"INNER PROCESS OF CHANGE"
This is Saturday, January 28, 1990 in a small town, just outside
of the City of Strasbourg, France, where we will be conducting a nine-
day intensive training program in the person-centered approach under
the umbrella of the Cross-Cultural Communication Institute of which
Chuck Devonshire is the director.
Ruth: This will not be new for the people with whom I was
talking this morning at breakfast so I hope you will excuse
repetition. This interest of mine in the inner process of change
really began about 1981. I suddenly realized that sometimes I could
read a book or part of a book and say, "Oh! That's a very interesting
idea!" and pass on. Perhaps a week or a month later, I could remember
only vaguely what had been interesting at the time. But, another day
I could pick up that same book and read the same passage and suddenly
it would hit, "Ah! That is a new idea!" And, immediately would begin
to make connections and my imagination would start running and I
became very excited about this new idea which I read in passing and
put away some time before.
I began asking myself the question, "What makes the difference?
What has changed? The book is the same book. That passage is the
same passage." But suddenly it came alive for me and became a part of
Over those years, between about 1980-81 and four years ago, this
whole thing, this whole idea, this whole concept was stirring around
inside of me and I didn't do much with it. Then we decided to get a
group together who was interested in this question. After two years
of meeting about four or five times a year in an intensive kind of
weekend, we felt we were getting into research on that question and we
discovered that instead of getting into a research on that question,
we were engaging ourselves in an intensive group in which change was
taking place in all of us as it does in these intensive groups. It
became more of a group than it did in a progress in research. Then
some of the people decided that they weren't really interested in
research, that they were more interested in bringing themselves and
their conflicts and their problems into that group.
Four of us from that group of about 12 decided that we would meet
at other times and more intensely. Two of those four people decided
that it was becoming too much for them and two of us continued. We
had become dissatisfied with the inquiry into the actual process,
thinking about what that process was in ourselves. So, we invited
members of the original group to volunteer if they would be willing to
give time for intensive interviewing which would be videotaped in
which they talked with an interviewer about a significant change which
had taken place in their lives.
When we asked that, we had no idea where it would take us. We
volunteered (the two of us who were the researchers) to include
ourselves in the group to be interviewed on the inner process of
change. We felt that if it was going to be person-centered research,
that the people who had thought of themselves as researchers would
also be participants and those who had volunteered to be participants
would be in fact researchers.
Bob, the other person who was a graduate student who was working
with me, who was excellent in videotaping because that had been his
profession earlier, said that he would do the technical work and I
would do the interviewing.
We did a good deal of reading to try to discover what research
had been done in this way and we found that many people had engaged in
this participatory research which was very different from the usual
scientific research in which many participants would be interviewed in
a kind of quick, superficial way or who would answer questionnaires,
which would then be tabulated and statistics devised as a result of
What we wanted to do was to accept each person as the authority
on his/her own process of change and we said if we can enter into the
experience of the person who is being interviewed and really
experience with that person what has taken place in the process of
change, then we will have a validity of a different kind. We accepted
the assumption which Carl had stated that the only reality is the
person's perception of his reality. That was a major difference
between the person-centered approach and any of the other therapies
like analysis, for example, which was based on an assumed structure.
Because Carl, in developing the theory of the hypothesis of the
person-centered approach, had developed the theory or the hypothesis
out of experience with many clients and said because this seems to be
true in the therapeutic interviews and experiences with many clients
which have been reviewed by noninvolved persons but someone outside
who had reviewed the transcription of interviews and the client's own
perception of what happened in therapy.
By putting all of those together, Carl and his colleagues evolved
the hypothesis out of which the theory of the client-centered
approach, at that time, grew. He had established certain procedures
and was very careful to include enough of the so-called scientific
research to give it credibility with the established psychology.
Carl was the first of the psychologists, therapists, researchers
to tape therapeutic interviews and to submit them to very careful
scrutiny and analysis. Based on that, we talked with Carl about our
idea and he was most enthusiastic. He said, "It is very important, in
my opinion, that from here on people who are interested in this
approach experiment with different kinds of research to carry further
than I have been able to do."
