the existential moment typographic logo

The Existential Moment: The Interpersonal Dimension

“That’ll do very well,” said Alice: “and ‘slithy’?”

Alice, of course, is the iconic Lewis Carroll character in Through the Looking Glass. She is asking Humpty Dumpty to explain the nonsensical poem Jabberwocky.

“Well, ‘slithy’ means ‘lithe and slimy.’ ‘Lithe’ is the same as ‘active.’ You see it’s like a portmanteau – there are two meanings packed up into one word.”

At that moment, remarkably, Carroll created a semantic change in the English lexicon. The definition of portmanteau, a suitcase with two compartments, broadened to include: “a word or morpheme whose form and meaning are derived from a blending of two or more distinct forms (such as smog from smoke and fog)” (

The third element of the Four Dimensions of Therapeutic Encounter is The Interpersonal. It’s like a portmanteau – two ways of being packed into a novel, co-created relationship.

The quality or nature of the connection between therapist and client defines The Interpersonal. That nature might be detachment, debate, hostility, affection, sexual attraction, or something else altogether. We might ask ourselves: “How am I relating to my client, and how is my client relating to me?” “What does this “in-between” feel like?” We might ask the client: “What do you notice happening between us right now?” Or “How are we doing right now?”

Understanding the connection provides a view into the client’s struggles. How the client relates to others, likely a source of what brought them to therapy, frequently shows in the room. Understanding this relationship informs what the therapist does and doesn’t do and, critically, what the therapist might be doing unconsciously. It ultimately instructs possibility.

At the same time, a focus on The Interpersonal directs focus to the “here and now.” That presence has healing and growth potential. It engenders transparency and intimacy, the ground of safety and trust, and provides the potential for feedback and developmental experience.

Unpack the portmanteau. It is a source of tremendous possibility for new experience and meaning-making.

Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Portmanteau. In dictionary. Retrieved September 2021, from Merriam-Webster website here

Links to Related Resources and Blog Posts:

The Four Dimensions of the Therapeutic Encounter [PDF] by Orah Krug, PhD, LMFT

The Four Dimensions of the Therapeutic Encounter Existential Moment posts here on the EHI Blog

Read all the Existential Moment series posts

Share this post

Related Posts:

The Existential Moment typographic logo

The Existential Moment: Supporting and Celebrating Freedom

“The road to freedom is a difficult, hard road.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

These words resonate deeply as we reflect on the significance of Juneteenth, commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, were finally informed of their emancipation, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. This day, now celebrated as a national holiday, Juneteenth, symbolizes the long and arduous journey toward freedom for African Americans and the ongoing struggle for equality and justice.

Juneteenth is more than just a historical milestone; it is a celebration of freedom and a reminder of the resilience and strength of those who fought tirelessly for their liberation. As we observe Juneteenth this month, we are called to recognize the importance of meeting our past and embracing the present in our journey toward freedom.

Read More »
The Existential Moment typographic logo

The Existential Moment: The “Good Enough Mother”

The “good enough mother” (later “good enough parent”) concept is not just a cute catchphrase but a powerful view into the parent-child relationship. It describes a mother who provides an environment that meets the child’s needs adequately but not perfectly, allowing the child to experience and manage frustration in a safe setting. This approach, often overlooked or assumed, plays a pivotal role in helping children develop resilience and independence as they learn that the world will not always cater to their needs immediately or perfectly. Winnicott argued that being a ‘good enough mother’ is crucial for healthy emotional and psychological development, as it balances care and challenge, enabling children to grow into well-rounded adults.

Read More »
  • Search EHI's Blog

    Upcoming Events

    Ongoing series on Existential & Humanistic therapy

    Get Updates

    Join our mailing list and get the latest in news and events.

    Blog Archives