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Gendlin, E.T. (1977). Phenomenological concept versus phenomenological method: A critique of Medard Boss on dreams. Soundings, 60, 285-300. From

[Page 285]

A Critique of Medard Boss on Dreams

Eugene T. Gendlin


In this essay I wish to distinguish phenomenological method from phenomenological concepts. Boss interprets dreams with phenomenological concepts, but the method with which he applies these concepts to dreams and dreamers is open to question. Boss imposes his scheme of ideas and also his personal values onto a dream with as little justification as is done in the methods of interpretation he attacks.

My critique is both positive and negative. I will first discuss Boss's great positive contribution. In what sense, exactly, is Boss's dream interpretation phenomenological and valuable?

1. During a lifetime of work Boss has helped us to break out of a view of human beings (and of dreams) which translated human experience into some other vocabulary. Behind or beneath human experience, supposedly, there were other forces more truly explanatory of us and of our dreams. The dream for Freud is a result of certain events in energy mechanics, partial discharges. Behind the dream, for Jung, the ancient pagan gods of mythology have their coming and going. Boss rejects these con- [Page 286]structions. Beyond the dream Boss considers only the actual waking life of the dreamer.

In freeing us from these translations Boss has helped us move beyond a great deal of violence done to human experience. It is well known that many different interpretations can be constructed for any one dream within any one of these translational theories. There never were criteria to decide among several possible interpretations within any one theory. But this fact was rarely taken account of as a caution. Rather, an appeal was made to the public by a claim of "science." The dreamer was usually offered only one interpretation by a given practitioner. The supposed superiority or scientific validity of the translational vocabulary gave prestige and credibility to such an interpretation. Later I will point out a method with which even these translational dream interpretations can be used phenomenologically. But we are grateful to Boss for helping us break out of this scientistic-reductive mode of interpretation.

2. Boss's interpretive concepts are interactional rather than intrapsychic. Freud, Jung, (and others) interpret dreams in terms of a subjectivity. The human is conceived of as being within the skin envelope. Interactions with others are viewed as results stemming from this internal personality structure. For Boss, in contrast, humans are the interactional living. "We are nothing other than receptive, alert world-disclosiveness" [1, p. 237].

The common sense view of humans in ordinary language (not only in a theory like Freud's and Jung's) also considers humans as individual and partly internal entities. Boss has helped us both in our ordinary language and in our theories to avoid seeing ourselves as isolated entities rather than as beings who are our interactions with others.

Only if one explores phenomenologically one's seemingly internal feelings, does one always discover their intentionality. Our feelings are always about. . . . We are never just angry. We are always angry at . . . , afraid of . . . , confused in regard to. . . . Always some at first opaque, odd feeling opens into complex perceptions and sensings of . . . our situations and the other people in our situations, and how we are living at and with them.

Boss says we "are never given to ourselves as . . . box-like," or as an "X-subject . . . which happens to possess . . . one property [Page 287] among others" (p. 237). We are always "already 'out there' with that which we encounter" (p. 237).

3. Boss's main interpretive concepts are themselves powerful, and deserve to be adopted (among other concepts) as ways of considering a dream. Boss chiefly uses two concepts: how one in fact "bears" oneself toward others, toward the world and life; one's as yet unlived "possibilities" of bearing oneself toward life and others.

These concepts are not at all obvious. They deserve attention. An ordinary person examining a dream might notice many aspects of it without noticing, as such, the dreamer's bearing towards others and the world. Similarly, an ordinary person might not ask: is there in this dream something which is ahead of the dreamer's present waking capacities, a possibility in life not yet actualized?

Boss's contributions to dream interpretation, as I understand them, are these three: the rejection of translations of dreams into something other than human living; the interactional view of humans; the two basic concepts themselves, "bearing" and "possibility."

Now, what exactly makes these contributions phenomenological? It is quite clear that they are. There is first the refusal to reduce human experience, dreaming or being awake, to theoretical constructs. There is, secondly, the phenomenological discovery that we are always already in the world, thrown in situations with others, and not primarily subjectivities, like a thing considered as a subject of traits. Thirdly, "bearing oneself toward" and "possibilities" are Heideggerian concepts which point to basic structural parameters of our actual living.