What we have done is to interview these five people in
considerable depth, at least two interviews of two hours each in which
the interviewer only introduced the question. We have discussed the
purpose here of your living again through the experience or
experiences which you consider to be a major change. The interviewer
then only clarifying, never interpreting, and following as closely as
possible the experience as related by the person interviewed.
As we proceeded with that process, we discovered that the same
kind of thing was happening in the research interview as happens in
therapy. In fact, one person who had no contact with the person-
centered approach after the interview said, "How would you have done
it if you had been my therapist?"
I was surprised to be able to answer, "The same," which was a
first point that impressed us. We found that research in this person-
centered approach varies in most essentials only in the very careful
attention afterwards in recording the narrative and trying to get the
What we did after transcribing all of these interviews, was to
(and this word apparently is a difficult one but it's the best word I
can think of) immerse ourselves in the content of the interviews with
one person until we felt we had really, each of us, entered into and
were living inside the world of that person.
When we felt that each of us had done that, which required many,
many readings with very close attention, we then, each of us
independently wrote the narrative of that person in the first person
using the word "I" so that we were actually living in that person's
experience as nearly as we could. When we finished that, we put the
two together. What one of us had missed, another one had picked up.
Then we gave that narrative, in our first person, to the person who
had been interviewed, keeping the same words, introducing no new
terminology, all words of the person herself, gave it to the person
and said, "Please read this carefully and when you have read it, one
of us will talk with you about changes you wish to make or deletions
or additions so that you feel it is the closest to your intent that
you can get."
Then we transcribed that recording and by using a word processor,
we were able then to make the changes that the person wished. We
accepted that as the record of the person's experience in the inner
process of change. We also, because we were interested in the
question of facilitation of change, added another complication and
that was what were the clarifications, statements or questions on the
part of the interviewer which were followed immediately by a new
insight on the part of the person being interviewed, the person
saying, "Oh, yes! I really never saw that before!"
What we are trying to do from there is to go through the same
process now with the five different persons interviewed and to see
what are common patterns, if any, in this process of change. What
were some of the experiences that precipitated the change or
facilitated it and possibly what were some of the blocks, if any, were
experienced? Here, again, accepting only the words of the person.
Thus far, we have been very careful not to make judgements or
generalizations but there is one that we have not been able to pass by
without its jumping out at us. We are trying to keep a completely
open mind on this and not seal ourselves into any pattern. But the
thing that we have noticed thus far in all of those we have studied is
that each person in one way or another experienced a crisis, a point
at which that person said, "I can't live with this any longer the way
it is. Something has to change."
Now those came about under very different circumstances.
Sometimes it came in a burst of light of insight and sometimes the
person said it was a series of small changes like step-by-step that
led to this major change.
That is the only commonality that we have noted so far but we are
still in the process and probably will not finish even this part of it
until the late part of the summer.
I think another important thing that we are discovering for
ourselves because there were no guidelines to this complex kind of
inquiry, is that we have been living through a process which by trial
and error, trying this way to get at the meaning, trying another way
to get the material together, we have been evolving a kind of
methodology for this kind of complex research which has so many
dimensions because the change continues over a period of time. The
change continues as a part of the research itself and the problem
which we are facing right now is which piece of that to cut off and
say, "That's as far as we can go now," and realize that it's only a
piece of the whole experience which will go on as long as the person
Our temptation was to keep going back to the person and saying,
"What happened next?" The further we got into that, the more we
realized that we had to set definite limits in order to accomplish the
small piece that we had set ourselves to.
So, this has been our experience thus far in this new paradigm
research which is diametrically opposed to the traditional,
scientific, statistical kind of research in which the individual gets
completely lost in averages and more complex than the new paradigm
research which is based on one experience which has been done many
times. We're not sure where we're coming out and that's part of the
excitement of it, I think.
Among the various terms for the new paradigm research which we
have decided probably fits our kind of study best is called heuristic
research which may be familiar to some of you.
I think that is about as much as I can say about this process in
which we've been engaged and if you have questions, I'll be glad to
try to answer them, if you have ideas you want to exchange.
