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Gendlin, E.T. (1987). Focusing partnerships. The Focusing Folio, 6(2), 58-78. From

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E.T. Gendlin, Ph.D., University of Chicago

The pattern of sharing weekly time with a partner for focusing (or any helpful activity) has now developed far enough, so that it has become a regular structure we can describe and offer. I would like to describe some of its history, principles, structure, and our experiences with it including some problems.

In recent years I have been impressed by the fact that so many of us have regular focusing partnerships – and yet that is not widely known and included as a regular and understood part of focusing.

Many people have focusing partnerships. Some meet once a week for an hour, some more often. Some work in the same setting and divide a shorter time between them, every day. Some partnerships exist mostly on the telephone, some of them even long distance.

I believe that the partnership pattern should now become part of all our training and our regular procedures. That has already been instituted by the German focusing network for some years.

We have long found that although we do focusing alone most of the time, it helps greatly to have a regular partner once a week or more often.

Last year I proposed that the Chicago Trainers form partnerships with each other. They thought my suggestion odd and [Page 59] out of line; I didn't know why for a little while. It turned it that it was because they already had partners, some of many years standing. They thought I was proposing new partners for them; of course that wouldn't be appropriate for me to do. But I didn't know they had partners! Why is it we don't talk about this more? I also realized they didn't know – I hadn't told them – that one of them has been my partner for some years. Once one has a working partnership, there is a tendency to keep it private. Very well. But we need to develop it into a publicly understood pattern. I learned that we must talk and write more about our partnership pattern. I will explain later why I think that a publicly known partnership pattern is vital for focusing, and for society. It also poses some interesting practical and theoretical questions. But first, let me tell a little history, and also the two essentials of the partnership pattern.

1. A short history:

Ever since 1969 when the organization called CHANGES (1) began in Chicago, we have been training people in client-centered listening, and, more recently, in focusing. Many people have been focusing, and listening to each other. It has long been our pattern to have a large CHANGES meeting once a week, at which listening was one among many activities. There, every Sunday, I used to ask someone to listen to me. Some people also arranged listening times with each other during the week.

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The CHANGES organization continues, and still has this listening pattern. It is a regular, understandable pattern: One approaches someone and one asks: "I need some listening time; is that something you would be willing to do?" It is understood that the asked person might agree or not, and also, might ask the same thing in return, or not. There is also the general CHANGES pattern of standing up in the meeting and asking for, or offering anything, including listening time.

In that pattern reciprocity was not assumed. You might be quite willing to listen to someone, but rather ask a different person to listen to you. Listening arrangements were made new, each time. But we did have this stable well known pattern.

A well established and understood pattern is important. It empowers any person to ask, and to offer. Without a known pattern an individual has to invent an arrangement, and then convince someone that it makes sense. Hardly anyone has the strength and energy to do that – and least of all when one most needs listening. On the other hand, if a well-known pattern exists, then it is not hard to invite someone.

Some time in the nineteen seventies many of us experienced the RC pattern devised by Harvey Jaekins and his Reevaluation Counseling group. Since then, although CHANGES continues in its way, most focusing people have adopted a lot from the pattern of the RC partnership. It seem superior in a number of ways: Rather than creating a new arrangement each time, the arrangement lasts over some months or as long as both people wish. It is a two-way pattern; there is an absolute understanding that [Page 61] the available time is divided in half and shared equally. Each person is, in turn, listener and listenee. The pattern also involves certain rules. I will come back to these later. We expanded the RC pattern, as I will describe.

Dr. Ann Weiser, who has long been in our CHANGES organization, and has for many years been a focusing trainer, has been working for some time to develop the partnership pattern in San Francisco, and to bring together what we know of partnerships.

2. Two principles of the partnership pattern:

a. Half the time is used and decided about by each partner.

The first principle of the pattern is that the person whose turn it is, is in charge. We take this to mean not only that I am in charge of my own psychological process, but also of however I wish to use my time. My half of the time is for me. I need not use it for focusing or listening. I use it as I wish.

