Lacan defines counter-transference as “the sum total of the analyst’s biases, passions, and difficulties”. What does Lacan mean here?
Lacan uses the metaphor of a game of contract bridge to unpack what he means here. The cards are dealt and the two pairs of partners have to plan how to do the best they can with the cards they have, while not being able to see either their partner’s or the other pair’s cards. The bidding that follows is for the contract to win in a way that will be particular to the cards the winning pair hold, both the bidding and the subsequent play being subject to the social conventions of the game. The winning pair must then deliver on their commitment or suffer penalties. Let us say that the person who gets to play the winning contract is North. Once North starts the play and East plays their card, South becomes the dummy by laying his or her cards on the table so that North is able to play both hands. The challenge for the East-West pair is to break the contract by the way they play against it.
Lacan’s point is that, in working with the counter-transference, the therapist is in the place of the dummy (South) since s/he is always working within the context of the contract as played by the patient (North). The therapist is thus bringing to bear the sum total of his or her biases, passions and difficulties in the way in which s/he reads what it is that the patient wants and is constrained by the patient’s way of playing their two hands. The metaphor is that the ‘contract’ is the patient’s ego with its particular way of making sense of its world and that the work of the therapist is to provide insight into the ways in which the patient can improve their way of playing.
The Lacanian approach is not to do this but to play East-West with the goal of breaking the contract, for by breaking the contract, the possibility of playing different contracts can become apparent to the patient. The difference, then, is between an approach in which the therapist uses her- or himself to strengthen the way the patient ‘plays’, or to bring the patient to face an impasse in their present way of playing.