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The Existential Moment: The Person of the Client

“As part of this ceremony, women bake their heads in small ovens for about an hour.” This quote is from the article, “Body Ritual among the Nacirema,” published in The American Anthropologist in 1956. In the article, anthropologist Horace Miner describes the Nacirema, a people with a lifestyle centered on the obsessive belief that “the human body is ugly and…[the] natural tendency is to debility and disease.” Miner recounts the roles of medicine men, listening witchdoctors, herbalists, holy mouth-men, and vestal maidens. He details torturous rites for curing sickness at temples and describes in-home shrines for charms and magical potions, body secrecy practices, and sex as taboo behavior. The myriad descriptions are fascinating and disturbing.

Here’s the catch: the work is a satire, hyperbole to expose absurdity. The society Miner was describing was 1950’s America (note Nacirema spelled backward). He was satirizing anthropologists who study other cultures and yet fail to recognize the curious mental models within their culture and even professional field. We recognize in the satire that social paradigms powerfully influence us. More profoundly, we realize that our way of being is a construct. The first dimension of The Four Dimensions of Therapeutic Encounter is “The Person of the Client.” For E-H theory, two related notions are the foundation of understanding this dimension: “meaning-making” and “self-and-world constructs.” Meaning-making is the secondary process of translating primary experience (e.g., bodily sensations) of a world to a notion of an individual “reality.” Our world is our entire immersed environment, past and present, including, for example, culture, family dynamics, traumas, and biology. Our world and our individual reality symbiotically shape each other. Self-and-world constructs are the crystallization of meaning-making into the contextual lenses through which we see. “I am,” “others are,” and “the world is” are beliefs that lie at the heart of this reality, along with protective notions guarding core wounds. These domains of “The Person of the Client,” along with primary and secondary processes, become opportunities for therapeutic exploration and deepening awareness toward what matters most to our clients. Links to related/additional resources: The Four Dimensions of the Therapeutic Encounter [PDF] by Orah Krug, PhD, LMFT April’s Existential Moment: The Four Dimensions of the Therapeutic Encounter

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