Home > Focusing and ... > Psychotherapy > Articles > Foreword to 'Carl Rogers: The Quiet Revolutionary, An Oral History'


Eugene T. Gendlin

Carl Rogers: The Quiet Revolutionary, An Oral History. Carl R. Rogers and David E. Russell. Foreword by Eugene T. Gendlin. (Roseville, CA: Penmarin Books, 2002).

Rogers is world renowned for originating and developing the now prevailing humanistic trend in psychotherapy, having pioneered in research and having influenced all fields related to psychology. He was already well known when I started working with him in 1952. Visitors came from everywhere. Some were inspired to self-empowerment by a single meeting. Some were disappointed. Rogers seemed ordinary; he was not a sparkling conversationalist. He would certainly listen to you, and with real interest. He would sit forward and look you in the eyes, wanting to hear what this person--you--had to say. But, then, on his side he might just state his position again, rather than replying in detail to your detail. He also kept his new thinking silently, perhaps wordlessly, inside. When he was ready, he wrote his ground-breaking ideas.

He rarely exuded feelings, and hardly ever anger. He would strongly state his feelings and needs, but without pouring them on the other person. If his secretary was on the phone with a friend, he would stand, patiently, holding his letters in his hand, waiting until she was ready. But he faced down the hatred of most of the profession because in the workplace, classroom, therapist's office and all around him, he turned the social system upside down.

He cared about each person but not about the institutions. He did not care about appearances, roles, class, credentials or positions, and he doubted every authority, including his own.

His immense power came from the fact that once he discovered something, he followed it through. He saw no reason to limit it by all those irrelevancies that stop most people. So he was able to launch practices that revolutionized the field.

In the 1940s, he was accused of "destroying the unity of psychoanalysis." He founded a frankly different method: nondirective therapy. It meant war against monolithic authority. He won that war. Today we have many methods and the opportunity for open inquiry.

He insisted on testing his new therapy to show that it worked. To Rogers, that meant objective, quantitative research. But there were few usable procedures and no examples of research in psychotherapy. Such research was considered impossible because therapists had never let anyone listen in, let alone measure and compare. Rogers recorded therapy sessions on the clumsy glass disks of that time. He was accused of "violating the sanctity of the analytic relationship"--another war.

Rogers wanted comparative research, and he tried hard to get the psychoanalysts to record and test their therapy. For years their reply was, "You can record the residents" (in other words, the trainees). It showed whose sanctity was being protected.

Rogers' group was the first (by twenty years) to analyze every sentence of hundreds of transcripts and to measure outcomes on psychometric (and other newly devised) tests given to clients before and after therapy, and also given to a control group. Rogers won that war too; such research is now common.

He proclaimed new ethics: Recording required the client's permission. Confidentiality was emphasized, and the answer to all inquiries was only, "The person was in therapy here." In spirit, his ethics is now accepted, but at the time it was new. "Professional ethics" mostly meant a doctor's duty to protect other doctors.

The way in which Rogers came to his new method was characteristic of him. He found something, and then, because there was no relevant reason to limit it, he did not limit it.

Otto Rank interpreted only when the patient "stood in the very experience being interpreted."1 Jesse Taft and Frederick Allen (with whom Rogers studied) found this conjunction only when they interpreted interaction. So they were otherwise silent. Rogers eliminated all interpretation. Instead, he checked his understanding out loud, trying to grasp exactly what the patient wished to convey. When he did that, he discovered something: The patient would usually correct the first attempt. The second would be closer, but even so, the patient might refine it. Rogers would take in each correction until the patient indicated, "Yes, that's how it is. That's what I feel." Then there would be a characteristic silence. During such a silence, after something was fully received, the next thing comes inside. Very often it is something deeper. Rogers discovered that a self-propelled process arises from inside. When each thing is received utterly as intended, it makes new space inside. Then the steps go deeper and deeper.

