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Gendlin, E.T. (1959). The concept of congruence reformulated in terms of experiencing. Counseling Center Discussion Papers, 5(12). Chicago: University of Chicago Library. From

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by Eugene T. Gendlin, Ph.D.

This paper will attempt to show that the major conclusions of Rogerian theory can be supported and clarified, if an addition to the theory is made. This addition, implied in the theory itself, is the function (rather than the content) of experiencing.

I. Rogers' Concept of Congruence

The concept of "congruence" is central in Rogers' theory. The basic concepts of the theory are defined in terms of "congruence" and "incongruence." An individual is said to be "congruent" when the content of his awareness symbolizes all the content of his organismic experience [1].

"When self-experiences are accurately symbolized, and are included in the self-concept in this accurately symbolized form, then the state is one of congruence of self and experience."

"Optimal psychological adjustment exists when the concept of the self is such that all experiences are or may be assimilated on a symbolic level into the gestalt of the self-structure. Optimal psychological adjustment is thus synonymous with complete congruence of self and experience, or complete openness to experience." (2, p. 206)

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An optimally adjusted person, so defined, will "experience himself as the locus of evaluation," will "find his organismic valuing a trustworthy guide to the most satisfying behaviors," and will "live with others in the maximum possible harmony." "All available experiential data will be available to awareness and used." (2, p. 235)

"I have used this concept of availability to awareness to try to make clear what I mean by openness to experience. This might be misunderstood. I do not mean that this individual would be self-consciously aware of all that was going on within himself, like the centipede who became aware of all his legs. On the contrary, he would be free to live a feeling subjectively, as well as to be aware of it. He might experience love, or pain, or fear, living in this attitude subjectively. Or he might abstract himself from this subjectivity and realize in awareness, 'I am in pain,' 'I am afraid,' 'I do love.' The crucial point is that there would be no barriers, no inhibitions, which would prevent the full experiencing of whatever was organismically present, and availability to awareness is a good measure of this absence of barriers." (3, p.7)

"Every stimulus, whether originating within the organism or in the environment, is freely relayed through the nervous system without being distorted or channeled off by any defensive mechanism . . . In the hypothetical person who is completely open [Page 3] to his experience, his concept of self would be a symbolization in awareness which would be completely congruent with his experience." (2, p. 206)

The process of psychotherapy is also defined in terms of congruence. In the process of therapy the client's "concept of self becomes increasingly congruent with his experience"; (2, pp. 205-206). Thus psychotherapy is defined as a process of increasing congruence.

One of the conditions of a therapeutic relationship is "genuineness" or "congruence in the relationship." (2, p. 213). "Genuineness" is "congruent awareness" of all experiences in so far as they concern a relationship. Thus the therapeutic relationship too, is defined in terms of congruence.

Congruence is thus the most basic action of Rogers' theory. If an individual's perceptions and behaviors are based on all his experiences, then his responses are based on the fullest possible information about himself and reality. His own experience from moment to moment is therefore the best possible basis of interpretation and action. To the extent that all his experience is in awareness, the individual needs no external guidance, no stereotyped constructs, no super-ego. His organism is the best guide, both from his own and from society's point of view.

Rogers' theory, as it stands, has raised numerous objections, some of which will be discussed in part IV of this paper. I believe that the theory gives rise to these objections because it is formulated in static terms while it implies a dynamic process. [Page 4] I call this dynamic process "experiencing."

II. Experiencing an addition to the theory:

A. The roles of naturalistic observation and theory:

The term experiencing stands for an individual's subjectivity in so far as he can refer directly to it as a momentary felt datum in his phenomenal field.

