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J Nerv Ment Dis. 2007 May;195(5):443-50.

Are relationship patterns with significant others reenacted with the therapist?: a study of early transference reactions.

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Research Unit of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, Institute for Psychotherapy, Department of Psychiatry, University of Lausanne, Prilly, Switzerland.


This study examines how patients' relationship patterns are reenacted with the therapist during the first sessions of psychotherapy. Forty (N = 40) outpatients treated with a Brief Psychodynamic Intervention were included in the study. Their narratives of relationship episodes with significant others (e.g., mother, father, romantic partner, colleagues) were compared with relationship episodes with their therapist using the Core Conflictual Relationship Theme method. The Core Conflictual Relationship Theme focuses on 3 aspects of patients' relationship narratives: what the patient wants from others or from self; how others react to his/her wish; and how the patient consequently reacts. Results showed that 60% of patients display similar relationship patterns with their therapist and with significant others. The patterns that were reenacted with the therapist were not the most pervasive ones but were similar to those found in relationship episodes involving parents or romantic partners. These findings provide some support for the clinical concept of repetition of internalized relational patterns with the therapist very early in psychotherapy. Clinical implications are discussed.

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