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Gendlin, E.T. (1981). The whole process is more natural than the divided pieces. The Focusing Folio, 1(3), 18-23. From

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Eugene T. Gendlin, Ph.D.

If permitted to do so and given the facilities, people in therapy will relate deeply to the therapist, will work out issues in the present interaction. They will of course also enter deeply into their own feelings and sometimes they will discover the felt sense edge where it is directly sensed but not yet clear. They will work through their past and childhood, but also share present events and new growth steps in the present moment, as the whole constellation changes. They will at times have images coming to them, not only words. They are likely if permitted and not stopped, to express very intense emotions and especially past pain. As I know from my experience, if they know they are welcome to kick, scream, and pound pillows, they will at times quite naturally do that. They will usually quite naturally find their behavior outside changing, and also work to change it. They will struggle to put newly discovered ways of feeling and being into action, and also get up courage to act in new ways. These, in turn, will lead to new feelings, and new emerging of the past as well. As one client said to me: "It wasn't until I crossed some of those barriers in action that I came face to face with what was actually stopping me." The inward blocks become clear as they are challenged in action. Most people who struggle to develop quite naturally do all or most of these things.

Different therapeutic "methods" and standpoints have been devised from one or another of these different parts of a development process.

Why should we continue to be deluded by that? Why should it seem to us so unnatural to let the whole process happen? Why should we think we are pasting essentially different pieces together eclectically, rather than recognizing the inherent wholeness of the process?

It seems strange only because the different pieces have each been conceptualized so as to seem the whole. A rationale has been invented for each piece. The relationship alone does it. Lifting repression does it. The past is worked through. There are present growth steps and wholistic development. The traumata are catharted. Deep imagery connects with the excluded part of the wider Self. The intrapsychic is nothing, it's all behavioral steps.

A deeper rationale would recognize that human beings are inherently all this because these are pieces of one natural process. Who would choose to be concerned only with past, or only with present? Where are there people who would naturally change only feelings and not their ways of acting and interacting? Who doesn't find that inward experiencing is more deeply and easily opened and entered into with another person's presence and attention?

[*]Written after a conversation with Irene Waskow, though I am alone responsible for what it says here.

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It is clear that we cannot put together the pieces as conceptualized currently. We have to re-conceptualize them all as part of a single human nature. Let us change the basic concepts: First the concept of "experience." As a process it is "experiencing," not static pieces or contents. Secondly, let us heal the split between the intrapsychic and the interactional: like breathing and digestion, personal process is never just "inside," but is always with and at others. Feelings implicitly contain other people and what they do or did. We feel angry at someone for doing something to us in the context of our living. Even unclear feelings turn out to be about...and at...and from.... There is no natural division between the intrapsychic and the interactional. Self-responding is a special case of interaction.

Inner space is a special case of process. The contents that come there are made by process, by moving, living, interacting in situations that are not present (as well as in some that are.)

Feelings, images, thoughts, and actions together make up how we live in a situation (present or imagined).

There is no division either between action and that special kind of internal symbolic action which happens in inner space. Humans are the only animals which, so far as we know, can be physically in one situation while living and feeling in an absent situation. But we don't only feel, we act and interact—we are not only angry, we are angry at...and fight about ... even if we are a thousand miles away from the people concerned, or if we are many years later.

This is a sketch of a theory which more naturally conceptualizes the unity of human process. It enables us to unpackage the current methods that are packaged, each apart.

Here I want to speak about this issue in the language of research.

It is customary to design research to find out about each method or sub-process when it works and when it doesn't, and whether it is more or less effective than another method.

A typical research design will have group A receiving treatment A, and group B treatment B. There is also a control group C which receives no treatment (sometimes, in fact, it does, but that is an error). Then we are told the findings, that Group A did significantly better (on some chosen outcome measures). Or perhaps B did. Or neither. Most often the effects are minimal and only fine statistics shows any. Sometimes the effects are major, people's lives get very much better, and they can live and do things in ways they couldn't before. (That is the only kind of outcome we would use as a criterion).