Experiencing therefore stands for a directly observable, though private, datum of the individual. It is also central in our naturalistic observations of other people: we interpret our observations of others in terms of their private datum of experiencing. Most of our naturalistic observations of persons involve experiencing, private or imputed. Psychotherapy would give us very little observation about which to begin forming scientific concepts, if we omit observations that concern experiencing. However, when we move from naturalistic observations to the stage of forming a theory, we must construct precisely defined concepts. At that stage we must have terms that formulate private and imputed experiencing, but such terms will now have the status of theoretical constructs in our theory. Such terms will thus face in two directions. Backward, they will refer to certain central aspects of the naturalistic observation of psychotherapy with which science must begin. Forward, these terms will function as theoretical constructs. Hypotheses will be formulated with them, leading [Page 5] to new operational procedures and new discriminations of reliably observable behavior. Operational hypotheses can then be tested not through naturalistic or subjectively defined observation, but through reliably defined behavioral observation. Precisely defined behavioral observation is the aim of theory, not its starting point. The scientific method is therefore not altered by a theory which conceptualizes naturalistic observations of subjective experiencing. However, since subjectivity is naturalistically observed to be central in psychotherapy, theory which formulates it is very likely to lead to behavioral research concerning central rather than peripheral aspects of psychotherapy.

B. Naturalistic observations:

Naturalistic observation shows that experiencing plays a central role in psychotherapy. In both therapist and client, the stream of directly felt subjective data is central.

Experiencing constitutes the therapist's "understanding" the client. A therapist usually "understands" a client not in terms of finished concepts but in terms of a directly felt sense that he understands. He then formulates concepts to convey his felt understanding or to interpret it to himself and to the client.

Similarly, the client does not just string words or concepts together. He forms his words on the basis of the directly felt datum he now confronts in his phenomenal field. As he speaks, [Page 6] thinks, feels and changes, the process of "working through" his feelings is central in him. He may say much or little, he may think sophisticated concepts or dull approximations. But if there is therapeutic change, it will occur through a working with present feeling.

When therapists discuss therapy cases, they speak in terms of naturalistic observations which involve experiencing. They distinguish, for example, between "really being in therapy" and "intellectualizing." The latter term describes a "defense." The client is not really "facing" his feelings, he is merely using words and concepts. This well known distinction refers to the role that experiencing plays in therapy. Is the client speaking from his present experiencing? Do his words describe this present experiencing? Is he directly referring to ("facing") his present experiencing? Or is he simply uttering and thinking abstractions about feelings which he does not now feel?

When a client really grapples with his present experiencing, he is likely to refer directly to it, even though he may not as yet interpret it in concepts. For example, he may say, "I don't know what I feel there, but it's sure strong." Or, he may say, "In that situation I get this big black feeling which just makes me want to run away." Such verbal expressions do not really conceptualize the client's experiencing. They merely point to it. They indicate that the client is directly referring to something in his present experiencing.

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Present experiencing is physically felt, like hunger or pain. Often, it is not conceptually known. Yet it always has implicit or felt meaning. "Implicit meaning" is a phrase which describes the fact that by directly referring to feeling, an individual can form concepts to describe it. It is not just feeling in general, it is always this very specific moment of feeling which only certain concepts seem to fit. Furthermore, although present experiencing is often felt as one "this way I feel," it can usually be differentiated and explicated as many different feelings and meanings. One physical feeling may later be said to have implicitly included many ideas, experiences, assumptions or attitudes.

These naturalistic observations are central to psychotherapy. Whenever therapy is discussed in a practical sense, no one is surprised at the mention of these observations. One cannot say much about an individual case or about the actual practice of psychotherapy (in any school of therapy) without referring in some way to the client's and the therapist's present experiencing.

I propose therefore, to define experiencing so that the definition may function as a theoretical construct. However, our definition will profit from our naturalistic observations. The theory stands a much better chance of leading to significant research, if it is the best possible conceptualization of our naturalistic observations.

C. Theoretical definition of experiencing:

1) Experiencing is an organismic process:

a) The term "process" refers to a certain pattern of logical relationships which a theory may impose upon events. When some area of observation is called a process, it is considered as [Page 8] follows: A process is a chain of events. At any one moment some events are present. Their present characteristics and organization depend upon previous events in the chain, and imply (or dynamically tend toward) future events. The next moment will be a somewhat different organization of somewhat different events, yet the organization will include relationships to the earlier events. Similarly, the earlier moment will, in its own organization, include implications, tendencies, dynamic relationships to the later moment. Thus in anything termed process, there is always a concrete present datum which contains dynamic relationships of past, present and future events.

It is useful to apply the term and the logic of "process" to the organism. Biology and physiology conceive of the organism as a process.

b) Experiencing is an organismic process. It is either the total organismic process or some sub-process in it. Subjective and physiological events are one process which we term organism. Unless a psychological theory would wish to deal with ghosts, it must in some way assume that subjective events are aspects of the organismic process. Experiencing is defined as an organismic process including both physiological and subjective aspects.