Let us now turn from phenomenological concepts to phenomenological method. I will try to show that there is a great problem in Boss's method: many different interpretations of the same dream, using the same concepts of "bearing" and "possibility," can be made with any one dream. I will try to show this point with some of Boss's examples. This problem besets other methods of dream interpretation, too, as I have already said.

As we saw, the general concepts "bearing" and "possibility" are [Page 288] phenomenological, but the mere use of these concepts does not assure the phenomenological groundedness of anything specific we assert about a given person's bearing or unlived possibilities. We can argue that a person is best characterized in these terms, or that any person will have some characteristic bearing and some unlived possibilities. But from hearing a given dream, or from observing the person in waking life, different interpreters will arrive at different conclusions. They will choose different dimensions to look at, and they may also disagree about the person on a given dimension.

This variety of opinions is somewhat analogous to the different viewpoints in philosophy and in any other field. Let us ask how phenomenology grounds its assertions in terms of method. Let us then ask what would be an analogous method for dream interpretation.

In a phenomenological method, as I shall elaborate it, each step of conceptualization provides itself with its own ground by lifting out an (until then hidden) phenomenal aspect. Once such an aspect is focused as it shows itself, it is then more than simply the conceptualization. If the phenomenon is not more than one's language, if one has only an assertion no matter how clear it might be, the approach and the language fail to fit out something that is showing itself and thereby lose their grounds for their meaning.

In an analogous method for dreams, what might function as the phenomenon to be lifted out by a successful interpretation which other conflicting interpretations fail to lift out? How do we find the phenomenon? For example, if we characterize the dreamer's bearing in the dream-story as "passive and selfish," and someone else calls it "willing to grow and courageous," what exactly might be lifted out by some, but not all, of these interpretations?

When discussing a dream and hearing oneself and others make various interpretive statements, quite often nothing beyond speculations happens in response. Then, suddenly, one interpretive statement leads to some piece of waking experience which becomes remarkably apparent, as though it pops in. Pursuing that occurrence, there may be a flood of aspects of living which are unmistakably related and brought out by the dream-plus-interpretation. New aspects or new imports may in addition present themselves with impact. Many further steps may be suggested and pursued. Each step of lifting out brings much [Page 289] more than each interpretive statement itself says. Might such an adaption of phenomenological method to dreams solve the problem of arbitrary or ungrounded interpretations of dreams? Let me illustrate the problem further.

In one patient's dream (published by a Jungian analyst), the patient dreamt that the analyst is performing surgery on him. Then an unknown white-haired man appears, cuts two pieces of his own flesh out of himself and grafts them onto the dreamer's abdomen. Thereby the dreamer's life is saved.

Boss rejects the Jungian interpretation that the white-haired man is the "old wise man," a mythological "higher" figure said to be found in many people's phantasies and dreams as well as in myths. Boss rejects this "higher" spiritual dimension, as well as the dreamer's experience of being helped, saved, and of gladly accepting experience. Boss's interpretation:

. . . the possibility of being a masculine, mature, selfless helpful fellow-man dawns upon him while dreaming. The reason why the good dream-man is unknown might lie in the fact that this most mature way of being a human being is still very unfamiliar to the dreamer. . . . this possibility for bearing himself in the world could only appear as a stranger.

It is disconcerting [that] . . .in the dream the saving of the patient's life was brought about through a transplant from another person. . . . The patient in surgery remains purely passive" (p. 242).

Boss selects the "selfless" giving of one's own flesh as "good, mature" and a possible way of bearing oneself which would be new for the dreamer. But many people have done too much of that. How can Boss know to pick "selfless" as the right unrealized possibility?

Boss selects "purely passive" as the bearing shown in the dream, and decides that it is a bad thing. The Jungian analyst thought it a good thing that the patient accepted aid. Boss views the passivity in relation to life. The Jungian analyst thought of it as accepting aid from a wider aspect of the patient than his ego. But it might well be that the patient usually over-controls and is not open to the wider living which he always already is. (One can readily transpose many Jungian and Freudian conceptions into the terms of "bearing" and "possibility" in the world, even though Jungians and Freudians do not usually use them that way.) How do we know whether active or receptive is good in this [Page 290] instance? And how does Boss light upon just this dimension, this pair of opposites, this issue?

