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Gendlin, E.T. (1973). Experiential psychotherapy. In R. Corsini (Ed.), Current psychotherapies (pp. 317-352). Itasca, IL: Peacock. From

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Experiential Psychotherapy [1]



Existential psychotherapy holds that one makes and changes oneself in present living. One's past and "internal machinery" do not fully determine living. Humans are not machines that work by mathematical necessity. In a therapy relationship both people live beyond structures. Persons are existence not definitions. Anxiety is not sickness, but avoided possibilities of life. Solutions are not in the past nor just inside a person, but in living radically open to choices.

Experiential psychotherapy works with immediate concreteness. One's sense of immediate experiencing is not emotion, words, muscle movements, but a direct feel of the complexity of situations and difficulties.



Kirkegaard, Dilthey, Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, and Merleau-Ponty are the philosophers of existentialism.

Dilthey (1833-1911). Wilhelm Dilthey (1961) revolted against the view of humans in the mathematical natural sciences at the end of the 19th century. He held that the life process itself is highly organized, and that logic only derived and used a few of life's own ordering patterns. Science is thus derived from life and cannot claim to explain and reduce life to the few thin patterns it uses.

Husserl (1859-1938). Edmund Husserl (1950) thereafter tried to put thought on a new basis by rejecting theories and speculations, and letting concepts arise directly from how people actually experience. For example, the notion that people experience sounds and colors (pure sense perceptions) doesn't hold up if one examines experience as it is had—one hears a door slamming or sees a person or a tree. Speculation imposes on experience the theory that it consists of bits of sound and color. On an experiential basis, assertions should emerge directly from experience, and all people must be able to check them by their own experience. This way of basing thought, Husserl called "phenomenology." Existentialism is phenomenological, it seeks to articulate experience as actually had, rather than laying some invented theoretical scheme on experience.

Husserl found that the ordinary "life world" is always implicit in how one experiences. One never just experiences "experience" or feelings; they are always about, or of, or in, life situations in the world. Husserl called this "intentionality," which means not what one intends to do, but rather the classical philosophic word "intention" which refers to what words are about, or of. Experience is always about, or of, or in, or at. Therefore existentialism is not a subjectivism—it pays great attention to subjective experience but [Page 318] always as a living in the world, in situations, with others.

Heidegger (b.1889). Martin Heidegger (1960; 1967) began his philosophy with the fact that whatever one experiences is always already in a context, in a world. People are already "thrown" into situations by the time they begin to think. He held that experience is "basically historical," that is to say, lived situations and experience are culturally made, have a long background, involve the thinking, speaking, and doing of past generations. Therefore one cannot make just anything one wishes out of any situation or experience, and yet no human living is closed. To live further or to think further about it is never utterly determined by what already is. Heidegger held that if one attends to one's feeling, one will sense an "understanding" which is always already in the feeling, but moves beyond it. One feels one's situations, one's "living-with-others," but situations are not dead physical facts. They are there in terms of one's living and one's striving. A wall is a barrier to someone who wants to be on the other side, and a protection to someone who wants defense. The situation is always partly in terms of facts, but these very facts are facts only in terms of projecting a future, something one wants to bring about or avoid, which doesn't yet exist. One can project endless numbers of abstract possibilities, but what are "authentic" possibilities can be gotten only from attending to one's feeling of what already is. In this attending, and acting from this attending, one moves beyond what merely is, through authentic projecting of possibilities.

Buber (1878-1965). Martin Buber (1948) similarly emphasized the concrete relationship process, as contrasted with knowing-about. This might be conveyed best by one of his examples:

When I was eleven . . . I used to . . . steal into the stable and gently stroke the neck of my darling, a broad dapple-grey horse . . . I must say that what I experienced in touch with the animal was the Other, the immense otherness of the Other . . . which let me draw near and touch it . . . I felt the life beneath my hand, it was as though the element of vitality itself bordered on my skin, something that was not I, . . . palpably the other . . . The horse . . . very gently raised its massive head, ears flicking, then snorted quietly, as a conspirator gives a signal meant to be recognizable only by his fellow-conspirator. But once . . . it struck me about the stroking, what fun it gave me, and suddenly I became conscious of my hand . . . something had changed. . . . The next day when I stroked my friend's head, he did not raise his head.

Sartre (b. 1905). Jean-Paul Sartre (1956) called the life process, which is not reducible to logical definitions, "existence." He contrasted existence with "essence," the classical philosophic word which means definition. "Existence precedes essence," is an existentialist slogan, and means that humans make definitions, and therefore can never be ultimately reduced to them. Sartre writes of humans as always both being and not being, any definition or type of person or classification. No one is just a waiter or just a homosexual or just anything that can be defined. To define is to hold static, to make a thing of human living. But the point isn't that there is constant change, rather that even to hold static requires that the person do the holding static. For example, one can live as though one were a professor, doing only what fits that role, but this involves holding up the role and straining to hold it up. This holding up and straining is the unavoidable human living which always exceeds any role. Thus not changing, as much as changing, is a life process that is more than definitions.

Existentialist philosophers are difficult to read, and easily misunderstood. The word "existence" easily becomes a paradoxical abstraction; it is always also what it is not, it exceeds what one can say, it can become vague unless one remembers that it is not something one thinks, but what one is and lives.

Even in this short outline of the views of these philosophers the author has had to add that one feels one's existing, and that this is basic to such notions as "authenticity," "authentic living," and "authentic relating" with others. These philosophers do say this, but only briefly and quite far along in their works, Heidegger in Chapter V (1960), Sartre on page 338 (1956). The present author formulates existentialism in a new and positive way. Without this "experiential" emphasis, existentialism seems negative; it tells how one can not define humans, can not hold them static, can not reduce them to mathematical necessity, but doesn't say how to make positive [Page 319] sense and life use of these negatives. The positive use rests on direct access to one's living process which is beyond words and ultimate definitions. This access is through "feeling," but that word is used by this writer in a highly specific way (quite different from "emotion") which will be defined in the section on basic concepts.

Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961). Merleau-Ponty (1962) held that the living body has the characteristics the earlier philosophers attributed to experience and existence. The body is conceived not only in the way physiologists conceive it, but also as "intending" functionally related external events, and also as conceptually not yet precise. Again what is most widely remembered from Merleau-Ponty's work is the negative assertion, experience is "vague," "ambiguous," not yet precisioned as scientific concepts precision it. One should not view life and body as defined by the products of scientific precisioning. Rather body life is the process in which, or from which, such precisioning takes its rise. Merleau-Ponty's positive contributions center on urging us to consider our bodily concreteness as our existence. The earlier existential philosophers tended not to mention the actual physical body except to criticize physiological reductionism and to avoid that body which is already studied and defined in physiology. Merleau-Ponty was not afraid to include all manner of scientific and externally empirical findings, once it was clear that one cannot reduce concrete living to these, but rather, one must view them as "precisionings" from concrete living.

As a therapeutic method, experiential psychotherapy must cite Whitaker, Warkentin and Malone as precursors, as well as Otto Rank, Jesse Taft, Frederick Allen, and Carl Rogers. Rank (1950) held that:

As long as one makes the feeling experience as such, in which the whole individuality is revealed, the sole object of the explanation and understanding, one finds one's self on sure ground, and also, in my opinion, insures the only therapeutic value, that is, to allow the patient to understand himself in an immediate experience which, as I strive for it in the therapeutic process, permits living and understanding to become one.

Jesse Taft (1953) and Frederick Allen (1942) found ways to emphasize the presently ongoing living and interaction process between patient and therapist, and sought to work with each problem not as a discussion about it, but as the way in which the patient manifested that problem in the very interaction with the therapist right now. Carl Rogers (see Chapter 4) sought to respond to the client's momentary "feeling"—a word, however, which was never made quite clear. Rogers would not only carefully repeat the crux of each of the client's messages—an essential of all good communication which should always be practiced—but would also emphasize the felt aspect of the communication. Rogers discovered that if one does that, there is movement; steps form from that felt edge. The next thing that comes to the person to feel and say is not necessarily what follows logically from what was last said. Rather it follows from the feeling of what was said. Experiential philosophy would say of this, that exactly attending to what one just now is, changes or moves that. Imposing interpretations and schemes on oneself is useless, but allowing one's next authentic step to form is, along with brave choices, the way to live one's real possibilities forward.

Carl A. Whitaker and Thomas P. Malone (1953) wanted their therapeutic method to move beyond mere verbal discussion and conceptual insight. Using their own spontaneous fantasies as well as genuine emotional reactions toward the patient, their method made for a very rich, impactful, personal interaction.


L. Binswanger (1958; 1967) developed Daseinsanalyse, which can be translated as existential analysis, or the analysis of one's human condition. Taking its rise from Heidegger's discussions of care, death, choice, and guilt, his emphasis was to "hold fast to what it is to be human." Much of his work is devoted to a descriptive analysis of psychotic experience, without evaluations imposed. Love is emphasized, and not as something to be studied objectively, but as a fully encountering being-together of two people.

Medard Boss (1963) carried existential analysis further and articulated specific interper-[Page 320] sonal patterns of malfunction, again with an interpersonal emphasis on psychotherapy. Boss largely follows Heidegger. Much of "Daseinsanalysis" is theoretical, an analysis of the variety of ways in which humans structure their worlds, their space, time, and situations. The word "analysis" here often means not a therapeutic process, but a theoretical analysis.

Rollo May (May et al., 1958; 1967) is the founder of existential psychotherapy in America. Emphasizing the direct meeting of one's responsibilities for one's own life, and the challenges hidden in what, at first, appears as anxiety, May courageously reasserted the human person's independence in the face of pseudo-determinist factors which seem to compel one to draw back, and avoid life. For May anxiety appears in two roles. Its valuable role is to open possibilities of living differently by facing into what makes one anxious. Its painful and despaired role is when we avoid these possibilities and attempt to live narrowly and resignedly. In the latter case the anxiety will still be the signpost of unlived possibilities, but until pursued as such the anxiety is the mark of untimely deadness, of a too narrow existence. The term "existential neurosis" characterizes many more people in our time, than Freud's "classical" neurotic patterns. May developed a therapy in which the main focus is on the unmet challenges of life. He too did not make it fully clear just how one moves from avoiding to meeting these challenges, although some of the way is marked by the "valuable" rather than "sick" role assigned to anxiety. May holds that there is a positive life-enhancing "daemon" in a person (something much more than deliberate controls) which a person must trust. May's existential therapy thus depends upon working with something in the person that is not already conceptual, already defined, but which will emerge in new steps of living, if allowed to do so.

Viktor Frankl (1965) reached America in translation somewhat later. His "logotherapy" (the word "logos" roughly means "meaning") is mostly concerned with an inherent need for meaning and values in a human life. Having personally suffered and survived the concentration camps and the loss of his family, his conviction that humans can affirm life in spite of suffering and loss of everything and everyone, deserves respect. Existentialism's call for freedom despite circumstance often seems applicable only to fortunate people. Frankl disproves that, and is able to aid the patient to find meaning and value.

Experiential philosophy (Gendlin, 1962; 1969a) begins where the existentialist philosophers left off, namely with the problem of just how symbols (thoughts, speech, other symbols) are related to, or based on, concrete experiencing. Gendlin developed a philosophical system on the relations between feeling and thought. [2]

The existentialist philosophers and theorists emphasize that thought and action can be "authentic" or not, that is to say can follow from, or be based on concrete experiencing, or not. But they do not say how one recognizes when something is authentic and when it is not. Yet just this is their central principle.

For psychotherapy it is obviously crucial to be clear about just how one recognizes authenticity, and how to bring it about in oneself and in others. If authentic thought and action are "makings," so that what is said and done is not fully prefigured in experience, then how can one know what is authentic, what is "based on" experience? How can one compare experience with expression? Which kind of further making is based on experience, and which is inauthentic?

Gendlin solved this problem by changing the question from "what" to "how." Instead of the impossible task of comparing contents ("whats") of experience with the later contents of further expression or action, Gendlin moved from content to process. He defined different "manners" of process which distinguish authentic from other relations between experience and thought or action.

The experiential method of thinking lets one obtain the power which symbolizing gives, and yet also return again to the experiential "felt meaning" one wished to articulate. One doesn't [Page 321] lose hold of experience as if a conceptualization could substitute for it. Symbolizing, in this view, is not giving a representational picture of what is experienced, but is itself a further experiencing. There are distinguishable kinds of this.

The philosophy developed a systematic treatment of the characteristics of experiencing insofar as symbols relate to it and found experiencing to be "nonnumerical" and "multischematic," not already given in only one set of units, or in one pattern, but capable of many.

The relation between the subjective and the objective, which this philosophy establishes, is also shown by research findings developed from it. It became possible to measure authenticity during psychotherapy interviews, and its degree correlated with successful outcomes. Gendlin (Gendlin et al., 1968) termed this measure the Experiencing Scale, now widely used (Klein et al., 1970) to measure the effectiveness of ongoing psychotherapy.

Gendlin's theory of personality change (1964), some of which will be presented later, stems directly from the experiential philosophy (Gendlin, 1962), and deals with the following steps of the psychotherapy process: focusing on directly felt meaning; allowing steps of feeling and words to arise from it; and the ensuing "experiential shift" in the concrete directly referred to felt meaning. The therapist's interaction with the client, both verbal and nonverbal, is also viewed as carrying the client's experiencing forward, and in that sense further symbolizing it. The manner of this further living process is more important in psychotherapy than verbal content. Many kinds of relating might have an impact, but only a special kind of relating carries forward the person's directly felt experiencing. A therapeutic method follows from this philosophy and theory which maximizes existential psychotherapy and specifies it more exactly (Gendlin, 1966).