Call it a way of circumventing defenses or making maximal closeness without imposing. Whatever you call it, observe the result. For Rogers, theory came after experience. He wrote his theory of this in Client-Centered Therapy, and then a fuller theory in On Becoming a Person, his best-known book, but he did not try to convince by theory. He wrote, "Try it as an operational hypothesis; see what happens."

In the therapist's chair, this way of listening is entirely different. Instead of being set to deal with what a person says, to move it in some way, to agree with one part and differ with another, one listens to grasp what the person intends to convey--the sense that makes when felt as that person feels it.

Rogers' discovery led further! He found that every person makes internal sense. That sense evolves and corrects itself as it deepens. This discovery put Rogers ahead of the country in another way. In 1945, blacks, women, gay people and others found help at the Counseling Center because these therapists knew that every client had to teach them a new world. A black client might spend months teaching a therapist about black experience. However, another black client might say with relief after one hour, "With you I can forget about race." These therapists never forced a policy on a client. They would not coerce a woman to stay in a marriage, as psychoanalysts generally then did. Nor would they decide what another person's sexuality should be. To therapists trained by Rogers, it was obvious that every person is at the directing center of a life and that one can help people only by means of their own intricacy and their own steps.

Rogers published the transcripts of a case of his that was a failure. In the intern group he would play tapes of model interviews, but sometimes he would bring a bad one, saying, "I don't know what's going wrong here." The students could hear a great deal going wrong, and it made them feel free to present their own bad interviews.

He found diagnostics to be inadequate, prejudicial and often misused; so he eliminated it. It was another affront to the profession, but it made the space of psychotherapy open and receptive.

Rogers renamed his nondirective therapy client-centered therapy (and later, person-centered therapy). As in law, the client, not the lawyer, decides each move. But that was only the outward sign of breaking the medical model of "illness," "diagnosis" and "the doctor knows best." Today most therapists see "clients," and they don't think of therapy as analogous to medicine.

Rogers' discovery had implications for other fields, and he followed them up in his usual way: Is it just as true in education that a deeper process develops from inside? In his own courses, Rogers taught by handing out lists of "available resources" at the beginning of a course and then pursuing the good sense of each student's proposal for how the class should proceed. The result each time was an enormously excited class directing its own exploration. Without assignments, students read and did more than ever under the old system. Rogers soon contributed to a new literature that influenced a generation of educators.

To learn this method of therapy requires some years of practice, supervision, and consultation, but academic education does not help. That led (and Rogers followed where it led) to the conclusion that one does not need degrees to be a therapist. Another war. Why not train church workers, nurses, mothers, teachers--anyone--to be a therapist? There was no inherent reason not to, and irrelevancies did not stop him.

Although millions were trained, Rogers did not win this war. Rather than really sensing each point, the method was simplified. It became verbal repetition. Recent research shows that such responses lead to failure because they deflect people from entering into their as yet unverbalized experiencing.2 The method ended up discredited. This listening is hard to learn. We are renewing Rogers' vision by teaching "focusing and listening" to the public.

Rogers was constantly invited everywhere. He would try to decide which invitations to accept, saying, "Where could I have the most impact?" As often as not, he would choose a group in nursing or in education.

Would the approach apply in work settings? In 1947, Rogers gave up control of the Chicago Counseling Center. Student interns, secretaries and faculty ran it equally. Of course, involvement and productivity rose to new levels. Later, when the center lost its grant, this model showed its resilience: Everyone pooled their pay and worked for very little, until new funding was found. This was the Counseling Center to which I came as a graduate student in philosophy.

Philosophy is a highly developed discipline, not about a topic but about how concepts work (on any topic). Since concepts can work in different ways, and since one needs concepts to examine concepts, there have always been vital disagreements in philosophy. From the beginning, I put the various conceptual strategies in relation to direct experiencing. Then each philosophy enables you to see and do more, and all can be employed. As mere concepts they contradict each other, but each can bring forth something valuable from what I call "direct experiencing."

In philosophy it is now possible to communicate Rogers' understanding of what human beings are, which is very different from the usual assumptions. For Rogers, each human being is a different intricacy beyond what culture makes. The new advances that come from listening and focusing have never happened before in the history of the world.