Boss also provides us with no warrant for selecting his characterization of the old man as one who is "selfless" and "masculine." It is not clear that just these adjectives would be more significant than many others. First there is "old" and "white-haired," which the dreamer himself used. But one could also call the old man's bearing courageous, insensitive to pain, coming in uninvitedly, powerful, fatherly, insistant. Much else could be said to characterize his bearing.

The Jungian analyst who published this dream also offers no grounds (except the Jungian theory) for selecting the "higher power" characterization of the old man, and for ignoring "selfless" and "masculine" which Boss chooses. Both interpretations equally impose upon the dream and the dreamer's experience. For neither method is the interpretation integral to a quest for something new, directly experienced, which would emerge for the dreamer as a result of an interpretation.

As they are discussed by Boss, dream interpretations are free floating. They have no phenomenological ground. Equally good alternatives could in the same terms easily be multiplied. Take, for example, the patient's supposed "passive" bearing, which Boss derives from the fact that the patient is passive in surgery. But surgery can also be said to be painful, bloody, unusual, expensive, dangerous, usually done by men, and constituting an emergency. There is much else one could say. The grafting of the flesh is a magical solution, perhaps, or a bloody one, or a guilt-provoking one. Any of these things might be said.

If we saw an old man actually appear in a hospital and put his own flesh on a patient, the first thing we might remark upon, perhaps, would not be that the patient is passive. And we might not always think of passivity as disconcerting or negative, given such an instance.

Boss's selections for the dreamer's bearing, and the old man's bearing, are as good as any others. So are some of my alternatives. But if the method of interpretation were phenomenological, then we would have to characterize not only the words, but what occurs when something new is lifted out. What exactly happens to a patient when there is this lifting out? When does one or another of these interpretations achieve its ground, and just [Page 291] what does such an achievement look like? How might we recognize it? These questions are not asked.

Consider another dream Boss cites:

. . . he began to kiss and fondle me on the street and say he would love to have intercourse. . . . we started to take our clothes off in the street—it was dark. . . . Then I realized how inappropriate it was to be naked in the street. I tried desperately to get away from this public place where I was totally naked. I awoke feeling anxious." (p. 248).

This is again a dream published by someone else, by Rollo May who is himself interpreting the dream of another analyst's patient! Neither May nor Boss feel the need for the dreamer's wider present concrete experience from which to lift out something to ground their interpretations.

Boss says: "But in all these cases it is not a matter of anxiety [as May had concluded], but rather of shame . . ." (p. 251). Thus Boss rejects the one bit of post-dream experience the dreamer herself is quoted as having expressed, namely that she was anxious after the dream.

Boss denies that the man could stand for the patient's analyst, as May had thought. Boss says "her relationship to the analyst is by no means of such a personally close nature that he is able to secure entrance into the dream-world as . . . an erotically desirous man" (pp. 250-251). It isn't clear how Boss knows what May's colleague's patient's relation to her analyst is. Nor do I see how anyone could know without the patient's experience from which to lift out grounding aspects. Might this patient not find, for example, seconds after May's interpretation, that indeed her need to flee a sexual pull toward the analyst comes from how inappropriate sexuality feels in an office? Perhaps it feels to her as if it were in the street. But I do not know that, and I would not maintain it unless such an aspect emerged in the patient's experience in response to such an interpretation attempt.

