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Dialogue or dialogic relating is my favourite aspect of gestalt therapy and has its roots in the philosophy of Martin Buber. Buber wrote about the distinction between the I-it and I-thou modes of relating. While "both are essential in the every day give and take of human relating," (Mann, D) the I-It mode has become dominant in the western world. In this mode we relate to each other in objectifying ways, use each other for our own gain, relate in fixed ways and so on. In contrast, the I-thou mode is concerned with being in relationship, rather than doing and achieving. Some may see this as the feminine archetype.

When we are in dialogue there is trust and surrender in what is happening together - what we call the in between. As a gestalt therapist it is my role to be available for this I-thou contact even when the client is not. Many people have been so starved of parental attunement, intimacy and acknowledgement that they are not able to relate in this way. For some it is too painful to hold eye contact for more than a split second. I have experienced this many times with clients and found that with an ongoing, supportive relationship, people can begin to heal their relational wounds, allow themselves to be seen and become available for an I-thou moment.

I would stress that I-thou relating is not the goal of therapy. As soon as it is made the goal it necessarily becomes I-it. Instead, these moments are like flowers that bloom when the conditions are right and that can be cherished for their spontaneous expression. In dialogue there is a continual flow between these two modes of relating. With my clients I try to stay in the present moment, experiencing the client with a non-judgemental and curious attitude. The effects of really being seen and understood can be slow to occur, but can also be profound - more so than any one technique. I can remember one such experience in my own life that was perhaps the starting point of my own therapeutic journey.

In dialgoue, I try to enter the phenomenological world of my client. My goal isn't pure empathy, but what we call inclusion. It is like tasting the other's experience - seeing things from their point of view - without losing one's own sense of self. I may share my perceptions of the client or observations that might be useful, and I may also share what is happening for me, particularly my bodily sensations. This can seem strange to people at first. You might wonder how sharing that I feel tight in my belly can help someone suffering from depression or anxiety. The point is to show how to be present with what is happening in one's whole being. More often than not clients begin therapy desensitized and dissociated from their body. The work then invariably involves regaining this awareness so that we can become whole, heal the traumas that live in the body and become better equipped to know what we feel and what we need and want.

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