Bridges and Borders: An Autoethnographic Account of the Confluence of Borderline Pathology, Countertransference, and Therapist Subjectivity

Defense Date


Graduation Date

Spring 1-1-2009


Campus Only

Submission Type


Degree Name



Clinical Psychology


McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Leswin Laubscher

Committee Member

Marco Gemignani

Committee Member

Walter Smith


Borderline Pathology, Autoethnography, Therapist Subjectivity, Countertransference


This dissertation examines the therapist's relationship to the patient diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. Though there is prolific literature describing the behavioral and emotional manifestations of borderline personality disorder, its etiology, and the various countertransference reactions commonly experienced by therapists working with the client, the literature rarely speaks of the countertransference with complexity and richness, or in any personalized or procedurally reflexive manner. Instead, countertransference typically serves as a thinly veiled intellectualization that allows therapists to acknowledge they have feelings about their clients, but to talk about it in a sterile way. In fact, though a therapist herself may personally struggle just as poignantly with the closeness and avoidance that characterize the pathology of the borderline patient within the immediate treatment setting, the theoretical framework regarding countertransference also suffers from the same borderline tendencies, rejecting the subjectivity of practitioners at the same time that it encourages a mutual, interactive process. This further complicates and confuses the therapeutic endeavor, while also pathologizing the therapists that compose the voice of its practice. Instead of merely falling prey to the same trap of rejecting oneself in the supposed process of claiming oneself through countertransference, this dissertation intimately delves into the life world of the therapist that works with the borderline patient, including a descriptive delineation of the subjectivity entailed in sustaining that relationship. The method aptly fitted to such a project is that of autoethnography. This act of personal story-making refuses the demands of theoretical distance, pushing the boundaries of therapist subjectivity beyond its proscribed limits. In the process, not only is the subjectivity of the therapist placed front and center, but the pathos inherent within the psychological theory of countertransference and psychology as a discipline is revealed and directly confronted. The project is taken up in this way as part of an ethics of responsibility, but also so the therapist who works with her client will better understand the dynamics taking place within the therapy room and the meaning these dynamics may have for the persons involved in that relationship and the interventions utilized.





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