In my half of the time I might talk of some troubling situation, and share something private. I might ask you for listening responses, or I might ask you only to tell me when you don't follow me, so that I could repeat something in other words. I might say everything I know about something, or only a little. I might talk of deep feelings without letting you know what situation they refer to. I might focus silently in some or all of the time, and want only your quiet attention. [Page 62] I might say nothing, or only something about how my focusing is going. I might welcome focusing-guiding suggestions, or not. I might also use some other process I know which can help me. I would teach you whatever part in it I need you to take. If I use a process that is unfamiliar to you, I would initiate you sufficiently in it, so that you could learn to keep me the company I need. But also, in my time I might do nothing psychological at alI. I might talk about a work problem, tell you a story, talk about politics or some other topic I care about, read you a letter I received, or show you some photographs.

This basic principle gets past the sectarian character of most self-help networks today. Usually just one single process is shared, and anything else is considered out of bounds. Our pattern enables us to be there as the whole people we are, instead of just the part under the focusing hat. It lets us use and share all our knowledge of helpful processes, and learn how they can go together, without ever forcing anything on each other.

If something isn't tolerable to you, then of course you wouldn't do it with me, but otherwise you would not tell me how to use my time, or limit me just to focusing, or to problems, or to anything else – in my half of the time.

I want to emphasize the totally understood spirit of this principle. Of course you wouldn't presume to tell me what to do during my time, nor would I try to decide for you what [Page 63] you should do with your time. The "of course" is important here! I shouldn't have to fight or argue to defend my right to use my time in my own way. You are giving this time to me – for me, not for some specific purpose which you evaluate and approve. Similarly, at any little spot within my time, of course you wouldn't tell me what to do, or what my experience means, or what I should do next at that spot. You might make a suggestion or ask me a question, but only if I would welcome that, and you would first ask me if I would. Of course. It is my half of the time. Conversely, in your time I wouldn't tell you what to do. I wouldn't tell you to focus, or to talk about problems, or to do or not to do something. It has to be up to you to decide how to use your time. Otherwise the time is for some other purpose, and not really just for you.

If this is understood, then, when my turn begins, I feel how inviting that time is – it is open for me. I might know immediately what I need, and just start. Or, I might spend some minutes, scanning, sensing what I might like, I might talk of this ...., no, perhaps that ...., well, perhaps first focus. let me see .... It is the feeling I had as a child with a quarter in the five and ten store.

b. Keeping track of each half of the time:

The pattern involves keeping exact track of time and stopping each other when the time is up. Depending on the situation, [Page 64] this might be done in various ways, but the two people take equal time.

At first it may seem "mechanical" and inhuman to divide and keep track of time so exactly. But we soon see that deep feeling processes have their own time, which is not clock time, and therefore they can incorporate ordinary time-limits quite well. I have experienced dividing two hours in half, and also dividing less than 10 minutes into a chance for each of us to touch down deeply, inside.

Keeping track of the time-halves is a vital part of the pattern. If that isn't understood, one person takes more of the time, and the other is left to say, politely, that it's OK. It needs to make no difference which one is the more considerate person, or the more upset person, or the more important person, or whatever. Also, without time-halves, some people will constantly worry if they are taking too much time from the other person. There is no deep peace, and they stop as soon as they possibly can. We need to have the simple understanding that time is divided in half and kept track of. If I find I can stop, but there is more time, my process may deepen. And, even if I need nothing more – well, then I have that luxurious feeling again: What might I like to do in the time that is left?

3. Practical therapeutic questions about partnerships:

a. What we need:

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Please send us your own experiences with partnerships! We need at least a Central Exchange to which to send any reports we wish to make of experiences and especially difficulties. Eventually we would also expect to hear helpful findings from such a Center. Please consider us here in Chicago to be such a Center.

In each city we also need regular Partnership Consultation meetings where many people can come for consultation, more training, a new partner, a paid therapist, and other kinds of help and information.