Woman in audience: I would like to know if the participants for
that research have had before client-centered therapies or other types
Ruth: Some had and some hadn't. The way the persons were chosen
was by volunteering. We asked a group who would be interested in
committing a big piece of time and in submitting themselves to
intensive work, if they felt that they had had a major life-changing
experience which they would be willing to reveal.
One person I know had been involved in analysis before and she's
the one who asked, "If you are interviewing me if we were in a therapy
session, how would you have done it?" And, when I said to her, "The
same," she said, "I can't believe it because all you did was to listen
to me and occasionally asked to be sure that you understood. But,"
she said, "I did change during that interview. I got new insight."
I know that two of the others had not been in therapy before so I
think there was a natural selection there.
Man in Audience: I wanted to ask you with this heuristic
research method, what difference does it make with the process of
Ruth: I really don't know that I can answer that. What do you
have in mind as introspective psychology?
Man in Audience: American psychological research have insisted
very much on the attitude in behavioral change, that the tendency
historically was a reaction against a whole stream of research where
the psychologists tried to describe what they have observed himself as
Ruth: Yes, the difference there as I see your explanation is the
same as has been true many times in describing the therapeutic process
of change, of personality change (I suppose personality and behavior)
is that that is from the point of view of the therapist and this is
totally from the point of view of the person and the researcher or the
therapist is committed to using no words that the person himself did
not use which seems like a great difference.
Woman in audience: There is a word I have not understood. The
word heuristic. It's a process of discovery.
Woman in audience: I wondered whether it is important to remark
that it is by oneself on oneself in this heuristic process.
Ruth: Yes. Discovery is the word. An experiencing again of the
process of change and discovery of one's self and what the researcher
does in this situation is to discover that process as if he were the
Man in audience: I would like to say in terms of perception of
inner change, I would like to go away from the heuristical aspect. I
want to say that I do not have a very clear perception of the change
within myself. I can have it through other people. The formulative
with precision what has changed. I would rather say, "I rediscovered
something rather than I changed." I would rather formulate that way.
Ruth: I think a very important part of this is we have found in
our study, is that there is a progressive awareness, a progressive
state of awareness that goes on in a person who has become a part of
this research study and awareness seems to enter in again. It's one
of those elements that enters in all across a height awareness of what
goes on in me, recognizing feelings for themselves and relating those
feelings, those insights.
(Beginning of second side of tape - missed question)
Ruth: I think that ties in and I'm going to digress now some of
the theory of the person-centered approach. Carl spoke about
congruence or realness as being one of the qualities or attitude,
characteristics, which he felt needed to be present in order for
personality change to take place. Awareness is a very important part
of that term congruence which means really a being aware of the
feelings, the emotions that are flowing in me at the moment, in being
aware of those, to have within myself the choice of how I shall
express those feelings.
Realness, as Carl defined it, is a deep awareness of what is
going on in me in the moment. So, I know if I'm angry. I know if I
am deeply hurt and I can decide then what I am going to do with that
feeling. I think a part of what happens in this kind of research is
that both the researcher and the participant in the research, is
continually gaining a heightened awareness.
Man in audience: It's quite clear. I would like you to come
back on those crises you mentioned happening in the person during its
growth. You said that about those crises, you could only say at this
stage, at some moments the person was getting aware of being in a
certain state for which the person says, "I cannot bear it any longer.
Get out of it." In the present state of your research, can you say
that there is an indication of the direction in which this goes?
Particularly, to describe the process of growth as a trip within
one's self, as the passage in the "Eye of the Hurricane." Is
generally getting out of the crisis taking you more into internal and
movement towards more inner one's self?
Ruth: Yes, I would say that's true. You begin to question.
What is this? What can I do? Where can I go next? Where am I? What
is it that's so oppressive I can't live with it?
One of the women with whom we are working right now discovered in
this process that she had been sexually abused by an uncle when she
was about two or three years old. She simply knew of certain terrors
that she had and she began to get even physical problems for which no
one could discover the cause. As she went on in this process over a
period of about four years from the time our group started, this
experience of hers as a child came into her awareness. It became very
clear to her.
