Eugene Gendlin

Eugene Gendlin

Eugene T. Gendlin (born Eugen Gendelin; 25 December 1926, Vienna) is an American philosopher and psychotherapist who developed ways of thinking about and working with living process, the bodily felt sense and the 'philosophy of the implicit'. Gendlin received his Ph.D. in philosophy in 1958 from the University of Chicago where he became an Associate Professor in the departments of Philosophy and Psychology. He taught there from 1964 until 1995. He is best known for Focusing and for Thinking at the Edge, two procedures for thinking with more than patterns and concepts.


  • Philosophy 1
  • Focusing 2
  • Thinking at the Edge 3
  • Bibliography 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Gendlin asserts that an organism's living interaction with its environment is prior (temporally and philosophically) to abstract knowledge about its environment.[1] Living is an intricate, ordered interaction with the environment, and as such, is a kind of knowing. Abstract knowledge is a development of this more basic knowing.[2]

For example, when a pen falls off a desk, that seems to be proof that gravity exists, because gravity made it fall. But what is "gravity"? In 1500, "gravity" was the pen's desire to go to the center of the earth; in 1700 "gravity" was a force that acted at a distance according to mathematical laws; in the 1900s "gravity" was an effect of curved space-time; and today physicists theorize that "gravity" may be a force carried by subatomic particles called "gravitons". Gendlin views "gravity" as a concept and points out that concepts can't make anything fall. Instead of saying that gravity causes things to fall, it would be more accurate to say that things falling cause [the different concepts of] gravity. Interaction with the world is prior to concepts about the world.

The fact that concepts change does not mean that they are arbitrary; concepts can be formulated in many diverse and incompatible ways, but to the extent that they are rooted in experience, each formulation has its own precise relationship to experience. Thus Gendlin's philosophy goes beyond relativism and postmodernism. He agrees with postmodernists that culture and language are always already implicit in experiencing and in concepts. Empirical testing is crucial, but it does not keep science from changing every few years. No assertions are simply "objective".[3][4]

Gendlin points out that the universe (and everything in it) is implicitly more intricate than concepts, because a) it includes them, and b) all concepts and logical units are generated in a wider, more than conceptual process (which Gendlin calls implicit intricacy). This wider process is more than logical, in a way that has a number of characteristic regularities. Gendlin has shown that it is possible to refer directly to this process in the context of a given problem or situation and systematically generate new concepts and more precise logical units.[5]

Because human beings are in an ongoing interaction with the world (they breathe, eat, and interact with others in every context and in any field in which they work), their bodies are a "knowing" which is more than conceptual and which implies further steps. Thus, it is possible for one to drive a car while carrying on an animated conversation; and it is possible for Einstein to say that he had a "feel" for his theory years before he could formulate it.[4]

Human beings' ongoing interaction with the world provides ongoing validity. Each move, from pumping blood to discussing philosophy, implies a next step, an organic carrying forward. Humans feel this carrying forward both in the move itself and in the feedback it generates: at each moment, it is possible to feel how things are moving and what is implied next. With specific training, one can learn to attend to this feeling more deeply, so that a holistic felt sense of the whole situation can form.[6]

A felt sense is quite different from "feeling" in the sense of emotions; it is one's bodily awareness of the ongoing life process. Because a felt sense is a living interaction in the world, it is not relative in the way that concepts are. A felt sense is more ordered than concepts and has its own properties, different from those of logic; for example, it is very precise, more intricate, and can be conceptualized in a variety of non-arbitrary ways. Much of Gendlin's philosophy is concerned with showing how this implicit bodily knowing functions in relation to logic. For example, Gendlin has found that when the felt sense is allowed to function in relation to concepts, each carries the other forward, through steps of deeper feel and new formulation.[7]

Gendlin underlines that one can (and often does) "progress" in their understanding, and that this involves transitions in which existing conceptual models are disrupted, but that one can "feel" when a carrying forward in insight is (or is not) occurring. One can "feel" this because human logical conceptions are dependent on a more intricate order, which is living-in-the-world. Useful concepts derive from and are relative to this sense more than logical, intricate order, not the other way round.

Gendlin's two major philosophical works are Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning, which develops explicit ways of approaching the implicit; and A Process Model, which demonstrates this method by developing a body of consistent concepts for thinking about organic processes, with implications for thinking about space, time, science, genetics, ethology, consciousness, language, and spirituality.


