In his book The Meaning of Persons, Paul Tournier, a Swiss medical doctor, teaches that one of the major barriers to healing is the disconnect between the therapist or counselor and the client.
For example, in a counseling session, a therapist who is constantly taking notes about the client’s problems or issues, or a counselor who has little, or no, eye-contact with the counselee, is not making a meaningful human connection with him or her and, therefore, the client does not feel validated or valued as a person. Instead, he or she feels like a “case,” an object, not a subject. Thus, there is a “breakdown” in the relationship, with little, or no, progress in helping the counselee or client with his or her problems.
For healing to begin to take place in a therapy, there must somehow be a passing from objective information, data on paper, facts about a person’s history, to interpersonal communion. Tournier writes,
“Through information I can understand a case; only through communion shall I be able to understand a person.”
What humans beings want, what they really need, is to feel understood, that is, to be affirmed or recognized as persons. The human connection, then, begins with the eyes, eye-to-eye contact, not merely staring at a clock or notepad. The connection is deepened with the tone of the voice, reflecting a sense of “warmth” or concern for the other as a person.
When, to use Martin Buber’s words, the “I-Thou” or person-to-person relationship is established, then techne, the “know-how” or expertise of the therapist, will, perhaps, be personally meaningful to the client, aiding in his or her healing.
Paul Tournier, The Meaning of Persons (New York, N.Y.: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1957; Perennial Library, 1973), pp. 19-20.