Current Status

Experiential psychotherapy today includes therapists who think in experiential terms, as well as others who think in different theoretical vocabularies. Not the vocabulary, but the way it is used, unites experiential therapists. A therapist calls himself "experiential" if the emphasis is on the concrete, lived and felt steps of the patient. Words are only tools for these steps. Such a therapist might use any theory to find right words, but would not long hold any given conception of the patient. Concepts refer, moment by moment, to the person's concretely felt sense, and when steps emerge from that sense, the therapist follows these and lets go of his concept however helpful it might just have been. Thus an experiential therapist uses theory and thoughts to point to what is concretely being lived and felt just then, rather than translating the patient into concepts and then attempting to work with concepts. Because this method enables one to use any theoretical vocabulary, experiential therapists talk in many different ways, and share the method, rather than any one way of talking. Therefore the movement is broad, and within it the lines of subdivision are not sharp.

Existential psychotherapy, as now a subdivision of the wider experiential movement, uses the vocabulary of existentialism. If the practice is in accord with the theory, then the practice is experiential as well. It is possible to talk existentially, and yet fall into a therapy that is only words, only arguing, in which case the advantages of existentialism are largely lost. Even in merely arguing, however, the freedom of choice, responsibility, and present living of the patient are stressed, as compared with the determinism and infantile focus of older therapies.

Not all therapists have yet grasped the shift in the experiential movement from what to how—that the method is not dependent on which older theory of content one chooses, also not dependent on whether one uses verbal, body, imagery or interactional techniques, or even all of them, but on how one uses these (as will be more specifically defined in the section on "Therapy"). Thus, while the experiential approach has been growing, not all experiential therapists have adopted the basic experiential philosophy, and not all are articulately aware of the experiential method. Other orientations have been influenced and growing proportions of their adherents are beginning to practice experientially. It has become common to hyphenate one's older orientation with "-experiential." Thus the in-[Page 322]fluence has been broad and agreement on theoretical outlook much narrower.


Basic Concepts

Four basic concepts are (1) existence; (2) encounter; (3) authenticity; and (4) value. To be specific about these usually vague terms one must use the experiential theory: (1) existence is preconceptual, internally differentiable, and bodily felt. (2) A person is interaction. (3) Authenticity is a process of carrying forward in the present, not a pure present but a past being carried forward, drawn by a future. (4) Experiencing is existed valuatively, purposefully, it is focal.

Experiencing. The first basic concept is experiencing.

Existence is preconceptual and internally differentiable. This is the answer one must give to the question: "What is Existence just now?" One exists one's concrete experiencing and this is not equal to concepts, conceptual patterns, definitions, or units of any kind. Patterns and units can be made from experiencing, but experiencing is never equal to what words say, or to any "what," which one might define. This is what is meant by the word "preconceptual" (some other words sometimes used for this are: preontological; prethematic; prereflective.)

But very many different units and subunits can be fashioned from any bit of experiencing. This richness of possible formations from any bit of experiencing is called "internally differentiable."

The concepts "preconceptual" and "internally differentiable," together, give some further clarity to what is really meant by saying that existence precedes definition.

For example, what are the units of "this situation," or of "yesterday" or of "now" or of "life"? The smallest or largest bit of experience one can select can be seen to contain endless numbers of different subunits one could further differentiate out. There are so many different ways to do that, no single scheme or definition or set of units can equal a bit of experience.

A small bit of experiencing, like "now," if articulated, could be seen to include the words written here, the page, the context of the book up to now, the reader's feelings and incipient thoughts about it and many other present feelings all included in the feeling or experiencing now. There is no way of getting them "all," nor is there a single definite set of "all." There are not definite units, nor a definite number of units—so that the smallest bit we called "now" does not include less in number than what we called "life." Both are endlessly differentiable and, as experienced, preconceptual, predefined, not yet committed to any one way of defining. "Life," for example, could have only two subunits if one wishes to make a two-way distinction (Freud said life consists of love and work). Obviously we could make many more distinctions than that.

Existence is bodily felt. This is the answer to the questions "how does one have access to one's own existence?" "How can one work with, live from, one's existence?" Existence is bodily felt, but one must be much more specific about just what aspect of body it is, and just in what sense one uses the word "felt."

Sartre, both in his novel Nausea and in his philosophy (1956) first calls existence "nausea," the sense in which persons who don't like themselves feel their own sense of themselves as a kind of sick feel. Sartre likes to present things negatively, to convey them strongly and shock people out of lethargy. He then says clearly that he does not mean nausea as from spoiled meat, but a concrete sense of being alive which everyone always has, whatever their specific emotions and feelings at different times may be.

The sense of, and access to existence is the life of the body as felt from the inside, "your sense of being your living body just now." No reduction to physiology is intended, on the contrary the physiologists study mostly dead bodies, and study externally, they do not study the body as lived from itself.

But even "how the body feels from the inside" must be further specified to gain access to one's existing. What is meant is not only the feeling of one's muscles or posture.

This use of the word "experience" or "feeling" is different from the feel of the chair against one's body. It is a very special use of the word [Page 323]"feel," such that what one now "feels" is the whole complexity of one's living. Similarly, any specific aspect of this, if made into a subunit of it, will again have a vast complexity involved in it. As an example, what is the reader's present impression of the author? The reader should not make words. Without words the reader can sense a felt impression. Or, one can look up and around the room now, not just noting the objects but getting a "sense" of the place. Again it is a "feeling," but one which could give rise to a few phrases or a great many. Before one ever lets such phrases come there is a feel of it. This feel is bodily, sensed in the "gut" or viscera, or in the chest, throat, or other body locations, and yet it can give rise to very many complex aspects of observation, of thought, and of situational significances.

From an experiential point of view it is not merely an abstract truth to say that psyche and body are one. After saying this one does not continue to use separate physical and psychological words. Instead words are used to refer to that physically felt and psychically significant process we call "experiencing." It is feelingly sensible to any person, and is physical but contains very many cognitive, situational, and observational aspects.

To understand the experiential theory the reader must employ more than just the words on this page. Attention must be directed to that special, implicitly rich sense of "feeling" or "experience" outlined above. It is neither like indigestion or muscles stretching, which is just body, nor just thoughts or perceptions of objects. It is one's feel of being alive now, and it contains implicitly a very great number of potentially separable aspects.

Working with muscles can be extremely helpful, and thinking alone is an important human power too. The experiential theory does not deprecate them, but views them as derivative and separated from the inherent and prior process of body life which is always implicitly rich. This should not remain a theoretical concept. Readers can feel their own sense of "now," and note the many aspects that could be separated, which are there implicitly, even during just a few moments of sensing the feel of now.

By "preconceptual" is meant that this differentiability of experience can occur in many ways which are not logically or conceptually determined. If experiencing were conceptual, or were logically determined, then if divided in some one way, all further ways it could be divided would have to be consistent with the first way. Only those further aspects could occur which would logically fit with the first. In fact, experiencing is preconceptual and can be differentiated into very many different subaspects, all then directly felt, more than any conceptual scheme can handle. Because existence is bodily felt, therefore a person has direct access to the viscerally felt complexity which, although potentially multiple, can be felt as one feeling in this special sense of the word "feeling."

The second basic concept is that experiencing is interactional.

Interaction (Encounter). As the existentialists put it, man is a being-in-the-world. The hyphens are meant to indicate that one being, one event, is both the person and the situations (or environments and universe) in which the person lives. Human beings are encounterings in the world and with others. What one feels is not "stuff inside," but the sentience of what is happening in one's living in the outside. Sartre (1956) discussing sadness, says that it is " . . . a situation too urgent." (p. 61)

A person, at some moment, is an interacting-with, a fearing-of, a hoping for, an angry-at, a trying-for, an avoiding-of. . . . The experience we feel is therefore so complex, it is the living in the complexity of the situations, world, and universe, the whole context.

The situations implicit in experiencing are actually as they are. Therefore, when it was said that experience is "preconceptual," that did not mean that it is anything one pleases, that one can paste any concepts one likes over it or feel anyway one likes. Not at all, it is always just "this," just exactly whatever it is, this complexity, now, which is both the person and the situation. However, one's experience is always more than any one way of defining or articulating the situation.

More can be said about how so much is implicit in any bodily felt sense. Ethology has [Page 324] shown that complex behavior patterns and the environment in which they occur are implicit in the body. For example, a squirrel raised from birth in a metal cage, having never seen a nut on the ground, when given a nut at a certain age, will "bury" it. That is to say it will scratch on the metal floor, will pick up the nut, place it at the spot at which it scratched, and heap imaginary soil on the top of it. Similarly, babies learn to crawl and walk by an inborn process implicit in their inherited bodies. (Babies don't crawl by imitating or learning from the adults!) Every specie of animals has many such inborn behavior patterns implicit in its body. Note that not only the behavior but also environmental objects are implicit in the body, not only burying, but also a nut which is recognized and buried. Of course, that must be so. Behavior can go on only in an environment. A complex set of behaviors and environments is implicit in a living body.

Humans, as Jung showed, also have implicit in their inherited bodies what he termed "archetypes," that is to say, typical patterns of inter-human and cultural role relations, mother, father, lover and beloved, ruler, magician, four directions, the rudiments of culture.

The specifics of one's own culture and history must be added as the detailed ways in which these typical patterns are implicit in one's own body. Only on top of all that, add now one's own personal situations and how living them has made one the unique individual one is. Since all the above is implicit in the body, and it is with one's body that one feels, it is with all the above that the reader reads this page now and senses what the author is like, follows or disagrees with the argument, and worries about whatever now draws attention away from what is being read. No wonder experiencing is preconceptually multiple, and can be differentiated into so many different possible units, if one chooses to differentiate it. But if one does not so choose, it can be felt all together just by saying to oneself "how am I now?", and then not answering, just letting oneself feel it.

What one feels at any moment is always interactional, it is a living in an infinite universe and in situations, a context of other people, of words, and signs, of physical surroundings, of events past, present and future. Experiencing is not "subjective," but interactional, not intrapsychic, but interactional. It is not inside, but inside-outside. Again, just as with body and psyche, experiential theory does not merely assert this unity of inside-outside. It does not then continue to use inside words for feelings and outside words of things and people. Words which stand for interaction are basic and first. It is not as if something happens outside, then one gets a feeling about it. Rather, "what happens" is already interaction. It is a happening for a person because it has already altered that person, because it is relevant to why and how that person is in that situation. How one feels is not some after-event coming on top of what happens, it is what happens.

For example, when someone is socked in the mouth, the "reactions" may be many and some of them may come later, but a certain unmistakably concrete experience is the being socked in the mouth, not the reaction to it. Less obviously impactful events are similarly themselves interactions, not finite external events and then inside reactions to them. The event is one's living the event. Of course someone may be interested in the objective abstract event which happens to no one except, say, to a camera, but this will only record externals, not what they are as situational events. The latter are always concrete interactions. Experiencing goes on as inwardly felt and situationally lived, and is always referred to as interaction.

The third basic concept is authenticity.

Carrying Forward (Authenticity). Authenticity is a process carried forward in the present. The basic concepts so far presented imply the unity of psyche and body, as well as of person and environment (or world, or situations.) A third unity is that of past, present, and future. A person exists in body feelings, in situations with others, and in the past and future. One experiences the present with one's past and with one's projected future. It is in terms of trying to bring about certain things (which have not happened yet, these are future) that some present event might be obstructive or frustrating and might make one angry now. It is in terms of [Page 325] what one fears in the future, that some event might be scary now. The future guides what the present is, but the future projections, and the present, are lived by and with the body which is or has the past in it as well.

The relationships between past and future must be further defined. Not just any chosen future will create a possible present for the person in experience. The choice must be authentic. This means that not just any change will do. One must define an authentic process of change.

There are different kinds of change. There is the abrupt change in which some event breaks in on one. There can be sameness which, despite seeming static, also involves the ongoing living and changing of the body. But between them is that most important type of change termed "carrying forward," the kind of change which neither seems the same, nor seems an abrupt difference. For example, between hunger and eating there is a change, but this isn't just any kind of change, as from hunger to being poisoned, or being temporarily shifted to pain, flight, anxiety, or sexual intercourse. Eating thus has a very specific relation to being hungry, although it is certainly a change.

Body process is characterized by "functional systems," such as the digestive, reproductive, and respiratory systems. These are systems organized in time, a regular round of changes takes place, but not any old changes, just those which carry the cycle round.

Any moment of bodily living thus "implies" or tends toward further living, but not just anything one pleases, only just certain different looking steps. There is a bodily felt continuity in these steps, it doesn't require a biologist to sense that eating is what follows hunger, that exhaling is what is implied when one holds one's breath, that fucking is the process which that hung-up body-feeling indicates. This continuity-in-change characteristic of the body's process is termed carrying forward, to distinguish it from abrupt change and from no change.

Despite the complexities of culture, history, thought, and personal living, the bodily felt sense of a situation retains this characteristic process-movement, so that any given felt sense can, but may not, be "carried forward" by a given event, next act, set of words, or other symbols. There either will or won't be that characteristic continuity through change, which is felt as a bodily release.

For example, suppose that one now feels some "funny" (cognitively unclear) way, one can try to make statements of what is felt. One might say "I feel this 'funny' way." If one now says "I feel an odd way," chances are the feel of it will seem to remain the same. If one says "I feel fine and ready to tackle something interesting," this might be very desirable but is probably an abrupt change which fails to carry forward the "funny" feeling. Only if, probably with hard work, one hits upon a rather special sentence, will one experience that characteristic change-with-continuity which would make one say, "whew, yes, right, that's exactly what I was feeling!" Or, perhaps, the crux of it didn't get phrased, but some aspect of it was captured, for instance "Whatever it is, it seems scary." Then there won't be the great flood of relief, and deep breath, but there will be a more small-scale sense that ". . . yes, . . . uh, . . . yea . . . that is part of it." A shift is felt, something in the body is released, there is no doubt that saying this is not just words. There is a bodily effect of saying it, and this effect isn't just an abrupt change to something else. Thus, when one symbolizes one's experiencing (in words or other symbols), that is itself a further experiencing, a carrying forward of the experiencing being symbolized and hence a change in it. To say what one feels changes it.

