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Gendlin, E.T. (1986). Listening is still unknown: We need to get it into every other therapy method. [Roundtable discussion on the continued development of the person-centered approach]. Person-centered Review, 1(3), 337-339. From http://www.focusing.org/gendlin/docs/gol_2109.html

[Page 337]

LISTENING IS STILL UNKNOWN. WE NEED TO GET IT INTO EVERY OTHER THERAPY METHOD.

Gene Gendlin

Client-centered listening is so essential to any form of therapy or helping that its absence in most methods amazes me. And not only me.

[Page 338]

Once people have experienced listening, they find it hard to believe that listening is missing wherever they go. They are amazed and hurt by good people, spiritual communities, great teachers, committed therapists, well-intentioned administrators—and affronted by them: "How can they answer me when they haven't heard what I meant, and they don't even know they haven't heard? How can it be they don't know how to listen?"

But why have we failed to give this to the world, so far? Is it partly because we write about an exclusive method, one among other exclusive methods? Are we telling other practitioners that if they listen, receive and check what they hear, they must give up their method?

I think we should tell them that we may find it best to do nothing but listen, but that they are stupid not to listen, receive, and check what they hear—whatever else they may do.

We need to propagate listening as such, as distinct from our whole orientation. (Much of the rest is discovered anyway, if one listens.)

Years ago that was tried, but it became parroting and rounded-off reflecting, which made people reject it. Listening has to be exact. We found that one must first learn to follow every wrinkle of the content, and be able to parrot it back. Only then can one sense the crux, and respond briefly and not literally.

We need specific listening in a form we can distribute and teach. I think we could then more aggressively point out the absurdity of this lack in the other methods.

That's different than telling therapists not to be whatever they already are, or telling them that what they know is no good.

When a group of young nonprofessionals and I regularly taught "listening" at the high-powered psychoanalytic Post-Graduate Center, in New York, it got an extremely enthusiastic reception from the well-experienced, much older psychoanalysts there. They found it quite new(!), and a way to be sensitive the way they wished.

When I demonstrate doing therapy at meetings, I am always told afterwards how incredibly sensitive I was. I have to point out—because it is quite unknown and was not recognized (!)—that what I did was reflective listening.

How can listening be so unknown? Therapists have heard of client-centered therapy, but as an orientation that happens not to be "in." If they know about "reflective listening," they think of it as what one does if one is a client-centered therapist.

[Page 339]

It seems to me that we have failed to get listening, receiving, and checking into the field, as something any therapist can and needs to do, rather than only as a kind of therapist to be.

If we could get listening known, the rest of what we have to say would then be more easily understood as well.

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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 (http://www.focusing.org) 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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