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Gendlin, E.T. (1970). A short summary and some long predictions. In J.T. Hart & T.M. Tomlinson (Eds.), New directions in client-centered therapy, pp. 544-562 Boston: Houghton Mifflin. From

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A Short Summary and Some Long Predictions


Client-centered therapy has helped give birth to experiential psychotherapy. This is my summary. I will expand it a little and then turn to the forecast. The experiential method will be applied to society as a whole and to our methods of thinking in science. That is the forecast. I will expand it, too.


A little more than a decade ago client-centered therapy was embattled in emphasizing that helpful change happens only through the client's own steps of concrete feeling. It was client-centered therapy which emphasized that an individual isn't changed by concepts, by being told what's wrong, by being argued with, or by agreeing with a correct explanation. The word "client" was intended to define psychotherapy along the lines of a legal rather than a medical model. The doctor can treat the patient even without the patient's knowing what the steps of treatment are, and certainly without the patient's being in charge of the treatment. The lawyer, on the contrary, must operate entirely as an adjunct to a process of which the client always remains in charge. It would be absurd for the lawyer to sue, or not to sue, in the client's name but on the lawyer's responsibility. The same idea was then doubly encoded into the name of the orientation by terming it "client-centered," which emphasizes what the very word "client" already emphasizes.

And yet, all this was very confusing at the time. It seemed to be based on a preference for democracy, as if the therapist were saying, "As an expert I know a lot, of course, but I will deny that I know anything since it is more in [Page 545] accord with my values that you make up your own mind and arrive at conclusions by yourself." This seemed silly to many people, and although it was certainly never phrased that way, client-centered therapy struck many people as an inappropriate application of democratic ideals.

In my early writings I tried to articulate the underlying principles that were really at stake. It was not because we preferred the client's own process that we insisted on responding only to him and not with our own ideas and diagnoses. Rather, in order for something more than our own ideas to happen, the work had to be with the client's own process, his own felt meanings and steps of resolution. But wasn't this always known by all therapists of any view? Yes, in general it was known, but specifically, from moment to moment in the therapy interview, it was not known how to respond to an individual so that this process would occur in him. Thus psychoanalysis held that interpretation was the key element, and the patient was often sent home to do the experiential work alone as "homework." Similarly, the usefulness of transference was explained in general as the need for the patient to relive (not merely rethink) his problems, but the time in therapy was spent "interpreting the transference," to show him that he was repeating old patterns. It was a mystery how the patient ever came to change. "Working through" was called the most essential part of treatment, but no exact instructions for therapists were available for anything but interpretation. In general, of course, everyone agreed to the need for an emotional process if any real change was to happen. But in specific terms, there was systematic knowledge only of how the patient was. There were very sophisticated ways of talking about all different sorts of maladjustment—and even a few ways of talking about adjustment. But there were no ways of talking about the steps therapists and patients should take during interviews to help the patient move toward greater health.

The Basic Principle

Client-centered therapy emphasized "reflection of feeling," which was mostly taken to mean repeating what the client says. Client-centered therapy was thus itself half in the old mold. Somehow, mysteriously, by saying what the client said, something new will occur, the client will soon say something new, and then we can respond to that. But, by featuring responsivity at every small, specific, momentary step, the client-centered method did in practice what could only later be formulated in theory. The therapist carried forward not only what the client verbally stated, but also the client's experiential process. One can feel a change or an impact when another person responds exactly to one's felt meaning. And "respond" can mean understand, but it can also mean "point to" or even "want to know about," as long as it is exactly this felt meaning you now have, in saying this which you just said. In another chapter, [1] I deal with the theoretical explanation of why such responding [Page 546] "carries forward" the individual's experiential process so that he changes. Here I want only to show that this responsivity to specific felt meaning at each step engenders, carries forward, and changes the individual's on-going experiential process. This is the underlying principle that is implicit at the bottom of client-centered therapy and its early quaint rules for therapist responding. Note that this principle is interactive, it is what T does which has experiential effects in C. It isn't a matter of the things T says—often he says nothing new. It is a matter of T being another person, of another person responding exactly to what C feels—that is what changes C.

The interactive character of this responding is all the clearer when what T says verbally is already known to C, and what C says—at least initially—is also already known to C. To what is change due? Only to the fact that saying something to T is different than just saying it to oneself, and hearing oneself responded to by T is a new and different experience than just knowing about something in oneself.

But the "feeling" to which T responds was thought to be an emotion, like anger, or gladness, or fear. While such terms are often used, mostly "the feeling" isn't really an emotion. Rather, it is like "feeling worried that such-and-such would happen, and wishing it wouldn't because. . . ." In other words, feelings are always already processes of interaction, of living-in situations, of struggling but not quite succeeding in living situations well or fully.

Thus client-centered therapy has had to be reformulated. Feelings are really "felt meanings," implicitly complex experiencings of situations, of processes that are stopped, or constricted. Responsivity by a therapist, point by point, moment by moment, to the individuals' concrete, bodily felt meaning "carries forward" the process, i.e., allows present experiencing to move beyond hang-ups.

In retrospect we can now look at the old client-centered rules and understand their underlying reason, which was to engender and maximize this experiential process, staying with it, focusing on it, grappling with it, "carrying it forward." Every meaning, every hunch, and every diagnostic possibility can be referred back to it. "Is that what you feel? Was that your point in saying what you said?" A response that is not directed at the client's experience is merely getting off the track, a digression, an interesting generalization perhaps, or a good categorization, but not helpful in the real work of therapy.

