Paper to be delivered at The 12th International Meeting on the Treatment of Psychosis in Palanga, Lithuania, August 29th -September 2nd, 2007 (this paper is still in development and thus contains sections till in note form).

Not to forget Tom Andersen’s way of being Tom Andersen:

the importance of what ‘just happens’ to us

John Shotter


Abstract: It is easy to think that Tom Andersen’s central contribution was the introduction into psychotherapy and family therapy of the “reflecting team” – later to be developed into “reflecting processes.” But Tom thought of himself as “a wanderer and worrier” – he was constantly reflecting on his own practice, on his way of ‘going on’, to further develop and refine it, and then continuing further to worry about the right words in which to express what seemed to be his new way. Each new way came from him reaching a ‘crossroads’, from not being able to continue any longer in the same way, from stopping something he came to see as ethically wrong, and then finding that “alternatives popped up almost by themselves” (Anderson and Jensen, 2007, p.159). There are thus many, many more features to Tom’s way of therapy than just the reflecting process. Central to Tom’s way of being in the world was what came to him as he moved around in the world, as a participant in rather than an observer of it. In my talk I will try to set out the many, many small detailed changes Tom made in his way-of-being-with-others in his meetings with them, and the large changes these small changes led to. Thus we must do more than merely commemorate his achievements, we must work out how not to forget them, ever.


The way that can be named

is not the true way

The way that cannot be named

is the true way (Tao te Ching, Lao tzu).


“What we come to form, and thereafter understand (both the formed and the forming), emerge from us being in language in conversations in movements in relationships in culture in nature (we do not have language, etc., in us). The Being in these various ins can best be understood by letting the feeling that comes (by being in these various ins) create its own metaphors, and let those metaphor be part of the language one searches through in order to find a meaning” (Andersen, no date).


“I see life as the moving of myself and my surroundings and the surroundings of those surroundings towards the future. The shifts of life around me come by themselves, not by me. The only thing I can do is to take part in them” (Andersen, 1992, p.54).


“I certainly get very moved by people. Go along thinking a great deal about it and get filled with a restlessness in my body that won’t leave me alone” (Andersen, 2007, p.171)


“Yes, to dare to let the feelings come first” (Andersen, 2007, p.163).


“What seems to be important is to learn what I shall not do again” (Andersen, 1992, p.54).


“I once was lost, but now am found/ Was blind, but now I see” (Amazing Grace, a Christian hymn).

When we worked together, Tom quite often would say to me: “Let the breathing come John, let the breathing come.” So that is what I will try to do in talking with you today: I will try to let what I have to say just come, by itself.

              Tom Andersen was a very special kind of person. That is apparent to us all, and to all who ever met him. At the end of a little article he sent me a while ago (about a friend building a mountain path from rocks) – about which I will say much more in a moment – I was struck very much by its ending. First, he said that it was something “offered.” In other words, it was not a ‘telling’ of an event, nor a ‘reporting’ of it, it was not something that you were required to listen to; it was something that might simply be of interest, that might possibly matter to you. Next, he said that it is offered by “Tom Andersen (of Tromsø): Former country (medical) doctor, later psychiatrist, now an university faculty. A wanderer and a worrier”... not a “(fighting) warrior,” but an “(ceaselessly reflecting) worrier.” Each of those phrases matter, as I will make clear in a moment. But it was the last phrase – “a wanderer and a worrier” – that especially intrigued me, and has intrigued me ever since. For, as we know, Tom often talked of his “professional walk” as confronting him with a series of “road forks” or “crossroads,” that were to do, not with making a choice between, say, an A or a B, but to do with “having to give something up, really give it up” (2007, p.159).

              Clearly, Tom had his own ‘inner lodestone’ guiding his wanderings and his worryings, his own ‘inner compass’ that was ‘pointing’ toward a ‘something’ that he never ceased to trying to achieve. It gave him a feeling of disquiet, a feeling of ‘not-yet-having-arrived’, of ‘not-being-there-yet’, “a restlessness in my body that won’t leave me alone” (p.171), a restless that ‘called’ on him to act in some way, that in Bakhtin’s (1993) terms he felt answerable. It is that feeling of restlessness that Tom and I shared – and it is what that something ‘is’ that Tom was aiming in his ‘answers’ to it, that I want to try to describe here. For it is not something that Tom thought, it is not a special theory or piece of information that can – if only the right words can be found – be set out as ‘his’ crucial perspective or framework. It is something he came to embody: Along with knowing how, bodily, we are walking on two rather than four feet; how we know that we walking forwards rather than sideways; that our bodies are upright rather than horizontal; that the car you are in is turning rather then going in a straight line; that are moving uphill rather than downhill; and so on and so on; these are ‘sensings’ continually present to us that work in the background to orient us in our more deliberate actions, a part of our composure, poise (balance), or assuredness in the world (Todes, 2001) – I will return to this most crucial issue more fully in a moment.

