Horses and the I-Thou Relationship: How a horse influenced Gestalt Therapy
“When I was eleven years of age, spending the summer on my grandparents’ estate, I used, as often as I could do it unobserved, to steal into the stable and gently stroke the neck of my darling, a broad dapple-gray horse. It was not a casual delight but a great, certainly friendly, but also deeply stirring happening. If I am to explain it now, beginning from the still very fresh memory of my hand, I must say that what I experienced in touch with the animal was the Other, the immense otherness of the Other, which, however, did not remain strange like the otherness of the ox and the ram, but rather let me draw near and touch it. When I stroked the mighty mane, sometimes marvellously smooth-combed, at other times, just as astonishingly wild, and felt the life beneath my hand, it was as though the element of vitality itself bordered on my skin, something that was not I, was not akin to me, palpably the other, not just another, really the Other itself: and yet it let me approach, confided itself to me, placed itself elementally in the relation of Thou and Thou with me. The horse, even when I had not begun pouring oats for him into the manger, very gently raised his massive head, ears flicking, then snorted gently, as a conspirator gives a signal meant to be recognizable only by his fellow-conspirator: and I was approved. But once — I do not know what came over the child, at any rate it was childlike enough– it struck me about stroking, what fun it gave me, and suddenly I became conscious of my hand. The game went on as before, but something had changed, it was no longer the same thing. And the next day, after giving him a rich feed, when I stroked my friend’s head he did not raise his head. A few years later, when I thought back to the incident, I no longer supposed that the animal had noticed my defection. But at the time I considered myself judged.” ~Martin Buber in Meetings: Autobiographical Fragments
“Gestalt Therapy started out as a revision of classical Psychoanalysis. Fritz Perls, the well-known founder of Gestalt Therapy, and his group were themselves trained as
psychoanalysts and of course very much influenced by the psychoanalytic thinkers of the day. But they also were living through the very turbulent economic and political times
of the 1920’s and 30’s, and were exposed to emerging movements such as Gestalt psychology and the existential and phenomenological philosophers. One of these was Martin Buber, who influenced Gestalt Therapy theory enormously. He is the most influential writer in regards to Gestalt Therapy’s drift towards the dialogic method.
One of Buber’s famous phrases is: “All real living is meeting”. This refers to a particular kind of person-to-person meeting that finds it’s highest expression in what he called the I-Thou meeting. Buber distinguished between two modes of relating, which he termed the I-Thou and I-It. “ ~Relational Gestalt Therapy by Friedemann Schulz