Experiential felt meanings are "preconceptual," not exactly this or that concept but an organic texture of bodily felt living. Therefore, verbalized ideas are "exactly it" only if there is a concretely felt effect of saying them. Only if what we say and think makes an experiential shift, is anything changed.

As we look at the old client-centered rules and see what the reason for them was, we can now see many other ways to serve this same reason. In general, we have reversed most of the rules we used to obey—and still we serve the same basic principle in doing so. We can do that because we can now formulate the principle. Not to distract or digress from the experiential process of [Page 547] the client's concretely felt meanings, but to point to them, help him wrestle with them, carry them forward by our personal and exact response to them or inquiry concerning them—that is the principle.

Old Rules—New Meanings

We used to have the rule: "Don't interpret." (Most of our rules said "don't." In obeying these don'ts we implicitly acted in ways which only now can we formulate and define.) Why not interpret? Because it will get the client off his experiential track (we can now say). Interpretations will get him off, shift his attention away from his concrete mass of confused and preconceptual felt meaning and into generalizations, intellectualizations, and concepts that are interesting in themselves but apply to him only indirectly. Rather than getting into touch with himself, interpretations send the client off to know himself through knowing a general idea that fits him. An interpretation tells him what category he is in, and thus he deals with general categories rather than with himself.

But once we have formulated this experiential principle underlying the rule, "don't interpret," we can interpret. We can use every and any promising diagnostic notion that strikes us as therapists. It won't be generalized but will point specifically to a short step that can be taken from where the client is. Diagnostic interpretive ideas might help the client discover an avenue of experiential "give," of movement in his directly felt referent, an "opening up," or "unfolding." I emphasize "might" because it may not. To use interpretive ideas in responding experientially means precisely that we use them in reference to the concrete felt meaning the client now has or can now have. We know that a response was useless, if what we said produces no felt shift, no "aha," no experiential corroboration in him, no series of steps that he now goes through. It is important, in that case, to bring the client quickly back onto his experiential flow where he was a moment before. If the client says "yes, that must be true, ah, I guess," I might say something like "that seems true to you, but it doesn't really get at this. You were just saying. . . ." And I thereby bring us back to where I distracted him. In this way, moments later, I may say something based on totally different theories, or memories of other patients, or psychopathological categories. It would be foolish for me to try to decide then which was right, this response or the one before. Interpretations used experientially, used in reference to experiencing, aren't used as factual statements, and it doesn't work to ask which is right or if they are both wrong. Rather, they either open up experiential corroboration so that the client goes through a whole series of steps ("and another thing is, and yes, that also fits with . . . and furthermore. . . .") or we gained nothing with it, however much the client may agree that it must be so.

Also, if I have a certain diagnostic notion I have in some way gotten my impressions from the client's behavior. Usually I try to remember specifically [Page 548] and then to re-translate my diagnostic notion into what it was in what he said or did which gave me that impression. Or, if I have forgotten, I wait till I sense it again. I find a very short step from what he is now saying that he might take in the direction of my notion. If I am right, a sequence of experiential steps will begin there, and if I am wrong, I will have gotten him off the track only very minimally. It is like tapping along the wall looking for a hollow sound. The rightness of where you tap is shown by where loose bricks can be pulled out, where a hidden stairway reveals itself, where one can go down that stairway . . . many steps. By the time we are down the stairs, it is a silly question whether indeed that first hollow sound was or wasn't a hollow. However right we may be in general, we can't go down a stairway that we only insist must be behind some brick that doesn't give.

All our old client-centered rules become more exact "do" rules. By applying the principle of responding to specific felt meanings, "don'ts" become "do's."

Take "don't answer the client's questions." Why did we hold that rule? Because if we answer we don't find out why he asks, and we don't continue on his track, we don't explore that whole mass of felt concern that is only hinted at obliquely in his question. But, nowadays, I first honestly answer just about any question—and then very soon thereafter I say, "why do you ask?" Answering often gives me a chance to show what I think about the client, which usually is very close to his own experience but still in my words, with my way of seeing things.

We used to tell therapists "don't express your own opinion." Now if I am asked for it, I almost always do express my opinion, rather briefly, but showing exactly the steps of thought I go through. Then I say, "but it isn't likely that that would fit you, because you're a different person, and besides, you probably thought of that already anyway and it doesn't work." And I return him to his own track. (Of course he might have all sorts of feelings about the fact that I have the opinion I have, but these too we can explore, if he expresses or lets me sense these reactions in him. That too will again be his process, and we will try to respond to each other honestly in reference to his process and his concretely felt steps.)

In effect, we previously urged therapists "if you're puzzled about something, don't mention it." We wanted to pursue what the client was puzzled about, not the therapist's questions, associations, and ideas about it. And we still avoid distracting questions. But, now we think that expressing our puzzlement about his felt expressions will lead to clarification. The client will have the added solidity of having laid out the steps clearly, he may even discover something new, and he experiences the fact that his therapist really follows every step or else says that he doesn't. It makes what is at first an often complex, compressed maze of autistic meaning into a clearly interpersonal chain of meanings that are given interactive solidity, point by point.