The subjective aspect of experiencing is the moment to moment feeling process to which an individual can directly refer in his phenomenal field.

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2) Experiencing is pre-conceptual:

Experiencing is not composed of given discrete events. If all events in the organism which have affected and now affect the present organization were separately defined, a vast number of discrete events would have to be defined. Furthermore, there is no criterion for what is a discrete event, or what had better be considered two or seventeen events. Therefore we must conclude that the cognitive operation of separating and defining different aspects of experience is a further production, not a report of what is already given. We cannot posit one set of defined and discrete experiences "in" the individual. Any one present subjective datum is amenable to many different cognitive discriminations. Since the organism is a highly organized process, a moment's feeling is not completely indeterminate, but neither is it a defined content. It is distinguishably different from other feelings and meanings, so that the cognitive operation of defining it is not random. Yet, such defining is not a mere reading of given discrete contents. The feeling process is not given in terms of conceptual entities. Experiencing is pre-conceptual.

While many psychological concepts refer to formulated and defined aspects of subjectivity (e.g. anxiety, ego, depression,) none as yet refers to the subjectively received datum which is only felt, not as yet cognitively defined. Experiencing is that pre-conceptual felt datum. It is the moment to moment feeling process to which an individual can directly refer in his own phenomenal field. For the most part, it is pre-conceptual and felt, rather than conceptually known by the individual.

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3) Experiencing implicitly contains a complex organization which functions in the present:

A moment's experiencing is a unity which includes complexity. Earlier I cited the naturalistic observation that a moment's feeling can be differentiated into many meanings, attitudes, and other psychological data. The older psychology applies the logic of things-in-space to such data. These discrete data are posited "in" the individual. The subjective feeling which implicitly contains all these data is ignored by such a theory. The things, or data, "in" the individual are considered to be "repressed" until he can define them. Such a theory does not make clear how and in what form all these many discrete data can be present in the individual.

For example, it is often said that "past experiences" function in the perception of a present situation. In what form are such past experiences present now, so that they might influence present perception?

Experiencing is defined so as to answer this question. The many past experiences are implicitly present in a moment's feeling process. One subjectively felt datum implicitly contains very many discriminable aspects.

If we define experiencing as an organismic process, we can view a moment's experiencing as containing the complex organization of the organismic process. A moment's organismic process is not "an experience." It is always experiencing, that is to say a process containing complex dynamic relationships of many events. Subjectively, also, a moment's feeling implicitly [Page 11] contains very many relationships of past, future and external events. Feeling is not like a thing in space. It is better defined as a process of organized dynamic relationships. It includes interactions organized by past biological and symbolic conditioning which now function in an organized dynamic tending toward further events. Therefore, a moment's subjectively felt experiencing can be differentiated as many patterns, attitudes, relationships, implications, ideas and emotions, yet it can be one momentarily felt subjective referent.

4) Integration of experience is a function of experiencing:

As we have seen, any moment's subjectively felt referent implicitly contains very many aspects which function to determine perception. I would now like to add that their functioning is an integrative one.

Present perception is not determined by past experiences that function one after the other. The many past experiences function simultaneously as an integrated, presently felt context. Furthermore, the present functioning is also a further integrating of present events and perceptions. In this functioning, implicit aspects of present feeling are modified, and modify each other. A new perception modifies the total context of "past experience" (implicitly present and felt). In the same process this new perception becomes modified and integrated into the total context which is presently being felt. Hence the integration of experience lies in the ongoing functioning of the many implicit aspects of present feeling.

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A theoretical definition of integration must view it as a function of the ongoing subjective and organismic process.

We cannot define integration as static relationships between infinitely numerous "experiences". Let us instead define it as a function of the experiencing process.

The living body inter-acts with environmental events which thereby become part of the dynamic organization we call "organism". The integration of the organism lies in this ongoing functioning. The organism remains integrated only as the functioning continues. Its integration is the dynamic organization of this functioning. Thus, from the organismic point of view, integration must be defined as a function of the ongoing process.

