Listening to a lecture by Louis Sander, a psychiatrist and specialist in infant development research, I was interested in his description of the process of change in psychotherapy. In the past, he said, it was thought that change occurs as a result of bringing unconscious material into conscious awareness through accurate interpretation by the therapist. I think this formulation can underly many misunderstandings about long-term therapy. In contrast, according to Sander, we currently see change processes as changes in the experience of consciousness itself brought about by moments of meeting.
Moments of meeting, or moments of recognition, are Sander’s terms for that experience when the therapist sees and understands and there is a mutuality in the experience of the relationship at that moment. It is, in fact, a meeting of minds. There is a transformative power in coming to be known; in rescuing our authentic self from the obscurity of inattention and disapproval.
Different theorists have described this context as a “holding environment,” accurate empathy, mutuality, atunement, and so forth. It turns out that it cannot be measured accurately even with videotape analyzed frame by frame. The only instrument sensitive enough to recognize this sort of fitting together is another human being. If videotapes of actual encounters are shown to observers, there is a high degree of correlation among them as to which pairs of people are “tuned in” to each other and which are not.
Learning to tune in and gradually creating a safe and open space to come to discover oneself is a gift that can only be developed slowly. As our world becomes increasingly concrete, both physically and conceptually, how are we going to explain that it is absolutely real to sit in a small room with a stranger and get to know each other and become aware of parts of ourselves that we have never met and have those moments of recognition between the two of us that give shape, description, meaning, and life to those parts?