The concept of countertransference is critically revisited starting from Freud’s definition up to the more recent positions. Whereas Freud conceived countertransference as an obstacle to analytic work, later an enlarged or "totalistic" conception of countertransference became widely accepted. According to this view, countertransference is not only "the analyst’s transference" (i.e., due to a "neurotic residue"), but includes all the analyst’s reactions to the patient; some authors, such as Paula Heimann and Heinrich Racker, argued that it is a useful therapeutic tool because it allows for a "direct knowledge" of the patient’s unconscious. These positions are criticized, and also the related concept of "analytic love" is critically discussed. Through a review of the empirical literature on countertransference, often ignored by analysts, it is argued that empirical research is useful in order to define concepts and validate hypotheses, and that a moderate conception of countertransference is more justifiable.
Keywords: Countertransference, "totalistic" countertransference, unconscious communication, analytic love, usefulness of empirical research in psychoanalysis