Countertransference-derived elaboration of religious conflicts and representational states

M. H. Spero

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Polysemous qualities of the religious patient's use of language and metaphor are among the subtle factors involved in the creation of an ambience conducive to projective identification, leading to the evolution of countertransference crises in the psychotherapist. The psychotherapist's activity during countertransference crises consists in converting the patient's unsorted images, memory traces, and affective states that have never before been symbolified into resilient representational material. This requires the psychotherapist's imaginative process, but it also involves the accurate preconscious perception and amalgamation, within the countertransference, of the patient's unmetabolized representational object- and self states. The guidelines for organizing such material are communicated through the projective-introjective exchange. Gradually, silent internal exchanges between the therapist and his WORP facilitate novel conceptualizations that free the external linguistic interchange to convey complex relational communications. This development bears directly upon religious objects and representations since these are particularly laden with traces of early, preverbal transformative processes. Through the resolution of transformational countertransference crises during treatment, and the alignment of the patient's historical memories and objects with their subjective meaning, many of the paradoxical or mysterious characteristics that were attributed to God in a conflict-bound manner regain their somewhat more modest, containable, and knowable human proportions. This results in less dichotomy and splitting in the perception and relation with God, without challenging the root otherness and ontological distance that encompass most representations of divinity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)68-94
Number of pages27
JournalAmerican Journal of Psychotherapy
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1995


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