When these offerings are working, then we can add them to the structure. Regular consultation and an easy way to change partners will then be well-understood parts of the partnership structure, as they need to be.

Helpful "rules" might be needed. For example, the RC pattern has rules against turning a partnership into a sexual relation in any way. It also follows that one had best not choose as a partner someone with whom this will obviously become a question. On the other hand, a different question is: Can the person who is already my life partner also be my focusing partner? We don't have enough reports to answer that. Some people have very helpfully added the partnership pattern to existing love and friendship relations. It would be very valuable if we could hear about any difficulties this has made.

We also badly need a regular pattern for how to invite someone to be a partner, if the person does not know about focusing or other such processes. What has been your experience [Page 66] with inviting someone like that? And, should we not always first try it once or twice, with a person, before making a longer arrangement which might then have to be broken again?

In these decades all this is just beginning. There is every reason to expect problems. Please write us about any problems and other observations.

The partnership structure is not yet clear beyond the two essentials stated above. Therefore please help pool experience and information!

Write to Dr. Ann Weiser, or to us here in Chicago.

b. Two transferences?

How is it even possible that the partnership pattern can work smoothly, considering transference, projections, and all the relational difficulties that develop so centrally in psychotherapy?

In my experience these happen as expected, but separately on each side, like two parallel therapies. Each has relational feelings going both ways. I am almost never tempted to mix these, and even when I am tempted, I don't. Neither does my partner. Let me explain what I mean:

As listener I have various feelings in reaction to my partner. These belong to my relation with her as being listened to.I make very much the same decisions, as I do as a therapist, moment by moment, what and when to express some of my feelings. [Page 67] Exactly as when I am a therapist, I try to be whole and visible, but without taking up all the time. As in therapy, sometimes my client or partner senses my reactions and wants me to open these before her process can continue. All this is familiar from psychotherapy, and all of it belongs to her half of the time. Any feelings toward her or her process, that I have left from that will now wait till next time, exactly as my feelings from a client's process.

Then, when my turn comes, immediately my own life, problems, and feelings are foremost. I put aside what I have left from her process, exactly as if I had just come from an hour with a client. I may have these feelings, but they are not my main life problem. But even if they were, I would not take them up under the aegis of being listened to. At most, if they stirred a really deep problem of mine, I might focus on that, and if I talk about it, it would be that deeper problem in me, not the relational part with her. That belongs to her time. And all the partners I have been with have acted in the same way in regard to our two time-halves.

This has developed quite naturally with us. I, at least, had not heard, or thought this in explicit terms before. It became clear to me only just now, while writing this paper.

I think it is related to the great difference between the two halves of the time. As the listener I am a large person. I can give my partner all the space. I can listen, respond if that is wanted, or feel close in long focusing silences. I can listen to even descriptions, and I can make tea. Her [Page 68] process does not trouble me, except at very rare instances. I certainly notice these when they do happen. But they belong to her half of the time. The two halves are very different. In her half I am usually the large free person who can listen.

As soon as it is my turn, I become quite a small person; my body scrunches up into one of my various problems. I may make a lot of ugly noises as I focus, until the tension eases as shifts come. Therefore I project certain negative feelings on my partner. I often feel that it must be hard for her to stand all my groaning, breathing, and other expressions. Then I have to look up and ask if it's OK. It always is, as I can then plainly see. It is obvious that my process bothers her no more than hers bothers me. I have done this asking so often, that we both laugh when I do it – and yet I have to do it often. Then I can go back to my focusing. Or, I may gestalt some dream-figure, and ask if that is OK. Again we both laugh. Or, if I amsilent very long, Ifeel itmust be hard for my partner to sit there with nothing to do.

Yet, right after that, when it is her turn, I am instantly the large listener again.These two seem to remain separate.

And so also, I find that however deep and sunken she might have been during her turn, in mine she is right there for me. And, what seems even more surprising, I can see and feel that.