              Let me just note here, that in The Reflecting Team in Action book (Friedman, 1995), Tom noted that: “My way of telling about the origin and development of the reflecting process has shifted over the years. At first I often referred to theories, as if these processes were born our of intellectuality. Now I do not think so. I think rather they were consequences of feelings. Although I was unaware of it when the reflecting process first appeared in March 1985, I now think it was a solution to my feeling of discomfort as a therapist” (p.11). In other words, it was something that Tom first found ‘just happening’ in his own body, that was the basic source of the changes he made in his practice over the years.

              Indeed, central to the story I am going to tell here is a distinction, a difference, between two kinds of difficulties: What Wittgenstein (1980) called difficulties of the intellect, and difficulties of the will (p.17). We can formulate difficulties of the intellect as problems which, with the aid of clever theories, we can solve by the use of reasoning. Difficulties of the will, however, are quite different. For they are to do with how we orient ourselves bodily towards events occurring around us, how we relate ourselves to them, the ways in which we see them, hear them, experience them, value them – for it is these are the ways that determine, that ‘give shape to’, the lines of action we further resolve on carrying out. But we do all this while we are already in action, in motion!

               As Tom (1997) put it in a 1997 article: “A person takes part in the world as a being. Not the noun Being, but the verb Being: being-in-the-world, which is: being-in-(bodily)movements, being-in-language, being-in-conversations, being-in-relationships (being-with-others), being-in-culture, being-in-time (being-in-history), being-in-nature etc. To change is to be differently in either: movements or language or conversations or relationships.” Let me repeat that: to change is to be differently in motion, in language, in conversation, etc. – but this is not something strange and esoteric, it is something we are doing every moment of the day without even noticing it.

              Consider, for instance, simply, how we orient ourselves in relation to someone moving towards us on the street: We do not just to see them as, on the one hand, continually changing and moving yet while, on the other hand, remaining the same person (as if that in itself wasn’t complicated enough!), but also as bodily moving, say, on a collision course in relation to our bodily movements. So – if we are to move to avoid them, we must keep track of them, continuously, wherever and however they move. We cannot take snap-shots of them intermittently, and hope that wherever they will be next can be predicted from where they were in the past – for that would be to assume that they were unable, suddenly, like ourselves, also to change course and take avoiding action. But to orient and to re-orient ourselves continuously to another’s movements, requires our continuously adjusting our selves, bodily; we have continuously to direct and re-direct both our attention and our own movements in relation to theirs.

              Tom’s contributions to psychiatry, then, are not to do with overcoming difficulties of the intellect, not to do with inventing clever theories or with uncovering some new facts. Tom’s contributions are in the still seriously neglected realm of the possible forms of embodied relations that we might adopt to events occurring in our surroundings. They are to do with understanding the practicalities involved in the step-by-step unfolding dynamics of feelingful events, events that – like a piece of ‘moving’ music – occur much more in time than in space, that occur ‘inside’ our living relations with the others and othernesses around us. This is what is entailed in Tom’s claim that: “Practice comes first” (Andersen, 2007, p.1958)... but we must note that intertwined into Tom’s practices, and giving them a distinctive style, is a special way of relating himself to, or orienting himself towards others – and it is this special ‘way’ of Tom being Tom Andersen that I want to try to bring out into the open, here, today.


I first became aware of Tom Andersen, as Tom Andersen, in Houston, Texas, in May 1991. But it wasn’t until November 2003, in London, that Tom and I began to work together. It took that long time because, at least on my side, at that first meeting I was too in awe of him to think for one moment of us actually working together.

              Right from my first experience of him, as soon as I heard his slow, very careful way of talking, I felt the strength of a powerful presence. In his quiet calmness I felt also the working of a tremendous, dynamic, ‘in-touch-ness’ with the invisible ‘livingness’ of things, with the ‘movement’ of events, the working of a sensitivity and attentiveness that, to me, then, suggested access to a wisdom I knew (even though I am only a few months younger than Tom) that I did not have. At that time, I was almost wholly an academic, someone concerned to argue with other academics about people’s ways of thinking and talking – although my concern even then was not with the classical idea that it is the academic’s task to supply some ‘good ideas’ that, one-day, might be ‘put into practice’, but was much more to do with the idea that if we could provide an understanding of how language works, of how our use of words can influence our acting, then, that might be of some use to those facing the daunting task of trying to help change people’s behaviour for the better.

              But even then, I knew that ‘talking the talk’ was not at all equivalent to being able to ‘walk the walk’. So, although I might have been able to talk clever talk ‘about’ how words had worked in those situations ‘over there’, after they had been uttered, Tom, I felt, lived within a time and a space of now; he had a composure that manifested a readiness – after a pause, after a moment of ‘inner dialogue’ – to respond in a ‘fitting’ manner to whatever might happen. But to live like that, to live in that moment of risk and uncertainty, to live with the fear of having to act yet not knowing whether your action will be ‘fitting’ or not, being able to trust that if it isn’t, others will help out, requires, I now think, a special kind of ‘attitude’, a special kind of sustained ‘orientation’, a determination to relate oneself to events in one’s surroundings in a special kind of way. And it is that ‘way’ I want to talk of today.... for it is that ‘way’, and the very strange state of affairs that it is ‘pointing toward’, that I think we need constantly to remind ourselves of.