We used to say "if you didn't respond rightly to something a minute ago, [Page 549] the moment has passed. Don't bring it up now. You have to wait till the client brings it up again." All our effort was to maximize and not derail the client's process. But now I can say, "just a minute, I am still mulling over what you said a while ago, and I. . . ." I can even say, "this reminds me, all week I've been thinking about what you said last week, and I said XYZ. That wasn't right, really you must have meant. . . ." The client should know that I think all week about what he said, if I do. The principle is to respond to his experiential process. Our rules achieved that indirectly, by not doing all the other things, as in this example, by not deciding when and what will be talked about.

We used to teach:

"lf you have strong liking and appreciation for the client, don't mention it."

"If there is something you think he ought to talk about, forget it."

"If he is silent, you must remain silent also, indefinitely."

A look at how we learned to work with silent schizophrenics shows how far we have come. [2] There, too, we had to grasp the underlying principle. Then we learned how to use ourselves to serve that principle, to respond to a silent patient's experiential process.

You will notice that I have been saying what the therapist ought to do, all in one principle: maximizing the client's experiential process, using our own to do so. But this can be said specifically in terms of the three "conditions" which phrased it in more old-fashioned language. Empathy seemed to be restating the client's verbal content, although really it always meant pointing sensitively to his felt meaning to help him focus on it and carry it further. Congruence seemed to mean saying what we as therapists thought. Really it meant responding from out of our own ongoing experiential process, showing the steps of thought and feeling we go through, responding not stiltedly or artificially, but out of our felt being. As verbal content, congruence seems contradictory to empathy (in empathy we tell only exactly about the client, while in congruence we tell about ourselves). As experiential processes, empathy and congruence are exactly the same thing, the direct expression of what we are now going through with the client, in response to him. Finally, unconditional positive regard as content contradicts the other two. "If you don't like him now, then you aren't unconditional, and if you say so, you're not empathic, but if you keep still about it, you're incongruent." But unconditional regard really meant appreciating the client as a person regardless of not liking what he is up against in himself (responding to him in his always positive struggle against whatever he is trapped in). It includes our expressions of dismay and even anger, but always in the context of both of us knowing we are seeking to meet each other warmly and honestly as people, exactly at the point at which we each are and feel.

Thus the therapist's erstwhile rather formal role has now become the thera- [Page 550]pist himself, his use of his own actual ongoing experiential process. This is the real meaning of the therapist conditions, rather than their contradictory literal meanings.

The basic principle we see more clearly today is: the client-centered response, which I now call the experiential response, is the honest untrammeled pointing at the client's felt meaning. That was the summary.

And now the forecast, expressed in eight predictions.


Prediction One: There will be a universal "experiential" method of psychotherapy using all useful procedures in reference to the individual's own process.

As recently as 1910, medicine had a number of different orientations. There was no single approach until enough was known to make up a recognized body of knowledge that everyone practiced and into which new discoveries could be integrated. Psychotherapy in the next decade will also move beyond the stage of different sects or orientations. With a whole series of researches, we are showing that successful change in psychotherapy occurs when the patient engages in an experiential process. Successful clients work in a way that can be recognized in the research studies of their verbalizations. We are now at the stage where we can tell from a few samples of tape-recorded interview behavior whether the ongoing therapy is of the sort that eventuates in success or not. This is undoubtedly true of all orientations, regardless of what concepts or therapist styles are used.

Although research has not yet covered all orientations, the transition from specific rules (our client-centered "don'ts") to experiential "do" rules is just as possible in every other orientation and is now occurring in many of them. In all orientations the experiential method is implied—but not yet recognized—as making the difference between success and failure. For example, consider the Jungian "directed daydream" during which the analyst interprets the archetypal structures that arise. Jung was concerned with dreams as symbols of "transformation," since they function to produce an experiential shift the patient can feel, which then makes his further imagery different and makes him different. But too often the analyst and patient remain fascinated with the imagery as such, with their archetypal universal meaning, and there is no emphasis on the necessary zigzag between feeling and imagery to see if and when a felt difference has occurred. That fascination sometimes produces intriguing books about psychotic imagery without improvement of the patients and without attention paid to the way one can use imagery to produce the necessary experiential shifts. Similarly, Albert Ellis has renamed his "Rational Therapy"; he now calls it "Rational -Emotive Therapy" because, again, not all the rational arguments and attacks on "irrationality" count; what counts is whether and when they produce an "emotional" shift. What is essential is the [Page 551] emotional. Or, consider again psychoanalytic interpretation. Everything depends upon whether therapist and patient spend the hour arguing (or, for that matter agreeing) on their interpretative generalizing and analyzing, which can be endless, or whether they swiftly rummage through the variety of possible interpretations to arrive soon at one that produces what Fenichel calls a "dynamic shift." Psychoanalysis can become experiential, and is becoming so, moving constantly back and forth between its rich interpretive repertoire and the patient's direct experiential process, in shifts that alone can guide the analyst. Role-playing, changed environments, body relaxation, and body armor interpretation, all have the same potentiality to provide means for obtaining an experiential shift. They can be guided step by step in a direction the patient feels as freeing, or they can be used rather blindly, guided by a therapist's guesses, values, and diagnoses. Whether one begins inside (as we do) with words and then refers to bodily feeling by focusing one's attention on it, or begins outside, by role playing, bodily gestures, or deconditioning, in each approach one seeks to create a shift that will be felt and will lead to a person who is different in feeling and action.