The man in the dream is a schoolmate whom the dreamer described as not at all close to her at present. Boss values closeness with one's sexual partner, and so he picks out her non-closeness as her "bearing." Since Boss does not like such non-closeness in sexual activity, it cannot be a "possibility," and hence it must be the patient's present bearing. Boss says he values sexuality ". . . in the warm bed of his own room, together with [Page 292] a . . . very close loved one." But Boss's values and his own good fortune do not really offer a firm basis for interpreting May's colleague's patient's issues or dream. Who knows, perhaps just now she lacks a close loved one and also rejects impersonal sexuality in her dream, just as Boss does. Or, a different vulnerability might be involved. Perhaps being more visible as a sexual being might be an advance which she rejects in the dream. Or, perhaps she has difficulty having love and sexuality with the same man, or perhaps she is sexually trouble free and is using sexual imagery to represent another issue, something she exposed of herself in conversation or in some other interaction. Or she might find that she longs to exhibit herself and show off, but feels guilty about that. Or she may have a "bearing" of being commanded, letting herself be ordered about, which she also rejects. Perhaps she usually rejects all sexual overtures unless she has herself initiated them, so that the dream might mark an important unrealized possibility of responding, as a bearing. Or, perhaps there is here a new possibility of getting herself out of situations she has not chosen. All these alternatives, including Boss's, are not really interpretations as much as they are attempts. Only some phenomenological response from the phenomenon could ground one or another of them.

Boss's way of using interpretive concepts is not different from the ways used in other systems. Only the general concepts are phenomenological; the interpretations are seemingly quite arbitrary. The general direction of looking (how one bears oneself in life, or could bear oneself) is excellent and valuable. But no methodological criteria are offered for establishing this or that interpretation as the appropriate one. Boss's personal preoccupations and values seem to be the guide.

Thus, in regard to method, Boss seems to operate like those he criticizes. Again only one of the many alternative interpretations possible in the system is given. Again the whole method of interpretation consists of coming up with an interpretation. There is no phenomenological showing of the phenomenon itself.

Certainly we should consider Boss's examples in this paper as mere illustrations of his general method. But if the patient were present, Boss would still seem not to need a phenomenological grounding. Certainly Boss could try his interpretations, and when they fail to lift out anything new in the patient's experi- [Page 293]ence, he could then try other alternatives. But this approach is not part of his method. To see this point, consider Boss's way of asking the patient "questions":

Based on the phenomenological dream-understanding, something like the following questions would be posed to the reawakened patient in the next hour of analysis:

". . . does it not seem obvious to you how little you know about . . .? how much on the contrary are you . . . in all your actions? Can you now perhaps see . . . how you not only do not know . . . as in the dream, but that you do not know . . . while awake . . .?" (pp. 251-252)

Only if the patient were very hardy could she brush off such "questions" should they happen to lift out nothing new, and be able to attempt other statements that might lift out relevant and important aspects of her living. But phenomenology in a therapeutic context is difficult to learn, and she is unlikely to know of it. Without looking for new aspects to be lifted out, she is likely to impose some interpretation on her dreams, Boss's or some other. My point is the same whether a merely imposed interpretation were her own or Boss's.

Boss continues: "With these questions, the patient would perhaps, for the first time in her life, become aware of the possibility for an entirely different bearing. . ." (p. 252). As we just saw, many different new possible bearings could be deduced from the dream, and pushed on her. It is difficult not to conclude that Boss might push the same—to him desirable—ways of being on the patient, dream or no dream. Certainly one cannot claim that it is the dream itself which unequivocally poses just these values and changed bearings. They far exceed the dream.

Boss wishes to stay with the dream itself. He does not even wish to use associations, and almost never mentions them either here or in his book on dreams [cf. 2]. But it is one thing not to "re-interpret" a dream, "transforming the dream into our symbols" (p. 247), something Boss rightly eschews. It is quite another thing to exclude from consideration the dreamer's own associations and further experiences in response to interpretive attempts. This approach makes the dreamer's phenomenological responses "extraneous," as if they were an alien addition to the dream; yet it treats Boss's additions and interpolations as if they were just the dream itself.

If we are to consider this a phenomenological method, we [Page 294] would have to think that when Boss interprets a dream, the phenomenon that shows itself in response is what Boss then notices in the dream. Even then, the phenomenon in its particular appropriateness would be some further aspect of the dream which fits or suddenly stands out, lifted up by the interpretation. Boss, however, says nothing like that. There is no phenomenological method here to ground the changes in mode of living which the therapist selects and reads into the dream.

But let us take this lack upon ourselves as a further step that is needed. Boss has contributed so much already. Let us consider his approach further and more deeply, and also, let us move toward a method which would use all concepts phenomenologically, each step grounding itself in some way by lifting out something.