              This, I think, is very close to a Western form of Zen, to what in Zen teachings is talked of as keeping, or as not losing, our “beginner’s mind,” or our “original mind” (like the mind of a child). For while “in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few,” says Zen Master Suzuki (1974, p.21). Hence “the goal of [Zen] practice is always to keep your beginner’s mind” (p.21); or, to put it another way, its is for “your mind to pervade your whole body” (p.41).

              This is a goal worth achieving for a beginner’s mind, or our original mind, is a “big mind,” a living body-mind that – because it isn’t full of our own thoughts, full of activities of our own devising – “experiences everything within itself” (p.35). And if one can achieve it, then what is ‘out there’ (in one’s surroundings), and what is ‘in here’ (in one’s thoughtful feelings, one’s feelingful thoughts, and thoughtful feelingful actions), are completely ‘in touch’ with each other. And this, I think, is exactly what Tom achieved in his practice.

              It is when we fill our body-minds with our own deliberate thoughts about this or about that, that ‘we’ restrict ‘its’ ability to be responsive whatever might happen around us. That is when big mind becomes small mind – for it is when it is already “related to something outside itself,” says Suzuki (1974), “that mind [becomes] a small mind” (p.35). But as he remarks with respect to this ‘big mind’/’small mind’ distinction: “Actually they are the same thing, but the understanding is different, and your attitude towards your life will be different according to which understanding you have” (p.35) – let me repeat that last phrase, “your attitude towards your life will be different according to which understanding you have.” And, I would like to add, the reverse is also the case: your understanding of your own life will be different according to your attitude towards your own and the lives of others.

              This, I think, is where we can begin to understand Tom Andersen’s special way of being Tom Andersen: For we can, I think, find the first steps towards his way of living, of living ‘in the moment’, ‘in motion’, as arising out of a very special attitude, a ‘felt need’ to be in a certain kind of selflessly sensitive relationship with his surroundings, with both the others and the othernesses in them (especially the mountains), and to be able to ‘answer to’ the ‘calls’ that came to him from within those relationships.


Tom was Norwegian, and in the first book length version of The Reflecting Team (Andersen, 1990), he begins his account of the origins of the reflecting team, and how he and his colleagues developed it, not with any theories, nor with any talk of special practices, but with a poetic description of Norway, and especially of North-Norway: “Our country is long and thin like the stem of a tree,” he said (p.18). And he continued with six or seven more pages giving both the geographical context, and the health and social services context, within which the reflecting team and reflecting processes emerged.

              Tromsø, as everyone here knows, is one of Norway’s northern counties, and “in the north people live in small places scattered over a wide area” (p.19), and are clearly disoriented if they have to travel far from home. “If 1974 is set as a start,” Tom (Andersen, 1990) says, “it should be said that many ideas and experiences had been accumulating before that time. Most of us could not give up the premise that people up north, either healthy or sick, are strongly tied to the places they come from. We thought that services should be located as much as possible within the local communities having a format of working in congruence with the clinical challenges... We clearly saw that problems easily involved many people, both relatives and professionals” (p.22). And he continues to describe the period 1974-1978 in these terms: “We were, therefore, well aware of the ideas of wholeness and relationship when in 1974 we started meeting informally searching for new models of thinking and working” (p.22).

              In 1978, Tom became Professor of Social Psychiatry at the University of Tromso. An important event at that time was the organizing of a formal group of seven professionals Endnote , who aimed to work in close cooperation with those in ‘first line’ mental health care, to prevent the need for psychiatric patients to be hospitalized. “The hospitalization rate declined by 40% compared with a corresponding period before the project, and this decline [was] strongly connected to the group’s work” (Hansen, 1987). And as Tom comments further: “The ‘first line’ of care liked this way of organizing the relationship between them and us, the ‘specialists’, very much. They learned more to practice psychiatry themselves” (p.23) – let me say that again: they learned to practice psychiatry themselves. I emphasis this as in every situation, Tom’s aim was not that he should be the one to change people’s lives, everyone should be enabled to do it for themselves.

              But I have also emphasized that comment as I think that, if it really is/was the case, then it is a very important. For it points to the fact that to understand how to help mentally disturbed people, you do not need first to be specially trained in abstruse matters; it is not a cognitive matter of being in possession of hard to master facts or information or special skills; but a matter of learning an orientation, an way of relating to or being with the others around you – something that it not learnt intellectually in a classroom, but something that, like many other embodied orientations towards events in one’s surroundings, are learnt only in the practice, in the doing of them.

              I have emphasized these “experiences with contexts” above, as this is how Tom himself began his conversation with Per Jensen in 2006 (Anderson and Jensen, 2007), sixteen years later, in which he discussed the “crossroads” in his professional life.

              Right at the start he mentioned two episodes that made an impression made on him, events that “touched him deeply.”. One was when, as a young regional doctor, he made house calls: he noticed that “family and neighbours filled the kitchen. They were there to show their concern and willingness to do something if it was wanted. When I came back to the kitchen after having examined the ill person, my ‘reports’ produced, as a rule, relief and joy, while sometimes the seriousness of the situation got even more intense” (p.158). Another example was from the psychiatric hospital in Tromsø, when people were admitted from far away: “Most became silent and quiet” (p.158). He noticed and was deeply touched by both these events. In other words, very early on, Tom’s experience of a medical examination was not of it as just a technical activity, a matter of working on living, suffering people “as though they belonged to the ‘non-living’” (p.159). It is a social event, a meeting in which all kinds of unpredictable and ‘human’ things can and do happen, and in which very special feelings can be aroused in those who witness such ‘happening’ events.