But this seems to say only that the experiential method provides the essential focus, guide, and moment-by-moment aim. The procedures of the orientations all seem different from one another. What will become of the different procedures? I believe we will learn to use them all when they can be helpful. Already, most therapists no longer use solely the procedure they were taught—client-centered therapists do not merely reflect feelings, many analysts discard the couch. In the past, a new and total method of therapy originated every time someone found one useful thing to do. It was customary then to insist that the new method could handle everything or to argue against it that it could do nothing at all. I am impressed with the power of Lindsley's Skinnerian method "pinpointing the behavior" to be changed, and then counting it when it occurs and changing what usually happens as a consequence. But although I am very far from perfect or perfectly satisfied with myself, I find few nontrivial behaviors to count and change. Different methods work for different things and at different junctures. (I would not say for different people, because we don't know that as yet.) Clearly, a cat phobia or any other isolable behavior that the patient feels is undesirable is more amenable to deconditioning than a general malaise with life in which no one or several specific behaviors stand out.

All these "methods" are really tools, procedures, useful things one can try. The basic method which cuts across them all is that any procedure, word, or deed must be used in a continual zigzag that moves toward the experiential sense of the individual, and back out of that with a new start, if there has been a change, or toward a new attempt at something else if what was tried hasn't worked, hasn't experientially shifted anything. Thus I think in the future we will all learn all the useful tools we can, and we will subordinate no human beings to these tools but will attempt to perform the reverse.

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Prediction Two: Psychotherapy, or rather what we have learned from it, will be applied to the society as a whole, in social programs.

The whole trend of current thinking has shifted to the view that human beings are interactional creatures and that the nature of psychological ills is inherently interactive. It isn't that something is wrong with an individual's psychic machinery, there are no loose screws inside. We don't know how and need not know how, to replace worn-out units inside him. He isn't a machine, a self-contained box, but rather an ongoing interaction process.

Thus our definitions of psychopathology have shifted from the Freudian typology of individuals to new concepts about an individual's interactions. The new concepts aren't well worked out yet. Psychotherapy has been understood to be an interaction of patient and therapist as two genuine people who must respond to each other from out of, and to, each other's experiential processes. But, further, much of psychopathology has been recognized as a matter of family relationships (Mowrer, Bowen, Bateson, Jackson, Haley), so the patient can be thought of as "the individual in whom the family's illness manifests itself" [Bowen, 1960]. Further, it has been recognized that social class (the Negro, lower class, etc.) has its peculiar sorts of psychopathology, that the community is the locus of psychopathology. This has led to an entirely new view of psychopathology, expressed for instance in the often cited fact that "these days we get very few classical hysterias. . . ." If psychopathology were a form of illness of the human psyche, why isn't hysteria around anymore? Has the mosquito that breeds the hysteria germ been wiped out?

Today we recognize that psychological ills are a function of culture, environment, community practices, and typical situations. As society changes, so do the ills of its members. A few wealthy persons might be able to afford individual psychotherapy, but today's social planners are rightly impatient with this mode of treatment because it is incapable of reaching the mass of people who need it. Instead, social programs are coming more and more to the fore. I include here poverty programs, Vista, the Job Corps, community development, community mental health programs, rural planning, and so on.

The troubled person is all one; he doesn't have one set of psychological and another set of situational problems, especially if he is poor. The mass of our patients in state hospitals are not there because of psychological problems as such, but because they can't be sent home. The masses of troubled people need help with their total situation, not just with some separate psychological part. At any rate, we can't supply them with enough "doctors" to deal with just that part. Furthermore, while they remain in an institution they cannot get fully well, and when they go home to the original sickmaking situation which hasn't changed, they get sick again, and return. A few years ago, if we arrived at this realization, we would say "to get this one patient well you'd have to change the whole system . . ." and we meant, sadly, that of course you couldn't. But now, we are setting about to do just that.

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The current flood of social programs and community programs, however, will fail unless they include the sort of therapeutic conditions and individual process we have been discovering in successful cases of therapy. Social programs must build into themselves some intimate, close sensitive human interaction. They must give each individual an individual. Of course, these can't be professionals, nor even subprofessionals. There will never be enough of them. Instead, we must devise ways in which ordinary people can provide the therapeutic processes for one another.

Prediction Three: Hospital patterns of providing therapeutic interactions will be devised.

In our research on psychotherapy with schizophrenics in Wisconsin we soon saw that an individual physician or psychologist, going out to the hospital twice a week, could carry very few patients. Even these few, being schizophrenic, lower class, threatened, and unused to therapy and emotional talk, refused to see therapists. We found a way to scare them less, and we could work with very many more by providing therapists "available" on the ward. [Gendlin, 1961]. These therapists were willing to speak to any patient who came, sometimes sitting quietly next to a silent patient, sometimes over many months exchanging only glances and understood signs of greeting with patients, or allowing, fearful patients to approach a relationship and back off again, without thereby wasting months of therapist time. This "ward availability" pattern is also used by student volunteers (a group known as VISA) at the University of Chicago when they visit Chicago State Hospital. Among the gigantic regular hospital staff, with all their variety of different professionals, none are there just to be available for patients to talk to. It would not cost much to provide some, especially if these need not be college trained people. I am therefore sure that more and more we will leave behind the whole pattern of the office situation where two or three times weekly we are shut in with one individual for fifty minutes. We will find patterns in which a few available persons can offer intimate, sensitive, understanding relationships in many contexts.