I knew that experiencing is always already symbolized by situations and implicit language, but we also have access to it directly. If one speaks from it, it develops further. It can move far beyond the usual meanings and phrases.

I came to Rogers because I figured out that in therapy people must be speaking from that interface. I had to see it. When he interviewed me for the practicum, he said it would be good to train a philosopher, but then he leaned forward, looked at me intently, and asked, "But are you obtuse about people?" (This seemed to be his observation of philosophers.) I said no, I didn't think so; people talked to me about their problems, sometimes all night. I just didn't know how to help them. He accepted me for the year-long practicum.

After two weeks I lost my fear of being a client. I learned that everyone is a potential client, and I gladly became one. I experienced the therapy from both sides, and I soon found what I came to study: the crucial role of direct experiencing beyond mere concepts. But its role was not recognized. Client-centered therapists said that they reflected "feelings" like sadness or anger, but I found that they mostly reflected intricate clusters expressed in phrases such as "when he does this, I feel helpless because anything I would do makes me feel a way I can't stand." When heard exactly, something deeper would emerge from the implicit intricacy.

The next year I became an intern. A phase of research had just been completed. To everyone's dismay, two of Rogers' hypotheses were disconfirmed. Success in therapy did not correlate with the client's emphasis on "the relationship" and on "the present."3 These were measured by classifying what the clients talked about. From my ongoing experience as a client, I knew that verbal content did not get at what Rogers meant. With my approach in philosophy, I could reformulate the research scales.

In his open way, Rogers welcomed anyone in the group to contribute research instruments to the next phase. My new scales measured whether there was much "present" experiencing during the therapeutic hour, regardless of whether it was about past or present events. We measured the "relationship" by whether clients said that they felt different here, in therapy, and whether that new experiencing happened "only here." In collaboration with Jenney and Shlien, my new scales correlated with success in therapy, whereas the old measures again did not. This launched a new experiential approach. Fred Zimring and I later developed a seven-stage scale to define observable indices of speech (and patterns of silence) characteristic of direct reference to experiencing.4 Rogers adopted our new scale and redefined his theoretical principle of the "self-concept." He spoke of the person as "an experiencing process."5 Since that time, the development of the Experiencing Scale6 has led to a long series of replicated studies.7

In 1961, an article that Rogers wrote, called "The Place of the Person in the New World of the Behavioral Sciences," was very important to me. He warned about misuses of psychology by governments or powerful people. I remember spending quite a lot of time after I read it thinking through how anything I would ever work on would be of a nature that could not be misused.

I followed Rogers to Wisconsin as his research director. Soon I was standing in the hallway with a "schizophrenic" patient who refused to enter an office with me. He would not talk deeply about anything. This was true of all our hospital patients.

We had also recruited a control group of "normals" from the surrounding farm country. From them I learned about contouring a piece of land to keep the rainwater on it, and why you can grow only as much tobacco as your relatives can help you pick in a few days. These normal clients wouldn't talk about anything therapeutically relevant either.

This lack of depth also occurred with some portion of our regular clients in Chicago. Kirtner had shown that failure in long-term cases could be predicted from the first two interviews if clients did not describe their inner experience.8 I went to work on the problem when I returned to the University of Chicago in 1963. A group of students helped me to sustain the nerve to write and test "instructions" for finding one's direct experiencing. We used these only outside the therapy hour. It led to a lot of research. We succeeded in articulating one crucial therapeutic variable and making it teachable. We can now reverse the failure prediction.

I often cited Kirtner, but one memory of that era came back to me many years later. In 1956, when Kirtner distributed his study, the center staff was outraged. We could not believe that we worked with some clients in a way that was failure-predicted from the first few interviews. Surely there must be an error in the study, we declared. Only Rogers was calm. He told us, "Facts are always friendly." When I came to his office to argue about it, he said, "This study will help us with the next study." As I was leaving and we stood in the doorway, he put his hand on my shoulder for emphasis and said, "Look, maybe you will be the one to discover how to go on from this." He meant me only as an example, but I may have heard him on a deeper level.