Even repetitions of the same words can have the carrying forward effect if said by another person (or even, if one writes them down and then reads them back). Events in the environment can carry feelings forward if they feed back symbols (or "objectifications") of what one feels. This can be said in reverse, so that we define "carrying forward": What one feels implies certain further future interactional events with the environment; when something like that happens, it "carries forward" the body process which implied something like that. Something like that happening in the environment makes a continuation of interaction, and it is this continuation which is termed "carrying forward." [Page 326] Such words, acts, or responses to others are "authentic."

Humans are carried forward, when hungry, not only by food but also by washing their hands and sitting down at the table, and also by speaking about hunger and food, although eventually a meal must come too. These different planes on which carrying forward can occur, have different effects and different characteristics, but "carrying forward" can occur on all of them. That is to say, human beings have different "planes" on which carrying forward is possible, or put another way, there are different kinds of "environments," different kinds of "objectifications," or "symbols." Not only objects like food, but also other people's interpersonal respondings, and also words can carry the interactive body process forward.

Experiential theory does not only affirm that a bit of experiencing includes past, present, and future. It does not then go on as if a given feeling is purely present, as though its change is a different future event. Rather, present experiencing is also an "implying" of further steps.

Next steps which can carry forward can be actions, they can be certain interpersonal responses from certain other persons or acts toward a person, and they can be certain words (though these levels have different powers and effects). For example, when an intimate relationship has broken up, some of the bad feelings may turn out to imply certain further interpersonal interactions with the other person. One's experiencing may imply, for example, getting angry at the person. It isn't merely an anger inside. It is an implying of further steps of interacting with the person.

Rather than making static things out of experiences, and then wondering how another person's responses can change anything in a person, a person's experiencing is viewed as inherently implying feedback from the environment. When that feedback actually occurs it has the special effect of carrying forward, it isn't merely just any impact on the person. By "process" is meant exactly that a bit of experiencing is an implying of further environmental interaction, and when such actually occurs it carries the process forward into that special change which is also a continuity because it is something like what was implied. This carrying forward process defines authenticity.

Focaling (Value). Experiencing is purposive, valuative, focal. Experiencing has direction. Just some and no other further steps will "carry forward." Anything else is an abrupt change or stasis. This purposive, directional, value aspect is a fourth basic concept in the theory.

For example, if the room is overheated, a person's bodily experienced sensation of being "hot" is also an implying of something further, some way of acting or talking to make it cooler. When a person is "hot," it may not yet be clear whether to open the window or go outside, whether to turn the air-conditioning on or to fan oneself, but the implying of something cooling is there, and is not separate from being hot. To be cooler is not a value separately added onto some neutral experience of temperature.

In this way also the direction of one's next psychotherapeutic step is always implicit in one's present experiencing, it isn't a matter of choosing goals, as if the direction could be anything, and is added on from the outside to present experiencing. Rather, what is now experienced as painful, tense, stopping, or has poor results cannot be carried forward in just any way chosen from the outside. Just certain steps will carry it forward in a concretely felt, bodily way, and anything less is not therapeutic movement.

Despite a great complexity of implicit aspects, there is a focus, a specific direction, which can be felt, and which is manifest in the fact that not just any step carries forward.

Experiencing is no putty on which you may place any and every pattern. The process will carry forward only in some ways, or else it gets stuck. Especially when there are problems, when no known and specific way exists as yet, to carry the felt process forward requires finding a special way which does that. One may not yet know what to say or do, no one may as yet know. It may require a quite new action or metaphor of words. But the preconceptual implying and indicating of the bodily felt sense is quite definite, not this, and not that, and not the other act or speech will do, nothing will do except a way that does carry forward and has the bodily releasing character.

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To say that bodily experiencing is focal means that it implies some special further environmental events, in order to continue. Without them that aspect of body process will be stopped, inhibited, tense. Varying degrees of broad bodily disturbance may result as well, since the body is in many ways one holistic system, and cannot be just the same if some aspect is stopped. Other ongoing processes will also be somewhat different.

If one lets oneself sense the whole feel of now, a sense of direction emerges, if it is sought. One's own felt direction is clearly different from some notion of what one ought to do or be, which is felt with tension and burdenedness. Concepts and values come from experience in the first place, but people have been taught many abstractions which do not emerge from their experiencing. Such general principles can help, but only if one uses them to seek a step that emerges experientially. Such a step is recognizable by a felt expansion and release. This applies both over the whole of experience and within any subunit one might differentiate. Thinking of a specific aspect of some intellectual problem has its implicit focal direction; one senses what steps are "off," and what steps have promise.

It is important to emphasize the holistic aspect of the direction in experiencing. It is different from giving in to one urge or one intense emotion. It is not a question of just any kind of feeling "good." Some people may feel "good" when they kill someone. To give in to an urge often feels good. The holistic sense of direction in experiencing differs from this. It is not just any release from any pressure, but a whole body sense of one's life or specific situation which is used implicitly, without having to separate out all its many facets.

Sensing focality extends one's scope to include more facets than one can think of, not less. The myriad facets of any experiencing which could be differentiated are not simply lying side by side, but are "focaled"—they all function to imply one next step which would carry forward. Therefore, in sensing into one's felt experiencing, one finds direction which is a basis for values and choices, and one that is not imposed by value codes from without. It is the whole of one's living (Heidegger, 1960), which shapes this direction and can come to make even a deeply imposed external value which once felt right, feel wrong.

Older theories separate how a person is, which they view as a fact, and how the person ought to be, which is a question of value. The experiential theory does not merely state the general principle that facts and values are not separate. It is about an experiencing which is a projecting of direction. [3]

Other Systems

Other therapeutic systems fall into two types: the first kind are those which are still in the old "what" mold, purporting to say what human nature, experience, and pathology are, what contents a person must come up with to be human in their view. These orientations say little that is specific about what a therapist does. Although these older theories can be used experientially, if one did one would not remain with one of them, but would use them all. All of them can at moments help articulate what one concretely feels and lives. If used experientially one can value all of them highly. If not, they are likely to be traps which set one's mind and practice in some narrow way, obstructing one's sensing the other person's unique experience as it really is just then, and making it difficult to carry it forward with genuine personal response. Such systems are the Psychoanalytic, the Jungian,—in fact, any system which insists on certain supposedly basic contents, and deals with people only through these. These systems can be called single-theory systems.

The second type of other systems is the single-technique type, those which hold that all one needs is one narrow procedure. Among these are the Client-centered, Gestalt, Transactional, Operant, Rational, and many others, each largely featuring one basic procedure. These procedures may range from not very effective "techniques" such as arguing, to highly powerful techniques, [Page 328] some of which an existential or experiential therapist would certainly adopt.

Both types suffer from the claim to exclusiveness. One must work out one's problems by talking of infantile sexual conflicts or one doesn't fit psychoanalysis. One must get better with the featured technique alone, or one is a hopeless case.

These theories and techniques can all be employed either effectively, or ineffectively. The theories and techniques themselves do not specify how. They only say what, either what the patient should come up with, or what the therapist should do. Seventy years of experience have shown that one can belong to any therapeutic orientation and have success or failure. Therefore the orientation is not what makes one effective. What is basic is how one uses the theoretical words and the techniques of any orientation. In all the great works of Freud there is very little detail on just how to practice. Most of what Freud wrote concerns what patients experience and why. Freud uses free association and interpretation, which again concerns what is supposedly in the patient. Highly vague statements are made about the "timing" of interpretations being very important, but this is supposedly something intuitive which cannot be defined. "Working through" is a general phrase naming the whole process of therapeutic working, again it is something supposedly not definable. Freud says it is the most important aspect of psychoanalysis, but he doesn't say how to do it better. The transference is the basic tool of psychoanalysis, but how a therapist "handles" or "overcomes" it isn't stated.

Similarly, Jung's works are full of valuable insights and contain a good theory of human life, but when one seeks to be instructed as to how to conduct therapy, very little is said. Jung specifies that the patient should negotiate with the constellated figures, and should be "active" in daydreams, not much more than that.

These older systems were almost exclusively concerned with patient content, and not with therapist procedure.

In contrast, the newer orientations offer little theory and center on procedures, usually one or two techniques. One is asked to believe that this single technique is universally effective and all that is needed. For example, transactional analysis translates ego, id, and superego into adult, child, parent, and throws out the rest of the Freudian theory. The procedure is to challenge the patient into just dropping maladjusted patterns. "You can stop brownstamping this minute," the transactional therapist challenges. Or "what part of you is that?" "the Parent . . ." a client might answer. That may or may not have helped.

These techniques are too few, too exclusively held one against the other. They work only some of the time. When? The client might say "the parent . . ." in the above exchange and be no better off with that than with "the superego . . ." in psychoanalysis. Either way perhaps nothing happens. When is there a therapeutic effect? It is when the patient not only says and knows, but there is also a directly felt experiential shift. That happens usually only if the patient works directly with a felt sense. If the transactional therapist asked the patient to attend directly to the sense of blaming and berating—and the patient upon focusing on it finds the releasing step, then the technique is likely to work. Otherwise patients in transactional analysis are likely to go home and feel that the therapist simply argued them into agreeing that they could be different, but they don't see how to get there.

A similar experiential critique and specification can be made of other techniques. Only with constant direct reference to, and working with, the patient's directly felt sense—and only by seeking steps in and from that—can a technique usually be effective.

Similarly, translations of people into theory are not usually effective—they usually stop a person's therapeutic process in favor of sophisticated talk. Theoretical concepts help only if used to point to what the patient concretely senses, to articulate, and to make concrete steps from that. Any theoretical vocabulary, preferably more than one, may be so used.

As will be seen in the relevant sections, the experiential philosophy develops a theory of personality and of psychotherapy—but it is a different kind of theory. It is a theory of how [Page 329] people live, rather than what they are and do. People are their living, not the products, not the facts and the concepts they make.

The existential view denies that any theory can really render what a human person is, since that is always in the making by living, and is radically open. Theory is made by people, and can never be such that people can be derived from it. Existentialism goes no further.

Throwing out all such theories would sacrifice many good words. Instead, one can change how such theory is used. As an articulation from life, theory can be very valuable, but only if it always again returns to life and is thereby altered, exceeded, transcended. To speak and think is one kind of further living, and by no means a negligible kind! When one succeeds in articulating in words that feel right what one feels and lives, such moments are powerful. They are a further living, often involving tears and strongly sharpened feelings. But moments later how one articulates oneself may alter what one said earlier. The later moments may be possible only with quite different words from a different theoretical frame of reference. Therefore one should accept no content-theory as giving one a picture of humans or of a given person. Rather, such theories and living humans should be taken together. There is an interplay between people and the concepts with which they articulate and differentiate themselves. Similarly, no one set of right actions can be specified for humans, but the relation between experiencing and authentic right action can be characterized.

The experiential method thus undercuts all theories of psychotherapy and explains why all of them have successes and failures. It depends on the relationship to experiencing, which may or may not have been maintained step by step.

One must reject both the translation of people into concepts, and the subjection of people to a universal mechanical "technique."

The foregoing discussion has characterized other systems of psychotherapy as rendering people as concepts or as objects of techniques, neither of which is effective. One may also view other systems as rendering people as either just pure bodies or pure psyches. Both of these approaches can be somewhat effective, although bodily felt experiencing is not directly reached by either of them. The pure body approaches and the pure psyche approaches both know that the other side is lacking and needed. They even attempt to add it. But, the richness of bodily felt experiencing is missed by combining body and psyche, once the two are thought of separately. Felt meaning is neither muscles nor emotions, nor both together. It is the bodily felt sense of one's living in one's situations. The body systems and the psyche systems hit upon this only indirectly, because they fail to lead patients to attend directly in the right manner to the right dimensions of body life.

Yoga, and Reich's (1949) system, work directly with the body, with muscles, movements, and postures. Such work leads also to improvements in psyche and ways of living. Both Yoga and Reich stress that while working with the body certain psychological processes are necessary. Yoga stresses meditation. Reich urges one to "work through" the psychological and interpersonal feelings which arise when one releases certain muscles and works with one's body. We can see from this that the systems which work with the body directly want to consider body and psyche as one system, and want to work not only with muscles but also with feelings.

From the other side, psychoanalysis and other insight therapies all stressed that the working-through process must be more than words and thought. Intellectualization alone produces little change. Difficulties must be re-lived, not merely discussed or figured out (and, of course, re-lived differently than they were lived originally). There has to be some kind of feeling work, not mere think work. However, these older systems could not say very much about how to get that to happen or even just what it is. Clearly, however, just thinking isn't enough, a physically felt and lived process is needed.

Both sides are getting at something in the middle! Neither just muscles nor just thoughts really make up the crucial psychotherapeutic process. What aspect of a person then are they talking about? Is it something nonbodily and nonthinking? Not at all, rather something which is both. That is bodily experiencing—not just the muscles of the body but the physically bodily [Page 330] felt sense of being alive in the complex world. Not just thoughts but the physically felt sense of the complexity, the preconceptual and differentiable concreteness from which one talks, when one expresses one's personal troubles. The experiential system works with that concrete sensing which is physically felt and also contains implicit cognitive, perceptual, and situational complexity.


Theory of Personality

The experiential theory holds that personality is bodily and psychic. Body and psyche are one system, developing in interaction with other people. Human infants are born with one brain half larger than the other, the half which functions in speech. The child's body structure at birth implies that a language will be learned and sounds babbled before learning language. But what language is learned depends on the group the child is born into. Similarly, the infant will have some kind of sexual development but which of the great variety of patterns develops depends upon the culture. And yet, these cultural patterns are bodily developments.

It is therefore not as if the meanings and values of culture are imposed by society upon an individual. A person grows out of a context which is already both physical and social. Heidegger's way of saying this is that the very essence of a human being is to be "historical." Sartre says he is not free to be an 18th-century Englishman. Only in one's already rich bodily and cultural context does one then, on top of that, make oneself a unique individual. One has to take what one has been up to now as the starting point of growth, change, and choice. In becoming aware of what one has been up to now, it changes. One begins individual growth in moving beyond what one has been.