Then she began to realize the connection between that and her
physical manifestations. Also, her need to be very grown-up when she
was scared inside and her process of change has been quite rapid since
she pulled that into her awareness. She reached the point where she
even felt that she might be physically handicapped. That's very
sketchy, I know. But I hope it's an answer to your question.
That's jumping over a great many things but going into detail
with all of it would take too long. When we have worked through far
enough in this, we are going to present it very briefly before the
American Psychology Association in August. When we get it into some
form, it would be available. I don't know the form yet.
Male in audience: From the moment one says I cannot go on, could
you find something from this moment (I'm sure you've found many
things) comes, I suppose, a decision making. Is there anything which
is similar between several people interviewed? How does it go from
that moment to the decision making?
I would like to add something to this, another question. So,
this can be a very important point, this decision making. The first
is matters of change and the other must be death. Do you find such
badness in this research and how these two factors relate to each
other? I only feel trapped with, not with your question, but with
Ruth: Choosing suicide would be one decision. Do I get the
connection? Yes. Suicide would be one choice to make and what leads
to progressive, positive change would be a part of your question. Is
Man in audience: Decision making, yes.
Ruth: I think decision making is probably too precise a term
because it's not so much a matter of deciding, "Well, now. I can't go
any further this way. I'm going to do that."
It seems to have, so far, and I'm very tentative about this, but
it seems that from that point, a person begins to look around and to
begin searching for what is possible for me. This one person
particularly said that she felt that she was climbing a high mountain
and she was trying to get to a hold in the stone, in the rock, and it
kept crumbling and she felt that there was absolutely no hope of her
ever getting to the top. What she wanted to do was to lie down and
rest but she felt if she lay down to rest that she would die, so she
had to keep going. That's when the pain developed in one of her legs
and doctors recommended operations. It was a slow progression from
So, I say a decision is too precise. It was a whole process
that was begun there to the point where she's come out a long way from
there, feeling that she's become much more adult. She's accepted
certain physical parts of her problem, certain emotional parts, having
to put one foot ahead of the other all the time when she couldn't do
Man in audience: Could it be said that she accepted that she had
Ruth: Yes and she began to know what that reality was, her own.
Now, the other thing which seems to be a part is that there needs to
be some kind of support and response from someone or one's that's
outside. She felt, for example, that her parents didn't listen to
her, didn't believe her when she told them of the sexual abuse and so
she closed in and became grown up herself so she could take care of
everything. Gradually she's been able to, as she said, "make friends
with that scared little girl," which is another matter of finding her
This has come in a series and rather slowly over a period of a
Woman in audience: I would also like to ask in those moments of
change, the passage from a state of sort of abandonment, resignation
to the point where I began to have hope something can be done, from
resignation to hope, the turning point of resignation to hope.
Ruth: Yes. I just went back to a question there. I'm not
leaving this now. But the question, the dual question which one
choice would be death and one would be a growthful change as we
understand growthful change. Death might be. It comes very close and
I hesitate to bring this in because it's another complication, but it
brings us back to what the Belgian chemist/biologist, Fricasheen,
described as an organism, Carl said, "including the human organism" to
him, that suddenly something happens to or intrudes into the life of
an organism which precipitates a change in which the organism may
disintegrate or it may reorganize on a more complex level. The thing
which I'm not ready to say at the present time so quickly and this is
more tentative, is that is the point at which it seems likely that
some kind of environmental response to that organism can make a
difference, feeling that someone understands that I'm not totally
alone in this. There are people that care about me even if I am a
mess and I'm not able to say that but it would seem from what we have
heard so far from these people that such a response from someone or
one's was at a crucial point, was very important.
That was a digression, I guess. Whether it was or not, that ties
in to a whole other thing about the relationship of change in a
person, psychological, emotional change and the new theory of science
called chaos, which contradicts or throws into confusion the theory of
probability and predictability in science and mathematics and that's a
whole other fascinating ramification.
