way." John nodded his head and verbally committed to the agreement.

John successfully discharged seven weeks later without incident. He thanked the therapist repeatedly in his last session for standing by him at all times and respecting him as a man and not as "sum client wit problems and [stuff]." John also processed about his desires to leave the "hood lifestyle," pursue a career installing audio equipment, and pass his GED. The therapist praised John for his hard work in therapy and the two parted ways with mutual respect.


This foregoing vignette illustrates a therapist's experience while working at an RTC. At the time of his admission, John readily admitted to his therapist that he had not changed one bit since his first admission. When asked why, John reported that he felt like his prior therapist never listened to him and always told him that his "stinkin' thinkin'" and "unhelpful beliefs" had to change. John reported that he felt misunderstood the entire time and that his gang lifestyle was constantly criticized.

John's case sets a precedent for a unique type of responsibility for therapists, one that is dialogical in nature as advocated for by phenomenological thinkers (Bakhtin, 1981; Baxter, 2004; Draper, Polizzi, Breton, Glenn, & Ogilvie, 2013; Levinas, 1969; Macmurray, 1999; Marion, 2002; Mensch, 2003; Morson & Emerson, 1990; Richardson & Zeddies, 2001; Richardson, Fowers, & Guignon, 1999; Taylor, 1991). This paper will discuss how this responsibility is understood dialogically, including through the use of transference and countertransference, how it establishes a new ethic in therapy, and the clinical implications it has for policy. …

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