Because a human life process is thus a cultural process, it atrophies if there is no sense of social responsibility and social action. Existentialism holds that humans inherently have ethical, communal, and social dimensions. The specific content or code of action is not specified, but must be devised by each person in an actual historical context. Ethics is not an imposition of values on people. Rather values are implicit in any experiencing and include social dimensions. One can think of someone who feels best when he cares nothing about others. But, not only would those situations be impoverished in which the person violated and therefore failed to encounter the other persons. All other situations would similarly be impoverished by that person's lack of sensitivity and carrying forward of experiencing. Human living is inherently with others, not only in its origins, but also in the significance and scope of one's developing into a unique person. Even the hermit is "away from" others, and is a figure to the people he left, and to the nearby villagers who bring him food. His meditations and significance are interhuman, and are for him a human life of world significance, and an example for others. No one can "drop out of society"; to drop out is a message to others, and a social act. Dropping out is not a freedom from the principle that human life is interhuman and social, but rather one kind of assertion of Sartre's principle, that a person making and choosing a life also makes and chooses what human nature is and can be.

The person is bodily, social, and psychological, not in three sections but in every moment and bit of experiencing. Physiology, sociology, and psychology are different "levels of analysis," but it has been a mistake to keep them separated. It makes splits based on "-ology."

For example, in careful research studies schizophrenia has been found to be associated with certain chemical differences in the body, but there is also a higher incidence of schizophrenia in poor neighborhoods, and there are also distinct family factors which occur more frequently in the childhoods of schizophrenics. This is a puzzle to most psychologists today who want to use only one or another of these three levels of explanation. But a person, whether called schizophrenic or something else, is bodily, and social, and psychological. To study the person apart from the community, to conceive of "personality" as purely internal machinery, are errors.

Here is another example of the fact that a person is physical and interpersonal. A decade ago, scientific studies of the drug LSD found that it always makes very undesirable paranoid psychoses. Scientists studied the drug by isolating [Page 331] the subject in a small whitewashed room and then observing the subject through a peep hole in the door. Under these conditions the drug regularly produced paranoid psychoses. How is it that many people today report different effects? It is because under different interpersonal conditions the drug produces different results. Same drug, same human body, why not then the same results? Because the human body is also a "being-with." The body is not only the structure physiologists study but also a functioning process, a living-in an interhuman context.

Chemotherapy drugs also appear to produce different results when given to someone who is functioning in a world of people, work, and love, than they produce when given to patients sitting isolated in a hospital.

Having shown personality to be bodily and interpersonal as well as individual, "neurosis" can now be discussed as both social and as involving a narrowing of the experiencing process. Rollo May (1967; May et al., 1958) in the 1950s found much "existential neurosis," i.e., an inability to have a sense of oneself and of life as lived from one's own inside sense and zest. The difficulties in this pattern of "existential neurosis" are the inability to "own" one's own life and conduct, to be "autonomous" (May et al., 1958) and "authentic," to have direct access to an inner basis and source of actions and choices. From this lack a sense of emptiness, worthlessness, despair, and anxiety results. There is a grayness, a pervasive disappointment with life and a loss of meaning. Meaning, here, is not something one can paste upon events, rather it is inherent in how one lives, acts, and speaks. Loss of meaning results not from a lack of ways of merely looking at what is happening, but from a failure to live further. This conception of a loss of meaning goes back to Heidegger's notion of inauthentic living. One lives according to what "they" say, one follows unexamined routines, living as if for the sake of some judge who goes by the popular culture.

Hora (1962) also views neurosis this way.

Existential anxiety drives man to seek manifold modes of protection and avenues of escape. Such defensive strivings lead to inauthentic modes of existence and disorganization of the personality, that is, mental disorders of various kinds and degrees. Defensive strivings cripple man's existence by robbing him of his freedom and creative spontaneity. Seeking to escape from the dread of losing his life, man lives in dread of losing his defenses. He clings to them rigidly and becomes increasingly immobilized by them. Finally, that which he clings to, clings to him.

Since experiencing is also social, one aspect of meaning (which some people lack) is social consciousness. Ronald Laing (1967) has contributed a detailed treatment of this aspect of the neuroses of our time. He views the absence of social consciousness as itself a result of social forces. So even its absence bears out the social nature of humans. The social pressure for conformity is itself a pressure against feeling social concern for others, a pressure to ignore experience. Every regular member must deny most of what goes on inside.

Laing further examines family systems, and the way this social repression of inward experience extends into how family members hold each other within a system of roles unreal for them all.

Psychological maladjustment is not the classical neurosis, nor any "bad content" inside, but the loss of touch with one's inward experiencing.

Today, with the change in culture, young people are more able to sense their experiential aliveness. More often their troubles are withdrawal and avoidance of the world which they find intolerable in respects in which the world was, until recently, assumed to be, if not accepted. An existential view would not term this loss of a world and the ensuing anxiety of isolation as itself negative. It would distinguish: if lived forward, all this will open into new possibilities for changing how the person lives, and ultimately for changing the world. If avoided, or left to be dull and silent, anxiety and withdrawal would lead to loss of meaning. Thus, the inability of young people to see a role for themselves in the world, like any other psychological aspect, is not just psychological but also social, and not just bad or sick or neurotic but also the edge of growth, choice, and new ways.

Experiential theory does not yield a classification of neuroses, nor a catalog of pathological experiences—not what is experienced, but how one [Page 332] proceeds from it, determines whether anything was optimally human or a malady. What is a malady, is living in routines, by the values of others, without even being in touch with one's own flow of life and feeling enough to sense one's felt complexity, from which alternatives can be devised.

Some degree of this failure to carry forward can be found in anyone. One need only ask oneself in what type of situations or relations one becomes tense, engages in certain repetitious scenarios, or behaves in ways one doesn't understand and deplores. In any such instances, one will find that one isn't living and sensing the unique richness of the specific situation. Rather one is repeating a thin outline, a "frozen whole" which is the same in all instances and isn't modified by each new situation (Gendlin, 1964). All authority figures, all men, all women, all situations in which someone purports to evaluate one, all situations in which one must ask for something—whenever any of these or similar categories are experienced as category rather than as this specific unique and multiple situation, aspects of one's experiencing are "frozen together," and respond as a whole structure. Optimally new experience is not interpreted and lived in accordance with old structures. What one has experienced in the past aids one to experience the next event, but this is not because the next event is like the past. Rather, experience is "seamless," it does not have units and the past is reshaped as it functions implicitly in new experience. One experiences the new experience, not the old. But in the case of frozen wholes, the same old structure is experienced, not what is going on now.

Such structures yield to a responding to oneself, and living forward whatever actual edges of experiencing one can get in touch with. Here, again, one must distinguish between "emotion" and "feeling" as used to mean the process of experiencing or existence. The latter is a felt texture of implicit complexity. It is the carrying forward of this, which is lacking or narrowed. That can be lacking or narrowed, and yet there can be much emotion, fear, anxiety, anger, and so on.

If neurosis can be considered a being out of touch with one's potentially rich ongoing experiential flow, then psychosis is an even more radical narrowing of this flow. Psychosis appears to be possible for anyone. Experiments with drugs and isolation chambers have shown that it can be induced in nearly anyone. How the drugs do that is not yet known, but if one is with people in a close and trusting relationship, the effect of the drug is likely to be something other than psychosis. Similarly, isolation in a somewhat different sense is also involved in the sensory deprivation experiments in which almost all sensory input is cut off. How is one to understand this connection between isolation and induced psychosis?

It is a basic concept of experiential theory that human existence or experiencing is an interactional process with the environment. Therefore in isolation, experiencing must be much narrower than in interaction. But if experiencing, as bodily felt, is also the interpretive mass, that is to say, the sense one has of what is going on, and the sense which interprets words, events, and so forth, then in isolation one also loses this capacity to interpret what words and events mean. Along with this is lost one's sense of self and sense of ownership of one's own body. A narrowed ongoing interactive flow of experiencing therefore also involves depersonalization, and inability to interpret.

With narrowed ongoing experiencing, any bit of event which does reach one has maximized results. Some of the very many facets which make up experiencing, but are usually held in interaction, can now be shaped by any incoming event. A gigantic number of facets will fall in line with whatever sound or word or event does occur (in the absence of the usually broad ongoing interaction). In psychosis, hypnosis, dreams, and drug states, any bit of event, sound or visible thing is therefore amplified. It reverberates and determines many aspects, which in normal functioning would be part of other ongoing interaction with the external environment and would not be available to be determined by just one bit of event.

What is termed psychosis is a narrowed manner of experiencing, not pathological contents inside a person. It is not the case that contents held inside, in the unconscious, come out. Aspects of experiencing are being newly and dif-[Page 333]ferently carried forward in such states; they are not things inside that come out.

No doubt a "cure" for psychosis will involve bodily factors, much as drugs can bring it about now. But also, a "cure" will involve social and psychological factors. The interpersonal isolation into which some people are driven, or into which they retire, almost certainly has much to do with psychosis. Some as yet unknown drug might conceivably reverse the bodily condition made by isolation, but then there would still need to be different people and life circumstances to enable the person to refrain from becoming isolated again.

Personality is not so much "what one is," as how one carries oneself forward in further living, further feeling and self-responding, and further interpersonal relating. The quest to "find out what I am" begins to change and carry further what one was. Personality is not stuff inside, but the capacity to carry forward in words or acts what is experientially felt as focal and next. Well functioning is a "zig-zag" (Gendlin, 1967), in which one alternately openly encounters circumstances, people, words, and ideas, but then refers to a full inward bodily sensing of all that, and again a coming outward from that.

Variety of Concepts

The Freudian and other views want to make personality into a system of rationally distinct and defined factors. Since one is only aware of a few such factors at any one time, then all the others must be read into a mysterious realm of which the person is not conscious. This realm is said to contain clearly formed thoughts and contents of consciousness such as ideas, and wishes. But these contents are clear not to the person, but rather to some second person within the person. Sartre has given a good critique of the absurdity of the person under the person, that "censor" who must be conscious of everything in order to decide what the person should not be conscious of. Such a theory makes two conscious people out of one.

But, although widely held, the view that there is no unconscious at all is too simple. The observations which led to the theory of the unconscious must be accounted for. This can be done best if a living person is not viewed as so many contents, ideas, wishes, needs, but instead as the bodily felt and preconceptually complex experiencing process. One is aware of that as a felt sense, but it does not consist of so many units of a certain kind. Rather, definite contents arise only after further steps are made from it into words or acts. If the complexity is viewed as uncompleted and as implicit in feeling, there need not be another level on which thousands of different aspects are perfectly clear to some person inside the person.

The experiential theory holds that the unconscious is the body. Many aspects, only some of which can be differentiated at one time, function implicitly in bodily experiencing (see "Basic Concepts"). By focaling, they shape a given bit of speech or behavior. When people differentiate in retrospect one or another of the many aspects which shaped a bit of speech or behavior, the aspect is said to have been "unconscious." Actually what was felt earlier was perfectly conscious as felt. The aspect now explicated was then "implicit" in what one felt.

Many theories assign to family and childhood a determining role in the development of personality and psychopathology. Existential therapists would not agree that a person must be as upbringing has made the person, for further living can be a remaking. The responsibility for how one is cannot be put upon the past, nor do necessary laws determine how one's past makes one be today. The supposed "dynamics" of the past do not determine how one is. What does determine it is one's present yielding to one's fears of other people, one's present avoidance of places and circumstances in which one would change, one's present refusal to accord one's inner feelings attention and respect.

Despite this emphasis on present living, and its radical openness to being changed, experiential psychotherapists do find childhood events entering into therapy. One lives the present with one's past. Only the effect of the past is not that of mechanical forces. Rather, life up to now is what each individual must live forward, and thereby also change. One lives present events with the whole maze of implicit facets which were discussed in the section on the un-[Page 334]conscious. A human being is not a photographic plate and an event in one's life is not a physical particle supposedly describable regardless of what it will impact upon. An event becomes part of a person's experiencing and is the impact it has upon that. The event is both the external occurrence and the person (see interaction in the section on "Basic Concepts"). An event is, therefore to an extent, the person's past, which that event now changes. Therefore the person's past and childhood are involved, implicitly, in the experiencing of the present event. How the past is involved also changes the past, in the same sense in which history must be rewritten in each age. What of it matters, and how it is related to the present, alters with new events, and brings out new aspects of it.

Therefore patients in psychotherapy usually find that both their childhood and their present living are involved in what a given situation is. Both must be reworked insofar as they are implicit in the experiential process now.

One can say that one needs to work only with the present, but this means the experiencing present in this room now with this person, and very definitely includes one's now crying about what happened long ago, or now having compassion with oneself for having gone through what happened long ago.

One experiences the present with one's past as implicit in one's body. Both are changed together if there is change and growth. It may sound odd that the past is changed in the present, but it is, insofar as the past functions now.

This presently implicit past is very different from one's life history or telling about it. It is what one directly finds in the moment now, as one senses into the implicitly rich and complex experiencing of how one lives in one's present situations. It is how present experience is focaled by a great deal that functions implicitly.

Other theories build mechanical systems of laws and forces, and read these inventions into the human person to explain experience. Experiential psychotherapy takes experiences first—and concepts, if used at all, must articulate it and carry it forward.

Therefore, from an experiential point of view, Freud's use of "energy" is seen clearly as a speculative construct. He does not mean energy as when we feel energetic after a good rest, but a purely theoretical ultimate term to which everything else can be reduced. Everything is ultimately, so he reasons, a certain quantity of energy. The reduction of human complexity to simple laws is facilitated by a concept like energy which allows reduction because it is assumed to "have many forms."