Integration of experience involves the presence, functioning, and mutual modification of "experiences." The process of experiencing, as here defined, accounts for these three essentials of integration. The many implicit aspects of a moment's feeling are integrated in so far as the process of feeling them is ongoing. If they were considered to be discrete contents, their integration would be a mystery. As implicit in an ongoing process, many aspects can be present, functioning, and mutually modifying, that is to say, they can be integrated aspects of the dynamic process organization. Thus the feeling process integrates the presently functioning, implicitly felt aspects. It is a continuous integrating process.

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In summary, experiencing is defined as an organismic process, felt from moment to moment as a pre-conceptual, implicitly manifold and integrative direct referent.

III. Experiencing is implied and required by Rogerian theory:

Although experiencing is a new concept, I believe that it is already implied by Rogerian theory. The theory can be understood only if certain functions of experiencing are assumed. If the assumed functions of experiencing are left out, much of the theory seems open to devastating objections.

Before dealing with these objections, I would like further to discuss two functions of experiencing as they are assumed in Rogerian theory. These are: A) its function as a basis of perception and B) its function as a dynamic process that integrates experiences.

A) Rogerian theory implies the function of experiencing as a basis of perception:

Earlier (II C-3) I showed that experiencing is a process which both subjectively and physiologically contains a complex organization of many events in one momentarily present datum. With this implicit organization, experiencing functions as a basis of perception. I will discuss this function first under its subjective and then under its physiological aspect, as these are implied in Rogerian theory.

Many experiences are said to be somehow present at any given moment. They are said to interpret present perception and guide action. Yet these many experiences cannot all be explicitly [Page 14] symbolized in awareness. They are not denied to awareness, yet they are not discriminated in awareness. Rogers calls them "available to awareness." Yet he implies more by this term than that one can think of them when one wants to. He implies that these "past experiences" function optimally to interpret perception whether one thinks of them or not. In the congruent individual "all" experiences function optimally to interpret present perception and to guide action. All experiences are being taken account of, in so far as they bear on the present. But all experiences cannot each be symbolized simultaneously. The theory implies that "all experiences" function optimally in the present subjective process, not that they are all specifically symbolized. Rogers holds that any experience which functions in this optimal fashion, could be symbolized, if need be. However, it is their optimal functioning, not their possible symbolization, which defines optimal adjustment.

In what form are so very many past and present experiences in awareness in one present moment? What kind of awareness is it, which functions to bring past experiences to bear, so as to interpret a present situation? The theory implies a type of awareness which includes very many experiences and thus cannot be an explicit symbolization. The theory also implies that this inclusive awareness functions so that the many experiences are taken account of in present perception.

This kind of awareness, to perform this function, must be subliminal, implicit, unsymbolized, merely felt. The many experiences can all be implicit in one present subjective [Page 15] "feeling." By "implicit" is meant that one can make these experiences and perceptions "explicit," if necessary. However, most experiences and perceptions can remain implicit in the one felt datum of a given moment. One need not symbolize them explicitly. They perform their function of interpreting the present even though they are implicit, merely felt as part of one subjective feeling. The theory assumes this functioning although its theoretical term is "available to awareness."

This same function of experiencing is also implied by the organismic terms of the theory:

In the ideally adjusted organism, Rogers says, all stimuli are "freely relayed" without blockage. This implies that adjustment is not due to symbolized awareness of each organismic content. Rather, the theory implies that adjustment involves a certain manner of organismic functioning, i.e. that all events freely interact in the moment-to-moment organismic process.

The theory states that organismic experience must be accurately symbolized awareness, but this cannot be intended literally. It would be impossible for all organismic events which can be "experience" to be in awareness as symbolized contents. Rather, the theory implies that "congruent" awareness is that manner of organismic functioning which allows all aspects of the organism to function. No experience is "blocked," i.e. excluded from the organized flow of the process. Since it is the very nature of an organism, that events in it are organized and in process, it follows that an optimal organism is simply one which is in all respects an organism.

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I have now reformulated the notion of congruent awareness in two related ways. I tried to show that congruent awareness must imply that "all experiences" are implicit in the functioning of a subjective feeling. I am now adding that such ideal awareness is not a symbolization of organismic content. Rather it is an optimal manner of organismic functioning. Organismic functioning is optimal when all aspects of it are in process, in the dynamic organization which is the essential characteristic of organisms. Thus the theory implies the optimal functioning of an organismic and subjective process which brings "past experiences" to bear on present perception.