I spoke of the structure of hospitals, but "availables" can be in schools, community organizations, in any social program whatever.

Prediction Four: Everyone will routinely learn in school the skills of experiential focusing, listening, and relating.

We are close to the time when every school system will teach skills of personal problem solving and helpful interacting to everyone, much as today we teach every child calisthenics and personal hygiene. Of course, some will go on to become very able at this (like athletes), but even those not especially talented will be taught a minimal amount.

Our researches recently have shown that successful clients engage in a type of interview behavior that shows experiential focusing right from the start (a finding which Kirtner was the first to discover in 1957) [3] Eventual [Page 554] failure clients, though they may stay in psychotherapy for years, can be picked out from the start as those who do not focus on their felt meanings. They don't seem to know how. We have not been teaching people to do this, because we thought only therapy could show them how . . . but it turns out, instead, that therapy doesn't even begin if they don't know how. Thus we must teach this skill. Since it is a matter, of focusing attention on preconceptual felt meanings, it doesn't require complex concepts and can probably be taught quite early in school.

Eventually we will teach everyone the experiential zigzag of focusing on felt meaning and verbalizing from that. We will teach everyone how to listen to another person and attend to, ask about, attempt to help them articulate their felt meaning. We will teach certain very specific skills of interaction; for example, the sort of honest self-expression that creates a close relationship because it doesn't blame the other person, one in which an individual begins honest expressions by starting with his own shortcomings and upsetting weaknesses first. Finally, to complete this envisioned teaching program, we will teach everyone how to recognize when he is in over his depth with someone, when he is being weirdly twisted around and is unable to feel whole, sound, and in touch with himself in the relationship, i.e., how to recognize the time to bring a third person into the relationship for help. Thus professionals will be needed more than ever when this society-wide teaching comes about, since more people will need more of such "supervision" or "consultation," which will then be known by some routine term.

In this way we will give psychotherapy back to people, for it cannot indefinitely remain the property of a professional group but must be translated into society-wide applicability.

The training developed so far is not yet being given routinely to everyone. We are at the half-way point, namely, the training of nonprofessionals who function in professional roles.

For example, in trying to bring together the community population and the isolated hospital patients, I devised a plan (now being put into action by the State of Illinois) for the training of "interveners." The name comes not from the word "intervention," but from the need to fill the gap which "intervenes"' between hospital and community. These will be nonprofessionals, and if the desire of the Office of Manpower and Training is followed, they will be selected from the population presently called "unemployables." They will be trained to work with patients in the hospital and will spend two days a week there. But they will also be trained as community workers and will spend three days a week in a given neighborhood, its schools, churches, jails, social agencies, community organizations, and local hospital wards. They will help reconnect the patient to the community, and they will be able to discuss this with patients in advance and try them out in the community before they are quite recovered—so that they can become recovered. Interveners will be able to take patients back to the hospital where they need not be- [Page 555]come lost indefinitely—for the interveners can realistically promise to bring the patients out again. Like many other currently ongoing modes of training nonprofessionals, this project will create a new and useful, quasi-professional, job-defined role. I also consider training hospital volunteer women a vital step along this same road. I have been training such women not to pass out doughnuts and coffee or to play cards but instead to interact helpfully and sensitively with patients.

Prediction Five: There will be two new social institutions: (a) an individual relationship for everyone; (b) a group for everyone.

Hospital patients are only one subgroup of the population that needs close relationships. This is true of every other segment of our population as well. It is true of the women who now come as volunteers, but it is also true of the women who stay home with their children all day, every day. It is true of the students who are forever discussing the anomie of the large university and of the high school students who take so enthusiastically to any personally relevant activity whether group or individualized. It is the case with old people, and the same need is found in churches and factories. There is no reason to think of the hospitalized patients as the only group in need of intimate relationships. The picture makes much more sense if it is enlarged. Finally, the need for preventive measures to avoid the creation of psychotics and neurotics leads to the same conclusion, namely, the teaching for, and the providing of, routinely available close relationships so that everyone can learn to experience and express himself openly and know how to receive others who do so.

Therefore we have at last taken the plunge: in one study we are instructing pairs of ordinary individuals. They draw numbers to determine who is T and who is C. The instructions [4] then ask the one person to choose a personal [Page 556] problem of real importance in his life. We say: we would rather you choose a really important problem even though you might not feel free to tell everything about it, than one you could say everything about but which isn't so important. In the next twenty minutes we will ask that you try to understand the problem better and to help yourself with it. We will ask the other person to help you in doing so. If you don't find what he does helpful, and you wish he would respond differently, please tell him.

After twenty minutes we then give the Focusing Manual (and plan to give further quite specific instructions) to such experimental-subject therapists and patients. Then we ask them to continue another twenty minutes. We are not ready to report findings from this research as yet, but we can already see a promising and safe method in this use of ordinary persons as therapists in combination with research to measure behaviors of both patients and therapists.

I consider the necessary skills quite numerous and specific and am in the process of devising specific words for specific procedures of focusing, listening, and interacting. I don't think that psychotherapy is merely a general and constant attitude nor does it depend upon the sort of person you happen to be. A full-blown experiential vocabulary for instructions of this sort is now being devised and will undoubtedly develop further as many ordinary people engage in psychotherapy with each other.

