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The Existential Moment: The Interpersonal Dimension

“That’ll do very well,” said Alice: “and ‘slithy’?”

Alice, of course, is the iconic Lewis Carroll character in Through the Looking Glass. She is asking Humpty Dumpty to explain the nonsensical poem Jabberwocky.

“Well, ‘slithy’ means ‘lithe and slimy.’ ‘Lithe’ is the same as ‘active.’ You see it’s like a portmanteau – there are two meanings packed up into one word.”

At that moment, remarkably, Carroll created a semantic change in the English lexicon. The definition of portmanteau, a suitcase with two compartments, broadened to include: “a word or morpheme whose form and meaning are derived from a blending of two or more distinct forms (such as smog from smoke and fog)” (

The third element of the Four Dimensions of Therapeutic Encounter is The Interpersonal. It’s like a portmanteau – two ways of being packed into a novel, co-created relationship.

The quality or nature of the connection between therapist and client defines The Interpersonal. That nature might be detachment, debate, hostility, affection, sexual attraction, or something else altogether. We might ask ourselves: “How am I relating to my client, and how is my client relating to me?” “What does this “in-between” feel like?” We might ask the client: “What do you notice happening between us right now?” Or “How are we doing right now?”

Understanding the connection provides a view into the client’s struggles. How the client relates to others, likely a source of what brought them to therapy, frequently shows in the room. Understanding this relationship informs what the therapist does and doesn’t do and, critically, what the therapist might be doing unconsciously. It ultimately instructs possibility.

At the same time, a focus on The Interpersonal directs focus to the “here and now.” That presence has healing and growth potential. It engenders transparency and intimacy, the ground of safety and trust, and provides the potential for feedback and developmental experience.

Unpack the portmanteau. It is a source of tremendous possibility for new experience and meaning-making.

Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Portmanteau. In dictionary. Retrieved September 2021, from Merriam-Webster website here

Links to Related Resources and Blog Posts:

The Four Dimensions of the Therapeutic Encounter [PDF] by Orah Krug, PhD, LMFT

The Four Dimensions of the Therapeutic Encounter Existential Moment posts here on the EHI Blog

Read all the Existential Moment series posts

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