"Focusing instructions" can be given outside of the therapy hour, or in brief bits. The client's ownership of the hour is not obstructed. The therapist can respond to "this" or the client's "sense of something there . . ." so as not to miss or round off the unclear edges of what the client reports. This helps the client to attend there. It is what successful clients do naturally after each listening response. They check with what they sense directly in order to see whether what was said is quite right. As they do this, more and more arises from there.9

Focusing and listening are now being taught to the public on the worldwide network www.focusing.org and in businesses, churches, schools, sports, medicine and many other contexts, 10 this time with the kind of training that ensures the quality of the listening. In quality listening, you feel your sense of the person's meaning before you respond. Training in focusing involves very precise little instructions for inward bodily attention. We show how to find the directly sensed "murky zone," how to keep one's attention there long enough to do something, and then what can be done there. We are renewing Rogers' vision of a society-wide application that can radically change how we view and treat each other and ourselves.

Having learned only from his group, I did not know until years later how authoritarian, negative, artificial and frozen the rest of the field of psychotherapy was. Our group did not fully recognize how deeply Rogers had changed the basic assumptions of psychotherapy and of the whole society. He had written about this, but words were not effective. It is the practice that changes one's assumptions. When you listen in his way, each person expands from inside and becomes intricate, elaborate and beautiful before your eyes. If you interpret or edit even for a moment, there is a jarring interruption. It stops the inwardly arising process.

Listening shows you that the nature of human beings is nothing like socialized content. It has a depth of richness that needs only interactive receptivity to open out, step by step, into a creative self-correcting development with freshly discovered wanting, personal ethics and unique work in the world. How does one talk about this as part of human nature? Rogers said all this, but it was not understood. With the usual assumptions, none of it is believable. What Rogers' practice brings home has not yet been discovered by society. To communicate it requires new terms. Society requires the process of generating terms from experiencing.

I went on to create new terms. There is no universal content across cultures or individuals. In interacting we "cross" and create new meanings in each other. When we speak we don't represent experiencing; rather, experiencing is "carried forward." The words are "implicitly rearranged" in the body so that new sentences "come." The crude, socially shared meanings do not create human nature, although they do give us essential dimensions such as language and cultural patterns. Real interactions are more intricate. Their intricacy is implicitly lived with our bodies. There is no need to inculcate the concern for others. The others and the world are already implicit in our bodily sensed experiencing, as we discover when we enter into it and think with it.

Meanwhile, a long period of "postmodernism" has dispelled the assumption that reality exists only at space-time points. Oddly enough, this assumption was always known to be false, since it leaves out the scientist, the person who operates the equipment, the observer, the very one in front of whom the scientific things in space and time are presented. But it was held that we must assume a consistent set of logical units to have any theory at all. The postmodernists still see no better way, but they hold that therefore everything we say is arbitrary. Only recently do philosophers discuss "emergent" thinking. My philosophy is coming into its own.

To think with direct experiencing was never really considered before. My philosophy began there, and I have had many years to develop systematic ways in which concepts and fresh language can arise from this kind of thinking. There are systematic ways in which logic relates to experiencing. Some odd "characteristics" of this relation are now formulated. For example, the least detail can restructure the more general conceptions, rather than being subsumed under them. The meanings that actually function experientially are "nonnumerical" and "multischematic."11 I was able to develop an operational empiricism without assuming representation and without fixed units with identity conditions.12 There is a theory of language and word use at the interface between language and directly sensed experiencing.13 It also became possible to fashion basic concepts to redefine the "body," concepts that can account for how speaking carries the bodily sensed intricacy forward (as in focusing). These concepts can generate a new first-person science, as well as relate logically to the usual science.14

If we don't assume that experiencing comes in already cut packages, must we lose the powers of logical inferences? Not at all. We can think with experiencing to find where to reposition the logic, and then freshly generate the units for it.