I am illustrating an observation that always surprises me. It seems that projection, transference, and counter-transference both come doubly in the partnership, in two clearly [Page 69] separated sets, so that each person feels quite free when it is the other person's time.

For example, I seem to have difficulty when I am being blamed for something, and it is in my own opinion also really my fault. Usually this is when I missed our arranged time, or something of that sort. Then I get uncomfortable and I forget that even so, in my partner's time we are concerned with her feeling about this, and only some of those about the present situation and what I did. When I remember that again, she can soon find the deeper side of what it means to her.

On the other hand, I have no difficulty with the fact that my partner discovers that she is mad at me because she is about to leave town (nor with every kind of relational feeling that comes up in her). But if I did, that would belong to her half of the time.

I have not heard many reports of problems with ongoing partnerships. But, since people have not been saying or writing much about the partnerships, naturally I wouldn't hear of the troubles either. This article is in part a call to you to send us descriptions of your experiences.

To an old therapist it seems that all sorts of bad hassles must at times develop. Please let me hear of them and what you did about them. And, if you also find it largely trouble-free, I would surely like to know that too. Perhaps it means that partnerships are limited in the depth to which troubles can manifest and be worked out relationally. If we knew this better, we might then develop specific ways to do that. But, [Page 70] perhaps, to some extent, as I experience it, the inviolability of each person's time makes for a separation that permits two transferences or projection-relations to exist side by side, along with a good, real relationship.

c. What about training?

We find that training is quite essential for focusing and listening, as it is also for other processes. But it doesn't matter how one comes by that training. It is quite possible for a trained focuser or listener to train a partner, informally. In fact, informal training is one of the best kinds. There is no pretension and no pressure; one gives the other person what one knows, bit by bit, at appropriate times, as focusing and listening happen. I will say to a new trainee: "Now I need you to say back to me: 'You feel unsure of what to do because .....'" With focusing it is even easier. We need only train people to keep their attention quietly on us. Then we can focus in our own time, and teach focusing in the other person's half of the time. Training and experience are quite necessary.

Self-help processes are more specific, and more developed than professional training. At first that might seem odd. But a professional person is, in fact, defined more by the social role than by specific training. The qualifications insure that the professional is a responsible person. But the actual training varies greatly and can sometimes be quite [Page 71] round. It may cover a broader scope. In contrast, anything that can be taught to ordinary people has to be quite specific, so that it can be grasped and done exactly, step by step. We had to make focusing very specific for research purposes, and then we found that it needed to become even more specific to be teachable to ordinary people.

We find that the more a person knows and does focusing, the more do very specific questions arise, and the more is further training valued.

Training is indeed necessary, but quite possible within the partnership framework. If one person knows a skill, the other can be taught that skill. And, we must also arrange to make continuing training available.

d. Is it safe? Neither partner is an authority.

Can you really entrust yourself to someone who knows no more than you do, perhaps in fact far less?

Trust certainly does develop, but in a partnership you don't entrust yourself to anyone. You stay in charge of you own life and your own process, of course.

After thirty-five years of practicing psychotherapy and often being in therapy, I am not certain whether it is ever right to entrust oneself to anyone. I am not even sure whether it is possible, or only an illusion. People can not really be displaced from the driver's seat of their lives. As much as we might sometimes wish to say to someone: "Move over; I'll show you" – or, as much as we might sometimes long to [Page 72] turn our life over to someone to drive – I don't think it's possible. But, certainly, it is possible to be in therapy with someone whom we trust in the sense that we would take very seriously anything that person said or advised. We would try it out many times, and then perhaps blame ourselves, if we couldn't make it work. In that type of authority-relationship many clients do get help, but they can also get badly hurt, stopped, delayed for long years, or discouraged from help altogether.

Partnerships are much safer. Each person is well aware that the other is no authority. Anything stupid is easily recognized as such, and discarded. From a partner you will not put up with, for ten minutes, what many patients go through for years with credentialed psychotherapists.