              Living meetings are our focal events. They are the times when the events of importance to us ‘people-persons’, concerned to help people change their lives, happen. This is why in my title I have emphasized the importance of ‘just happening’ events. Indeed, Per Jensen (Anderson and Jensen, 2007) in his talk with Tom noted how often he talked of being affected by people in meetings – Per: “How would you say such meetings have affected you? Your own practice, own thinking?”. Tom: “I don’t really know, myself. I certainly get very moved by people. Go along thinking a great deal about it and get filled with a restlessness in my body that won’t leave me alone. So I have to often formulate something and formulate something that can be taken into other contexts” (p.171).

              One can become so ‘moved’ by the moving expressions of others, by their suffering, that – if one is better placed, has more resources at one’s disposal, is less disoriented by anxiety, etc. – one can feels a strong need to alleviate or to reduce such suffering, to the extent that it is one’s own as much as theirs. Such a feeling is called compassion (com~with + passion; a feeling with, or a withness-passion). Tom had it in abundance. Suzuki (1974) comments: “The beginner’s mind is the mind of compassion. When our mind is compassionate, it is boundless” (p.22).

              Tom relates such an event that happened to him in the big, central mental hospital in Asunción (Paraguay). He met with a consultant psychiatrist there. It was clear, said Tom, that it wasn’t easy to show us the conditions there. “It was like going a hundred years back in time. Some went without clothes, some had no speech and they screamed... the consultant couldn’t bear it, she waited outside” (p.171). There was a tiny, thin, malformed woman lying on the floor; she grasped Tom’s hands; she shouted: “Help me get home, there are so many who want to kill me here!” “Have you spoken to anyone about this, then,” Tom asked. “Yes, I’ve spoken to God,” she said. “And what did he say?” “Kill them before they kill you,” she said. “We have to try to do something for you,” he thought... but what? Meeting the consultant again, Tom found she was wanting to change psychiatry in Paraguay, wanting small local units in which people could live, not these big central hospitals. Tom said: “I can understand that you want to change psychiatry in your country,” and she started to cry. What to do? Tom could do nothing... a feeling of helplessness... he assumed he would never see her again... but he was full of a restlessness in his body that would not leave him alone.

              But back in the university in Tromsó, he and his colleagues began to discuss doing something in cooperation with several South American countries. He went to Buenos Aires and spoke with the seven people who were to be the supervisors on the project; the consultant for Asunción was one of them.

              The meeting with the tiny malformed woman who grabbed his hands was not – like the butterfly flapping its wings in Beijing in March changing the hurricane patterns in the Atlantic in August (a formulation that, I think, totally fails to take the whole already moving background into account in which the butterfly flaps its wings) – the simple cause of Tom’s resolve to begin the South American program, but it was an influence nonetheless. The woman’s voice and other expression were a part of, as Bakhtin (1984) puts it, the “... plurality of independent and unmerged voices... [that] combine but are not merged in the unity of the event” (p.6) that took place in Tom and his colleagues resolving on the conduct of the South American program.

              So when Per Jensen put it to Tom that in these kind of efforts he was, perhaps, mounting a “fight against oppression?,” Tom did not object to Per using the ‘big word’ oppression, but he did object to the word fight: “I would prefer,” he said, “to call it working against oppression” (p.172). Tom is not a warrior. Fighting opens no new pathways forward – not matter how noble one’s cause. Only struggling to gain an orientation within a still pathless jungle of possibilities, doing the work of trying to take a step this way and that, while suffering the risk of failure, can do that. Thus it requires courage; but it is also unrelenting hard work.


It is easy to think that Tom Andersen’s central contribution was the introduction into psychotherapy and family therapy of the “reflecting team” – later to be developed into “reflecting processes.” But Tom, as I said above, thought of himself as “a wanderer and worrier” – he was constantly reflecting on his own practice, on his way of ‘going on’, to further develop and refine it, and then continuing further to worry about the right words in which to express what seemed to be his new way. Each new way came from him reaching a ‘crossroads’, a ‘road-fork’, from him not being able to continue any longer in the same way, from stopping something he came to see as ethically wrong.

              For instance, in the interview he did with Per Jensen just before he died (that I’ve already drawn many times above), he commented that in the early days, even before the move out of “the closed room,” he and his colleagues were already changing their practices in this way. When they tried to apply the Milan approach and say to people: ‘we think you should think like this’, they felt the unpleasantness of it. For, in effect, they were saying: You should stop thinking like you do, and start thinking like us; it was about telling other people how they should live their lives. They could not continue with it.

              But when: “We stopped saying what people should think and do, and then alternatives popped up almost by themselves. It might be, for example, that instead we said ‘In addition to how you are thinking, we have thought...’ and ‘In addition to doing what you’ve been doing you could also consider this...’ – in addition to, that is. It came as a great relief. And it was a big transition – from ‘either-or’ to ‘this and this’ (Anderson and Jensen, 2007, p.159).