Rogers didn't change the whole society, but he did have a great impact. Half the therapists of Europe and Japan are client-centered. In the United States, a formal organization of client-centered therapists is only now beginning. Rogers encouraged but would not lead such an organization. He helped found, but would not lead, other groups: the encounter group movement, the field of counseling psychology, the Humanistic Association, and the joint psychiatry-psychology American Academy, among others.

There was little to criticize in Rogers. Some said that in not expressing anger, he forced those around him to express it by fighting each other. But the fights were due rather to his refusal to fill his own role. In giving up control, he gave up all of it; he refused to decide even what was so defined that only he could decide it. That did force those around him to fight. But it is little to criticize amid so many contributions and so much novelty, honesty and courage.

In his last fifteen years, he applied his method to politics, and to training policymakers, leaders and groups in conflict. Better decisions are made with empathy for what things mean to the other side. Others are never only what we oppose. Rogers said the world is "fragile," and he worked for peace. When he was well over eighty, he led huge workshops in countries such as Hungary, Brazil and the Soviet Union and conducted communication groups in South Africa.

I am glad that Carl heard me say these good things. The last time was on a video-recorded panel. Later there was an argument between those who uphold the pure client-centered method and those who expand it. I said we needed both groups. But Carl said, "I didn't want to find a client-centered way. I wanted to find a way to help people."


1. Rank, Otto. Will Therapy and Truth and Reality. (New York: Knopf, 1929/ 1945). [Back to text]

2. Sachse, R. "The Influence of Therapist Processing Proposals on the Ex­plication Process of the Client," Person-Centered Review 5, no. 3 (1990): 321-347. [Back to text]

3. Gendlin, E. T., R. H. Jenney, and J. M. Shlien. "Counselor Ratings of Process and Outcome in Client-Centered Therapy," Journal of Clinical Psychol­ogy 16 (2): 210-213. [Back to text]

4. Gendlin, E. T., and F. Zimring. "The Qualities or Dimensions of Experi­encing and Their Change," The Person-Centered journal 1 (2): 55-67. [Back to text]

5. Rogers, Carl. "A Tentative Scale for the Measurement of Process in Psy­chotherapy." In E. Rubinstein and M. Parloff, eds., Research in Psychotherapy. (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 1958). [Back to text]

6. Klein, M. H., P. L. Mathieu, E. T. Gendlin, and D. J. Kiesler. The Experi­encing Scale: A Research and Training Manual, (Madison, WI: Wisconsin Psychi­atric Institute, 1969). Klein, M. H., P. Mathieu-Coughlan, and D. J. Kiesler. The Experiencing Scales: The Psychotherapeutic Process, A Research Handbook. (New York: Guilford Press, 1986), pp. 21-71. [Back to text]

7. Hendricks, M. "Focusing-Oriented/Experiential Psychotherapy." In D. Cain and J. Seeman, eds., Handbook of Research and Practice in Humanistic Psy­chotherapies. (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2001). [Back to text]

8. Kirtner, W. L., and D. S. Cartwright. "Success and Failure in Client­Centered Therapy as a Function of Client Personality Variables," Journal of Consulting Psychology 22 (1958): 259-264. [Back to text]

9. Gendlin, E. T. Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy: A Manual of the Experi­ential Method. (New York: Guilford Press, 1996). [Back to text]

10. Gendlin, E. T. Focusing, 2d ed. (New York: Bantam Books, 1981). [Back to text]

11. Gendlin, E. T. Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning. (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1962/1997). [Back to text]

12. Gendlin, E. T. "The Responsive Order: A New Empiricism," Man and World 30 (1997): 383-411. [Back to text]

13. Gendlin, E. T. "Crossing and Dipping: Some Terms for Approaching the Interface between Natural Understanding and Logical Formation," Minds and Machines 5, no. 4 (1995): 547-560. Gendlin, E. T. "The Primacy of the Body, not the Primacy of Perception," Man and World 25, nos. 3, 4 (1992): 341-353. [Back to text]

14. Gendlin, E. T. A Process Model. 1997. Available at www.focusing.org/process.html. [Back to text]

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