Transference-focused Psychotherapy

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) presents profound challenges in emotional regulation, interpersonal relationships, and self-identity. Transference-Focused Psychotherapy (TFP) emerges as a dynamic and in-depth treatment modality specifically designed to address the complex interplay of emotions and relational patterns characteristic of BPD.

Understanding Transference-Focused Psychotherapy

TFP, developed by Otto F. Kernberg and his colleagues, is rooted in psychoanalytic theory and object relations principles. Central to TFP is the concept of transference – the unconscious redirection of feelings and attitudes from past relationships onto the therapist – as a vehicle for understanding and resolving interpersonal difficulties and emotional dysregulation.

Key Principles of Transference-Focused Psychotherapy

TFP operates on several core principles tailored to address the specific features of BPD:

  1. Exploration of Internalized Object Relations: TFP focuses on exploring the internalized representations of self and others (object relations) that underlie individuals’ emotional experiences and interpersonal behaviours. Through the examination of transference reactions, individuals gain insight into their relational patterns and learn to differentiate past experiences from present relationships.
  2. Clarification of Splitting Phenomena: BPD is often characterized by splitting – the tendency to perceive oneself and others as all good or all bad – which contributes to emotional volatility and instability in relationships. TFP aims to help individuals recognize and integrate these polarized perceptions, fostering a more nuanced understanding of self and others.
  3. Interpretation of Unconscious Conflicts: TFP utilizes interpretive techniques to elucidate the unconscious conflicts and defences driving individuals’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. By bringing these unconscious processes into conscious awareness, individuals gain greater agency and autonomy in managing their emotions and relationships.
  4. Promotion of Reflective Functioning: Reflective functioning, the capacity to understand and interpret one’s own and others’ mental states, is central to TFP. Through reflective dialogue and interpretation, individuals develop a deeper understanding of their inner experiences and relational dynamics, fostering greater empathy and insight.

Techniques and Interventions

TFP employs a range of techniques to facilitate exploration and resolution of interpersonal difficulties and emotional dysregulation:

  1. Transference Analysis: TFP involves the systematic exploration and interpretation of transference phenomena, including idealization, devaluation, and acting out, to illuminate underlying relational patterns and conflicts.
  2. Clarification and Interpretation: Therapists offer interpretations to help individuals understand the unconscious motivations and meanings underlying their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, promoting insight and self-awareness.
  3. Exploration of Defences: TFP encourages individuals to examine their defensive strategies and coping mechanisms, such as denial, projection, and splitting, and explore their origins and consequences in interpersonal relationships.
  4. Use of Therapeutic Boundaries: Therapists maintain consistent and firm therapeutic boundaries to provide a safe and containing environment for exploring intense emotions and relational conflicts, promoting trust and security within the therapeutic relationship.


Research suggests that Transference-Focused Psychotherapy can lead to significant improvements in BPD symptoms, including reductions in emotional dysregulation, impulsivity, and interpersonal difficulties. Moreover, TFP has been associated with increased self-awareness, improved relational functioning, and enhanced overall psychological well-being among individuals with BPD.