              Indeed, here is what may seem to be a small transition in practice, but if we do here what Tom might do on sensing the utterance of an important word or phrase – namely, ‘going into it’ to see what more we can find in it – we can find why Tom said later it was such a big transition: “Without realizing it then, I would now say that ‘either-or’ belongs in a world one can describe as immovable and to what we call also call ‘the non-living’. So that is to say we worked with living people as though they belonged to ‘the non-living’. It felt uncomfortable, and it was a relief to move over to the ‘this and’ perspective [i.e, way of relating]” (p.159).

              But this move, this transition, was it a “choice,” an intellectually considered deliberate move in a new direction? No, not at all – perhaps a scandalous thing to say in our current individualistic, consumerist societies, in which choice and freedom are equated. So when Per Jensen responded to Tom’s account of the move he made described above, by saying (with a questioning tone): “It was the choice of a new direction?” Again, like drawing back from the use of the word fight and substituting the word work, Tom found his own inner sense of the ‘shape’ of his experience didn’t fit the expression. The word choice seemed unfitting: “A crossroads, I call it – because I am very uncertain of to what extent it was choice. It was more having to give something up, really give it up; we couldn’t continue any longer in the same way, it wasn’t possible. We had to give it up” (p.1959).

              A ‘choice’ is to do with overcoming a difficulty of the intellect, to do with planning an action; it is to do with looking at an action ‘from the outside’. While resolving on an actual action from within one’s own doing of it, is quite different. Bakhtin (1993) describes it thus:


“From within, the performed act sees more than just a unitary context; it also sees a unique, concrete context, into which it refers both its own sense and its own factuality and within which it attempts to actualize answerably a unique truth... To see that, it is of course necessary to take the performed act not as a fact contemplated from outside or thought of theoretically, but to take it from within, in its answerability... This answerability of the actually performed act is the taking-into-account in it of all the [relevant] factors... The performed act concentrates, correlates, and resolves within a unitary and unique and, this time, final context both the sense and the fact, the universal and the individual, the real and the ideal, for everything enters into the composition of its answerable motivation. The performed act constitutes a going out once and for all from within possibility as such into what is once-occurrent” (pp.28-29).

In other words, Tom’s very practical way of being in the world – of him not viewing the events occurring around him from the outside, theoretically, but of being able to gain a sense of himself as being within their unfolding dynamics – allows him to gain an inner sense of their tremendous complexity. Thus it is not going too far, I think, to say that Tom knew how ‘to move around’ within that inner complexity, thus to resolve on taking a possible next step within its unfolding ‘movement’, a possible way to ‘go on’ in continuously updating his relations with a client. But how did Tom ever develop this capacity?


Tom attributes the beginning of his emphasis on bodily events and bodily feelings to his meeting with physiotherapist Gudrun Øvreberg, who introduced him to her teacher Aadel Bülow-Hansen. About Bulow-Hanson’s way of working, Tom writes that she had


“noticed that patients who are tense tend to flex their bodies towards a ‘creeping together’ position. As they do so they tend to restrict their breathing. In order to be helpful to them, Bülow-Hansen stimulated them to stretch out and ‘open up’ their bodies. One way to do so was by inducing pain in the patient. She had noticed that if a muscle, for example, on the back side of the calf, is held with a painful grip, the pain will stimulate the person to stretch the body. When the body stretches, deeper inhalation is stimulated... [But next] when the air is exhaled, some tension in the body disappears” (Andersen, 1992, pp.58-59).

And sometimes when this happened, when after an extra strong inhalation an extra strong relaxation was experienced, Bülow-Hansen’s clients would respond emotionally – for a long forgotten body-memory of much happier time in their lives would return.

              As Tom saw it, what Bülow-Hansen was doing on these occasions “was a variation on Gregory Bateson’s famous sentence, ‘the elementary unit of information – is a difference that makes a difference’ (Bateson, 1972, p.286). She was making a sufficiently unusual difference in the bodily experience of her patients for them to notice a change in their own inner experience of themselves, of their own inner relations to themselves – so, from feeling, say, ‘out of sorts’ or ‘beside themselves’, they could become more ‘at home’ with themselves and their circumstances.

              But it was important that the difference, the disturbance in the person’s being produced by Aadel Bülow-Hansen’s painful grips, was not too painful, or else the person would just close up to protect the integrity of their being, and the stretching out and breathing in phase of them opening up would not occur. Thus, “the signs Bülow-Hansen looks for in order to know whether her hands disturb appropriately unusual,” says Tom (Andersen, 1990), “are the breathing movements of the chest. She can also watch for an indication by the bending muscles to increase their activity. If the hands tend to bypass the limits of the appropriate usual to the too unusual the breathing becomes restrained and the bendings of the muscles can be seen – the hands close, the arms may be crossed, the face wrinkles, etc.” (p.35).

              In other words, it is important to distinguish in such processes as these between three variants of difference: “If people are exposed to the usual they tend to stay the same,” Tom suggests, but: “If they meet something un-usual this un-usual might induce a change. [But] if the new is very (too) unusual they close up [in order to prevent any damage to their personal integrity] “ (Andersen, 1990, p.33).