Anxiety, similarly, as an ordinary word denotes something one experiences (as "energy" is usually used), but the theories use it as a theoretical construct. Not that bad feeling which doubles one over is meant, but some theoretical cause of all difficulty. Existentialists, on the other hand, employ the word "anxiety" to name the experience understood by that word, and consider anxiety not the cause but the symptom of poor living. Anxiety is not what stops one, but exactly the opposite. It indicates an opening for radical change. Therefore, Heidegger and others elevate anxiety almost to a defining principle of what it is to be human—namely, how being human is not ever an established entity.

Existentialists similarly view guilt not as a cause of neurosis from early childhood, something sick one ought not to have, but as the person's sense of missed life challenges and avoided encounterings of others. Guilt, like anxiety, can speak; it marks missed opportunities, violated sensitivities that ought to have been part of holistic focal valuing and carrying forward. (See "Basic Concepts" section.)

Being toward oneself. Binswanger (1962) has analyzed human existence into three basic forms: "being together," which chiefly means love, but he includes a section on friendship; "the being of one person with another (or others) in a common world," which includes such basic forms of existence as taking and grasping (satisfying needs, Americans would say). The third basic form is "being toward oneself." In that section he says:

It is not so that the psyche uses the body as a tool. . . . Rather . . . psyche is body. Once such abstraction (of body and psyche) is performed, no bridge leads back to the human being anymore. . . . In the being toward oneself . . . what ordinary language and science call the body plays a special role. . . . My body is by no means only a part of the external world. . . . (pp. 449-50)

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It is uniquely true of the body . . . that it is . . . a certain manner of relating to the world. (p. 470)

In contrast to self-observation, self-knowledge is not a knowledge of an object; the latter can never penetrate to the authentic self. . . . Self-knowledge . . . means a change of the whole self, a maturation and self-realization, an actual grasping of one's authentic possibilities. (p. 480)

The momentary satisfaction of one's self-love, self-power or self-satisfaction . . . [is] pseudo-existential. . . . Existence does not come into view (in this way). . . . [Self-love] is not the whole of existence, although it raises the claim to be. This claim is fallacious.

We develop through experience, but we mature through asking after the secret. . . . In the asking after the secret of my being . . . as mine . . . I ask always deeper into its possibilities. Although the basis of my being remains secret, . . . the possibilities of my being come more home to me. (pp. 479-80)


Theory of Psychotherapy

The nature of psychotherapy will be discussed under five headings: (1) planes of therapeutic work; (2) working with the implicit; (3) hierarchy of experiential steps; (4) manner of process; (5) contents as made from process.

Experiencing is an interaction process, a being-with others and a being-in the environment. However, the environment is not only of one kind. Any objectification over against a person can be the interacting environment. Thus the body itself is an environment for cells and organs within the body. Behavior goes on in the physical and situational environment. Quite a different sense of environment is involved in interpersonal relations where words and gestures and relational patterns form the context for one's interaction. Finally there is a fourth plane, in which by reflecting upon the experiential process itself one forms a felt datum or felt meaning which can be directly attended to.

In this list of four planes, each successive one modifies the earlier. Behavior and its environment affect the body's construction and life. Different species of dogs have different teeth and legs, depending on the environment in which they bite and run. How one lives affects one's body physically. "In the somatic sphere, a clinging to the past may take the form of constipation." (Hora, 1962) Then, in turn, interpersonal patterns and interactions modify behavior and modify what the physical behavioral environment "means." Situations are not merely physical facts, but are relationally modified. Finally, by constituting one's own experiencing as a felt object one has a fourth way of having experiencing carried forward by an object interacting with it. This fourth way again modifies the other three. Personal relations, situations, and the body are profoundly modified by even a few moments of such "experiential focusing." (Gendlin, 1969b) It alters one's body set and tensions, and restructures one's sense of one's situations and personal relationships.

In this list of four planes, all four are bodily; the top three (behavior, personal relationships, and feeling) are behavioral in that they are special kinds of behaving activities; the top two are symbolic and interpersonal (even self-responding develops only after other persons respond to the individual). It is possible to obtain global personality change by working on each of these planes. The reason is that although there are four planes, there is only one organism, and one works with it as a whole, and carries it forward as a whole, even if one only works on one plane.

Therefore working with muscles, posture, and diet alone has the power to effect changes in the whole person. Similarly, changing one's behavior, or changing the situation even slightly so that one can behave slightly differently affects all levels. Interpersonal, verbal, and imagery processes have effects beyond the symbolic; they alter body and behavior. Finally, the carrying forward inherent in constituting a felt sense alters body, alters behavior possibilities, and alters symbolic contexts. Therefore, after some minutes of direct reference to a constituted felt sense, one finds oneself moving a step. There is a felt shift, and after that what one says and does and feels is different than before. One can say and do something new.

Experiential therapy chiefly works with a person's bodily felt experiencing, that implicitly complex process not sharply definable in words, acts, interactions, or body physiology, but implicitly involving all these.

On the feeling level the problem of psychotherapy is to enable the person to attend to and [Page 336] further live this bodily process, so that from a further lived place new and different moves, words, acts, and interactions can emerge. But moves, words, acts, and interactions are what we have available for such further living, inasmuch as further living always involves both body and some "objective" structure. Therefore just some words, moves, acts, or interactions carry the body process further, and then very many other words, moves, acts, and interactions become different. How does one find these crucial carrying forward moves, acts, interactions, or words?

What will carry the experiencing process forward is already implicit in it. However, it is often not implicit as word, as act, as interaction, as body move, but instead, is implicit as unclear feeling. When a specific feeling, word, or image is obtained, carrying forward has taken place.

Heidegger says that in any feeling there is always already an understanding. Sartre says one interrogates oneself as to one's real possibilities—and the self which one interrogates is "the absent-presence" (this is some of Sartre's contradictory way of talking, which he likes), hidden in the way the body feels from the inside. Rollo May says that anxiety is always some possibilities one is avoiding. In these sentences these writers convey the sense in which what is implicit is, and is not, present.

Experiential philosophy asserts that if what is now implicit is carried forward, new aspects will become implicit which were lacking before. This is the basis of the change process in therapy. This is understandable if one recalls that experiencing is always richly multiple and not only of the specific object which stands out. Naturally after any step of experiencing this multiplicity is different. If the step of experiencing has been one that could not be made before, then what is now different in the implicit complexity also includes aspects which could not be implicit before.

One must add to this, that the focal centering of experiencing also will be different after a given step. Therefore what is next, what is focally implied as the next step of carrying forward will be different after the presently given next step actually occurs. Therefore, in psychotherapy, there can be a very distinct self-directed process in which, after a bit of bodily felt shift a new next step is implicit, a new edge is reached. The steps of a therapeutic process cannot be determined by decision, neither the therapist's nor even the patient's. There is a hierarchy according to which these steps come, and no prior logical decision can guess it. A perfectly right interpretation may be only confusing at one point and helpful at a later point. What comes now is what must come now, what is focal and next for the organism. This is referred to as a hierarchy of experiential steps. By carrying forward what is now implicit, a different next step is enabled to come up.

In addition to implicit and hierarchy, reconstituting is used in defining the nature of the therapy process. Not only must felt steps be carried forward. One also wants to live with one's patient in ways that are not felt, but would be, if the patient were lived with. Completion of life-enhancing action is implied in all pathology. The concept of reconstituting asserts the great power of either individual in an interaction. It holds that if one lives toward another so as to complete that person's life-enhancing implications, these latter will then appear to have been implicit. According to this concept most of the usual social and intimate interactions in our society are highly reactive and unoriginal—one assumes that one must react to another as that other is acting toward oneself. Actually one could originate a quite different manner of interaction, if one had the energy and know-how to do so. Therapists can be viewed as people who do just that.

A fifth concept is manner of process. It refers to the fact that what therapist or client says or does is not as important as its manner, how it is done, the kind of existential living it is, that is, the manner of process it is: The concept of "manner of process" applies not only to the interaction plane but to processes on the other three also. One's breathing can be shallow or deep, one can behave tensely or expansively, one can refer to one's experience welcomingly or not at all.

Sixth, the experiential view asserts that so-called psychic contents are really process-aspects, of living. This means that one makes contents out of the living process, from it, by setting up in symbolic inner space a symbolic or object [Page 337] pattern. But such setting up is distinctly second and depends on the living already occurring.

Taking the concepts of manner and of process-aspects together, one can say that a different manner of process will also give one different contents. This makes it understandable why what one finds, for example, when taking a certain drug, will differ depending on the kind of interaction process and mood one is in, despite its being the same human body and the same chemical. It also explains why the client will not find the same "things" inside him during a close relationship with a caring therapist, as will seem to be inside him when feeling quite alone and incapacitated.

But it follows from these concepts not only that contents differ during different processes. More trenchantly, contents are made from the different processes. This might be brought home by an example. A client was instructed by the therapist to attend to the feeling of tension he complained about. "Let yourself feel that tension and let it tell you what it is" was the instruction. Several times he tried and failed to let himself closer to it. The therapist then said, "You have to approach it in a friendlier way; welcome it in, so we can hear what it is." This time the method worked as the client sat silently for about a minute and his breathing became more relaxed. When he spoke again he said, "I really did welcome that tension feeling—and when I welcome it, it dissolves!"

This example can be viewed as showing that the tension—the psychic content—itself was a function of the nonwelcoming, harsh, self-avoidance which was this client's frequent manner of process with himself and others. Rather than avoidance or unwelcoming being a not looking—as if certain contents sat there and he failed to look at them—the contents themselves are a function of the kind of not looking he was engaged in, and quite different contents would be seen and formed from a process of welcoming and looking.

The experiential therapist has a method which can organize the other therapies into one coherent method. This is done not by what is called "eclecticism," the mere pasting together of various pieces, but by first noting which different orientations really differ in practice, and which do not. Therapists of different orientations often do the same things, called by different names. Conversely, members of the same group often practice very differently, sharing only words not operations. The older theories are specific about what a person experiences, but say very little about how the therapist practices.

It will be noted that there are therapies on each of the four planes. On the bodily plane there is Yoga and Reichian therapy and its derivatives. On the situational behavioral plane is operant therapy, the attempt to restructure behavior patterns and situations by devising small steps of behavior change. On the interpersonal plane are most of the psychotherapies, especially if one considers verbalizing as one (only one) aspect of personal interaction. Self-responding may help provide some "interaction," but the powerful way is with another person. Finally, an experiential psychotherapy will not be satisfied with the usual talking and relating, but will enter into, directly refer, and articulate both patient's and therapist's as yet pre-verbal felt concretely ongoing experiencing which is at first only felt.

In these different planes the therapeutic procedures are genuinely different and all deserve to be used, especially if one will use the first three in constant interplay with the fourth.

What characterizes the experiential approach to psychotherapy is that bodily, behavioral, and interactional procedures will be carried on with constant reference to the person's experiencing (the fourth plane). It must first be felt concretely and then articulated in further words and acts. If that is the constant reference point, the other planes can be used effectively and without dehumanization or false mechanization.

Process of Psychotherapy

There are a number of ways of working with the directly present, immediate experiencing of the person:

Relational encounter. A person's living is a living-in and living-with, certainly no less with the therapist in this situation than in all the others that this person has. The moment consists of both persons. How would an experiential therapist grasp on to the immediate happening with the client and work with it?

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1. The therapist must attend not only to the client's words, but to how they are said, and to how the client is living right in this moment, in saying this. This means observing the person's face, body, voice, gestures, and taking the person in much more broadly than verbally. But not only such nonverbal cues are important, one must also ask oneself: what is the client doing or trying to do in saying this? What is the client's approach to the problem? Does this approach itself instance the problem? And, how is the client approaching, dealing with, relating to or failing to relate to the therapist? Does that instance the problem? If so, it is then possible for therapist and client to work with the immediate concrete living they are doing together, and not with mere words about a problem. Or, if the present moment is not an instance of some problem, what is it? What is happening, being done, tried, or what sort of relating is being attempted? Not only the words but the kind of living it is just now, is responded to.

For example, a person may say that he is having a certain difficulty, but how is the person in saying this? Tentatively approaching the question, impatiently insisting there be an easy solution, trying to convince the therapist of something, tensely running on about it without stopping to sense it directly, describing details without their personal significance, trying to do what the therapist wants, scared of what will happen, conveying desperate urgency—any of these might be examples of how the living now is more than the words.

2. As therapist one must confront one's own feelings, reactions, fears, embarrassments, stuck points, angers, impatiences—whatever is focally felt, and one must sense whether and how that is related to the present interaction with the client. Sometimes the therapist would directly express any of these—knowing that whatever is felt by one party in an interaction is also, in some sense, relevant to the other, although it may not as yet be clear how. There is a willingness to "risk" oneself. However unlovely or vulnerable such expressions may make the therapist, only an open interaction can broaden and heighten living—the attenuation or stoppage of which, as has been said, is in some sense the essence of psychological ills. If the client's interaction, which is to say experiencing, is to move past its stoppages, the therapist—who is the person being lived with—must allow the interaction to proceed. The therapist cannot hope to succeed by defending and blocking or covering what is needed to continue the interaction. Say the client is pressuring the therapist for something which now makes the therapist feel stuck or embarrassed or incapable. This might be something both people know, but both attempt to keep it unspoken, the client because the maneuver is cautious and indirect, the therapist because there is some forlorn hope that it might not be so, or that perhaps the client will veer off. Perhaps the client does after a while shift to something else, but an opportunity has been missed. From an experiential point of view it was an opportunity for that richer, broader, more intense, more open and more completing manner of living which would have occurred had the two people encountered what was potential here. The therapist would have recognized the demand, would have sensed into himself and would have found and shared the feelings and thoughts which make it impossible to comply with it, along with the feeling of wishing that compliance were possible, and also perhaps some fears of letting the client down, or anger at being pressured. The therapist would express not only his stand in refusing, but also his fear of making the client angry, and his conviction that he must not back off however angry the client might get. Such open responding is rare in ordinary society, but essential in psychotherapy. It is not the wisdom of the therapist's advice or interpretations which will aid the client. Rather it is the therapist's ability and willingness to risk more open living with each other so that the client's stoppages and inabilities to live will complete themselves in living. With a response as in the above example, the client can then live and find his own further implicit steps, whatever they were. For example, he may find a host of feelings about always being turned down, or about never being able to reach another person directly, about why direct asking was impossible and had to be maneuvered. What matters here, from an experiential point of view, is that the therapeutic step occurs in the very interacting—not by insights which are a by-product. Having [Page 339] been responded to openly means not some insight into reaching others, it means that the client has concretely reached another, the therapist. The therapeutic value lies not in what the client thinks about what happened, but in the happening itself, in the manner of this bit of living, and how it is different than what usually happens, or rather, doesn't happen. Because the bit of living is interacted with so differently, concretely, the then ensuing feelings and thoughts are also new. They could not have been "dug out," but are implicitly functioning in this bit of existential living.