Boss says that beyond the dream is only the dreamer's waking life. We must therefore put the dream into contact with that waking life. There something new is shown. Boss also says that we are dealing not only with how the dreamer now lives life, but also with unrealized possibilities. We must therefore think of human life and experience not as finite things, factors, entities, finished defined patternings, but as containing unseen possibilities. It follows that Boss asks us to put the dream into contact with the dreamer's waking life, considered not as a collection of facts but as a complex of implicit possibilities. And this account hints that such possibilities could emerge for the dreamer much as in any hermeneutic: what was implicit suddenly stands out. Boss wants to move from the dream not to an internal realm down and back from the dream, but forward into the dreamer's life considered as capable of further possibilities and as capable of having aspects lifted out in it which are as yet unseen. Boss does not want to add something, but to find what is there, not yet seen.

Heidegger wrote: " 'Behind' the phenomenon of phenomenology essentially nothing else stands, however that which is to become phenomenon may be hidden. And just therefore, because the phenomena are at first mostly not given, there is need for phenomenology." [5, p. 36]. The statement from Heidegger concerns ontology, but the method of phenomenology, if applied to dreams, could similarly require lifting out some- [Page 295] thing which then becomes phenomenon, as a result of the statement (as logos) lifting it out.

Human experience is fundamentally capable of such lifting out. At bottom human experience is our relating in the world and to others, it is possibility through and through. Therefore it cannot be captured and circumscribed by definitions, even using concepts such as "bearing" and "possibility" (or any other concepts). Rather it can be conceptually contacted only by a lifting out role for concepts. [3]

How may we describe exactly and recognizably what it is like when an interpretive statement regarding a dream lifts out an as yet unexamined aspect or an as yet unlived possibility? Elsewhere [3], [4, p. 304] I have offered recognizable characteristics of such lifting out. Among them is the fact that when something is lifted out by a statement, it is then often capable of leading further, to further aspects which could not be inferred from the statement alone. Secondly, such a directly lifted out aspect is often capable of leading us to change the very statement itself which at first lifted it out. Thirdly, the steps of such lifting out continue; many steps ensue which leave the first statement quite far behind. Fourthly, the progression is non-logical. It is not illogical—in fact one can fill logical units in, so that in retrospect it can be made to seem as if the steps came by logic. But the original series of statements do not bear logical relations, one to the previous. Each statement will be said to be important in the progression, despite the fact that it may be denied at the next step. That is another recognizable feature. All these characteristics stem from the fact that the individual has access to something other than the words only. What is said makes sense not only conceptually but in reference to something directly experienced as well, something now lifted out which can talk back, which can show itself as other and more than the words which lifted it out.

Of course, in practice many statements in relation to a dream lift out nothing new at all. But when at last one statement does, the above described sequence of steps ensues. By the time a number of such steps have been taken, the "rightness" of the interpretation is beyond question. This rightness is not dependent upon either the therapist's judgment or the patient's; it rests upon what is lifted out. But as far as it goes, it is beyond question. Experts could appear and unanimously question the interpretation; nevertheless, the patient has what the interpreta- [Page 296]tion pointed to, and the further steps that ensued. These are now not just ideas, but experience. They are not just descriptions, but are themselves livings, "bearings" which have already changed the way in which the patient lives in the situations dreamt about. If the experts have other interpretations, perhaps these too can lift out something, but it would be something else, and additional.

This relation of lifting out can be described in Heidegger's terms: Befindlichkeit (the sense of how one is situated), Verstehen (understanding), and Rede (speech). These notions are implicit in each other such that the hermeneutical talk lays out that understanding which was already implicit in Befindlichkeit. The continuity is that which holds between something implicit and its explication, and it is retrospective in time: one feels that what is now said explicitly was already there in how one felt one's being-in a situation, although one had not yet reflected upon it.

In this part of my paper I do not insist that what I am saying explicates what Boss really means, or what Heidegger really meant in the statements I cited. But I do believe that if we take what they have said along the lines of a phenomenological method (or way of using concepts) and apply it to dreams, we lift out some experience of our living, and in a way which permits new aspects and possibilities to emerge from this living. Dream interpretations could be grounded by this approach.

