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Harv Rev Psychiatry. 1994 Jul-Aug;2(2):59-69.

Transference interpretation in the psychotherapy of borderline patients: a high-risk, high-gain phenomenon.

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  • 1Menninger Clinic, Topeka, KS 66601-0829, USA.


The effectiveness of transference interpretation in the psychodynamic psychotherapy of patients with borderline personality disorder has been highly controversial. Both highly expressive approaches that stress the value of transference interpretation and supportive strategies that eschew transference work have been advocated in the literature. We review this literature and identify three emerging trends in thought: (1) Primarily interpretive approaches should be reserved for patients with greater levels of ego strength. (2) Whichever technique is used, a strong therapeutic alliance is the foundation of treatment. (3) Expressive and supportive techniques should not be juxtaposed as polarized opposites; supportive interventions often pave the way for transference interpretation. Our psychotherapy process study revealed that transference interpretations tended to have greater impact--both positive and negative--than other interventions made with patients with borderline personality disorder. We conclude that such factors as neuropsychologically based cognitive dysfunction, a history of early trauma, patterns of object relations involving interpersonal distance, masochistic tendencies, and anaclitic rather than introjective psychopathology are among the patient characteristics that influence the impact of transference interpretation on the therapeutic alliance. Bias toward expressive technique and countertransference issues appear to be relevant to the therapist's difficulty in shifting to a more supportive approach when indicated.

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