His words were stoic and straightforward: “I’ve been in well over a hundred firefights. When I picked up pieces of my buddy and put them in a body bag…that’s hard even to say.” Sadly, that was just a small slice of the brutality.
Then there’s the father, talking about his young daughter, sobbing, “she went to bed…and she just never woke up.”
Can we stay present to what’s in the room with our clients? Even deepen it if appropriate? Or do we avoid it? Or anxiously scramble to fix it?
Existential-Humanistic Therapy is experiential and relational. Staying present to our clients in all that they offer is the beating heart of EH practice.
Martin Buber articulated this way of being through the juxtaposition of two relational attitudes: I-Thou versus I-It. I-It observes, analyzes, evaluates, organizes, manipulates, predicts, and so on. It’s the way of science. It’s about control, even use. It’s one-sided. It exists in the past and toward the future. And it’s wonderful and effective, for what it does.
On the other hand, I-Thou is about encounter and relation. It exists in the present, in presence. It’s about concern, even love — we care, they matter. It’s also about reciprocity. We are impacted, and through the relationship, our clients are impacted.
Presence has myriad benefits, but to name a few. It creates safety and communicates significance, the container for the therapy. It also helps the client deepen and expand awareness, cultivating freedom and allowing them to grasp and shape their world for themselves.
Links to additional resources:
Presence, the Core Contextual Factor of Effective Psychotherapy [PDF Avail] by Kirk Schneider, PhD, PSY
Developing Presence Online by Ruella Frank, PhD
[reprinted from EHI Existential Moment email sent on March 1, 2021]