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With each ‘Thou’, and with each moment of relationship, the ‘I’ is created anew.When relating to ‘It’ (whether to a thing or to a person made into a thing) one holds back something of oneself: one inspects it from many possible perspectives; one categorizes it, analyzes it, judges it, and decides upon its position in the grand scheme of things.Sean breaches a couple of ethical rules that could get him into serious trouble were he not in a Hollywood movie: he physically assaults his patient in the first session, and he regularly discloses information on the progress of the therapy to Lambeau.
He sees Will as a member of an exceptional category: as ‘a prodigy’, as ‘the new Einstein’, as a huge potential that needs to be groomed so that he can contribute to the progress of humanity; but he doesn’t see him as ‘Thou’: he may act as a benefactor and a mentor, but he never actually ‘meets’ Will.
By contrast, Sean is touched by Will from the first moment.
He takes him seriously as a person and his ‘whole being is involved’ in the encounter.
He ‘withholds nothing’, not even his anger and frustration.
He holds the second session in a park; he ends the fifth session early and angrily sends away his patient because he is frustrated by his ‘bullshitting’ (this would be highly unusual even if he were a Lacanian); he also talks freely and abundantly about his own private life and suffering.
One wonders if these sessions should be viewed as serendipity rather than therapy – an encounter in a special situation between two men with similar roots. Will is quite possibly his last case ever – so intuitively feeling the looming life change and existential challenge that this encounter poses, he breaks all the rules.
Although it is not entirely clear which school Sean follows, we can safely say that this therapy bears many marks of an existentialist-humanistic treatment.
Indeed, the encounter between the two men serves as a beautiful illustration of the underlying premises of the existentialist approach, and especially of what Buber calls an ‘I-Thou’ relationship.
Sean, who is originally from the same neighbourhood and social background as Will, stands up to the boy’s arrogant attempts to disqualify him, and eventually tames him into cooperation.
The encounter between Will and Sean is passionate and disturbing for both parties.