The therapist may find what to respond to either by attending sensitively to the client's momentary living or to the therapist's own.

Of course, there is here an assumption that the therapist wants to help the client, or, if that is too manipulative an aim, that the therapist wants to live well and deeply with the client. Within this wider context of positive commitment the direct encountering of moments that involve anger, destructiveness, boredom, and so forth will help. Just expressing negative feelings at people does not help, when not in such a broader context of positively felt aims.

Seemingly threatening or negative aspects of living are not the only ones that are openly encountered and allowed their implicit steps of interaction and resolution. The same is true of positive feeling, rushes of care and admiration, warmth and liking. These are too frequently avoided or attenuated by social habit. The therapist would openly express not only some topic heading ("I feel bored with you." "I feel some real warmth for you."), but at least some of the texture of intricacies one always finds in any actual experience, something perhaps about one's hesitancy in expressing it, or just how it does and does not apply.

Truthfulness is vital in an existential encounter. The client cannot live with some imagined therapist who is not here, only with the one who is. Whatever the ways it might be nice for the therapist to be, these must be discarded if the therapist in fact can't come to be that way. What the therapist is may not be wise or good or the best that can be imagined, but what counts is whether the therapist is willing to be lived with. That can only be a living with how the therapist actually is—which certainly can include his wish that he felt otherwise, but must include how he actually feels, and has just reacted. Fortunately the therapy depends on the openness and honesty which makes the interacting possible. It does not depend on goodness and wisdom.

Focusing: access to existence. A second main way of getting to concretely ongoing living, beyond words, is to aid the client to attend more directly to his preconceptual, as yet only felt sense. This is not done by mere questions to one's head. It is done by focusing on the concretely felt bodily sense of what one has been saying or struggling with. The client cannot sense his way into his preconceptual experiencing if there are no silences. Therefore, if silences don't occur naturally, the therapist must ask for them, and must ask the client to remain quiet inside as well as outwardly. If this isn't done, then the verbal part of the therapy is talk about, rather than concrete process, and largely useless, although the interactive part just cited above may still be concrete and effective.

Gendlin (1969b; Gendlin et al., 1968) has developed a specific technique to make experiential focusing happen during psychotherapy. The instructions cited below are given, with silent periods between. Sometimes they are not given all at once, but more informally, one at a time, during psychotherapy.

During focusing—and during interactional encounters—the therapist must be able to postpone everything else and really hear and restate what the client is feeling, else the client will remain unseen, untouched, and the interaction will not be real.

Thus, if the therapist attempts to make the client keep silent and focus on the felt sense of the difficulty he is discussing, and if the client ignores that instruction and says more, the therapist should first respond to that and then again ask for silent focusing.

Uniqueness. Society and most persons operate with general labels and categories. Individuals are given—and give themselves—little credence for their own reactions, feelings and perceptions. For example, people frequently call certain ways of theirs "lazy," or call some of their feelings "self-pity." If one examines these commonly used labels, one can see that they are [Page 340] purely external viewpoints. From inward, there is no such thing as "lazy," always an experiential complexity of why one doesn't want to do something. "Self-pity" also is an external assessment. . . it's "only" self-pity, that is to say, there is no validity in how one feels, and it is even undeserved to pay attention to it. In therapy the individual must credit the unique reactions, perceptions, and ways of living situations, which are what a person is. Therefore, there is a constant effort, by the therapist, to enable the patient to be "in touch with" the unique feelings, choices, perceptions, reactions, and evaluations which are so often not even being attended to or looked for by the client. "I am afraid inside me is nothing . . . " is a frequent statement of people who have long lived without attending inwardly with respect or expectation of finding anything valid or valuable. (Of course, these very fears and hesitations, these very convictions of nothing being there, are themselves the immediate experiencing just then, and can be responded to and felt further.) Therefore the therapist accords validity to the client's feelings and their implicit valuing and construing of situations. Of course these may change but just now they are what they are just now, and there is a validity in them.


This is going to be just to yourself. What I will ask you to do will be silent, just to yourself. Take a moment just to relax........ 5 seconds. All right—now, just to yourself, inside you, I would like you to pay attention to a very special part of you.........Pay attention to that part where you usually feel sad glad or scared. 5 seconds. Pay attention to that area in you and see how you are now.

See what comes to you when you ask yourself, "How am I now?" "How do I feel?" "What is the main thing for me right now?"

Let it come, in whatever way it comes to you, and see how it is.

30 seconds or less

If, among the things that you have just thought of, there was a major personal problem which felt important, continue with it. Otherwise, select a meaningful personal problem to think about. Make sure you have chosen some personal problem of real importance in your life. Choose the thing which seems most meaningful to you.

10 seconds

1. Of course, there are many parts to that one thing you are thinking about—too many to think of each one alone. But, you can feel all of these things together. Pay attention there where you usually feel things, and in there you can get a sense of what all of the problem feels like. Let yourself feel all of that.

30 seconds or less

2. As you pay attention to the whole feeling of it, you may find that one special feeling comes up. Let yourself pay attention to that one feeling.

1 minute

3. Keep following one feeling. Don't let it be just words or pictures—wait and let words or pictures come from the feeling.

1 minute

4. If this one feeling changes, or moves, let it do that. Whatever it does, follow the feeling and pay attention to it.

1 minute

5. Now, take what is fresh, or new, in the feel of it now...... and go very easy.

Just as you feel it, try to find some new words or pictures to capture what your present feeling is all about. There doesn't have to be anything that you didn't know before. New words are best but old words might fit just as well. As long as you now find words or pictures to say what is fresh to you now.

1 minute

6. If the words or pictures that you now have make some fresh difference, see what that is. Let the words or pictures change until they feel just right in capturing your feelings.

1 minute

Now I will give you a little while to use in any way you want to, and then we will stop.

Responsibility. Conversely, the therapist holds the patient responsible for his feelings and evaluations. Values, choices, viewpoints are not "caused" by brute events of the past or present, but are the patient's own way of construing and making what human nature shall be in this pa-[Page 341]tient's case. The patient is free in this sense, despite having perhaps few resources and many constraints in life. The therapist aids the patient to sense and use this freedom by first sensing the implicit felt aspects of meaning and evaluation. These are the patient and the patient is responsible—if they are to change it will be the patient's own demand for the change. But how is one to know what is one's own demand for change, and what are expectations of others and of society? Only in a person's directly felt experiential sense can there be a sense of an own direction, an owned sense of a need for change which gives such a direction. Searching into such a sense of needed change, such a sense of malaise, or pain, or constriction and unlived living, one senses the expansion which would come from living more freely. This type of therapy does not "adjust to society" nor "adjust to reality," but instead carries forward the incipient, implicit possibilities which the person has been made to forego under various pressures and fears. One must become aware that as an individual one will die, and that therefore not all fears should stop one. Ultimately the whole life one clutches will be lost anyway; the question is what to do with it between now and then.

As a method in psychotherapy the above doesn't mean lengthy discussions about such matters, but responding to, and feeling into, that in the person from which these considerations stem. There is always something authentic for the therapist to respond to, however false, overdramatic, avoidant, or trivially the client speaks and interacts. These very aspects have their momentary immediacy which is experienced and can be carried further. The wish to lie and deceive is itself a true stand, as Sartre pointed out. If a wish to avoid is itself looked at, it will lead into that which it avoids, which is implicit in it. Overdramatizing involves a present sense of urgency to get across, to convey to someone, which is concrete and authentic. To aid the client in being authentic means for the therapist to respond to, and to carry forward, what is presently authentic (however much that may not be what the therapist wishes were there.)

Other techniques. An authentic experiential process can be the basis for a wide variety of techniques. Not the technique but the authentic process is psychotherapy. Experiential therapists therefore don't usually use the word "technique," because it implies just the opposite of what is said here. The word implies that the technique does the therapy and has the effect, as though humans were machines and one could perform the effective act on them however one felt or lived while doing it. Techniques used in this latter way are usually ineffective and confusing to the person. This is because it is not the technique, but the kind of living occurring, which will be effective. If the person is made the passive object of some kind of manipulation done to him, that will be more determinative of the result than whatever the technique specifically is. Any technique can be used experientially, if both persons' experiencing is made the basis of how it is used.

Mechanisms of Psychotherapy

The phrase "mechanisms of psychotherapy" is one which does not fit people, just as the word "technique" does not fit. There are not mechanisms because the person is not mechanical. The basic theoretical question is how and why psychotherapy changes a person. Existentialists say that what a person is, is made by the living that person does, hence a person changes only through more and different living. This is seemingly circular: how does the person come to live differently?—by living differently. And yet this view is basic to an existential understanding of humans: no explanatory laws or imputed "mechanisms" can "explain" human living. Does this mean that no theory of personality change is possible? It often seems impossible in the existentialist literature because the preconceptual living process is irreducible to concepts. However, a different kind of theory is possible which does not impute conceptual mechanisms as basic to humans, but instead uses the concepts presented in the previous sections to gain an understanding of just how psychotherapy changes a person.

The question of change is answered if one recognizes the psychotherapy process itself as exactly that further living which then also makes the person different. The "mechanisms of psychotherapy" are the ways in which, be-[Page 342]cause of the therapist, the patient's living is immediately different. This is brought about by making the therapy process experientially authentic.

A person changes—becomes more the person he can and wishes to be—not through "mechanisms," not through what laws and concepts can "explain," but through a different experiential manner of living itself. One is the person one's living has made, and only by living differently does one become different. But the way one wants to change isn't just from one category to another, or from being like some people to being like other people. One wants to change precisely into oneself, into more of oneself than one has been able to be so far. Therefore the crucial step of the kind of change called "therapeutic" is to change from having lived inauthentically to living authentically. (See "Basic Concepts" section.) And this change too occurs only through some authentic living itself. The psychotherapy encounter must therefore itself be this authentic living which makes the change.

Three specifications of how an authentic process has change-effects will now be considered.

The effect of validating choice, values and responsibility. An existential therapist is committed to aid the patient to articulate life and thereby accords the patient full responsibility and validity for any choice, sense of significance, for the unique way of construing anything which is this person. This has a freeing effect which aids one to move on through false constraints, securities, and imposed values to which one fearfully clings.

The validity and respect accorded the patient's values and meanings which existentialism assumed, is a therapeutic agent. Most people live with a minimum of recognition of their life meanings, usually with only external evaluations they believe, and with the widespread assumption that one's ethical, social, and cosmic sense of significance is only a sentimentality one ought to be rid of. Existentialism revolted against this world of mere atoms and expediencies. The revolt frees the human person to own the validity of ethics, of value, of the seriousness of choosing how to live, of the significance of pain and suffering already lived. The expedient mechanist world not only robs the person of the validity of past suffering; it implies that the person should be ashamed of not having been luckier. The recognition that values are real, frees the person for working with them, instead of remaining locked at some inchoate and mute point of conflict between so-called rational expedient living and subjectively felt unacceptables and unlived potentialities. The existential therapist may be the only person a patient has ever encountered who believes in the seriousness and reality of values and yet doesn't assume that some one set of values is given. Only so can the individual develop his own muted unlived life.

The validity accorded values, meanings, and unique perceptions of situations also enables the patient to attend to as yet unclear and only felt experiencing. Most people know much more clearly what others think and want, value and mean, than what they themselves value and how they uniquely construe their own situations. Thus existential psychotherapy's revolt against earlier "value-free" mechanism is itself a "mechanism" of psychotherapeutic change and first makes encounter and experiential focusing possible for many people.

The effects of authenticity. In the section on "Basic Concepts," "authentic" speech and interaction was defined as that which carries forward the experiencing process. Carrying forward has that recognizable continuity which makes one say that the new and really different step is more truly what the preconceptual experiencing "was" than one then knew. It is a process of change in which one becomes more truly oneself than one felt before.

Also under basic concepts, it was shown that the nature of interaction is such that one person's act toward another is also that other's present living. Of course such an action toward one can be disruptive and discontinuous with what one is just then, instead of carrying forward. However, when another person's acts or words toward oneself are just such as carry one's own experiencing forward, then an authentic interaction occurs. Thus one person can make an authentic encounter of both, even when the other was not at all ready to create such an encounter.

What makes the process authentic is not what is said, but the manner of the process. Since [Page 343] either person's expression is also lived by the other, if the therapist expresses one side of the encounter openly and differentiates one side of the experiential process, this is also the patient's living—and an authentic living of the interaction.

Of course, what the therapist does and says will not be the only way to articulate the interaction. The patient will soon join in articulating it openly. However, even if not (as with mute patients during schizophrenia) an authentic process can nevertheless be lived by both with only one person talking. (Gendlin, 1967)

Thus a chief responsibility of the therapist is to engender concrete interaction and then to share openly one side of it, through articulating the therapist's experiencing. The other chief responsibility is to respond to, and stay continuously in touch with the patient's experiencing as far as the patient can articulate it or shows some of it. Without both no authentic encounter can occur. Powerful covert interaction might seem to occur for each, but will remain within the autistic isolation and fantasies of each alone.

