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Ramifications of client’s use of projective identification, racism, and enactments of otherness: A nascent clinician’s struggle inhabiting her identities in the therapy room

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Given some of the challenges beginning therapists experience in the development of their new roles, they may be more susceptible to becoming overwhelmed by their countertransference, lack the awareness to track all of the processes taking place in the therapy room (e.g., projective identification, transference/countertransference dynamics, etc.), and have a propensity to be pulled into enactments. This paper explores how therapy processes, client trauma, and clinician levels of experience intersect therapeutically with the dyad’s identity features and may impact the therapist’s ego functions. A case is discussed that explicates how racial identities in a dyad can create enactments resembling those of marked historic and cultural imbalances in Western society, taking away the minority therapist’s ability to think and speak in English due to the intense projective identification and countertransference experience of inferiority and incompetence in the presence of a patient with various identities of privilege. The role of internalized racism within the minority therapist is also explored in rendering them unable to process the deeper dynamics evoked in the therapeutic and supervisory dyad with the patient when the patient used racially charged language.

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  1. Aron (2003) refers to “a third space” or “position of thirdness” as a capacity “to think while remaining affectively engaged, and to maintain the tension between a tendency to dominate and to submit to the patient” (p. 629).

  2. A pseudonym has been used, and protected health information de-identified, to protect the privacy and rights of the patient.

  3. The use of the word “minority” is this section is to distinguish a lack of representation of an identity group rather than the problematic overuse of the word to depict inferiority.


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Correspondence to Natalia N. Báez-Powell.

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Báez-Powell, N.N. Ramifications of client’s use of projective identification, racism, and enactments of otherness: A nascent clinician’s struggle inhabiting her identities in the therapy room. Psychoanal Cult Soc 28, 232–249 (2023).

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