When dreaming and waking experiences come together in this way and an interpretation is successful with a dream, there is a distinct and impactful emergence. Outwardly, one can see the person's face come alive. There may be a large breath. As experienced by oneself with a dream of one's own, there is a flood, an opening and unfolding, an emergence. This distinct experience differs markedly from the merely cognitive sense that some interpretation "could fit," or "is interesting," or gives one some glimmer of sense, or intrigues one. The difference is the emergence of (or lifting out of) what is then a concrete aspect of one's living which cannot be made to disappear again (though it will lead to various further differentiations).

Such an emergence may occur right after awakening. Or it may occur as one tells one's associations to the dream. Or it may occur later on, in answer to the many questions which can be asked of the dreamer in regard to the dream. Once it occurs, one knows beyond any question what the dream is about, or at least [Page 297] one knows one aspect of life that it is about. Sometimes one such emergence is not sufficient and still leaves much of the dream puzzling. Another is required. Sometimes such an emergence leaves one in no doubt at all concerning what the dream is about, but one has not learned anything new. The dream seems to be a metaphor for what one knew already. Further questions may lead to a further emergence which does let something new leap out.

If the lifting out is made the basic criterion, then the more different ways in which one can illuminate a dream, the more the likelihood of an emergence. While Boss's concepts of "bearing" and "possibility" are excellent, and directly connect the dream with waking life, Jungian and Freudian concepts too can be used in the same way. Every aspect of the dream can be taken up with the question: "What in your life is like that?" The feelings in the dream can be pursued: "What in your life feels like that?" The plot structure can be phrased in various ways, not once but several times: "first you let yourself in for it, then it doesn't feel appropriate and you run away. What in your life is like that?" And then, perhaps, "You expose yourself in public, then it feels wrong. What in your life is like that?" the figures can be taken externally: "This man, what was he like? . . . Who is like that?" They can be taken as part of the dreamer: "Is there a way in which you are, perhaps not with much awareness, that is like that?"(In this last question I have translated Jung's notion of part-souls within into aspects of our living. If used phenomenologically, it comes to the same thing because what is lifted out will determine what we make of it, not the initial statement and its logical implications.) The place also can be examined: "What was that spot on the street like, have you ever been there?" One can even ask her: "Stand up and pretend for a moment that you are this man. What does he feel and act like?" With any of these questions, or none, something may emerge for the dreamer, more than just a thought or an interpretation, but a directly experienced aspect of living which can ground interpretation.

I am not here talking about a feeling of conviction, or any other affective accompaniment of some interpretation. I am talking about the aspects of living which may emerge. Only the latter ground an interpretation phenomenologically. Thus a phenomenological method cannot interpret a dream in one [Page 298] step. There would be no opportunity for the phenomenon to talk back, to show itself as not simply what an interpretive statement says or posits. The phenomenon is not just flatly in the dream, else no interpretation would be needed. At first it does not show itself. Then it does. The words disclose it, but it must then speak in its own way, not just as the words.

Boss, too, says that the new aspects are not in the dream: he says they are in the waking person's experience. The awakened dreamer fills these new aspects in. ". . . the givens . . . are laid before him as a waking person." Boss speaks of "the clearer perceptivity of his waking state . . ." (p. 260). The words "clearer perceptivity" imply that something new is lifted out, and in life, not in the dream.

In my view, what is lifted out phenomenologically was already there implicitly for such lifting out. It cannot be just a new addition or imposition. The continuity between "was there implicitly," and a now "shows itself" is not an inference, not an addition by inference. It is emergence out of hiddenness.

Whereas at first it seemed that Boss uses only the dream and his own values and interpretations, if we go more deeply we find him saying that in the dreamer's life there must be an emergence, and this, as I propose, is the real grounding for the dream interpretation.

How does this grounding differ from an unconscious? Is there not now a hidden basement from which "repressed" (Boss says "avoided") material emerges? Boss writes:

"That which gives, which sends the givens of my dream-worlds . . . is the event of Being as such, which enjoys a predisposing sway vis-à-vis all individual beings" (p. 262). The dream givens ". . . are laid before him . . . as something with which he must come to terms" (p. 261). ". . . it is not I who produce something out of myself and give it forth when I dream, but rather . . . something is given and sent to me" (p. 262).