Focusing[7] emerged from Gendlin's collaboration with psychologist Carl Rogers. Gendlin developed a way of measuring the extent to which an individual refers to a felt sense; and he found in a series of studies that therapy clients who have positive outcomes do much more of this. He then developed a way to teach people to refer to their felt sense, so clients could do better in therapy. This training is called 'Focusing'. Further research showed that Focusing can be used outside of therapy to address a variety of issues. It is described in Gendlin's book, Focusing, which has sold over 400,000 copies and is printed in twelve languages.

In 1970, Gendlin was the first person to receive the "Distinguished Professional Award in Psychology and Psychotherapy" from the Psychotherapy Division (Division 29) of the American Psychological Association.[8] In 2000, Gendlin also received, along with The Focusing Institute, the Charlotte and Karl Bühler Award from the Society of Humanistic Psychology (Division 32 of the American Psychological Association).[9] In 2007 he was a recipient of the Viktor Frankl Award of the City of Vienna for outstanding achievements in the field of meaning-oriented humanistic psychotherapy. [10]

The worldwide dissemination of Focusing has been facilitated by The Focusing Institute [1] . This nonprofit organization supports the spread of information and research about Focusing, and promotes diversity of practice amongst Focusing teachers. Their 2010 Membership Directory listed about 2,000 members in over 40 countries.

Thinking at the Edge

Thinking at the Edge (TAE),[11] a practice initially developed by Mary N. Hendricks on the basis of Eugene Gendlin's philosophy of the implicit,[12][13] is a way of developing one's implicit knowing into an articulated theory. For example, a professional might have had an inchoate felt sense for a problem for many years. Using TAE, it is possible to develop concepts that explicate the felt sense very precisely so that what was implicit knowledge can generate an explicit theory that can contribute to the field.


Gendlin's philosophical works include:

  • Experience and the Creation of Meaning: a Philosophical and Psychological Approach to the Subjective (1962)
  • Thinking Beyond Patterns: Body, Language, and Situations (1991)
  • The Primacy of the body, not the primacy of perception: How the body knows the situation and philosophy (1992)
  • Crossing and Dipping: Some Terms for Approaching the Interface between Natural Understanding and Logical Formulation (1995)
  • A Process Model (1997)
  • The Responsive Order: A New Empiricism (1997)
  • How philosophy cannot appeal to experience, and how it can (1997) (in D.M. Levin [Ed.], Language beyond postmodernism: saying and thinking in Gendlin's philosophy, pp. 3–41 & 343).
  • "Introduction to Thinking At The Edge" (2004) (in The Folio, Vol 19 No 1, 2004).
  • Line by Line Commentary on Aristotle's De Anima, Volume 1: Books I & II; Volume 2: Book III. Spring Valley, New York: The Focusing Institute (2012). Available online in PDF.

His writings on focusing and psychotherapy include:

  • Focusing (1978)
  • Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams (1986)
  • Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy (1996)

Many of Gendlin's writings are available online at the Focusing Institute and the Gendlin Online Library .

See also


  1. ^ — (1992). "The primacy of the body, not the primacy of perception". Man and World 25 (3–4): 341–353.  
  2. ^ — (1997). "The responsive order: A new empiricism". Man and World 30 (3): 383–411.  
  3. ^ — (1997). "How philosophy cannot appeal to experience, and how it can". In Levin, D.M. Language beyond postmodernism: saying and thinking in Gendlin's philosophy. pp. 3–41, 343. 
  4. ^ a b — (1992). "The wider role of bodily sense in thought and language". In Sheets-Johnstone, M. Giving the body its due. Albany: State University of New York Press. pp. 192–207. 
  5. ^ — (1995). "Crossing and dipping: some terms for approaching the interface between natural understanding and logical formulation". Minds and Machines 5 (4): 547–560.  
  6. ^ — (1993). "Three assertions about the body". The Folio 12 (1): 21–33. 
  7. ^ a b — (2007). Focusing. New York: Bantam Books. 
  8. ^ "Website of The Division of Psychotherapy of the American Psychological Association". 
  9. ^ "Website of Society for Humanistic Psychology". 
  10. ^
  11. ^ — (2004). "'"Introduction to 'Thinking at the Edge. The Folio 19 (1): 1–8. 
  12. ^ "TAE was envisioned and created by Mary Hendricks." Cited from: Eugene T. Gendlin, Introduction to Thinking At the Edge
  13. ^ "Thinking at the edge was developed out of Gendlin's philosophy of the implicit", cited from: How to Think At the Edge (TAE), The Focusing Institute

External links

  • Gendlin keynote presentation and discussion at the Psychology of Trust and Feeling Conference at Stony Brook University
  • Gendlin Online Library with many texts written by Gendlin: recent documents and all documents
  • Focusing Institute