Transference Focused Psychotherapy is a type of talking therapy that builds on ideas from traditional Psychotherapy. It has helped many people recover from mental health conditions.

It is specifically designed for those who struggle with their personality or functioning as a person. The aim is to improve relationships and aid complex psychological issues.

Transference Focused Psychotherapy involves the work of Sigmund Freud

How Does Transference Focused Psychotherapy Work?

Transference Focused Psychotherapy is similar in many ways to other forms of psychotherapy – like Psychoanalytical Psychotherapy and Psychodynamic Psychotherapy.

It is a treatment based on the work of psychoanalyst Otto F. Kernberg, who sought to modify existing psychotherapy approaches [1].

Transference Focused Psychotherapy involves a person speaking freely about whatever is on their mind – as is the standard approach to any psychotherapy.

The therapist will aim to connect their thoughts, feelings and experiences. They will hope to show the patient this connection, and how their mood is linked to this.

Transference is a key part of this therapy, as the name suggests. Transference is the idea that a person will reveal their true feelings and how they have responded to others in their life.

When this does happen, the therapist will hope to show the patient what is happening, aiming to stimulate a deeper thought process.

Transference Focused Psychotherapy typically takes place over a period of several months, sometimes up to a year. Sessions normally take place on a weekly basis.

When is Transference Focused Psychotherapy Useful?

Transference Focused Psychotherapy is mainly for those that have complex psychological difficulties. It is commonly used for those with personality problems, or those exhibiting worrying symptoms that may turn into complex issues.

Therefore, Transference Focused Psychotherapy is mainly associated with Personality Disorders like Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar Disorder.

However, any condition that involves a person having complex problems and relationship difficulties could see Transference Focused Psychotherapy as a useful tool.

Therefore, those suffering from trauma-based conditions or Substance Use conditions may also benefit from Transference Focused Psychotherapy.

Advantages of Transference Focused Psychotherapy

There are a few advantages to Transference Focused Psychotherapy:

  • Transference Focused Psychotherapy involves the patient being able to speak freely. Giving someone a chance to speak their mind can be very therapeutic.
  • Transference Focused Psychotherapy is specifically designed to help those with complex problems. Therefore, symptoms are much more targeted by this therapy, and can help those facing these problems to get much more out of therapy.
  • We all know that the way we think and relationships with other humans are crucial in life. By tackling these issues, Transference Focused Psychotherapy should result in a person having much healthier relationships and thoughts, which should improve mental wellbeing.

Disadvantages of Transference Focused Psychotherapy

There are a few disadvantages to Transference Focused Psychotherapy:

  • Transference Focused Psychotherapy is a rather unique take on psychotherapy, so it isn’t easily accessible. Not many therapists will offer this type of therapy, compared to those offering mainstream psychotherapy treatments.
  • Transference Focused Psychotherapy usually takes place over a period of several months, meaning that it is time-consuming.
  • Transference Focused Psychotherapy has a strong emphasis on the patient-therapist relationship. Many people entering this form of therapy will have had difficulties in relationship building – so they may struggle to get to grips with this type of therapy.

How effective is Transference Focused Psychotherapy?

Research is mixed on the effectiveness of Transference Focused Psychotherapy. Though there are plenty of positives.

Most research suggests that the gold standard of treatments for personality disorders – Dialectical Behavioural Therapy – does appear to be more effective than Transference Focused Psychotherapy [2]. But some people will prefer the approach offered by Transference Focused Psychotherapy.

Those with complex problems are at high risk of suicide attempts. Research found that those who underwent Transference Focused Psychotherapy for a year saw a significant reduction in suicide attempts – a very positive finding [3].

One study compared Transference Focused Psychotherapy with Schema Therapy over a three year period. The research suggested that Schema Therapy produced much more effective results for those with Borderline Personality Disorder, in regards to relationships, suicidal behaviour, overall quality of life and impulsive behaviour [4].

It is important to remember though that what is effective for one person isn’t always the case for someone else. Everyone will benefit from certain approaches – there isn’t an all-conquering type of therapy.

How to find a therapist?

It is recommended that you contact your GP and inform them of your problems. They will refer you to the relevant mental health team.

If you are aiming to use the private sector, you could ask your GP or someone you know for a recommendation. You can also look online – the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy have a therapist directory on their site.

See Also


If talking therapy alone hasn’t worked, then your Doctor may suggest adding a medication.

There are many other types of therapy, you can see an exhaustive list of them here.


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If you are struggling with your mental health, help is available. With the right support and treatment, you can make a recovery. For information on helplines, or if you are in a state of crisis, please visit our crisis page by clicking on the relevant link for your geographical location (United Kingdom), (United States), (International). You can also see how to get mental health treatment and the process involved by clicking this link.


[1] Clarkin, J. F., Yeomans, F., & Kernberg, O. F. (2006). Psychotherapy for borderline personality: Focusing on object relations. New York: Wiley.

[2] Clarkin, J. F., Foelsch, P. A., Levy, K. N., Hull, J. W., Delany, J. C., Kernbery, O. F. (2001). The development of a psychodynamic treatment for patients with borderline personality disorder: A preliminary study of behavioral change. Journal of Personality Disorders. 15: p487-495.

[3] Oud, M., Arntz, A., Hermens, M. L. M., Verhoef, R., & Kendall, T. (2018). Specialized psychotherapies for adults with borderline personality disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. 52 (10): p949-961.

[4] Spinhoven, P., Giesen-Bloo, J., van Dyck, R., Kooirnan, K., & Arntz, A. (2007). The therapeutic alliance in schema-focused therapy and transference-focused psychotherapy for borderline personality disorder. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 75: p104-115.