In other words, it may be that if we follow through this concept
of the process of change in a human being and we move into this whole
concept of a new way of thinking in science, we'll find that many of
the same processes that take place in so-called pure sciences,
mathematics and physics and applied physics, chemistry, economics,
population growth, also apply to psychology. Mind boggling, isn't it?
Man in audience: What you're saying is very close to the result
of the research on systemic approach of development of growth which
makes the growth as a progressive developmental complexity in one
Ruth: Excepting that it's not completely compatible with the
evolution concept of changes in the species and change of life on the
planet which scientists, of course, are believing now are not simply
the result of evolution but that cataclysmic conditions have entered
in that have changed the direction of the development of some species
or wiped them out. So, I just think that we're living in a very
exciting time and all of these things coming together and the
possibilities for knowing and discovering and understanding more about
the complexities, not only in ourselves, but in the planet we live on
and the universe and the universes. It makes one feel that we are
just at the beginning of something, which I guess we are!
Man in audience: I have another question. I will try to say it
shortly. I don't know where Gendling and his tactic focusing could
describe what is the differences focusing and the process what
happened with this searching.
Ruth: I don't know what you mean by focusing.
Man in audience: I'd like to know, Ruth, what was it your crisis
in this searching program? How was developing this searching and
Ruth: What was the crisis in this process of research?
Man in audience: When you decide this doesn't work, we have to
drop out. You mentioned one.
Ruth: well, back when we started with the research group and
part of the group was more interested in therapy than they were in the
term "research" and the moment we tried to talk about what is the
process of change, they said, "We're not interested in that."
We said, "What are we doing?"
This obviously is not where we wanted to go and that's when the
group separated from the large group and the smaller group separated
itself out. I don't know if it was a crisis but it was certainly a
real problem. We were bewildered for a while when we realized the
mass of material we had, but only five people, because originally we
had thought we would have more persons involved. I think that was one
point. We said we'll have to limit the number because the stacks were
getting like this.
From there, I think it's been like finding our way in a forest
somehow. I think after the first shock of realizing the tremendous
mass of material and that we didn't know how to deal with it and also
the need to know where we were going. We had to decide that if we
were doing this kind of study, we had to be satisfied to go down a
path until we felt, "Well, that's not getting us where we want to go.
We'll have to try another one and accept that and not try to see too
far ahead at any one moment." I think that was one of our
Then we began to realize that all of these mistakes we had made,
all of these false starts we had made, were not failures but a part of
Woman in audience: What I liked in that research, I have a
feeling that there are no basic assumptions to start with,
process you discover. It's the first time.
Ruth: Yes, Phillip's discovery. That's what it had to be. When
we tried to assume that something would happen, we found it didn't
Woman in audience: I also think that very often I feel that
scientists have assumptions which they've checked and confirmed or
not. I have the feeling that you be carried by the
participants who spoke. This is the first time I've heard of research
carried this way.
Ruth: That's the first time I have too! That's what's made it
so difficult in some ways and so exciting in others. We have debated
and we haven't decided yet, whether when we finish this, we bring
these five people together and then take a look at their interaction
and how they feel about the similarities and differences in their
experiences. But that's off somewhere.
Man in audience: But you also very sensitive observation
of the human being with all that it implies that the human being is
not an object in the research.
Ruth: An active part.
Man in audience: I think you can produce a tremendous result
effects because my feeling about other psycho research which I believe
only I have a half trust in the result of those research
to a result that turn a human being into an object. between
Ruth: Gendling's focusing, as I understand it, which is not an
in depth study or knowledge of his work, certainly has a valid point
that the focusing or directing of one's awareness very consciously
directing it. Am I right?
Man in audience: Yes.
Ruth: You know more about it, perhaps than I do. Would you like
to say what it means to you - focusing?
Woman in audience: It describes inner change as growing .
Have you tried to describe why and how the client changes?
Ruth: Certainly awareness is a very important element in that.
Man in audience: I was interested in what is the difference in
what you found and what he described?
Ruth: I don't think I can answer that. I don't think I know
enough about this, the details of his work. I know that he worked
with Carl for a while and kind of broke off and emphasized this one
part which I think is important but I don't think it's all of it and
I'm sorry I can't be more specific about that.