Characterizing Clinical Genetic Counselors’ Countertransference Experiences: an Exploratory Study

Rebecca Reeder, Patricia Mc Carthy Veach, Ian M. MacFarlane, Bonnie S. LeRoy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

Countertransference (CT) refers to conscious and unconscious emotions, fantasies, behaviors, perceptions, and psychological defenses genetic counselors experience in response to any aspect of genetic counseling situations (Weil 2010). Some authors theorize about the importance of recognizing and managing CT, but no studies solely aim to explore genetic counselors’ experiences of the phenomenon. This study examined the extent to which clinical genetic counselors’ perceive themselves as inclined to experience CT, gathered examples of CT encountered in clinical situations, and assessed their CT management strategies. An anonymous online survey, sent to NSGC members, yielded 127 usable responses. Participants completed Likert-type items rating their CT propensities; 57 of these individuals also provided examples of CT they experienced in their practice. Factor analysis of CT propensities tentatively suggested four factors: Control, Conflict Avoidance, Directiveness, and Self-Regulation, accounting for 38.5% of response variance. Thematic analysis of CT examples yielded five common triggers: general similarity to patient, medical/genetic similarity, angry patients, patient behaves differently from counselor expectations, and disclosing bad news; six common manifestations: being self-focused, projecting feelings onto the patient, intense emotional reaction to patient, being overly invested, disengagement, and physical reaction; five CT effects: disruption in rapport building, repaired empathy, over-identification, conversation does not reach fullest potential, and counselor is drained emotionally; and three management strategies: recognizing CT as it occurs, self-reflection, and consultation. Results suggest CT is a common experience, occurring in both “routine” and emotionally complex cases. Training programs, continuing education, and peer supervision might include discussion of CT, informed by examples from the present study, to increase genetic counselor awareness and skills for managing the phenomenon.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)934-947
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Genetic Counseling
Volume26
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 1 2017

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Keywords

  • Conflict avoidance
  • Control
  • Countertransference
  • Directiveness
  • Empathy
  • Genetic counselor
  • Management strategies
  • Self-regulation

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