B) Rogerian theory implies that experiencing functions to integrate experiences:

The Rogerian theory implies that congruent awareness is an integration of experiences, not merely an awareness of separate experiences. Yet, it is not obvious why integration occurs as a result of awareness. If awareness means nothing more than symbolization of an experience, it is certainly possible that the experience remains unintegrated with other experiences. One might experience hatred and symbolize it as hatred, yet it might not become integrated with other experiences. Thus awareness of hatred could simply lead to a distorted perception and a destructive behavior. The theory implies that this could not happen because in congruent awareness any one feeling is experienced together with many others. A functioning is assumed in which experiences are present, modified and integrated. [Page 17] Integration involves a process or a functioning. Both old and new experiences are present, and modified in integration. Therefore, integration cannot be static nor can it be a matter of logical relationships. An intellectual, symbolized system of relationships between "all experiences" would be infinite, impossible, and still static.

The theory implies that modification and integration occur as a result of awareness. Clearly then, the type of awareness which involves integration must be a process or a functioning in which these experiences are present and being modified and integrated.

In summary: The theoretical definition of experiencing, here proposed, formulates these two functions: many experiences are implicit in one felt referent which functions from moment to moment to interpret perception: these implicit experiences are being integrated from moment to moment through the functioning of this feeling process. I have tried to show that Rogerian theory implies both these functions.

IV. Objections to Rogerian theory, and resolutions to these objections:

If experiencing (and its functions) are omitted, certain frequently made objections to Rogerian theory seem justified. Since Rogerian theory implies the functions of experiencing, these objections are really misunderstandings. In the following I will consider six such objections. I will try to show that they are based on the omission of experiencing and that they may be resolved by including the functions of experiencing.

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Objection 1. The optimally adjusted person and the successful client are said to be impulse-ridden, and dangerous.

We have seen that in Rogers' adjusted person the organism is the only basis for perceptions and actions. The adjusted or "congruent" person is aware of all the experiences of his organism. This full awareness will result in maximal harmony with others and in optimal behavior. However, it has been argued that behavior based only on awareness of the organism would be impulse-ridden, uncontrolled and dangerous. The mere fact that an individual is aware of all his experiences and feelings does not seem to guarantee that he will behave in an adjusted or harmonious manner. If he trusts his organism to decide for him how he will act, does this not mean that he will act out each impulse? Why should awareness of the organism make the organism trustworthy and socially constructive? We see animals tearing each other to bits and human beings doing likewise. Only a Rousseauian faith seems to support the Rogerian contention that a fully symbolized (congruent) organism is "basically good." If psychotherapy changes an individual in the direction of more awareness and acting out of the organism, isn't psychotherapy dangerous and irresponsible?

In this objection "congruence" has been taken literally as symbolized awareness of organismic contents. Congruence is taken to mean only that there is in awareness a symbolized copy of organismic events. For example, there is no reason why awareness of hatred should not lead to murder. There is no reason why complete awareness (congruence) makes the organism reliable rather than dangerous.

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The implied functions of experiencing answer the objection. 1) One moment's subjective experiencing implicitly contains very many ("all") past experiences. It functions to interpret the present. 2) As part of one process, all experiences are integrated with and modified by all others. Thus "congruent" awareness is not an awareness of some one feeling such as hatred, or some one impulse, such as to kill. It is an awareness of a subjective referent (or feeling) which is the modified integration of all experience. The optimally adjusted individual experiences his hatred together with his love, with his experiences of learning and socialization, his needs for others and his valuing. These experiences are implicit in one subjective referent. If this subjective referent implicitly contains and takes account of "all" experiences then the individual can trust it, and society can trust him.

To answer the objection we have had to alter the notion of "congruence." We have had to consider congruence not as a symbolized awareness of the contents of all experiences, but as an implicitly meaningful subjective referent, a physically felt organismic process in which all experiences function.

Objection 2) The Rogerian optimal person and successful client seem to use no cognitive constructs, no intellectually refined differentiations. They only feel. They are pure emotion.

A concept or intellectual abstraction is a differentiation of experiencing. Elsewhere (1) I have tried to formulate this characteristic of concepts in philosophical terms.

