Date of Award

Spring 1984

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Historically, experiential psychotherapy evolved from the client-centered approach, which traditionally has been intent on finding better ways to scientifically study and understand complex subjective experience. By the mid-1950's, Carl Rogers made an essential theoretical shift from the usual "static content" view of personality to "the new process conception" of the therapeutic experience. Meanwhile, educated in existential philosophy and phenomenology, Eugene Gendlin advanced this "new process conception" by clarifying the crucial distinction between "direct experiencing" as it is immediately given in awareness, and conceptualizations of that experiencing. Gendlin accurately described the distinct bodily-felt awareness that characterizes consciousness. This "felt-meaningfulness" implicitly contains all the values, attitudes, memories, and perceptions relevant for the individual in a given life situation in a single bodily-felt sense.

Gendlin realized that the essence of effective client-centered therapy was an accurate listening response that helped the client to stay closely in tune with his or her on-going process of experiencing. Gendlin also participated in the client-centered Process Scale research, which consistently found that clients who displayed a high degree of experiential focusing on immediate feelings were those who eventually succeeded in therapy. Consequently, Gendlin elaborated his philosophy of "experiencing" and sought ways of directly facilitating this "focusing" process in therapy. He developed the therapy procedure called "focusing" as well as principles for "experientializing" the use of conceptual knowledge in various forms of psychotherapy.

In addition to demonstrating the theoretical necessity of process variables, Gendlin implemented them as measureable variables in experimental research on therapy. However, a critical review of this research shows that it suffered from serious methodological problems. Hence there is little convincing experimental evidence that "experiencing plays a central role in positive psychotherapeutic outcome." However, there are alternative philosophical and phenomenological grounds for the justification of "experiencing." Finally, some recommendations are made for improving experimental research on experiential psychotherapy.