The challenge with humanistic psychotherapy today is to realize the philosophical concepts and theory put into practice. How do we see an I-thou moment in a therapy session?
My personal conviction in this topic is borne by the fact that I have experienced change moments – as a client of psychotherapy. Over the years, I have also been able to tell if these change moments had a lasting effect, or if they were just cathartic or temporary because of suggestion and coercion. Perception of from the client’s point of view recorded over lifetime (a couple of years), may be essential aspect of psychotherapeutic process research.
The process of defining the healing I-Thou moments (Buber, 1936) in psychotherapy often gets lost in language. What some call the transcendental phenomenon (which I have in this paper related to an aspect of Clarkson’s framework), is also called “miracle moments” (Santos, 2003), “sacred moments” (Pargament, 2007), and “moments of meeting” (The Boston Change Process Study Group, 2010).
What is typically experienced in this moment is typically described like this: “Every therapist knows that there are some special moments in psychotherapy. I experience them as “sacred moments” when immediate realities fade into the background, when time seems to stand still, when it feels as if something larger than life is happening. In these moments, I believe, a meeting of souls is taking place. This was one of those times” (p. 6).
I had the benefit of attending a presentation at a Gestalt Associates Los Angeles (GATLA) Summer Residential in Lisbon this year which discussed this very topic of defining these moments of encounter. Entitled, I-thou moments in psychotherapy, the study is the result of meta-analyses of psychotherapeutic literature and interviews with therapists. Hence it was found that these I-thou moments:
- are memorable, exists in psychotherapy and appears every now and then.
- are recognizable, significant events.
- is based on the quality of dialogue.
- short lasting (in seconds).
- is rare.
- is mutually experienced.
During these moments
- perception gets narrowed.
- there is an unusual level of understanding and acceptance of the other
- there is experience of being on the edge of something spiritual.
These moments lead to long term change in the therapy and result in motivation for the client to further therapy work. It strengthens the alliance, and has no negative affects (unlike transference relationship). It is also a qualitatively viewed process, and is often arises from sharing of heavy topics and staying long enough at an oftentimes uncomfortable place. Playing the role “I am the therapist, you are the client” prevents these moments from happening. The challenge in studying these moments is the very fact that in trying to grasp the moment, that moment is lost (Pernicka, 2016).
Buber, M. (1936). Ich und Du. Berlin: Schocken.
Pargament, K. (2007). Spiritually integrated psychotherapy: Understanding and addressing the sacred. NY: Guilford Press.
Pernicka, M. (2016, July). I-Thou moments in Psychotherapy. Lisbon, Portugal.
Santos, A. M. (2003). Miracle Moments: The Nature of the Mind’s Power in Relationships and Psychotherapy. iUniverse.
The Boston Change Process Study Group. (2010). Change in psychotherapy. NY: W. W. Norton & Co. .