Eugene Gendlin is a contemporary psychotherapist and philosopher who developed the therapeutic process called Focusing.

Professional Life

Eugene Gendlin was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1926. He and his family emigrated to the United States to escape the Nazis while Gendlin was still a child. He studied under Carl Rogers during the 1950s and received a PhD in philosophy from the University of Chicago. Gendlin’s theories impacted Rogers’ own beliefs and played a role in Rogers’ view of psychotherapy. After graduation, Gendlin became a professor of philosophy and psychology at the University of Chicago, where he worked until 1995. 

Gendlin founded The Focusing Institute in 1986 to facilitate training and education in Focusing to academic and professional communities and to share the practice with the public. He has been honored by the American Psychological Association (APA) four times, and he was the first recipient of the APA's Distinguished Professional Psychologist of the Year award. He was also awarded the Viktor Frankl prize by the Viktor Frankl Family Foundation in 2008.

Gendlin was a founder of the journal, Psychotherapy: Theory Research and Practice, and the author of several books, including Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning (1962), and Focusing (1978), which has been translated into 17 languages.

Contribution to Psychology 

Gendlin is the founder of Focusing. The technique can be used in a wide variety of therapeutic sessions and has even been used by nonprofessionals in peer-to-peer sessions. People engaged in Focusing therapy place their attention inwardly to discover awareness and the meaning of what they have not yet been able to verbalize. The concept of Focusing is based upon Gendlin's research, which indicated that the a client's internal dynamics were the most critical elements of successful therapy. He found that clients who focused internally were more likely to succeed in therapy; Gendlin developed Focusing to help clients cultivate this approach. 

As part of his Focusing approach, Gendlin coined the term “felt sense.” This refers to a physical sensation of unease that is difficult to clearly articulate. People might feel a sense of emptiness, tension, or heaviness that is related to a previous trauma, for example, but has yet to be recognized consciously. Through Focusing, people detect, observe, and evaluate this felt sense so that they can recognize what they truly feel and move toward a “felt shift.” A felt shift occurs when a person names the felt sense and associates it with a situation or problem in the person’s life, allowing the body to relax. The person may feel relief, elation, energy, or gratitude.