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For example, before speaking we do not usually think all the words or concepts which we are about to say. What we mean exists in us as a subjective feeling. When we speak, we refer directly to this feeling and the proper concepts or words come to us. If the words or concepts that come are not the right ones, we say, "now let's see, what did I mean?" again referring directly to our subjectively felt sense of what we meant.

This observation can be formulated by the following assertion: intellectual meanings are experienced as aspects of a subjectively felt referent. If we refer to this referent, we can differentiate and conceptualize meanings. Thus intellectual meanings are in their very nature aspects of subjective feelings. Any moment's subjective feeling implicitly contains many possible meanings which could be differentiated and symbolized.

Everything we learn, think or read enriches the implicit meanings contained in our subjective felt referent. For example, after reading a theoretical paper, my "feeling" about it will implicitly contain many intellectual perceptions and meanings which I have, because I have spent years of reading and thinking. When I write a commentary on the paper I symbolize explicitly the meanings which were implicit in my "feelings" after I read the paper.

Clearly, such "feelings" contain not only emotions, but attitudes, past experiences, and complex intellectual differentiations. Thus the "feeling" which guides the adjusted person implicitly contains all the intellectual meanings of all his [Page 21] experience. As his "feeling" functions, it is a modified interaction of these implicit meanings. When an individual is said to "act on his feelings," this complex total functions as the basis of action. It includes implicit intellectual meanings; it is not mere emotion.

Objection 3) It seems that there is no place for culture and social training in Rogerian theory.

Rogerian theory holds that the adjusted person's own organismic experience is a sufficient basis for all perceptions and actions. Psychotherapy is a process in which one overthrows cultural constructs and judgements which were "introjected" from others. Introjection always makes for maladjustment in that it distorts awareness of organismic experience.

All cultural meanings and social training thus appear maladjusted. The optimal person seems to have no need of them. The client in therapy drops them.

The theory appears false. Social psychology has shown the immense influence of culture and socialization. Does Rogerian theory naively omit these discoveries? It seems to hold that the individual (if congruently aware of all his organismic experiences) can dig out of himself alone all the meanings and differentiations he uses. Yet these meanings and differentiations really come from millennia of civilization. The culture and community strive to preserve and teach them. We know that an individual derives most of the meanings and perceptions of his experience from his culture. His contribution of completely new perceptions is proportionally small.

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Again the misinterpretation omits the fact that a subjective feeling implicitly includes the meanings of many many experiences. What an individual was taught is part of his experience. Whether the teaching is an abstract perception of some value or whether it is an inter-personal attitude, if he is "congruently" aware of it then it is implicit in his subjective experiencing. If the individual is aware of all his experiences, he is thus aware also of all the cultural influences he has experienced. Such awareness, however, is not a symbolized memory of each experience. It is a functioning of a feeling process which can implicitly contain them.

The theory also implies that the adjusted person will integrate culturally given experiences, perceptions and teachings together with all his experiences. Each moment's subjective feeling integrates experiences.

Naturally, if culturally given experiences are integrated and modified by all the individual's experiences, he will not be a carbon copy of the cultural model. For example, wherever the cultural teaching conflicts with other experiences of his organism and tends to distort these, the adjusted person will have overthrown the distortion. His subjective integration may be different than some cultural values demand, but he will have taken account of these cultural values implicitly in his total feeling. He will have included whatever a human organism could possibly experience in line with these values.

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Thus culture and social training are not obviated by Rogerian theory provided that "congruent" means the present functioning and inter-modification of all aspects of experience. An adjusted individual who "trusts" his organism, acts on "feeling" which implicitly contains all experiences and is the modified integration of them. The feeling implicitly contains his cultural values and perceptions in so far as these can be experienced.

Objection 4) The Rogerian optimal person seems to lack consistency. He seems to change from moment to moment.

Rogers says of the adjusted person, and of the successful client after therapy, that "he will meet each situation with behavior which is a unique and creative adaptation to the newness of that moment" (3, p. 235). The prospect of continual newness in the adjusted person is disquieting. A person who goes by no personal constructs, who is always new, seems unpredictable, unreliable and a little like a "loose" schizophrenic. The schizophrenic finds only too often that he feels like a new and different person than he was a moment ago. In each segment of his life he feels different. He has no solid self, no consistent personal constructs.