Now I wish to say that I am no longer interested in that kind of research question! For example: focusing. I do not wish to know when only focusing works and when it doesn't, or with which population, nor do I care whether it alone is more effective than another process-piece [Page 20] alone. The reason I don't want to know the answers to these questions is because I am more interested in other questions: I want to know how we can put focusing together with other effective process-pieces.

I already know that focusing alone is not enough for a human growth process. I don't need to find that out.

Rather than knowing exactly with whom and when focusing alone works well, I want to know how to fashion a process that works better. Just focusing and nothing else does not work best for anyone.

So, for example, a recent study showed that the two chair method worked best, focusing was next effective, and empathy alone least. That is what I didn't care to know. But the same study is also described by its author this way: "When I do the two-chair method I use focusing and empathy. So really the results show that all three worked most effectively, only two next well, and one alone least well." Now that is the kind of finding I care about—and not just the finding!! I value that two-chair process that includes focusing and empathy!

You might think that such a process is a three-way eclectic pasting-together. I don't think it could have been, since it isn't possible to do it that way. One cannot be Carl Rogers and Fritz Perls alternatingly, the attitudes and manner—everything is different. If the study I refer to was possible at all, then it was along the lines I propose: a natural whole was achieved because the author knew all three modalities and therefore they became one in him, used naturally and as was needed. The three happen to be modes I also practice as one. Far from pasting three things together, I would say it is foolish to practice Gestalt in an ineffective way! Of course you would want the person to focus in letting something well up from a deep level in the body. And why would anyone want to relate ineffectively to a person for whom something just now emerged. Of course one would respond empathically most of the time.

Suppose the Gestaltist knows focusing—could we demand that the two-chair method be done without focusing—it would be asking for less effective Gestalt than this therapist would normally do. (That is why the above mentioned study was as it really was.)

Could we ask a focusing therapist who knows the two-chair method not to use it when it seems just what is needed? If this were for research purposes, it would be dooming research never to test the most effective therapy one knows.

Some procedures fit only sometimes, others concern every bit of any therapy. Focusing fits almost always, because any thought, image, feeling, interaction, or action-step can be used to lead to the implicitly sensed edge, and from that edge any from that edge any of these kinds of human experience can arise.

Every bit of therapy of any type involves interpersonal interaction. There has long been an attempt to abstract "the relationship" from what actually goes on, as if "the relationship" were some general attitude or abstractable factor. But that isn't so! "The relationship" is the [Page 21] interactional character of every bit of happening, it is the empathy of one's responses, it is the willingness to be corrected, it is the manner in which one works on behavioral steps, and it is implicitly happening in some specific way in everything the two people do. One cannot do therapy by just relating or just exuding an abstract attitude. One must do something every few moments and the interpersonal character of what one does needs to be specified. Did it make the patient passive, lectured, imposed upon, caught, put on the spot, or did it enable the patient to become expansive, active, forward-moving, challenging, making sense? Was the patient received just now, in this attempt to come forward?

These questions toward specifying interaction apply in every method, whether interaction is discussed in that method or not.

And of course there was an interpersonal interaction, though it wasn't studied as one of the processes. Could it hurt the effectiveness of the three-in-one process in that study, if we happened to be able to specify effective interactional modes? We would only make more specific how to engage in what is unavoidably going on anyway. And action steps? Would it hurt to specify how to aid the people in that study to put their new modes of being into action? They could hardly avoid trying to do that, although in an unspecified way, whether we aid them in this or not.

When one loves research, one often finds that something new can be said best in research language. I wish to propose a research study. It is a collaborative study involving many different institutions and groups of therapists.

We would begin by adding focusing to whatever any therapist does. We would take two tape recordings before, and two after, training in focusing. We would train both client and therapist in focusing.

The study would show that after focusing training the EXP Scale shows an increase in the kind of therapy behavior that is success-predicted. Especially (but not only) we would care to find that result for patient-therapist pairs that were failure-predicted from the tapes before training.

