Intersubjectivity - hunh?
Upon closing the door to the therapy room, entering as a psychologist with someone in emotional distress, conversation ensued. Really ... that’s all we had. But it was a conversation leavened with inter-subjectivity. Wishing to understand and help, I needed to hear the subjective experience of the person I was with: the circumstantial struggles, the emotions that went with those struggles, and the values and hopes that provided context to them. To be a fully present human in the room as well, I also needed to experience and communicate my own subjectivity in response to the person I was with.
Philosopher Martin Buber identified the difference between the “I-Thou”, relational interaction, as contrasted with the “I-it”, interaction with some other discrete entity. The difference is enormous.
Unfortunately, inter-subjectivity was not what the institutions of psychology thought I should be doing. I was supposed to be objective. The client was to be diagnosed so their psychological disorder could have an approved treatment protocol applied. When personal suffering is reduced to symptoms of an illness, the professional can end up interacting with an “it” rather than the human being present.
I had the opportunity to sit in on a diagnostic interview of one of my clients conducted by a psychiatrist. He did that other thing well. I was impressed with the decisive manner in which the psychiatrist asked the crucial questions, honing in to the most apt diagnosis. It felt like an enactment of the decision tree provided in our diagnostic manual. He probably got to the right answer, analytically and unassailably, but in the end the process did my client little or no good. In fact, it probably did some harm. I’m glad to say that client ended up doing well in therapy. I suspect he did so based on the inter-subjective nature of the conversations we were able to have, conversations that allowed him to figure out what was happening within him and explore what he could do about it.
Relational interaction in professional services not only changes the other (e.g. suffering reduced) but the professional is changed as well -- we can hope deepened in humanity, wisdom and compassion through the relationship with the person suffering.
And now, I have discovered this same power of inter-subjectivity in a whole other context.
I’ve just returned from 12 days in Europe during which I posted a daily travel blog. Posting each day is a bit of a challenge. There is little time for editing, so the writing has to be quick and focused. Daily posting each blog with a photo on two Facebook pages (my own and that for Viking River and Ocean Cruises Friends) meant I got quick feedback. What prompted the most comments -- both in terms of the writing but also as other readers recounted their experiences -- were the blogs where I shared my own subjective experience: the felt sense of how I was responding to what I was seeing. For example, it wasn’t just that the cathedral was beautiful but also, more importantly, the beauty of the cathedral lead me to feel a sense of settling, conscious of my spirit and soul within.
You might want to read that travel blog. You can do so by following this link. https://www.twiltondale.ca/rhine-getaway.html
For inter-subjectivity to occur I must disclose my own humanity. As I do so, I invite the reader also to do so, too. But this must be kept in balance. If I focus too much on my own experience the writing can become egoistic, all about me rather than inviting the reader to explore their own subjective self. The replies to the Facebook posts provided an opportunity for my readers and I to share some “I thou” interactions within the Facebook community.
You will notice photo-editing done on some of the images I’ve posted with the travel blog. I’ve tried to stay away from the over-saturating of images that is so popular these days; the colours in the sunlit Keukenhof Garden were actually that bright and vivid. However, I did use a filter to make the castles on the Middle Rhine look especially broody and old, to make the sunlight coming into the Cathedral in Speyer especially transcendent. That was the way I felt when I witnessed those scenes and I hope I conveyed that sense to you in those images. You will find some images create a sense of peace and centring because of their symmetry. Others will invite a desire to go off and explore through their asymmetry. That’s what I felt. The photo-editing was not just to create a pretty picture but to share my own subjectivity of being in that scene.
There’s been another example of inter-subjectivity that has taken me by surprise. At times I’ve read my fiction aloud to those willing to listen. While I expected the listeners to be curious about the psychological profiles of my characters and the oddities of human nature in the plotlines, they were not. And, I was disappointed. What I often heard was what the story had reminded them of something from their own life experience. That reflecting on their own life, as prompted by my fictional tale, was their subjective experience of it. And, that is good.
When I was providing psychotherapy, and now in writing, I’ve hoped to stimulate others to explore and value their own subjectivity. So, my valued reader, as you finish this blog sit back and notice what comes to mind prompted by what I’ve written for you this month. Perhaps you might spend some time over on the travel blog and see what comes up for you emotionally, experiences you’ve had prompted by the photographs and the stories there.
You can always send me an email to let me know, just so we can celebrate together. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Clickable links to all my blogs.
March 2023 - A disturbing trend
February 2023 - About being in the middle
January 2023 - Can we have a little heart here please?
December 2022 - A story about story
November 2022 - Facing One's Fears
October 2022 - Transitional folk
September 2022 - Transitions
August 2022 —At the other end of life's journey
July 2022—The problem with what emerges.
June 2022 — So who am I doing this for anyway?
May 2022 - Wait for it ... wait ...
April 2022 — Someone called me a Nazi.
March 2022 — Shush! Don't tell anyone.
February 2022 — So does life imitate art? Well, maybe sometimes.
January 2022 — The two most powerful lines in the book.
December 2021 — About time and being human.
November 2021 — Not a tidy little murder mystery
October 2021 — Flow versus focus.
September 2021 -- It's beautiful because it tells the truth.