The exact "mechanism" of such psychotherapy is therefore that one person's open articulation of experiencing as felt, through both verbal and interactional acts, is also the other person's encountering living and therefore makes for the other's living an authentic process.

The mechanism of experiential focusing. A third "mechanism" underlying the therapeutic process is the fact that as one senses into one's as yet unclear feeling, one's manner of process is already different than it usually is.

Although one may be unable to live freely, openly, and courageously in the world, one does live in this manner when one allows the coming of whatever feelings may come. Although one may not know how to change some narrowness or stoppage, in the very letting come and letting be, one is, just then, living beyond exactly those limitations. One is living in exactly the manner which, according to the content, one cannot. And therefore the content soon changes. At the first step of letting come, what comes is some unlovely truth—but already a few minutes later at a second step, a felt shift, a further feeling emerges. The content then focused on arises from that first step of fuller process. One had lived beyond the seeming limitations of that content one focused upon, and one did that in the very act of focusing upon it, in letting it come and in letting it be.

If the content displeases one, one can be assured that it will soon change, or else the displeasure will soon change. One need not "accept" what comes in the sense of resigning oneself to it, or trying to think up some way of interpreting it as not so bad. That is not the way humans create meaning authentically. Rather, by letting whatever comes be for a little while, it will change, if it is felt as part of letting oneself feel all, the whole of what comes. Then all considerations which function implicitly and focally shape experiencing will play their role. Of course, feeling just this emotion or just that content alone will not have this effect, but freely letting the whole of whatever comes be felt, will. This is because the latter is already that better living process one wants, and further steps of content will very soon bear its character.



From the cosmos to the individual the experiential approach can be applied to anchor any concepts by attending to one's felt sense. For example, religious vocabulary, if not used experientially, replaces or constricts experiencing. The infinity and cosmic significance that is felt cannot be explained or undercut, or replaced by concepts, theological or reductive. However, by the experiential method, one can seek to articulate specific aspects of felt experiencing in the cosmic context. Any vocabulary can be thus grounded, if experientially based at all times.

There is also a method of political freedom already implied in an existential outlook, but not yet positively. By choosing authenticity one moves beyond structures, however difficult and only partially achieved that might be. One will therefore not remain caught by the superficial emotional power of totalitarian solutions. (Here one should remember not only that Heidegger mistakenly joined Nazism in 1933 but also that he quit it in 1935, and not only that Sartre often sympathizes with Communism but also that he criticizes its usual ways as "ossified" and rigid.) Existentialists have a dilemma. They can-[Page 344]not fully "belong" to any movement in the sense of becoming its property; but, existentialists are concerned to work with others and cannot remain in isolation. The dilemma can be solved only by a different kind of movement, one that would pay maximal attention to how people are in it, rather than just what conceptualized program it has. Not that purposes are unimportant, but that purposes grow from how people are together, not the reverse. Therefore the most conceptually idealistic movements have had oppressive results. The real content is made from the manner of the process in which people are together. A process which involves degrading anyone, treating anyone as a mere thing or obstacle, cannot be expected to generate good results in reality, whatever the spoken aims. The process must be a freeing one to those involved, or it cannot free others.

The last sentence states a principle of clinical work as well. Therapists or clinical workers must be open to their own experiencing and needs and must find these met in their work, in order to live authentically with those who are worked with.

People in traditional societies felt identified in their social roles, and supported by them.

Since that time there have been one or two generations of people in urban settings who have lost any such identification with roles. Instead of supporting the individual and giving identity, the roles and routines have had to be "held up" by the individual artificially. One behaves as "one" is supposed to, in each setting, under each "hat." Only when one comes home does one expect to be sustained. The resulting weight thrown on the relationship of marriage has had a disintegrating effect upon it. The current generation is moving slowly beyond these now empty role patterns and the silent acceptance of them with emptiness and despair inside. Instead, communities are being built again, this time with an emphasis on authentic relationships and open expression and articulation of one's experiencing.

This development is difficult, and currently more marked by the bravery and consciousness of the effort than by successes. People have not yet learned how to respond to each other authentically. Too often people are willing to sacrifice every material good, personal need and plan, to be part of a commune or community effort; yet they back away from entering personally into each other. But more and more this is being discovered and developed.

Currently many people are trying to move beyond relationship roles and structures—what it is to be a man, a woman, a woman with a man, a father—all these no longer work reliably and must be created by each individual each day. Existentialism points to this breakdown of roles. But the solution is not the mere denial of roles nor can it be some new role. Only an ongoing process of fresh experiential encountering and articulating of what is directly felt can be the future—not some "new roles" that are the same in kind as the old.

Coming down from cosmos, society, community, smaller groups, and dyadic roles, existentialism applies also to the individual's ethics. It is not the case that an existential view leads to the overthrow of personal stability. Existential ethics often sounds as if it advocates violating promises or loyalties in the name of being new each day. What existential ethics does emphasize is the fact that one is not bound helplessly to some code, but must each day reaffirm whatever one upholds. The experiential philosophy further allows one to emphasize the holistic character of experiencing and its openness to being differentiated in many ways. Thus, if the promise of long ago does not feel right today, ignoring it will not carry one's whole feeling forward; neither will meeting it. A new way must be found, from out of the felt implicit complexity, probably in interaction with the person to whom the promise was made.


Existential psychotherapy is not most applicable to just certain psychological problems. This can be seen from the breadth of types of cases discussed in the literature ranging from value problems of so-called well-functioning people to many studies of so-called schizophrenia.

Nor is "existential neurosis" really a subcategory among other types, because the absence of an authentic experiential carrying forward process lies at the heart of any psychic difficulty.

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Individuals are different along a great many different dimensions. Every person is unique and thus different from others in endlessly many ways.

The various diagnostic categories lead some people to attempt to treat people differently according to the category. There is no knowledge to support differential treatment. Each therapist invents some totally unestablished way of inferring different ways of treating from the different categories. From an experiential view, that is highly artificial and must make the patient feel odd and puzzled. For reasons having nothing to do with how the patient acts or feels the therapist (and, if there is staff, they too) treat him in certain odd and uniform ways. An unresponsive world is created around the person, unrelated to actual feelings and actions.

Terms such as "psychotics" and "neurotics" seem to classify conditions everyone can be in, rather than types of people. But one can specify certain approaches for people in certain conditions. For example, if someone is fighting psychotic hallucinations, it is well to explain that what is wanted is attention to feelings—that these are different from what the person is struggling to avoid. "How you feel, is, for instance, how you feel now, with me, a little nervous about talking to me, maybe, something like that. Or, how you feel about what's happened in your life, or what happened today." People in psychosis have sometimes later said that being told to sense feelings in this way was a great relief; that they had kept themselves totally tight, and were letting nothing come for fear of hallucinations. Unlike these, feelings are not anything one would fight or be scared of in that way.

Results for psychotherapy must involve a change in actual living, to be thought successful. Though this is hard to measure, the change should be large enough to be perfectly obvious.

Existentialism usually sounds hostile to measurement and research. That is purely negative. Rather, mechanical variables should be replaced by those developed from experiencing, as articulations of it. Once articulated, any facet of experiencing can be "made operational" since the human being is never just subjective, or just inside, but a living-in the world and a living-with others. Subjective differences therefore have observable aspects.

By this method, Gendlin developed the Experiencing Scale which, during the last 10 years, has been developed into a standardized measure of tape-recorded ongoing therapy process. (Klein, Mathieu, Kiesler, & Gendlin, 1970) This measure of the "level of experiencing" has been found to predict outcome of psychotherapy in a whole series of studies. The findings show that when the process during therapy is a carrying forward of immediately felt experiencing, the outcome is successful. If what occurs is mostly talking, thinking, explaining, reporting, cognitive insight, discussions of relationships or any topics, failure occurs.


The existential emphasis on personal encountering implies a very different pattern of service than that of a professional "treating" a patient. Buber (1961), in a face-to-face dialogue with Rogers argued that any effort to "treat" a person reduced that person to a kind of object, rather than a real other.

Secondly, the inappropriateness of the medical model and the doctor-patient relation is also shown by the existential emphasis on making oneself in one's living situations with others in society. One must change where one lives and that requires others.

How are these two existential requirements to be met by psychotherapy practice?

Today the isolation and difficulty young people have with their living-in-the-world has led to the creation of many communes and "networks" in which they serve each other in a community-like way.

An instance of such a pattern will be discussed because it has become a pattern of giving clinical services, and because the author works in it as a member, and considers it the most hopeful clinical pattern for the future.

"Changes" is a group of 60 or 70 people some of whom are clinical students and a few of whom are professionals. They meet once a week, and every evening some of them cover a telephone. A telephone number has been publicized, and Changes has been described as "helping with [Page 346] problems, rapping, finding places to stay, jobs, or people." It is clear that the emphasis is not purely psychological.

When someone calls, immediate contact and response is provided. (Training in listening, and existential encountering is provided to all members wishing it, and there is also much informal learning from each other.) The caller is invited to the informal group covering the telephone, and to the larger meeting on Sundays.

People coming to Changes need not specify whether they come for help or to help others.

Everyone will eventually do both, whatever the initial conception. No one is made to be an object of the work of others, as Buber viewed clinical work as doing.

Very upset and "psychotic" people are both carried by the group, and often are helpful with others even while still quite upset.

No one who comes depends on just one person; a "team" forms to help with any problem. Thereby the person has a choice. From among both the team and the whole group someone with whom working really helps can be chosen. Also, when something becomes burdensome to one member, others can take over.

A high degree of existential community develops between at least some of the people, and newcomers are not excluded from it. People are in the network not only to serve others, but at least as much to serve themselves and each other. At times no one new comes, only the members—but these of course consist very largely of people who came for help a short while ago and are still "being helped," only that phrase drops out in favor of the phrase "getting into each other," to make a community.

When a group meets to discuss someone, that person is present. It is more difficult to express one's troubles with a person who is there, but it is also more authentic and growth-producing for everyone. If the person is attacked or criticized, there is an understanding in Changes that someone else will enter in to ensure that the attacked person's side is also fully heard and validated. This makes it possible for people to be more authentic and open because no one is the only person with whom a given individual interacts. The degree of authenticity varies, of course, as everyone must struggle for it, but there is a powerful group push in that direction, and a discovery that community requires authentic process.

Within this community as an adjunct, I take persons from it into therapy, and send private paying patients to Changes, where they can much sooner change their life situations, meet new people, leave home, and make many other life choices and life moves that are essential.

Thus both "taking into therapy" and "working on existential situations" have become different. I have long worked on altering the "medical model," first by setting up a system of therapy in the dayroom of a hospital and providing a more situational therapy to patients upon release (Gendlin, 1961). The current pattern goes beyond community psychology and encounter groups because these involve strangers. Weekend groups, each time new people, make for a too easy intimacy after which people must return to unchanged real lives. Instead, a community group is permanent, and if it has the rare commitment to authentic relations with each other, does so in the midst of real life.

One small group working with an upset woman needed to call upon many other people during some weeks. People came to stay with her, to sleep there, to help for a little while. The team formulated the following rules for newly entering people who came to help. These rules also express my treatment attitude quite well:

  • 1. You can talk about both everyday stuff and heavy stuff, you can be social or tell about what you're doing, or anything.
  • 2. Reassure her that she is wanted, that you're glad she's here, at those times when her paranoid trip comes on, or when you want to leave.
  • 3. Be absolutely straight and honest about whatever you're feeling at the moment. She is very sensitive and easy to talk to and it's important to be honest with her.
  • 4. If you or she are leaving, anchor her on when she is to come back, or when she'll see you again, for instance: "So you'll be here again tomorrow at six."
    Her feelings are contagious, you may feel reverberations in you afterwards. So if you feel things like she has, that's what we've all [Page 347] experienced. It helps to talk to someone afterwards.

An authentic process of encountering, and of carrying one's own feelings further into articulations and life choices and changes is the way any type of problem must be dealt with. This is because that manner of process is the sort of living in which someone changes. Therefore the method is applicable to every sort of problem. At least to an extent it can be practiced in any sort of setting. However artificial a structure might be, when humans are present the edges for a possible authentic process are present as well.


The "office setting" consists of chairs, the lawn, the floor of a hospital room, someone's house—wherever two people can sit and see each other. The office does not include a couch. The infantilization and passive-making of the couch is rejected by experiential therapists. The patient should live in the best, most active and awake manner of process, and within that manner learn to let come and let be. To be passive, either by lying down or by drugs or hypnosis or lack of sleep may help engender more disturbing content in individuals who usually cannot get hold of anything significant in themselves, but it robs them of the fully active manner of process which is necessary for positive change (see "Basic Concepts" and "Theory of Psychotherapy" sections).

A tape recorder serves the therapist and is used, as convenient, but the patient is told that it can be turned off for periods of time whenever requested.

Confidentiality is absolutely practiced—the therapist assumes that people can tell whatever they themselves wish to tell to whomever they wish.

Often other people participate in the interviews. These might be spouses or friends the patient brings, or they might be people the therapist has found it helpful to have present as consultants and aids. A sensitive third person listening can be a powerful aid. Of course, the patient can object and then is always accommodated, but the spirit of this way of working is usually welcomed. Looking back, I am convinced that the old dyadic privacy was imposed by the therapists, not by patients. When more existential living is present in the session, it is more powerful, and the person's real relationships can be worked with directly, as well as through feelings of them.