              It is also important to notice that, in practice, there are clear criteria in people’s bodily expressions for distinguishing between these three variants, criteria that can also be made use of in therapeutic conversations, as Tom (Andersen 1990) notes: “All these signs can actually be noticed if a conversation contains something too unusual. In addition one might notice that the person becomes less attentive and less thinking and the responses become more reserved” (p.35). There is, then, clear evidence to go on as to whether one is staying ‘in touch’ with one’s client, or whether one has go too far, or not far enough. Indeed, we have all experienced the glazed looks of disinterest, or the indignant looks of pain, in our everyday conversations, and tried to make adjustments so as to attain that lively ‘person-to-person’ contact in can which we touch, and thus change, each other in our very being, rather than just supplying each other with facts or information to store in our heads somewhere. And this evidence can be itemized, and be made readily recognizable. As Wittgenstein (1953) asks: “The feeling of confidence. How is this manifested in behaviour? (no.179) – by clear, unhesitating pronouncements, by immediate, undeviating movements toward a goal, etc. So, although “an ‘inner process’ stands in need of outward criteria” (no.580), it is not too difficult, in practice, to provide such criteria. And just as carpenters, say, learn the ‘tricks of their trade’ in apprenticeships they serve alongside more skilful colleagues, so can we learn the criteria relevant to our ‘trade’.

              Indeed, we cannot do without them if we are to be appropriately responsive to who the person before us is in their expressions: “In order to stay in a conversation with a person, one must respect the person’s basic need to conserve his integrity. In order to be able to do that one has to learn to be sensitive to his signs, which often are very subtle ones that indicate that our contributions to the conversation have been to unusual. One thing that helps do so, is going slow when talking with people, i.e., going so slow that they have time to let us know their responses, and for us to notice them” (Andersen, 1990, p.35).

              Here, then, we have one reason for Tom’s ‘slow’ way of working. But this also links in with something else he said he learnt from Bulow-Hansen (Andersen, 1995) which provides another reason: “she looked (and I assume she also heard and may be even smelled) how the other responded to her hands before her hands continued to work. Applied to psychotherapy, it means I have to wait and see how the other responds to what I say or do before I say or do the next thing. The next thing I say or do must be influenced by the other’s response to what I just said. I have to go slowly enough to be able to see and hear how it is for the other to be in conversation. If it is too unusual, the other feels uncomfortable and lets me know through one or many signs” (p.15).

              Again, I want to repeat a special phrase in what I just quoted Tom as saying: “The next thing I say or do must be influenced by the other’s response to what I just said.” I repeat it, because it means that in acting like this, Tom’s actions are not being shaped by any theories or hypotheses of his own. Indeed, Tom himself is not wholly shaping his own actions, they are being partly shaped by what his client has just said or done. In other words, in Bakhtin’s (1981, 1986) words, he is acting dialogically, and this has at least these two important consequences: (1) One is that his client is as much responsible as he, if not more, for whatever the outcome of their meeting may be; but also, perhaps even more importantly, (2) something uniquely creative can occurs in such dialogically-structured meetings that simply cannot occur outside them. Thus, to go further: This also means that if Tom can ‘keep the conversation going’ – if after each of their own steps Tom can help his clients notice the next set of possibilities open to them for another step – then, like a native guide sensitive to the signs of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in a chaotic jungle can help a foreign adventurer to find a hidden treasure, so can Tom help his clients to find their own pathway forward.

              But it is his continuously responsive, embodied contact with an other’s expressions, and then his following of their ‘moving’ expressions, no matter in what direction they might go, that is crucial, that is crucial to Tom Andersen’s way of being Tom Andersen. It is this that kept him oriented toward and related with his client’s way of being themselves, toward their aim in their acting, no matter how disturbed or disoriented they might be. And it is this that made it possible for him to ‘go on’ with them in questioning and otherwise talking with them in ways that ‘invited’ them in to an extensive exploration of their own ways of being in the world.

              As Tom (Andersen, 1996) himself remarked: “The listener (the therapist) who follows the talker (the client), not only hearing the words but also seeing how the words are uttered, will notice that every word is part of the moving of the body. Spoken words and bodily activity come together in a unity and cannot be separated... The listener who sees as much as he or she hears will notice that various spoken words ‘touch’ the speaker differently. The speaker is touched by the words as they reach his or her own ears. Some words touch the speaker in such a way that the listener can see him or her being moved” (p.121).

              It is these special ‘touching’ words, or ‘big’ words – which can ‘touch’ both those who hear them as well as those who utter them – that, clearly, can provide ‘openings’ into another person’s ‘world’, into the things that matter to them. For such words never stand alone, like, say, the small pieces of coloured glass or stone make up a mosaic pattern. Like the term “reflecting processes” that arouse in us all the whole realm of Tom’s work and its applications out in the world of our practices, our initial reactions to such words can provide us with the beginnings of, in Wittgenstein’s (1953) terms, new language-games.


