The essence of human being is human relating. Not only are we always and ever embedded in relational contexts –we are our relationships. We are not separate entities, but a flow of interaction with our environment; the others that we need for life as much as we need oxygen.
If we consider that our troubles, aspirations and potentialities are fully embedded in our connectedness to others, it follows that a psychotherapy relationship can provide the opportunity for a new beginning because it is a new living experience of another human person a new partner
Eugene Gendlin says that our primary job as therapists is to "Be the kind of interaction" that will embody this new healing and growth-producing relatedness. I find the idea that my work, my intention, my aspiration to be an enlivening interaction is a continually intriguing, challenging and inspiring guide.
This blog series is a reflection on what constitutes life-enhancing interaction and thoughts on how therapists can facilitate therapeutic relating.
THE EXPERIENCE OF BELONGING AND THE NEW US
"The trouble with me is that for a long time I have just been an I person, says Frankie in Carson McCullers’ play, TheMember of the Wedding. “All people belong to a We except me. Not to belong to a We makes you lonesome."
Like Frankie, I remember, as a young woman feeling unbearably lonesome, sitting in my neighborhood clinic nervously twisting my hair. After months of carrying the phone number around in my coat pocket, I had finally made the call. I was in my early 20s and had just come to New York City from Long Island, seeking Life with a capital L. Although I was exhilarated to be there, I felt isolated, confused and lost in the shuffle. I didn't really know what therapy was, but I knew that I needed help. The administrator pointed to the young man who was approaching me and said, "Here he is. He will be your therapist." I breathed a sigh of relief as I felt that I didn't have to do it alone anymore. Now I "belonged" to someone. In a way, I felt like a child in an orphanage whose new adoptive parent was arriving. No matter who he was and who I was, a new partnership was being born. He and I were both very young and inexperienced. Our therapeutic marriage was hard to get off the ground, but I was no longer "single." I anticipated having a partner to help me navigate my inner world. In spite of my awkwardness and anxiety about opening up to a stranger, I knew I would be part of a new US and something new would come from this—perhaps a new experience of ME.
The need for this feeling of "USness” that motivated my first tentative steps into the world of psychotherapy has been a guiding force in my life. The idea that the therapist and patient are "an indissoluble unity," (Stolorow, et al), "one interaction"(Gendlin), is the bread and butter of much clinical practice these days. However, the palpable feeling of USness is quite a different story. The word belonging captures more vividly the experience of USness that I am talking about here. The self psychologist Richard Geist expresses this belonging as being "a deeply felt presence in one another's subjective world." This kind of relatedness is the vital ingredient of therapy. It can motivate and empower us to integrate our human suffering and to enter a collaborative process of growth.
Therapeutic collaboration is not only conscious. In fact, at times it is barely conscious or completely out of awareness. It is a powerful force that "clicks in" (as one of my students put it) or slowly evolves over time or takes hold in fits and starts through cycles of rupture and repair and/or collisions and negotiations.
The experience of belonging entails feeling ourselves to be an essential part of a system that would not exist in the same way without us. When we belong, we are emotionally and psychologically living with and toward the other. This connection creates a new US that we are both developing and being developed by. Therapist and client become a home for each other within which unique individuality can flourish.