For example, Bob was a private patient I had sent to the Changes group. Bob once brought Les, a Changes member, to the session. I knew Les but felt that the client (Bob) had brought Les as a way of distancing from me. The last session had been stormy. Bob had demanded something I needed not to give. Bob intimated that the therapy was over. Having long invested much in Bob, I felt abruptly and ill treated, as if my own needs could have no place at all with Bob. Certainly this was not a very attractive or therapist-like feeling, and I felt more comfortable responding to Bob's very understandable feelings, than expressing my own. Nevertheless I did that, both in the session and in a subsequent phone call up to the point when Bob hung up the telephone. With this as the immediate past. Bob and I began the session by exchanging our feelings. I said I was angry. The session proceeded for some 10 minutes, when Les interrupted to say to me, "I haven't yet heard you say more about being angry." I stopped and realized that, indeed, I had again been taking the more comfortable road of pursuing Bob's side of the issue. I then turned to Les and said, "Let me tell it to you, and Bob can listen." It is often the case in a difficult interaction that if one person is responded to by a third person and the other in the relationship can listen, both can live a better process than they can, at that moment, with each other. What Bob could say after my many authentic steps was much more deeply from himself than he could have done at each step. The subsequent process led Bob into his own most intolerable point of being turned down and experiencing a kind of leaving his body, which was long the crux of his repeated psychotic periods. Valuable steps followed him.

It may not be logically clear how his process arrived there, when it had not done so earlier, but it makes "experiential sense." My intensity and visibility enabled partly by Les had something to do with it.

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The advantages of a co-therapist have long been known, but the above instance brings home something of the informality and existential reality of this type of setting and management of therapy. Many "therapists" and "co-therapists" are gained by it. The entire discussion up to this point has shown that extremely fine and total honesty is a chief tool of experiential encountering. Not only some one emotion or fact, but steps into the finer texture of the therapist's feelings must be expressed. To do so, the therapist needs to attend to the flow of as yet inarticulate feelings within, and to speak from that.

Patient problems that are special include suicide. No one really can be responsible for another's life. Nevertheless, I disagree with Binswanger's (1958) implication that no negative judgment can be made about a patient's suicide. Upset people do not seem to make this choice authentically—and it is basic in my experiential approach that one can tell the difference between authenticity and its opposite. Very often suicidal wishes turn out to be anger at someone, or a person wanders into an odd state and commits suicide in it. Suicide is too little understood at present to warrant blanket assertions about it.

In the management of the problem a lot of room must be accorded the individual struggling with the problem. That individual's own choice to live can be arrived at sometimes only through clearly having the possibility of the opposite. Forced hospitalization or an acceptance of too much dependence is probably bad. The therapist must go by a feeling of confidence, or the lack of it. If the relationship is very intimate, and one can be certain that the person will call or come if suicide seems too near, then perhaps one has done the most one can. However, if one can feel no such trust, if the relationship has not had that quality of intimacy and mutual reliance, then it will be much better to see to it that someone is with the person all or much of the time. To make this possible a community of people is a vital adjunct. The Changes group described above will take such a person into someone's home, will provide a string of visitors, and people to sleep over, and may thus carry such a person through a stormy period. All this is easier done if no one person is "responsible for" the person in the sense of carrying the guilt or public shame if the person dies. Such a carrying of responsibility is unreal and one of the inhumanities of the professional structure. That person's life, not the public guilt, should be the concern—the sense in which all are responsible for all. A community, especially an open one, does not assume professional responsibility. All are free to come and go.

It is important to face clearly the fact that hospitals and other professional settings do not have people better able to deal with psychological problems than, say, a community of average people. Unfortunately, most of the training of professionals concerns medicine, statistics, animal psychology, theology, agency policy, and so on. The accredited, trained M.D. or Ph.D. is quite likely to be less able to help people than the person who has lived the same years out in the world under difficult circumstances. Experientially authentic listening and relating are as rare among professionals as among others. Professional psychiatry and clinical psychology largely consist of the less sensitive and less experienced trying to cure the more sensitive and more experienced of their life troubles. It does not work well. Therefore, the structure of professional authority must be recognized for what it is, a structure of socially assigned responsibility—a hierarchy of roles, not a hierarchy of competences. There is no use in sending a difficult person to a hospital unless what is wanted is an incarceration procedure to protect someone's life. It is no use saying that someone will be likely to help the person there. The hospital may be needed, for not everyone can bear to remain outside. It should be used with the person's express agreement, or else only when life is surely threatened. If used, the person should be visited there and assured that contact will be kept.

Often when people want to send someone to the hospital, it is the other people, not the upset person, who can no longer bear to work or live with the person. A community is the only effective answer, for then there are others not yet worn out. But if everyone is tired, the person [Page 349] should be allowed to leave freely. After all, the person came freely. It is usually at such times that a false sense of responsibility leads people to interfere with someone's freedom and ability to move on to others in the world.


The following is a "case" I "supervised," to use the old nonexistential language. More correctly, Joe is a 32-year-old man who came to the Changes community, knows most of the people, and worked most closely with Jane—who in turn talked things over with me.

Joe was sent by a minister who described him as recently released from a state hospital, now driving back and forth between this city and another city for two days, unable to stop and with no place to go. The minister found him a place to stay, and a string of people from the Changes community invited him to their homes or arranged to take him to places they were going during the day.

Within two weeks people grew tired of Joe. He seemed able only to make "canned jokes" or talk about how much he hated drugs. He seemed unable to make normal conversation.

Jane, a clinical student, was one among others trying to think through the problem Joe posed, and trying to put the group's belief in authenticity into practice. People seemed to respond to Joe only on a social level, and no one was trying for authentic contact. Jane set up specific times, twice a week, just for that. As she puts it:

. . . to listen, see him, let him know he's being felt about by another living person. Absolute honesty was the basis of the relationship for both of us.

When she did that, she found that

He's a beautiful person, detailed and complex with a deep moral sense for human living. In his worst times of psychological chaos and violence I could feel him caring for me, telling me how important my travelling with him was, even when I was afraid and had no understanding.

Now very far from giving nothing to respond to, Joe began talking of some of his nearly unspeakable experiences, some of them in prison. In his present struggle Joe was hearing voices saying things to him so intolerable that it made him want to either die or kill someone.

This was a frightening time.

The second set of problems about Joe was now very different from the first. How could Joe's immense tension be helped with, so that some actual therapeutic work into himself would become possible? Secondly, what about being scared for him?

"The therapist" and I agreed that she would use relaxation (hypnosis induction). She had learned hypnosis but it was agreed not to use suggestion of any kind, only relaxation.

She remembers the day:

He came—no sleep for two nights—very tense, couldn't sit still, couldn't help himself get off the "freak out." The tension was getting worse and worse, spiraling. I took a deep breath and did heavy relaxation to help him down into livable space.

When the time of about half an hour was over, Joe movingly told her that he was amazed he could have trusted her to do that, and that it had been a time of feeling good, the first in a long while. He had allowed himself to relax into someone else's presence.

The use of many methods on an experiential base is well shown by this use of relaxation in the context of forming an experientially authentic relationship.

Changes sometimes refers people to a drug program in which the psychiatrist prescribes drugs. Joe was given prolyxin, which was helpful.

It was not quite possible for Joe to focus experientially all at once, (see "Process" section), but in bits and pieces the therapist enabled him to do just that. A type of inward truth came about which he hadn't experienced before. Jane describes it as "listening, validating his experience, showing myself, staying with." (Her underlining.)

In one session, "existential" par excellence, he talked of his guilt for having abandoned a political identity he had had, and his struggle over the question, and his decision as to how he stood now, and now felt about then. The therapist, along the lines of the existential basic approach, [Page 350] respected—as she really felt—Joe's values and attempt to live with integrity, and to interpret his incredibly difficult past with similar integrity.

Throughout, the therapist said what she thought and felt, without any censoring process, and, characteristically for her, with no time between her feeling and her blurting it out.

Joe, for good reasons more suspicious and untrusting than most people, could not help but know that he experienced her as she really was and felt, despite often spoken amazement at his being able to trust anyone, at his being able to be open and vulnerable with anyone.

Joe was found a job as a janitor and kept the job throughout the next period.

One time he could almost not bear up under the voices. That day Joe decided he had to go to a hospital—only not the one he had been in, he insisted. The therapist said she would arrange it, and did so later, on the telephone, with my assistance. Admission for him was arranged in the relatively best public hospital in the city. Nevertheless, when the therapist saw Joe, she said that she didn't think he should go, and she thought he might hang on outside. He said then that he trusted her and would wait. (It is in such a relationship as this one, that one can trust a person to call or come if things get too awful, as was said earlier.) The therapist describes this period:

Saw him every day and held on to the other end of the phone at night, hoping my presence would help hold down some reality in the falling-apart world.

The crisis passed.

Among a group of friends, with a job, and in an ongoing authentic relationship, it may well have been the drug which turned the tide,—but a drug which had not done much for him when he was in the hospital. Drugs have different effects in the context of different life processes (see "Personality.") He had left the hospital in bad condition after much drugs.

Within a few more months Joe was working, found a woman to live with, and an apartment on which he worked elaborately. He entered a college on public assistance.

A characteristic session with Joe continued to include the therapist's struggle to get him to stop, attend, feel, and give enough peace and time to that, to enable him to sense a step from there. There was still a tendency to go too fast for that.

The sessions became less frequent and Joe was seen only in the large weekly meetings, or socially at times.

Joe was coming more and more out of his silence and isolation. Now he became a fascinating conversationalist. His personal rendition of well-known pieces of literature had the colorfulness such renditions have when done by someone who loves the piece. In hearing him like that, one day, I suggested that Joe ought to teach! This brought out that Joe actually had an ironic ambition to teach in the official school system. He explained it would be the ultimate overcoming of the entire society which had always been so against him. "I'm teaching your kids in your school . . . " he would be saying to them all. The warmth, poetry, and love in his talk was clear. It was not vengeance but an answer to all the negativities in his past life.

At times now, there were still sessions, but he was not, so to speak, "in therapy." These now rare sessions were not about recurrences of anything, but new phases. In one he worked through the rupture of his relationship with the woman—both of them were seen by the therapist and me. By that time I was no longer a consultant outside Joe's presence.

At "follow up," three years later, the therapist and I attended Joe's graduation from college with honors. His current problems are the sort most people have.

The therapist writes insistently, in true existential fashion, that she was not a therapist:

Some real deep bond of friendship developed between us, we went together through so many places, many of which stretched the limits of ordinary intelligible experience, and have no words. That makes for a special caring and knowing each other. The word "therapy" cannot be used. It makes him seem in the one-down position and that doesn't fit. I respect his experience and wonder often if I would have the strength, intelligence, and courage he did, if the world had dealt me such experiences to integrate and move beyond.

This attitude very well expresses what Buber meant by opposing the very idea of psychother-[Page 351]apy as reducing the existential reality of the other.


Existential psychotherapy considers the person to be "existence," which is always beyond definitions and conceptual patterns. In the experiential approach a person has access to existence through the directly felt process of ongoing experiencing. This process is valuative and implicitly projects future steps. Such steps might be as yet unclear and in need of being newly created in speech or action, but their direction and requirements are finely focally implicit in feeling. When one finds such steps of speech or action they produce change, but not just any change—that change which was already implicitly projected, although not fully formed. Such steps are "authentic" and the felt continuity of the change they produce is recognizably different from abrupt shifts and impositions.

The person is bodily, cultural and then an individual making oneself. Thus bodily and behavioral procedures of therapy, as well as interactional, verbal, and feeling methods can be used, as a single organism may be authentically carried forward on any of these "planes." Various theoretical vocabularies can be used. However, none of these procedures and theories characterize humans—and all can be used effectively only if the moment by moment felt experiencing of the person is made the ever present anchoring and guidepost of words and procedures. To do so the therapist must sense, point to, help articulate, and respond to the patient's as yet only felt immediate experiencing in each moment, so that that moment will be a genuine encountering between them, and so whatever is said and done will be an experientially authentic process. This requires that the therapist articulates and expresses openly whatever goes on in the therapist, and does this perhaps earlier and more fully than at first the patient can.

The experiential aspect of psychotherapy cuts across all older methods and procedures, can use them all, but specifies their experiential anchoring. Bodily methods of yoga, chemotherapy, Reichian muscle work and operant behavior therapy can be used. Therefore the experiential method is already modifying all other approaches to psychotherapy and is likely soon to make for a more human and more effective use of the various part-methods now competing. Research results also bear out the view that it is the degree of authentic experiential process during therapy, and not other aspects of what patient and therapist say or do, which predicts success.

The existential emphasis on a person's ability to change only through new and newly authentic living process requires that the psychotherapy itself be that living process. This is much more possible in a community committed to authentic relations, than it is for one therapist with one patient alone. Old-line artificial professional structures can also be modified or eliminated thereby. The current trend toward youth networks, encounter groups, subprofessionals, community psychology, and new styles of living can succeed more hopefully if an authentic experiential encountering in a responsible real life sense is sought with people one lives with. Within such a context psychotherapy ceases to be along the medical doctor-patient model, and becomes life. Culture as a whole, not just one person, is changed.


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[In the printed text footnotes are at the bottom of the pages they are cited on.]


[1] Experiential Psychotherapy is the name for the writer's own approach which has some roots in existentialism. This chapter will discuss Existential Psychotherapy in general, and Experiential Psychotherapy in particular.

[2] The author has created an experiential basis for existential concepts. Existentialism did not yet have this and therefore left some of its own basic terms vague, and left many central questions unsolved. This chapter presents the existentialist concepts grounded and modified by the author's system of experiential philosophy.

[3]Experiential concepts are presented here in relation to psychotherapy, but are part of the author's philosophic system of which therapy is only one application.

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  • Biographic Note: Eugene T. Gendlin is a seminal American philosopher and psychologist. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago and taught there from 1963 to 1995. His philosophical work is concerned especially with the relationship between logic and implicit intricacy. Philosophy books include Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning, Language Beyond Post-Modernism: Saying and Thinking in Gendlin's Philosophy edited by David Michael Levin, (fourteen commentaries and Gendlin’s replies), and A Process Model. There is a world wide network of applications and practices ( stemming from this philosophy. Gendlin has been honored three times by the American Psychological Association for his development of Experiential Psychotherapy. He was a founder and editor for many years of the Association’s Clinical Division Journal, Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice. His book Focusing has sold over half a million copies and has appeared in seventeen languages. His psychology-related books are Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams and Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy.
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