Moreno, Buber, Hendrix

In a recent post I quote the story of how the idea of Encounter found its way from Moreno to Martin Buber. A passage follows by Harville Hendrix where he describes the roots of his idea of Validation in the dialogue process… Martin Buber.

It is no wonder then that with this sort of whakapapa, having trained in both Imago & Psychodrama that I see such connection in the approaches.

A passage from Harville Hendrix “The Evolution of Imago Relationship Therapy” in Imago Relationship Therapy: Perspectives on Theory Follows, showing how he connected with the work of Buber.

Beyond Mirroring and Validation

In 1988, when Getting the Love You Want was published, the therapeutic focus of IRT was on facilitating couples through a series of five exercises: reimaging the partner, restructuring frustrations, resolving rage, reromanticizing, and revisioning the relationship. The only therapeutic tool was mirroring. Helen suggested that I reread Buber’s I and Thou (1958), which she saw as an example of the relational paradigm and thus a resource for helping to reframe IRT and a potential resource for understanding how to help couples create an I-Thou relationship.

After revisiting Buber’s thought, I became aware of the need to go beyond teaching communication exercises as a therapeutic tool. Mirroring clarified the message of the other, but it often led to further polarization. Stretching to meet one’s partner’s needs offered an opportunity to grow, but it was often a purely cognitive decision motivated by the hope for change in one’s partner, and it lacked an emotional component. What seemed needed, in addition, was an altered perception, attitude, and affect toward one’s partner. To achieve that degree of change would require a deeper level of contact. Buber clarified for me that a “Thou” relationship with others required honoring their “otherness” as an “I” distinct from me and any concepts I might have of them. This required a willingness to look at the world of another through his or her eyes.

In addition, the constructivist’s view that there is no such thing as pure perception and that every percept is a construct, and the relativist’s view that all aspects of reality are intrinsically related and that there is no absolute position, contributed to clarifying that there is no position from which one could possibly perceive an “objective” world, free from interpretation. Thus all perceptions are relative to the perceiver. From these sources I finally put together the concept of validation as the necessary second step in …


the dialogical process. Validation requires one to look through the eyes of the other, to see the other’s world as it appears to him or her, and to understand the logic of the other’s point of view. Furthermore, it requires suspending judgment about the sensibility of the other’s world and the accuracy of his or her logic, and accepting that the other’s perception of the world is as valid as one’s own.

Mirroring and validation made the world of the other accessible as information and demonstrated the logic in each partner’s perspective, thus creating equality, but the process still lacked affect and compassion. To address this I recalled my earlier years of empathy training based on Carl Rogers’s work (1961) and that of his students Truax and Carkhuff (1967), as well as other students of empathy, such as Heinz Kohut (1977, 1978) and Martin Hoffman (1990). The concepts of cognitive and participatory empathy helped the third step in the three-part process fall into place.

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