A Social Worker’s Anger


During a session with a 36-year-old female client, a social worker becomes angry in response to the woman’s tone of voice. Very likely, the social worker is experiencing

A. Empathy
B. Reaction formation
C. Transference
D. Countertransference


The correct answer is “D” – Countertransference, which refers to a mental health provider responding to a client as if he or she is a significant person from the provider’s past. It is very possible that the tone of voice that elicited anger in the social worker reminded him or her of negative interactions with a parent during his or her childhood. Empathy (answer “A”) is not correct because empathy is the action of accurately reflecting the surface feelings of the client. Reaction formation (answer “B”) is not correct because reaction formation refers to a defense mechanism of adopting a behavior that is the antithesis of the instinctual urge (e.g. acting as if one has deep sympathies for an oppressed group when the individual actually has significant prejudices against that group). Transference (answer “C”) is not correct because transference refers to the client’s reaction to the social worker as if he or she were someone in the client’s past.