Please don't think that I am attacking psychotherapy. I practice it, and I have also been a client for long periods. I am only saying, as we all know, that the quality varies, and therefore the trust and the years people invest in an authority are not as safe as a partnership in which the other person is obviously not empowered to tell one what to do, or how to do it.

I should also report that for a great many years I have taught psychotherapy courses both to graduates and undergraduates. I always arrange for them to pair up for two hours a week in exactly the above partnership structure. Each individual writes me intimate process-notes each week. In this [Page 73] regard I report from much observation: Granted our undergraduates are very bright and self-selected for the course. Nevertheless it is always again surprising to me: After a few weeks their process notes sound very much like those of therapists. Nor has anything very bad ever happened. Long before it could, someone wants to change partners, and can, of course, do that.

e. Will it put therapists out of business?

Surely not. The more partnerships there are, the more will therapy be known about, and professional therapists needed. It will often happen that someone needs to go further and deeper than is possible with a partner. We don't know as yet exactly, but there may be much that one can do only with a therapist, or with especially able people. At least there will be a need for able consultants, so that one or both partners have somewhere to go for more help. Knowing people are always in demand, and that demand will grow as more people have partnerships.

It is true, however, that when people get quite a lot for free, they are in a position to recognize whether the paid therapist provides more, or not. That is probably the most effective way to raise the quality of professional therapy. Public knowledge gotten from partnerships can insure exactly what the present credentialing procedures aim at, protecting the public by insuring quality.

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f. Do I have what it takes to be someone's partner?

Two things are required – but every human being has them. One requirement is the capacity to shut up – to keep quiet and to be unintrusive company. When the other person is talking, it means that we refrain from every urge to impose something on the person. It means letting go of our many excellent ideas, interpretations, suggestions, and our desire to give friendly reassurances, or to tell what we did in a similar situation. And – during those times when the other person is quiet, it means keeping our attention on the person without hearing anything interesting.

The second requirement is the company of a human being. You cannot fail to have this capacity, since you are a human being. It does not require a good human being, or a wise one, or any special quality. It does not require some special way of being or showing one's humanness. Just you there.

But most people don't know this!! They think they must provide something special, either some inner way of being they lack, or perhaps some especially insightful or helpful thing to say which they might fail to come up with. Neither of these things is required, fortunately! Who you are and what you say makes a minimal difference. But there are a number of very specific procedures which anyone can and needs to learn, because they make this kind of interaction possible. They are therefore very important. But if the other person knows [Page 75] one of them, then whether you do or not, you will help greatly by your being there. It is the human company which makes the difference and immensely deepens the process.

Knowing this is a very large fact! As a therapist, or on the helping side of a partnership, I sit down into this very large fact. I know that my company does not consist of my personal characteristics since they aren't so great, and also, since in most hours even the good ones don't help much. What helps? It is the process that arises from inside the person – from underneath that person's conscious self. And all it needs is for me to sit down here? I know I can do that.

4. Theory: Human nature is interactional:

Sometimes something can be said best in terms of research. Here is a nearly perfect research design: The subjects first focus for 10 minutes alone, then – on the same problems – with a familiar partner who remains completely silent. However measured, the results will be significantly better with a partner. The design involves the same person with the same troubles at the same time, and without any verbal or behavioral difference – nothing added except the silent presence of the partner.

I have conducted this research hundreds of times with one subject – myself. I focus alone, if I have a chance to do so before meeting with my partner. Sometimes I then feel just fine from my own focusing, so that my time with my partner is quite free. But, very often I have instead a chance to [Page 76] carry out the above design. I see how much further I can very quickly go, in total silence, in the same spot, just because my partner is there.

This research design expresses a theoretical point: Human beings are inherently interactional. In an important way humans are ongoing interactional processes. We go on differently alone than in relation with various actually present people – even without anything visible or verbal.

You know this. For example, you are waiting alone at a bus stop. You are with yourself, in peace.Now someone comes and stands next to you. Your inner peace may be gone, although that person may neither say nor do anything.

