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Exploring ‘cultural countertransference’: a qualitative study of therapists’ understanding of the interface between culture and countertransference.

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There has been limited research on the relationship between culture and countertransference. Although extant literature indicates that culture-induced countertransference has a profound effect on therapeutic alliances with clients from culturally diverse population groups, this association between the two concepts remains relatively unexplored. In the South African multicultural context, there is no published research exploring the understanding that therapists have of the interface between these two concepts. The qualitative research design enabled the therapists to provide comprehensive descriptions of their culture-induced countertransference experiences. These culture-induced countertransference experiences were explored and analysed utilising Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis perspective. The therapists’ experiences and perceptions were obtained through semi-structured interviews conducted with nine registered and practising therapists from KwaZulu-Natal. Four superordinate themes were obtained from the data, namely: (1) Awareness of Countertransference and Culture; (2) Cultural Aspects Inducing Countertransference; (3) Affective, Behavioural and Cognitive Reactions; and (4) Managing the Countertransference Experiences. The main findings indicated that therapists acknowledged an interface between culture and countertransference. Additionally, the therapists made a distinction between cultural countertransference and general counter-transference. Cultural countertransference was perceived to originate from the beliefs, assumptions, biases and unresolved conflicts within the therapist, triggered by various cultural aspects, including language, racial and ethnic diversity, cultural practices and age. The interplay of these triggers and origins resulted in the countertransference being manifested through affective, behavioural and cognitive reactions. Furthermore, the study revealed that there were slight differences in the management of cultural countertransference in comparison with general countertransference. The discussion of the findings drew on the Structural Theory of Countertransference and the Theory of Multicultural Counselling and Therapy in understanding the therapists’ perceptions of cultural countertransference.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.