Being and Human Encounter in Good Therapy

May (1983) wrote that the most fundamental aspect of therapy is being and that, therefore, the value of the human encounter in therapy far outweighs complex understandings about a person’s psychological makeup or the technical skill of a guru.

He did not mean to diminish the value of insight, but wrote, “The data…learned about the patient may have been accurate and well worth learning. But the point, rather, is that the grasping of the other person occurs on a different level from our knowledge of specific things about him

“Obviously a knowledge of the drives and mechanisms which are in operation in the other person’s behavior is useful; a familiarity with his patterns of interpersonal relationships is highly relevant; information about his social conditioning, the meaning of particular gestures and symbolic actions is to the point, and so on ad infinitum

“But all these fall on to a different level when we confront the overarching, most real fact of all-namely, the immediate living person himself (p. 92).”

Frankl (1988) insisted, “One has long ago come to realize that what matters in therapy is not techniques but rather the human relations between doctor and patient, or the personal and existential encounter” (p. 6).

Rogers (1961) reasoned that optimal therapy is constituted by the therapist being able to enter into an intensely personal and subjective relationship with a client “relating not as a scientist to an object of study, not as a physician expecting to diagnose and cure, but as a person to a person” (pp. 184-185).

Being is the centerpiece of the human encounter and that the human encounter is the cornerstone of all therapy. It is true, empathic, authentic, congruent, and open interaction with another in relationship that merits and produces real change in people (Buber, 1955, 1965, 1970; Frankl, 1984, 1988; May, 1983; Rogers, 1961, 1980).

At best, all psychotherapeutic models essentially offer the same kind of help to clients; that is, the help is what ties all psychotherapeutic models together. Apparently, the intricacies and nuances of the multitude of psychological theory means very little to the client’s experience in therapy.

Frankl (1988) wrote, “A purely technological approach to psychotherapy may block its therapeutic effect” (p. 6). If a psychotherapist is lifeless or his technique too technical, his participation in therapy may be worthless. Therapy, in this case, is not relationship at all, but a poor excuse for scientific experimentation.

Miller, Duncan, and Hubble (1997) observed, “When researchers ask clients about the helpful aspects of their experience in therapy, they rarely mention specific…interventions or techniques. Instead they consistently identify the same variables as therapeutic—for example, the importance of ‘being respected, being understood and being cared for’” (p. 23).

The existential psychiatrist M. Scott Peck (1998) took the idea to its logical conclusion: “In short, the essential ingredient of successful deep and meaningful psychotherapy is love” (p. 173).

Buber, M. (1955).  Between man and man (Trans. By Smith, R.G.).  Boston: Beacon Press.
Buber, M. (1965).  The knowledge of man: A philosophy of the interhuman.  New York: Harper and Row.
Buber, M. (1970).  I and thou.  New York: Charles Scribners.
Frankl, V. E. (1984).  Man’s search for meaning.  New York: Washington Square Press.
Frankl, V. E. (1988).  The will to meaning: Foundations and applications of logotherapy. New York: Penguin Books.
May, R. (1983).  The discovery of being.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Miller, S. D., Duncan, B. L., & Hubble, M. A. (1997).  Escape from Babel.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Peck, M. S. (1998).  The road less traveled: A new psychology of love, traditional values and spiritual growth.  New York: Touchstone.
Rogers, C. R. (1980).  A way of being.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Rogers, C. R. (1961). On becoming a person: A therapist’s view of psychotherapy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company

© Copyright 2011 by Blake Edwards. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Maggie W

    April 1st, 2011 at 3:33 PM

    I completely agree with the final quote. Being a successful therapist is all about caring for your clients and being truly vested in and concerned about their well being , plain and simple. This cannot be a one hour per day kind of job, this is something that you have to feel deeply about and care about.

  • Marianne S

    April 3rd, 2011 at 3:37 AM

    Yes, I firmly believe that if “we give of ourselves” as therapists…. that we are the tool instrumental to change within the client…. its then when the healing begins. A good article which highly resonates with me too.

  • Sally

    April 4th, 2011 at 4:41 AM

    Being in the here and now with someone, learning about who they are and taking the time to care is what it is all about. Life in general that is.

  • Sean Sobers

    April 4th, 2011 at 9:28 AM

    While all the techniques and everything may help you, I agree that at the end of the day talking to another person,opening up to another person is a very essential part of therapy and nothing could replace that aspect of therapy.It is for the same reason that just talking to a friend or someone who is ready to listen to us can give us some relief in troubled times.And I just hope this human relations practice continues even in the future when technology will definitely play a bigger role.

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