Thus, as I said above, Tom knew how ‘to move around’ within the inner complexity of an unfolding activity, an activity that he was not and could not be in control of. And he learnt this, he said, in his study of Aadel Bülow-Hansen. But I need to add here, I think, that it was no casual study!

              In 1983, he and Gudrun Øvreberg made a film of her work, and it was Tom’s job to describe everything that happened on the film, “all the movements, all the sounds, and all the words – everything” (Andersen, 2007, p.160). The book was finished in 1986. “She influenced us all so strongly,” says Tom. “We noticed in particular how she saw, but also listened. When one sees and listens, then, of course, one experiences it through the body, and then something happens in the body. Initially you feel it with the body, then you feel it in the body – and then along come the expressions and with the expressions come meanings” (Andersen, 2007, p.160).

              But how is this possible? How can feelings give rise to expressions, to words? What must be the nature of language implicit in these remarks of Tom’s? For we are much more used to thinking of words as working to give us an ‘inner picture’ of those events over there, so that we can think about how to act on them. In other words, we are used to thinking of language from the outside, intellectually, as a self-contained ‘something’ like a separate inner object that can be brought into a correspondence with outer objects to represent them. We are quite unused to thinking of words and feelings as somehow related inseparably with each other.

              Bakhtin’s (1981, 1984, 1986) responsive account of language use contrasts markedly, however, with our classical, representational accounts. Indeed, central among the many other features of our responsive talk, is its orientation toward the future: “The word in living conversation is directly, blatantly, oriented toward a future answer-word,” says Bakhtin (1981), “it provokes an answer, anticipates it and structures itself in the answer’s direction. Forming itself in an atmosphere of the already spoken, the word is at the same time determined by that which has not yet been said but which is needed and in fact anticipated by the answering word. Such is the situation of any living dialogue” (p.280, my emphasis). This, I think, is the importance of our words in practice, of our bodily voiced utterances, of our expressions – it is not just the circumstances they ‘depict’, but the anticipations of next events that they arouse in both our listeners, and in ourselves, that are important. For it is these expectations, these “feelings of tendency” as William James (1890, p.255) calls them, that we can see expressed in people’s bodies.

              Thus the task of looking at the details of the passing or moving events occurring in Aadel Bülow-Hansen’s ways of working on video tape, with the aim of describing them in words, is, I think, a crucial road-folk in Tom’s life. For there is something very special about the task of finding the right words to appropriately ‘fit’, not simply the features of a static object, but the unfolding ‘directedness’ of a stream of intertwined and thus inter-related purposeful movements. For the appropriate words have to do more that merely ‘picturing’ intermittent snap-shots of people’s positions in relation to one another. Words of that kind lie dead on the page and do not point to anything beyond themselves, so to speak; they do not arouse attention-directing expectations, nor do they arouse any action-guiding anticipations. To arrive at words that do justice to the activities ‘expressed’ on the videotape, one has to go back and forth, over and over again, in an extended dialogically-structured movement between actions and words – between the feeling shape aroused by the seen and felt bodily movements occurring on the videotape and the felt movements aroused in one by one’s words – until one feels that one has finally arrived at an intertwined unity, a unity in which words and activities are all interrelated with each other in such a way that one can feel ‘at home’ in the landscape they constitute.

              Again, it is as if as a foreign adventurer, one has at last spent to much time in the jungle oneself that one no longer needs a sensitive native guide to recognize the meaning of local signs, one now knows how to orient by them oneself. And in this project, in the three years involved in writing this book (and, of course, in other activities as well), Tom was familiarizing himself with the local signs relevant to finding his ‘way around’ within whatever interactional ‘jungle’ in whichever meeting he happened to find himself in. Finding the right words to describe Bülow-Hansen’s work in this three year exploration, would be like moving around in the jungle and nailing up signs at each ‘road-fork’ as it became familiar – I won’t go down that road again...


Meetings and new meeting places are important, and were for Tom. His meeting with Harry Goolishian in Northern Norway in 1985. Here are some his words of wisdom that touched Tom deeply:


-             “You don’t know what you think before you have said it, or; We have to talk in order to find out what we think.”

-             “The only person you can change in therapy is yourself.”

-             “Listen to what they really say, and not to what they really mean!”

-             “If you want therapy to proceed quickly, then you must “go slow”.”

-             “It is easier to figure out what not to do, than to know what to do in therapy”

“Always try to understand what others are trying to tell you, just don’t understand to quickly!” When we understand too quickly, we stop being curious. When we are no longer curious, we stop asking questions. When we stop asking questions, we no longer invite those with whom we are conversing to express their own opinions, theories and ideas.

(More to come)....


“If the relationship between clients and therapist is crucial, what kind of knowledge (here called knowing) would it be useful for the therapist to develop in order to contribute to the best possible (the most useful) relationship? i) Could it be (the first kind): rational knowing? The knowing that comes f.i. by reading books and journals and by listening to theorists, and helps us expand our abilities to explain, understand, compare, interpret etc. (to comprehend or to grasp meanings). ii) Or could it be (the second kind): practical knowing, that comes f.i. from watching other practitioners, which increases our repetoire of talking and acting (to have agency). iii) Or could it be (the third kind): relational knowing. That knowing, which is hard to learn from others, helps us find a position in relation to the other(s) such that the relationship becomes useful for those who take part in it (Shotter, 1993). iv) Or could it be (the fourth kind): bodily knowing that comprises all the small responses to our being-in-the-world which our five senses and our acts of breathing provides. That knowing contributes to our grasping a felt meaning of the moment, long before that meaning can be formed in words (Johnson 1987, Andersen 1995). The bodily knowing is, in this article, assumed to be significant in order to reach relational knowing.