Or, take the opposite case. You are lonely and feel strange. Finally, you decide to call a friend. Someone else answers and you wait for your friend to come to the phone. During that brief minute you already feel so much better– you don't need to talk any more by the time your friend actually comes to the phone.

So the silent company of another person is no small thing. It changes one's whole way of being – physically, I am quite sure. It shows that human beings are inherently, essentially interactional. When there is no other person, one's whole interactional way of being gets stuck, becomes permanent, and seems to fall into oneself as if it were one's individual traits.

These observations also show that the current notions about dependence and independence are mistaken. We are taught [Page 77] to be on our own, to try to do everything without needing anyone – private enterprise. But by nature not everything is possible that way. So we blame ourselves alone for not doing what cannot be done alone. But we ought not to delay for years what can happen only in interaction.

None of this detracts either from the value of focusing alone, or from our independence. Partnership is a further step. Why shall we stay limited when we can do so much more in partnership?

But, this point is crucial: The great effect of another person's presence can be had in silence, or with however much or little content-sharing you want. The presence and attention of the other person makes the big difference, not the private content which you may or may not share in words.

5. Society and social institutions:

Why have an official partnership pattern?

Our familiar situations of love, work, and play are social patterns – social institutions. For example, some of these patterns are how we act at work, with family members, in a classroom, or going into a store. Our situations are highly patterned before we are born into them. Currently the old patterns don't suffice, so it is true that we must constantly improvise as well. But we don't have to invent the whole thing on the spot; we improvise these understood, socially instituted patterns – the familiar situations.

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For example, friendship is a social institution. You don't have to explain the reason why you meet and talk to those people – they are your friends. How you treat friends varies a lot, but it is a known pattern. If you violate it, the person may tell you: "That's no way to treat a friend!"

For example, talking at great length about your personal problems is not appropriate with a friend, except at rare times. And certainly it isn't appropriate to let your friend sit and wait in silence, for ten minutes or eventhree, while you focus! Our culture has friendship and parties for play space, and also patterns for love and for work. We don't as yet have – but we are getting – social patterns for personal and interpersonal processes. Psychotherapy is one of these, and the partnership pattern is another.

With such a known and understood pattern, people can use it, who otherwise wouldn't have the skill or energy to invent it. If we both know this pattern, one of us can invite the other. At this time the pattern is not yet widely enough known. Therefore people have to be told about it, before they can be invited. But, at least a pattern exists, and it can be told about.

I expect, in a decade or two, everyone will have a partner for personal processing. That is the only way our discovery of these processes can become available to everyone. And there are many signs, today, that these processes are wanted, and will become increasingly available.

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Some twenty or thirty million people now belong to one or another of the networks which offer such processes. So far, these are sectarian: you can do only one particular process with the people there. Any other process must be done with others in another network. As you see, our partnership structure moves past this sectarianism.

Paid therapy is structured on a model of scarcity. Only some people can get the training; others cannot. Only some people have the money to pay; others do not. In contrast, partnership is inherently without scarcity: Anyone can be a partner. Anyone can get a partner. The basic "commodity" is the inter-human attention, something each of us has and can give.

A society without real or artificial scarcity may be a long time away, but that is no reason against new forms. Throughout history new forms have existed within societies whose overall organization was in older forms. For example, city people partially freed themselves quite early from the surrounding feudal structure – and then struggled and coexisted with it for centuries. The partnership model can be adopted by all who wish, and adapted by and for any people.

There is no reason to leave the processes of inter-human attention packaged, as they have been, within the scarcity model.


(1) Gendlin, E.T., Focusing Bantam Books, N.Y.: 1981.

"The Politics of Giving Therapy Away" In Larson, D., Ed., Teaching Psychological Skills. Brooks/Cole, Monterey: 1984. An early draft appeared in: Focusing Folio Vol. 1, Issue #4, 1981.

´┐ŻEugene T. Gendlin

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