Focusing-oriented experiential therapy, historically grounded in humanistic and experiential psychology traditions, were cultivated from E. Gendlin's collaboration with Carl Rogers, the founder of client-centered psychotherapy (Bohart, 2003; Rogers, 1957, 1961, as cited in Wagner, 2006). During the 1950s, Rogers presented the concept of "unconditional positive regard, empathy, and congruence as therapeutic attitudes central to the process of change" (Wagner, 2006, Background and Development section, ¶ 1). Gendlin expanded the Rogerian approach of person-centered therapy by further exploring and analyzing client involvement qualities, which indicative movement and change evolving from therapy. (Wagner) the following Experiencing Scale depicts a number of states, Wagner notes, in Focusing that positively contribute to counseling and holistic health.
Stage 1: The content is not about the speaker. The speaker tells a story, describes other people or events in which he or she is not involved or presents a generalized or detached account of ideas.
Stage 2: Either the speaker is the central character in the narrative or his or her interest is clear. Comments and reactions serve to get the story across but do not refer to the speaker's feelings.
Stage 3: The content is a narrative about the speaker in external or behavioral terms with added comments on feelings or private experiences. These remarks are limited to the situations described, giving the narrative a personal touch without describing the speaker more generally.
Stage 4: Feelings or the experience of events, rather than the events themselves, are the subject of the discourse. The client tries to attend to and hold onto the direct inner reference of experiencing and make it the basic datum of communications.
Stage 5: The content is a purposeful exploration of the speaker's feelings and experiencing. The speaker must pose or define a problem or proposition about self explicitly in terms of feelings. And must explore or work with the problem in a personal way. The client now can focus on the vague, implicitly meaningful aspects of experiencing and struggle to elaborate it.
Stage 6: The subject matter concerns the speaker's present, emergent experience. A sense of active, immediate involvement in an experientially anchored issue is conveyed with evidence of its resolution or acceptance. The feelings themselves change or shift.
Stage 7: Experiencing at Stage 7 is expansive, unfolding. The speaker readily uses a fresh way of knowing the self to expand experiencing further. The experiential perspective is now a trusted and reliable source of self-awareness and is steadily carried forward and employed as the primary referent for thought and action.
In "The Multi-level Approach: A Road Map for Couples Therapy," Michele Scheinkman (2008) identifies a number of levels that an experiential family therapist may use to promote needed familial changes. The process utilizes a layer by layer uncovering approach to encourage healing in a family. In experiential therapy, experiences are uncovered layer by layer.
Experiential Therapies Prove Challenging to Operationalize
Tammy J. Mitten, and Gary M. Connell (2004), associates of the Department of Professional Studies, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, assert that experiential therapies prove challenging to operationalize. Compared to behavioral therapies, Mitten, and Connell contend, less research exists to support the effectiveness of experiential methods. Basically, excluding work of Greenberg and Johnson, proponents of emotionally focused therapy (EFT) who utilized specific problems and client populations to empirically validate their methods' effectiveness, " there have not been many outcome and/or process research studies conducted on the experiential approach" (Gurman, Kniskern, & Pinsof, 1986; Sprenkle, 2002, as cited in Mitten & Connell, ¶ 3). Regarding the state of the field in 2002, Sprenkle purported evidence across family therapy models as uneven, and concluded that particular approaches remained empirically underdeveloped. During 2004, Mitten and Connell reported that at that time no empirical research conducted on symbolic-experiential therapy, the focus for their study.
