Understanding the Brain

Body-centred countertransference

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Body-centred countertransference or 'somatic countertransference refers to feelings that a psychological practitioner has about a client. Referring to the psychologists sensation in the gut, changes to breathing, to heart rate and to tension in muscles'.[1]

In female trauma therapists

Irish psychologists at NUI Galway and University College Dublin [2][3] have recently begun to measure body-centred countertransference in female trauma therapists using their recently developed 'Egan and Carr Body-Centred Countertransference Scale' (2005), a sixteen symptom measure (see link: http://www.lenus.ie/hse/bitstream/10147/121271/1/BodycentredCounter.pdf.) Their research was influenced by developments in the psychotherapy world which was beginning to see a therapist's role in a therapeutic dyad as reflexive; that a therapist uses their bodies and 'self' as a tuning fork to understand their client's internal experience and to use this attunement as another way of being empathic with a client's internal world.[4][5] Pearlman and Saakvitne's seminal book on vicarious traumatization and the effect of trauma work on therapists has also been an important directional model for all researchers studying the physical effects of trauma work on a therapist.[6] High levels of body-centred countertransference has since been found in both Irish female trauma therapists and clinical psychologists.[7] This phenomenon is also known as 'somatic countertransference' or 'embodied countertransference' and it links to how mirror neurons might lead to 'unconscious automatic somatic countertransference' as a result of postural mirroring by the therapist.[8][9] Loughran (2002) found that 38 therapists out of 40 who had responded to a questionnaire (which was distributed to a sample of 124 therapists) on a therapist's use of body as a medium for transference and countertransference communication reported that they had experienced bodily sensations (nausea or churning stomach, sleepiness, shakiness, heart palpitations, sexual excitement etc.) while in session with patients.[10]

Frequency of symptom occurrence

A list of the frequency of occurrence of body-centred countertransference symptoms reported by trauma therapists (Sample A: 35 Female Irish Trauma therapists[11]) and Irish clinical psychologists (Sample B: 87 Irish Clinical Psychologists[12])in the previous six months 'when in-session with a client' is given below in order of frequency:

  1. Sleepiness (A; 92%, B; 76%)
  2. Muscle Tension (A; 83%, B; 79%)
  3. Yawning (A; 65%, B; 77%)
  4. Unexpected shift in body (A; 77%, B; 57%)
  5. Tearfulness (A; 71%, B; 61%)
  6. Headache (A; 54%, B; 53%)
  7. Stomach Disturbance (A; 41%, B; 46%)
  8. Throat Constriction (A; 34%, B; 36%)

  1. Raised Voice (A; 29%, B; 33%)
  2. Dizziness (A; 26%, B; 19%)
  3. Loss of voice (A; 32%, B; 18%)
  4. Aches in joints (A; 37%, B; 18%)
  5. Nausea (A; 23%, B; 18%)
  6. Numbness (A; 29%, B; 15%)
  7. Sexual Arousal (A; 26%, B; 11%)
  8. Genital pain (A; 6%, B; 2%)

Somatization

A small but significant relationship was found between female trauma therapists' level of body-centred countertransference and number of sick leave days taken, suggesting a possible relationship between uncensored body-centred countertransference and somatization. This relationship was not however found in clinical psychologists who were working mainly with a non-trauma population. Therapists have noted the connection between a tendency for some clients to express emotional discomfort by focusing on bodily symptoms rather than being able to put their emotional distress into words (see link; http://www.lenus.ie/hse/bitstream/10147/121822/1/SomatizationDis.pdf). It is thought that such processes are more common in people who have experienced childhood abuse and trauma.[13] Recent research which measured female genital arousal in response to rape cues found that women when listening to rape, consent or violence developed genital arousal more frequently than men. This response in females might function to protect their genital organs against injury. It also might explain the relatively frequent reported experience of sexual arousal amongst Irish female trauma therapists.[14] Further validation of body-centred countertransference in psychologists and therapists is on-going in both []NUI Galway and Trinity College Dublin.

See also

References

  1. Su Fox, Relating to clients (2008) p. 142
  2. Egan, J. & Carr, A. (2005). Burnout in female counsellor/therapists of the NCS: Studies I,II and III. Papers presented at the 35th Annual conference of the psychological society of Ireland, Derry, Nov 17-20th
  3. Egan, J. & Carr, A. (2008). Body-centred countertransference in female trauma therapists. Eisteach, 8, 22-27.
  4. Stone, M. (2006). The analyst's body as a tuning fork: Embodied resonance in countertransference. Journal of Analytical Psychology, 51, 109-124
  5. Wosket, V. (1999). The therapeutic use of self. London: Routledge.
  6. Pearlman, L. A., & Saakvitne, K. W. (1995). Trauma and the therapist: Countertransference and vicarious traumatization in psychotherapy with incest survivors. New York: Norton
  7. Booth, A., Trimble, T., & Egan, J. (2010). Body-centred countertransference in a sample of Irish Clinical Psychologists. The Irish Psychologist, 36, 284-289.
  8. Egan, J. & Carr, A. (2008). Body-centred countertransference in female trauma therapists. Eisteach, 8, 22-27
  9. Rothschild, B. (2006). Help for the helper: self-care strategies for managing burnout and stress. London: W. W. Norton & Company.
  10. Loughran, E. H. (2002). The therapists's use of body as a medium for transference and countertransference communication. Unpublished Doctor of Psychology Dissertation. Wright Institute: California.
  11. Egan, J. & Carr, A. (2008). Body-centred countertransference in female trauma therapists. Eisteach, 8, 22-27.
  12. Booth, A., Trimble, T., & Egan, J. (2010). Body-centred countertransference in a sample of Irish Clinical Psychologists. The Irish Psychologist, 36, 284-289.
  13. Pribor, E. F., Yutzy, S. H., Dean, J. T., Wetzel, R. D. (1993). Briquet's Syndrome, dissociation and abuse. American Journal of Psychiatry, 150, 1507-1511.
  14. Suschinsky, K. D. & Lalumiere, M. L. (2010). Prepared for anything? An investigation of female genital arousal in response to rape cues. Psychological Science OnlineFirst@ 10.1177/0956797610394660

Further reading

Kate White ed., Touch: Attachment and the Body (2004)