The day is fast waning when one must plead "sick" to get a sensitive and impartial listener and willing interactor. Consider how foolish it has really been, that we have given this only to people who were under sufficient pressure to plead "sick" and incapable of helping themselves (which in our society is supposed to be a very bad thing). In fact, there is plenty of evidence that everyone needs someone, that humans are interaction processes in their very nature.

But we know, for example, from the Manhattan study, that up to 80 per cent of the people show measurable psychological disturbances of the sort requiring psychotherapy. Does this mean everyone is sick? Or does it mean that this is the human condition, and that our society lacks institutions that offer the sort of interhuman process needed by people? I believe it shows the latter. In the future the individual engaging in the sort of experiential process defined here won't be called a "patient," nor a "client," but a person. There will be social patterns such that everyone will routinely have some other individual with whom he is the therapist and one with whom he is the patient. For example, Goodman's [5] pattern of older high school students working with younger boys can easily be made routine in all school systems. It can become a "social institution," that is, a regular social pattern, offered routinely. Many other patterns are conceivable. To get and keep such a relationship, one would only have to want it.

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Prediction Six: A second new social institution: (b) everyone will belong to a group.

For a long time we haven't had anything on the group level that corresponds even to "friendship." To be in a group, one has to plead sick (therapy) or one has to have (or pretend to have) an interest in photography, adult education, or politics. Often groups want to continue to meet, though their reason for being is over (after the election, for example) and no socially understood pattern exists for continuing a group simply because there is a human need to belong to a group. But such a pattern is coming. We already have psychotherapy groups, T groups, development groups, sensitivity groups, church groups, political groups, encounter groups, marathon groups, management skills groups, brainstorming groups, all quite similar. Soon it will become understood that everyone needs to be in a group.

While these groups have different names, and in some cases deal with very different contents (e.g., religious doubts in a church group, politics in a Students for a Democratic Society group), a certain vital group process occurs in all of them: the newcomer finds himself listened to, responded to; he discovers that he makes sense, can articulate feelings and reach out to others, be accepted, understood, appreciated, responded to closely. He discovers that there is room for him as a person and not just as a maker of canned, appropriate statements or as a player of prescribed roles. His previously almost dumb and silent self becomes intensely alive, being in this group is intense and it is growth-producing. He "breaks through," finds himself as not just a player of roles, but also as speaking from himself as an experiencing, feeling, human being. He finds he can work with both roles and felt aliveness. His life outside the group naturally profits enormously from this breakthrough, as he lives other situations less constrictedly and role-definedly, and more in terms of an interplay between his real feelings and the prescribed words and roles. But typically, this is only the first stage of what often then becomes a less desirable group for him.

For a time after his breakthrough, he helps others to "break through," but does not really need to do this anymore for himself. During this period he attends partly because it is rewarding to aid others in the breaking-through process, but partly because even after breaking through one needs a group. However, the constantly new members keep such a mixed group at the break-through stage, and the veteran members all reluctantly drop out after getting tired of trying to pretend that they are always breaking through all over again. (This can be observed also in political and other sorts of groups, since the basic experiential process is always the same.)

In the future we will provide people with a quiet closed group in which they can move in depth, tell how things are, share life, so to speak, perhaps say little at times, perhaps do major therapeutic work when needed, but always with the sense of belonging, the anchoring which such a group provides. Then, in addition, those who want to can serve a vital function in the other [Page 558] type of group that is open to newcomers, where a few veterans who know how to relate intimately can swiftly bring a whole group of new people to the break-through point.

Such groups—and such individual relationships—will focus on the experiential process. In most settings an individual must be just a certain way to be appropriate, he must talk about a certain topic, or he must behave in a certain way, share attitudes, speak about himself in a certain way only. Friendship, marriage, work, church—these settings define certain narrow bands of behavior as appropriate, and nothing else will do. In the groups I think are coming, anything someone does will be appropriate if it "means something to him," i.e., has an experiential reference for him.

But, of course, this also means that discussions in such groups will go beyond abstractions. One will more often ask "why do you hold that view?" than, "Is this view tenable? What general assumptions is it based on?" The experiential reasons and bases of the concern may turn out to be very different, not relevant except personally, and very far from what one might have expected on abstract grounds alone. Anyone with any views might be welcomed into such a group, and people would thereby learn what sort of personal processes go into other people's having the views they do (which, currently, we can't imagine).

Prediction Seven: Modes of human thinking and discussion will become much more widely creative and very much more specific compared to current abstractionism in thought and science.

Before the nineteenth century people held that the order of nature had an underlying rational mathematical system, and that man, too, was subject to it (Vico, Spinoza). The nineteenth century discovered a whole raft of different irrational aspects in man, and rationalism was pushed back to a few last-ditch areas. Some held that by comparing different societies, both ancient and primitive, one would arrive at a lowest common denominator of human nature that would be lawful (Comte). Some held that only the laws of economics and economic change were amenable to rational scientific analysis and could then indirectly explain everything else (Marx). Some held that the laws of psychology would provide a rational scheme, which would then explain everything else (Freud). But in the twentieth century none of these attempts at a reductive science of man have been shown to work.