Is this not again an archetype-like being, against the backdrop of which we are shown how we are lacking? Boss does seem here to laud exactly the kind of bearing he rejected in the Jungian dream example: allowing oneself to be presented to, not from "I," but from something that stands "vis-à-vis all individual beings."

We may think that the only difference, again, is the choice of concepts: not intra-psychic agencies, but "a giving 'Es' . . . out of [Page 299] whose hiddeness everything which presences comes . . ." (p. 262). Boss says this "Es" is like the "powers of nature, which stand above and beyond man, [and] give the rain" (p. 262). We thus think this being as the source of presencing anything, and differ conceptually from Jung. But what difference is there in how we bear ourselves in regard to this being "which sends . . .?" The difference lies, I believe, in the directly accessible, experienced relation of lifting out. The unconscious is only "un-," only inferred. So long as we remain without the lifting out, remain only with the dream and an interpretation, we cannot explain the difference between the unconscious of the other theories and "Being as such" in this one. The difference in the result is only a difference between imposed value choices. What is the difference between the Jungian interpretation which views the old man in the dream as standing for a higher power sent by the unconscious to lead the patient toward more receptivity and away from his over-controlling ego, and Boss's interpretation of the old man as the presencing of a possible bearing sent by Being as such, sent to lead the patient toward a more masculine and less passive bearing? There is a difference in value choice, but no difference in method. There is here no practical difference between how the unconscious sends its signals, and how Being as such does it. Both of them get their message through by means of the therapist's insights.

I propose instead that there is a real difference between mere inference (or merely lighting upon one interpretation and value choice or another) and . . . emerging into unhiddenness. What corresponds here to that phrase is not only the dream itself, but also the aspects of living which emerge, which were already implicit and are now lifted out. This kind of emerging, always very striking in the case of dreams, can make possible a type of phenomenological method of dream-interpretation, often moving through many steps. Each step is grounded by something newly emergent.

In such a method there is no question of staying on the surface by rejecting an unconscious and by claiming that our interpretation adds nothing. Instead, the distinctive way in which what-is-not-at-first-surface functions, is that it shows itself (rather than remaining inferred or verbal only) as aspects of life experience at every step. When it does, it is always more and different than the very statement which helped to lift it out.

[Page 300]


[1] Boss, M. "Dreaming and the Dreamed in the Daseinsanalytical Way of Seeing," tr. by Tom Cook.

[2] Boss, M. The Analysis of Dreams. Tr. by A. J. Pomerans, New York: Philosophical Library, 1958.

[3] Gendlin, E.T. Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning. New York: The Free Press, 1962.

[4] Gendlin, E. T. "Experiential Phenomenology." Chapter in Natanson, M., Ed. Phenomenology and the Social Sciences. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973.

[5]Heidegger, M. Sein and Zeit. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 1960.

Mr. Gendlin is in the Department of Behavioral Sciences at The University of Chicago. He combines interests in psychology and in philosophy in his teaching, research, and writing. His principal work is Experience and the Creation of Meaning. He is also author of A Theory of Personality Change. He has practiced psychotherapy for twenty-five years. He has been especially concerned with the relation between concepts and directly sensed experience.

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  • Biographic Note: Eugene T. Gendlin is a seminal American philosopher and psychologist. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago and taught there from 1963 to 1995. His philosophical work is concerned especially with the relationship between logic and implicit intricacy. Philosophy books include Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning, Language Beyond Post-Modernism: Saying and Thinking in Gendlin's Philosophy edited by David Michael Levin, (fourteen commentaries and Gendlin’s replies), and A Process Model. There is a world wide network of applications and practices ( stemming from this philosophy. Gendlin has been honored three times by the American Psychological Association for his development of Experiential Psychotherapy. He was a founder and editor for many years of the Association’s Clinical Division Journal, Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice. His book Focusing has sold over half a million copies and has appeared in seventeen languages. His psychology-related books are Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams and Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy.
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  • See the reference for this document in the Gendlin primary bibliography.
  • More on Philosophy of the Implicit from the Focusing Institute website.
  • More on Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy from the Focusing Institute website.
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