Again the theory depends on something it does not formulate, namely the continuity of experiencing. Each moment is new but it is not a new kaleidoscopic shake-up of all experiences. Organismic life (and the subjective process) are continuous processes. Experiences are not static contents either in or out of awareness. They are the functioning of momentary subjectivity. They modify and are modified as each new perception is integrated. Integration [Page 24] and modification imply continuity, not an abruptly different self. If something is to be modified, it must be continuously present throughout the process of its modification. The "new adaptation" to a situation is a modification of experiences, as these can be continuously present implicitly in experiencing.

If we reformulate the theory in this way, schizophrenic dissociation appears as a sharp contrast to continuously adaptive experiencing. In the schizophrenic, subjective experiencing does not function optimally. Experiences are not available to interpret each new situation. Even conventional learnings and meanings are often unavailable. They are not implicit in the present subjective feeling, and thus cannot function to interpret present perception. In contrast, adjustment implies that there is continuity of presently functioning experiencing.

Objection 5) Psychotherapy is said to be merely better intellectualization.

We have seen that, according to Rogerian theory, psychotherapy is a process of increasing congruence. Rogers says, "Congruence . . . is a basic concept which has grown out of therapeutic experience, in which the individual appears to be revising his concept of self to bring it into congruence with his experience, accurately symbolized." (2, pp. 205-206).

If psychotherapy is merely a revision of concepts about self, as the above quotation has it, then it is merely a learning of more accurate intellectualization about self. Yet intellectualization notoriously does not help the individual to change. [Page 25] Concepts about self may be accurate, even though the individual does not directly feel or change what the concepts refer to. The development of accurate symbolization does not describe therapeutic change. It seems to describe a growing facility for accurate intellectualizing.

We can see that this is not Rogers' meaning, since he writes that clinical experience reveals the client revising his concepts to bring them into line with his experience. Clearly, then, the client has some kind of direct access to his experience which enables him to revise his concepts. The therapeutic process involves more and more direct access to experience, as well as the revision of concepts in accordance with experience.

Direct access to experience is provided by the functions of experiencing during psychotherapy. The client directly refers to his moment to moment subjective feeling. He differentiates the implicit aspects of his felt experiencing. On the basis of present experiencing and its differentiation, he comes to see the inaccuracy of his concepts. He forms new concepts to fit the implicit meanings of his moment to moment subjective feelings. Thus a client often feels something he cannot as yet define. He struggles with the feeling, tries out new concepts about it, checks the concepts against what he feels, and then tries still other concepts. As he does so, his moment to moment subjective feelings themselves change. New experiences "emerge" as implicit in his present feeling.

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Thus the observed therapeutic process of increasing congruence is far from mere intellectualizing. However, to formulate this fact, we have had to revise the notion of congruence so that it refers not merely to symbolized concepts about experience. Rather, it must refer to the implicit presence of experiences in an individual's moment to moment subjective process. Through direct reference to this process he becomes "more congruent" in a deeply changing sense, not in a merely intellectualized sense.

Objection 6) "Genuineness" of the therapist seems to require telling the client all about the therapist.

We saw that one of the necessary conditions Rogers posits for a therapeutic relationship is "genuineness," defined as congruence with regard to the relationship. Congruence here refers not only to experience and awareness but also to awareness and expression. Thus it appears that the genuine therapist symbolizes in his awareness and expression every experience he has concerning the relationship.

Genuineness has been interpreted as a statement of all the therapist's personal feelings to the client. When this sense of genuineness is applied at certain occasional times during psychotherapy, it can be useful (2, p. 214). Occasionally the therapist is aware of a feeling of his own which has interfered with the relationship. By expressing it to the client he gives the client an accurate perception of it, instead of a confusing one.

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Even though this interpretation of genuineness is occasionally useful, it becomes absurd when applied as a constant condition of therapy. It would be absurd and impossible for the therapist always to symbolize in his awareness, and state in words, all the different feelings about the relationship which he could discriminate. Such a therapist would not listen to the client nor would he give the client time to speak. The therapist would spend each hour expressing his feelings.

