To what extent is alliance affected by transference? An empirical exploration

Sigal Zilcha-Mano, Kevin S. McCarthy, Ulrike Dinger, Jacques P. Barber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Will patients project their representations of significant others onto the therapist in a way that influences the formation of the therapeutic alliance? To address this issue, the current study explored the following questions: (1) To what extent are pretreatment representations of others projected onto the therapist and thereby predict the development of alliance throughout the course of treatment? (2) To what extent are these projections affected by the real relationship? (3) Are there specific representations of others that are more prone to be projected onto the alliance? To this end, data on 134 patients from a randomized controlled trial for depression comparing dynamic supportive-expressive therapy with supportive clinical management combined with pharmacotherapy or placebo were used. Findings demonstrated that the patients' pretreatment representations of significant others predicted a substantial part of the alliance with the therapist throughout the course of treatment. However, the representations of others were not automatically projected onto the alliance but rather the projections were also influenced by the real relationship with the therapist. Throughout this process, the alliance evolves into a collage of significant others. A process of assimilation seemed to emerge during treatment, in which the most relevant representations of significant others were projected onto the alliance with the therapist.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)424-433
Number of pages10
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Alliance
  • CCRT
  • Internal representations
  • Significant others
  • Transference

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Clinical Psychology


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