Symbolic-experiential therapy Mitten, and Connell (2004) examine Symbolic-experiential therapy, which evolved from the clinical work and writings of Carl Whitaker. based on a phenomenological existential conception of human development, Symbolic-experiential therapy stresses one may learn most effectively through his/her experience. One primary tenet that underlies this particular model contends that:."..Families cannot change their process of living by being taught. Symbolic-experiential therapy is a growth-oriented psychotherapy approach that is "not based on intellectual understanding" (Keith, as cited in Mitten & Connell, Primary Goal of Symbolic-Experiential Therapy section, ¶ 1). Instead, the foundation for Symbolic-experiential therapy includes an interactive process, which utilizes metaphorical language, and personal interaction of family members. Whitaker stressed the value of the therapist-client relationship, noting that within the therapist-client relationship, this relationship serves as a potent unconscious-to-unconscious personal contact (Whitaker, 1952, as cited in Mitten & Connell, 2004). Although Whitaker utilized a number of psychoanalytic concepts into his practice, he held that the personhood of the therapist, instead of transference, worked as the primary curative ingredient of therapy (Neill & Kniskern, 1982; Whitaker, 1944, 1946, as cited in Mitten & Connell). In symbolic-experiential therapy, Mitten and Connell (2004) explain, the therapist seeks to help the family transform the its symbolic world. Humans, according to Mitten and Connell (2004) "create symbols to represent each other, objects, ideas, and experiences" (Primary Goal of Symbolic-Experiential Therapy section, ¶ 3). Symbols evolve as a result of family members' experiences. Symbolic-experiential therapy seeks to "enrich, expand, and, at times, alter the family's symbolic world (Connell, Mitten, & Whitaker, 1993, as cited in Primary Goal of Symbolic-Experiential Therapy section, ¶ 3). Anything a person experiences may become a symbol.
Symbols in dysfunctional families routinely become rigid and fixed; which consequently inhibits healthy growth. In symbolic-experiential therapy, the therapist provides experiences for the family to experience that will in turn, help reshape dysfunctional family symbols. During the course of the therapy, the symbolic-experiential therapist:
explores the family's infrastructure, encourages primary process relating, and crafts corrective emotional experiences (Mitten & Connell, 2004, Primary Goal of Symbolic-Experiential Therapy section, ¶ 3).
The symbolic-experiential therapist relies on him/her self as a catalyst for the therapeutic change process. As the family participates and becomes involved in the treatment process, new information may be generated. When this new information is fed back to the family's unconscious, nonrational processes, "dysfunctional symbols are altered and new ones created" (Mitten & Connell, 2004, Primary Goal of Symbolic-Experiential Therapy section, ¶ 3). In time, the process empowers families to reorganize themselves around new positive, productive, profitable symbols.
Challenges in Experiential Therapy in "Obstacles in Therapy: Redefining the Therapeutic Role," Howard Denofsky (2006) relates 22 difficult challenging clinical situations that may constitute challenges in experiential therapy. Denofsky also relates potential, positive therapeutic responses a therapist may utilize to move freely more freely in and out of the client system (Denofsky, Summary section, ¶ 3). Samplings from the 22 scenarios Denofsky notes, include:
Obstacle 1: The Therapist Jumps into the Client's Real World Process Not Progress
Obstacle 2: The Therapist Gets Captured by the Rule System of the Client and Avoids Taboo Subject Matter
Obstacle 3: The Therapist Takes on the Content of the Discussion and Ignores the Lack of Affect
Obstacle 4: The Therapist Abandons His or Her Own Beliefs in an Effort to Help
Obstacle 5: The Therapist Is Uneasy About Offering Individual Therapy While Other Family Members Are in the Room
Obstacle 6: The Customer Is Always Right?
Obstacle 7: The Therapist Abandons the Therapy and Acts Like an Agent of an External Agency
Obstacle 8: There's Something You (the Therapist) Should Know
Obstacle 9: The Story Is Not the Problem
Obstacle 10: Second-guessing the Family's Tolerance for Feelings or Subject Matter
Obstacle 11: The Client Views a Therapy Session Like a Visit to the Family Doctor
Obstacle 12: The Therapist as the Expert on Good Living
When a client views his/her therapist as the expert on good living, he/she may experience problems taking control of his/her life. To counter this scenario, the therapist may take on a one-down position, and/or proffer anecdotes to dispel the client's contention that the therapist is above the human dilemma.
Obstacle 13: The Client Expects the Therapist to Start Conversation
When this scenario, the client contends that the therapist can know what he/she should discuss.
The responsibility for talking about his/her pain, life experiences, and family living albeit, belongs to the client. The therapist's job does not include forcing client-hood onto his/her client. In this type scenario, the therapeutic value of silence cannot be underestimated. Using silence may not only encourage the client to talk, it also emphasizes that the struggle rests with the client; that it is not "the therapist's job to ease or remove the struggle" (Denofsky, 2006, Summary section, ¶ 3). The therapist is to be available for the client amidst his/her struggling experiences.
Obstacle 14: Why Don't You Act Like My Last Therapist?
Obstacle 15: When the Client Becomes Involved in Several Treatment Modalities at the Same Time
Obstacle 16: The Client Wants What the Therapist Does Not Offer