All rational schemes are too thin and abstract, too simple and artificial, to represent human processes. We are more complicated than our schemes. We make schemes—and a lot else besides! Schemes are tools, like words, therapeutic procedures, social roles. The tool doesn't become the thing; one must still took at the thing one works on to guide the tool.

The experiential method is based in philosophy [ Gendlin, 1965a, 1962]. Philosophy examines the basic types of concepts that are current, the ways of slicing up what we perceive and observe. Current philosophy, coming from the history of thought I just described, centers on the fact that schemes, mod- [Page 559]els, systems, are not enough. The human activities of living, acting, and speaking in human situations are the bigger context within which any scheme, system, model, or concept must be evaluated.

But how can we evaluate the explicit, the precise, the logically formed against the "bigger context" that is implicit, preconceptual, lived and acted, but not logically formed in just one way?

In psychotherapy we do this by checking every step of verbalization (the client's and the therapist's) against the client's felt sense, his experiential, bodily felt meaning. Thus we move back and forth between explicit, precise verbalizations and preconceptual, imprecise, yet governing experiencing. In society we will seek to establish this same zigzag method between the explicit social role expectations and the individual's experiential living feel of his self. Current thinking is more and more turning to this recognition that the formed, the precise, the defined, must be held against what is experiential and implicit because while less precise it is lived, actual, existential activity.

From Linguistic Analysis in Oxford to Mysticism in San Francisco, the underlying theme is to refuse to deduce from the model, from the formed, but instead to use the formed in the context of the wider process of living that always transcends this or that form.

But of course, without precision and form we can say nothing and do little. Without form the felt and lived would be nonsensical. Experiencing is by no means lacking in form. On the contrary, it is more formed, more organized than any one scheme. Implicitly it contains history and evolution, many organic and conceptual distinctions and perceptions. Physical, animal, cultural, and individual organizations are always implicit in any living and acting. Anything actual is much more organized than any one system or model can tell. Therefore, when one holds precise verbalizations against the bigger context of acting and experiencing, one holds them not against something unorganized, but something organized in so many interrelated ways as to defy being represented.

The experiential method moves beyond representation. No set of words, concepts, or models can be equal to what is being experienced, lived, or done in a situation. Instead, sets of words must be seen within living and acting.

In going back and forth between felt experiencing and precise words or roles we don't discard words or social roles. We only make it possible to use these creatively, to be always more concerned with our use of them than with the words themselves. We are more concerned with what we are doing with them, what someone is trying to do with them, than with what can be deduced.

We will take our next set of words and our next action, not directly from what follows from some words or socially predefined roles, but from our own implicitly meaningful experiencing, which we always have as we say or do anything.

This method is another way of talking about creativity, which has long been said to depend upon an individual who does not deduce from the given way [Page 560] things are set up. Only by using himself, his own live felt sense of being in a particular situation, can he sense what's wrong and devise new ways, from which new possibilities will follow that weren't visible in the way things were first given.

This means that what we use is not only what the words (the role, the command) say, but what was supposed to be done with them, what was being got at in using them in the context in which they were used. It means that words aren't being viewed for what they represent (what they are a picture of), but as tools in a wider process of acting and living in situations. But this wider process is had by an individual only in a bodily, active, live felt sense. To use symbols not only in themselves, but also in whatever role they have in the wider context of living is to use them nonrepresentationally. It adds to their precise meaning the possibilities of creative change, of new definitions, and moves.

The new definitions and new moves we want aren't just any new ones. We don't want them just because they are new. (An endless number of possible new nonsense could be devised.) What we want are new definitions and new moves that will follow from, and deal with, the situations we are in, and—since situations are defined by what we seek to do in them—from our whole experiential sense of living and acting.

In this wider "nonrepresentational" method of using words and roles we ask not what a given set of words and roles is, but what one does with it.

Actually, what one does or tries to do, what an individual is getting at or pointing out, is always very, very much more specific than any of the verbalizations and schemes we have. Any human phenomenon worth studying is much more specific than the old line theories can as yet specifically locate, let alone represent. Thus, the method moves beyond theory and procedures as such, and concentrates on how they are used. In so concentrating we encourage ourselves (and others) to discriminate and work on the specific facet of observation we wish to work on —and on creating the new terms, procedures, and definitions necessary to enable others to locate the same facet.

In science this philosophy puts the emphasis on the creation of variables. Not that we would forego our good scientific methods of verification. We will continue to use the scientific ways of publicly checking anything we think is true. But we need to point out that our scientific method is highly developed only in the matter of checking conclusions and hypotheses. Where does one get hypotheses? If you think some thing A and some other thing B are connected, we have excellent methods of finding out if you're right or not. We have excellent methods of checking this in a way that doesn't depend on your own impressions. We have methods for making it possible for others to check this, to "replicate" publicly what you found. But, perhaps A and B are not the most interesting or important things to study. Perhaps R and S are also connected, and if we knew this we would be able to see and do many useful things. But no one has isolated R and S, no one has fashioned con- [Page 561]cepts for them, no one notices them as such, no one has discriminated something like R and S. We have no scientific method for first coming up with interesting items like that, interesting "variables" for scientific research. Today this is still unscientific. Every scientist is expected somehow to come up with variables, perhaps in his sleep, in the shower, or as a result of whatever naturalistic observations he conducts.

Prediction Eight: There will come about a science of man which includes the man who is the scientist and which defines specific and significant aspects of interactive living.

