The idea of a “recognition process” is described by Louis Sander as a sort of “I sense that you sense that I sense…” This reminds me of conversations between people who have had too much to drink. “I know you know that I know what you know…” It’s hard to follow if you are the sober person in the group, but it makes perfect sense to the other drinkers. I used to think this was simple irrationality but now I wonder if it isn’t an attempt to express a very fundamental human desire: to experience being deeply known by another person. To know that you are known. This process of experiencing a match between what we are looking for in a relationship and what we experience in the moment is a recognition of a sought for connection.
The power of this person to person connection is striking and real: as real as gravity, and just as powerful. We experience it in various ways as we move through our lives, but in some relationships with a context, a history, and certain types of structure, it can be life altering. The therapeutic goal of regaining the territory in our minds is pursued in the partnership with another person who enjoys promoting our pursuit of that goal. The experience of that other person is simultaneously an encouragement and a vehicle. It is like riding a bike while you are explaining how to ride a bike: you are thinking about it, which engages your cognition, and you are also doing it, which is a form of practice.
Because of the power of this connection and because of the importance of the goal, the therapist has a very special charge: to be both focused and trustworthy. And this charge requires a serious commitment and continual reflective attention. To be trustworthy is to avoid complacency, to avoid rigidity, to commit to personal and professional growth, and to commit to openness. We can remain trustworthy by respecting the capacity of the client for growth and a privileged view of his or her inner life. The moment we think we know better than our client, we drop the ball. It is not cognition but openness and our deep motives to connect that are healing. All of the education in the world and all of the theories in the world cannot make us better at connecting than two inebriated working guys in a bar saying to each other, “Man, you get it? I know you know.”