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A – Z Coaching and Mentoring – This week’s extract explores ‘transference’ – its applications to coaching and how to utilise it in your coaching approach,

Don’t forget if you have a special request for a definition of a coaching term or principle, just let us know! Perfect for anyone studying for an ILM Coaching & Mentoring qualification, or as a refresher for experienced coaches.



It is natural to make assumptions about other human beings and the coach can unconsciously behave in a certain way towards the client as a result of past experiences and learning. Transference is where old issues from the past emerge in new relationships and Freud wrote extensively about this in the early twentieth century. A coach can unwittingly create negative or positive relationship states in their client, based on prior experiences and relationships. Trust and professional affection are useful, whereas dominance and dependence aren’t. A good phrase to summarise transference is ‘who you are is how you coach’.

The applications to coaching are extensive, so here are a few useful tips:

  • Preparing to meet a client for the first time – notice your instinctive responses to that person and what that might mean for the quality of the coaching relationship. ?
  • Notice signs that your client is becoming dependent upon you or looking up to you in an idealised way as this could indicate signs of your role being that of a parent (support) or boss (authority) for example, rather than a coach – avoid supporting this by praising their achievements as their own, so that the responsibility for success lies firmly with their actions and not your coaching. ?
  • Notice signs of ego getting in the way and shift the emphasis back to working for the client rather than kudos for yourself.

Counter transference is when the client (or the past history of the coach) unconsciously creates a state within the coach. For example, a client might remind the coach of someone and the coach starts to react as if the client were that person rather than themselves. The coach might notice reactions of frustration, tiredness or something else that their client evokes within them, without being clear about why this is the case. If the client is starting to become dependent on the coach or place the coach on a pedestal, the coach might start to live up to that role and then become overly involved (flattered) or overly detached (repulsed). As a coach is it easy to slip into the trap of accepting request for help, support or friendship that goes beyond the coaching interaction.

Experienced coaches will use transference and counter transference as part of their coaching approach. Firstly they will notice their reactions and consider whether or not they need to adjust internally in any way to best support the coaching. Secondly, they might explore what they have experienced with the client: A good question they could ask is “I’m getting a feeling that something is going on here, what might that be?” or name what they are experiencing with a question like “I am feeling frustration, why would that happen?”

Transformative learning and transformational coaching both involve changing perspectives and mind-sets. Sometimes in coaching this is describes as an ‘Ah-ha’ moment. This type of coaching often involves revolutionary changes or the development of a new purpose or vision.

Taken from the A-Z Coaching Handbook by Clare Smale where you will find a comprehensive A-Z, plus a full list of references.

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