Past research with the EXP Scale enables us to predict success or failure from the first few interviews (or from any during therapy)—failure that is, if focusing is not taught to the patient.

We would of course also get at least success or failure ratings at the very end of therapy from therapist and client, perhaps also from friends, and collect other sorts of information.

At the next point in the study we would change what we train, keeping the rest of the design the same. We would change only by adding, not by taking anything away. We would next train, let us say, for the three-way process I just mentioned, which is focusing and two-chairing and empathy. We would specify that process so that "trained" meant both therapist and client could do their parts exactly. Again we would (I predict) find the effect, only more strongly.

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We would then go on to specify relational and actional aspects, and the use of catharsis. Some of these would always occur, some only when needed (i.e. when certain markers appear, as Rice and others have proposed).

I am aware of course that focusing training would acquire additions at each step. The unity of the process would inform us about how to teach focusing also inside other procedures. We would unpackage the current packages so as to arrive at the wider natural process. Hence focusing training too would be unpackaged.

As the specified training got greater, the part left unspecified would shrink. Whereas at the start therapists are doing "whatever they do" except for the addition of focusing, toward later stages the specified part would be so large that it would leave less and less in the "whatever they do" part.

Of course the research findings would guide us. If a given attempt at a wider natural unity failed to get better findings, we would retrace that step. We would alter the way we have specified a given dimension, until we found how to specify it effectively. (I don't even consider that we would ever find that one of the major dimensions had no effective way to be added in. That much I feel I already know—although research is always capable, as I have learned, of changing one's mind).

I have already begun this research, so I am fully serious about it. But I also wish to use it here to communicate my point, that "synthesis" is a restoration of a natural inherent whole, and not a pasting together.

This doesn't mean that different modes are the same—if they were there would be no added power in finding their inherent unity. It is the unity of different dimensions that we seek. (Where two different-sounding "methods" are the same we would specify it and use it only once, of course). Usually also the "methods" are too general. Gestalt—there is no such method, if we think specifically in terms of practice, training, and research. What works lies entirely in the now missing specifics of how one does it! Every current so-called "method" can be done with or without success, because what makes them effective is more specific than what is written down.

My project is not intended to paste the methods together, but to free us from their artificial packaged separation and also from their empty generality, their failure to specify what makes them sometimes work.

Let us look back now traditional A vs. B vs. C research. To me that time-honored design now appears like this: Group A receives only bread, nothing else. Group B only water, nothing else. Group C nothing at all. The findings are that there were no statistical differences.

Actually, of course, research is never that clean. In Group B in fact a nurse couldn't stand what was happening and secretly fed the patients at night, some of them. In Group A someone escaped and returned. In Group C everyone had Polish sausages from a wagon no one knew about. Therefore the [Page 23] findings were that the controls did somewhat better (a trend, not statistically significant) than Groups A and B, from which the researchers concluded that spontaneous recovery exceeds therapeutic effectiveness.

But why test for bread only, or water only. Even both together isn't yet the whole of a natural nutrition. Who would study nutrition that way?

Nor is nutrition something pasted together—but its unity comes from the unity of the organism! As all nutritionists know, vitamin B12 doesn't have the same effects alone, as it does with other "B" vitamins together. It isn't the same nutrient in the body under the two conditions. To specify how it acts would be different, with the others, than alone.

I think we should begin with focusing because focusing makes every method more effective.

Whatever the method, therapeutic change depends upon something new entering in, and a change in the implicit organismic way the person lives. Whether interpretations, images, action-steps or feelings, interaction, or dreams are featured, the method depends on something arising newly from the person's "edge." Even action-steps in behavior therapy are more effective when they arise for the person from a direct sensing of the difficulty, and seem like steps the person can and will really do.

As a first step, therefore, I invite you to join in adding focusing to whatever you now do, and measuring patients on the EXP Scale before and after focusing training.

If you are interested, write us to arrange that training.

ŠEugene T. Gendlin

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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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