I have already said that, in my opinion, the chief needed advance in the science of man is the discrimination and definition of many more specific variables than the general and ambiguous ones we use today.

Furthermore, as with all symbols, scientific terms must be seen in terms of what they do, not merely what they say. Scientific terms must come to be "operational," that is, they must be tied to specific procedures, and we must study the results of these procedures. But if we place this model of operational science into the context of life, we can see that current science is a mere stick figure of what we need. We want to specify the very specific meaningful "operations" we engage in with other people, and we want to specify the results that are obtained. Client-centered research is some of the first meaningful research of this sort: it defines certain ways of approaching and acting toward someone, and it defines the sort of process that then occurs in him. Of course, we seek very much greater specificity—we seek a whole vocabulary of specific terms with which to study how we are and what we do with each other.

I am predicting a science not of individual differences, but of different specific manners of approaching and relating with each other. To dramatize this, let me cite here our discovery that, for psychotherapy purposes, schizophrenic people differ from neurotics but are very much the same as normal people! That is, normal people require some of the same specific approach behaviors by anyone who wants to relate intimately with them. In our Wisconsin Research [Rogers, 1967] we learned to work with others who did not seek to relate closely with us and who had no real idea, in advance, of what such relating would be. They seemed not to know that one could articulate and communicate one's feelings about living in the typical way we are familiar with from psychotherapy. In a very different context, we see now that the same methods are needed with the parents of children in play therapy whenever the parents do not seek psychotherapy for themselves. In short, identified here is a category of therapist behavior, and a category of client behavior, both cutting right across the usual categories of individual psychopathology. Of course, much more specific subcategories are coming.

The totally nonexpressive silent "schizophrenic" patient who sits immobile for hours and hours, and is found always in the same chair in the hospital day room—he belongs in a different category for therapist behavior than the [Page 562] "schizophrenic" who, while always silent, is enormously expressive, reactive, and sensitive, and presents a different expressive behavior every moment. The therapist must use his experiencing differently with each. Again this distinction cuts across the usual psychopathology, and again different ways of approaching a person must be specified for each.

This is the age in which we are becoming scientifically aware of ourselves. Just as three hundred years ago we began to develop a vocabulary of nature, we will now develop a vocabulary of man's experience. As we develop this science of experience facilitation, we will thereby make the teaching of it in school much more possible and effective.


[BOWEN, M.] Family participation in schizophrenia. In R. D. Jackson (Ed.), The etiology of schizophrenia. New York: Basic Books, 1960.

[GENDLIN, E. T. ] Initiating psychotherapy with "unmotivated" patients. Psychiatric Quarterly, 1961, 1, 34.

[GENDLIN, E. T.] Experiencing and the creation of meaning. New York: Free Press, 1962.

[GENDLIN, E. T.] Expressive meanings. In J. M. Edie (Ed.), Invitation to phenomenology. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1965a.

GENDLIN, E. T. What are the grounds of explication? The Monist, 1965b, 49, No. 1.

GENDLIN, E. T. Psychotherapy and community psychology. Psychotherapy, Vol. 5, No. 2, June, 1968, pp. 67-72.

GENDLIN, E. T. and BEEBE, J. Experiential groups. In G. M. Gazda (Ed.), Basic innovations to group psychotherapy. Springfield, Illinois: Charles C. Thomas, 1968.

GENDLIN, E. T., DIESENHAUS, H., OBERLANDER, M. and PEARSON, L. Psychologists and government programs. In B. Lubin and E. E. Levitt (Eds.), The clinical psychologist. Chicago: Aldine, 1967.

GENDLIN, E. T., KELLY, J. J., RAULINAITIS, V. B., SPANER, F. E. Volunteers as a major asset in the treatment program. Mental Hygiene, Vol. 50, No. 3, July, 1966, pp. 421-427.

[ROGERS, C. R. (Ed.)], The therapeutic relationship and its impact. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1967

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


[1] See Chapter 7.

[2] See Chapter 15.

[3] See Chapter 8 by Kirtner and Cartwright and the related Chapter 10 by Tomlinson and Hart.

[4] The exact instructions were: We want you to choose some personal problem that is bothering you now, but which you also feel you could explore profitably with your partner during this afternoon's session. We don't expect you to reveal everything about yourself, but it would be better for you to choose a real problem that's important to you and not say everything about it, than to choose an unimportant problem that you feel very comfortable saying everything about.

We want you to respond as you wish to your partner, keeping in mind that the purpose of your discussion is to try to help him with the problem he chooses to explore with you.

Keep on what's crucial to ("patient"); if you (to "patient") feel you're off on a tangent that isn't interesting to you, or if your partner is asking you questions and you would rather talk at that moment about another part of the problem, say that. Talk about what's important to you, what you feel at any moment is getting to the heart of your problem. If you find that the problem you have chosen to talk about is part of a bigger problem, then follow that where it takes you. The role we are setting up for you is not one in which you are both to hold in your real feelings until later; say what you are feeling now. If you are feeling something and wonder whether it will fit in with your role here to say it, go ahead and say it. This means anything about yourself, your partner, or your role here. You might want to say to your partner, "I don't like the way you are directing the questions" or "What is all this nonsense anyway?" We're not prescribing here the direction your discussion should take—you'll probably want to say different things—but we are encouraging you to say whatever feels important for you to say at any moment.

[5] Refer to Chapter 18.

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