Therapist countertransference experiences of clients' violent crime narratives in the South African context.
AIM: This study endeavoured to explore and understand countertransference reactions that occur when the therapist is exposed to clients‘ stories of violent crime. The study focused on the therapist‘s experiential responses resulting from exposure to traumatic stories and the subsequent consequences thereof. This was contextualized from the particular perspective of South African therapists and their above average exposure to crime related trauma. METHODOLOGY: A qualitative research design was used with Smith‘s Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) as the methodology of choice. This included a double hermeneutic approach of analysing firstly the perceptions and secondly the meaning of such perceptions within the context of current literature. Nine South African psychologists were purposively selected and interviewed to provide the required data. CONCLUSION: The results of this study show that both concordant and complementary countertransference play a large role in the therapist‘s experience of 'identification with suffering‘ and feelings of avoidance whilst listening to stories of violent crime. Such concordant identification with the client, if not mediated through awareness of one‘s internal dynamics, can result in the therapist‘s over-identification with the client which may be associated with features of vicarious trauma. One way in which such vicarious trauma states may be resolved by the therapist is through the concordant mimicking of the client‘s need to purge and be contained. Experiences linked to vicarious trauma, however, are not a certainty when working with trauma but rather an outcome that depends greatly on a therapist‘s level of experience, self-awareness and ability to implement coping strategies. Through these mediating factors, what may usually be experienced as vicariously traumatic may be transformed into resilience and self-growth. It appears that the implementation of coping strategies (such as normalization and reframing) are also what allow South African therapists to manage in the context of high crime rates and caseloads. Despite the barriers that the public sector poses, the tenacity and hopefulness demonstrated by some of the participants allowed them to overcome some of the difficulties linked to working with trauma.