The objection is resolved if we define "congruent awareness" as an awareness of a subjectively felt referent, rather than of symbolic contents. Genuineness would be redefined as awareness of a felt referent which implicitly contains and integrates all experiences of the relationship. In the genuine therapist this felt referent functions as a basis of his expressions. Thus, his responses always symbolize some aspects of his present experiencing of the relationship.

According to this reformulation, genuineness is not an occasional way of handling obstructing feelings, but can be a constant condition of therapy. The therapist continuously experiences and perceives the client's expressive behavior. The therapist's subjective feeling process is an integration of experience functioning to determine and integrate his present perception of the client. Therefore the therapist can refer directly to his own present felt referent and find implicit in it the basis for symbolizing some aspect of the client's expressed world. Thus a genuine response is a true self-expression of the therapist, [Page 28] and yet usually it is not about the therapist. It can be a true self-expression of the therapist and yet be an expression of his integrated perception of the client's world.

Occasionally the therapist's feelings prevent him from experiencing, perceiving and integrating the client's expressions. Only then occurs that special case we have mentioned, when the therapist is advised to symbolize and express the feeling which troubles him and which he cannot integrate. Although best under the circumstances, the expression of an unintegrated feeling is a case of non-genuineness. A genuine therapist's expression will not be some single feeling such as pure impatience or disturbance. A genuine therapist is said to be "aware" of "all" his experiences of the relationship. Anything a genuine therapist expresses is a result of a modified integration of all these experiences, not a symbolization of one single unintegrated feeling.

Thus a therapist can be advised to be genuine all the time and this does not imply that he would discriminate and express each single personal experience, nor does it imply the symbolic expression of single unintegrated feelings. It implies the use of the therapist's present experiencing as a basis of response. Genuineness means that the therapist's responses are true self-expressions stemming from his felt present experiencing which implicitly includes and integrates all experiences of the relationship. Genuineness depends on the function of the therapist's present experiencing as a basis of his responses.

[Page 29]


In the Rogerian theory the basic concept is "congruence." Complete congruence means accurate symbolization in awareness of all the experiences of the organism. Optimal adjustment and successful psychotherapy are defined as complete or growing congruence because to the extent that all experiences are in awareness, the individual will perceive and behave optimally. In each moment all relevant experiences will be taken account of and all information will be used. The perceptions and behaviors of a completely congruent individual would be resultants constituting the best possible balance of all relevant experiences bearing on any given situation.

Complete congruence thus means that all experiences function to determine perception and behavior. Therefore congruence cannot be defined as explicit symbolization (as the theory now holds). All experiences can not be explicitly symbolized in awareness simultaneously. Rather than an awareness of explicitly symbolized contents, congruence implies an implicit awareness in which very many experiences function in any one moment.

The present paper reformulates the concept of congruence in terms of "experiencing": a feeling process in awareness involving the function of many experiences and meanings which are implicit and felt rather than conceptually known. A moment's experiencing can be symbolized in many ways, but it need not be symbolized in order to function as a basis of perception and behavior. It is felt, and can be directly referred to in an individual's phenomenal field. Very many implicit meanings function in one [Page 30] moment's feeling process. Experiencing functions to integrate and interpret perception and behavior. It is defined as a dynamic process of the organism.

Many current objections to Rogerian theory arise because the concept of congruence is defined as awareness without the function of experiencing. The paper examines some of these objections. It attempts to show that they can be resolved by the reformulation in terms of experiencing.


[1] Gendlin, Eugene T., The function of experiencing in symbolization. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. University of Chicago, 1958.

[2] Rogers, Carl R., A theory of therapy, personality, and interpersonal relationships as developed in the client-centered framework. Koch, Sigmund, (ed.) Psychology: A Study of a Science Vol. III. Formulations of the Person and the Social Context New York: McGraw-Hill (in press) also mimeographed manuscript. University of Chicago, 1956.

[3] Rogers, Carl R., The concept of the fully functioning person, Mimeographed paper, Counseling Center, University of Chicago, 1953.

[In the printed text the footnote is at the bottom of the page it is cited on.]


[1] Rogers defines "experience" as "all that is going on within the envelope of the organism at any given moment which is potentially available to awareness... Thus it does not include such events as... changes in blood sugar, because these are not directly available to awareness." (2, p. 197)

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