We need them all, all the four kinds of knowing, all the time. But over the years I have come to assume that relational knowing and bodily knowing are the most significant of the four” (Andersen, 1997).

Tom: “... it is not easy to be a hierarchically oriented psychiatrist if one wishes to be a part of [an ordinary treatment conference]. And maybe there are those who don’t wish to give up their position.” Per Jensen: “Is there also an ethical principle you refer this“Yes, I think what is unpleasant is to orient oneself away from participation in relationships the whole time” (Andersen, 2007, pp.162-163).

(More to come)....


Tom is most well known, of course, for his introduction of the “reflecting team” into psychotherapy (Andersen, 1992), but I have said nothing about the “reflecting process” or “reflecting talk” today, as I have been aiming at something which I think is more crucial and distinctive to Tom’s way of being with his clients: it is his sensitivity to what I will call the ‘livingness’ of things, to living, bodily events, both his own and those of his client’s, that I think is of crucial importance in Tom’s way of being Tom Andersen. For him, the important events of life do not simply occur in the person’s mind, but in their whole body, their whole being. “When life comes to me,” he says,


“it touches my skin, my eyes, my ears, the bulbs of my tongue, the nostrils of my nose. As I am open and sensitive to what I see, hear, feel, taste, and smell I can also notice ‘answers’ to those touches from myself, as my body, ‘from inside,’ lets me know in various ways how it thinks about what the outside touches; what should be concentrated on and what not. This state of being open and sensitive to the touches from the ‘outside life’ and at the same time being open and sensitive to the answers from the ‘inside life’ is what I prefer to call ‘intuition.’ At this point in time my intuition seems to be what I rely on the most. In re-walking my professional tracks, my intuition tells me that I shall take part first, and then sit down and think about the taking part; not sit down and think first and thereafter take part. As I am sure that my thinking is with me as I take part, I have felt comfortable following what my intuition has suggested to me” (Andersen, 1992, p.55).

In saying this, Tom is emphasizing his attention to events that are not easily observable because they do not occur so much in space as in time; they as are invisibly present, so to speak, in the unfolding temporal contours of people’s living bodily expressions. It is this concern with life and the livingness of things that I have wished to emphasize in our celebration of Tom’s work here, today.

              Thus I have tried in this collection of brief remarks from a number of Tom’s past articles to outline what I see as one of the major and distinctive aspects of Tom Andersen’s way of being with his clients – namely, his focus on, and unrelenting responsiveness to, people’s spontaneously occurring bodily reactions to events. But not just his responsiveness to the reactions of his clients, but to his own as well: “Sometimes”, he says, “these movements are small, sometimes big. The listener might see a shift in the face, a change in the eyes, a moving on the chair, a cough. The words that prompt these movements are the ones that attract my interest” (Andersen, 1996, p. 121). And as I noted above, we can sometimes notice that “various spoken words ‘touch’ the speaker differently ... some words touch the speaker in such a way that the listener can see him or her being moved” (Andersen, 1996, p. 121).

              There are thus many, many features to Tom’s way of therapy. And I still have not mentioned the reflecting team and reflecting processes. I haven’t because in the time available I have wanted to emphasize what seems to me to be most central to Tom’s way of being in the world, and this is what came to him as he moved around in the world, what he allowed to ‘just happen’ to him as a participant in it rather than an observer of it. Thus in his professional and philosophical ‘walking’, as he liked to call it, of the past few decades, he has made many, many small detailed changes in his way-of-being-with-others in his meetings with them. These changes were not in themselves ‘chosen’ but ‘just happened’ – there was a choice, but it was the choice not to do that again, and that was when the alternative ‘just happened’ spontaneously by itself.

              In the article I mentioned earlier, which he ended by calling himself a “wandered and a worrier,” he described a friend, Quiet Storm, trying to build a rock path in the mountains (it sounds to me very like Tom himself!). He talks of his friend as having drawn up plans and beginning to move the stones where he wanted them to go. But: “despite much energy the stones moved to other places than the plans wanted them to be.” But after a time... “Time softened Quiet Storm’s thoughts, and it finally told his thoughts to disappear for a while, and to let the plans disappear with them. Time said: ‘The touches between the stones and hands will, when the hands move the stones and vice versa, let them (the stones and the hands) know where the places will be. There are the touches and not thoughts that will clarify where a staircase might be formed. You will also soon see that there will be more than one possibility’. As spoken so happened; the stones, ready to let the weight in them determine the moves, and the hands, supported by the back and the legs, came to see where the landing of the stones came to form the frame of possible staircases.” (Andersen, no date).

              Thus, for Tom, some of his basic assumptions are “that we are first (passively) touched by our surroundings (the surroundings touch our eyes, ears, skin, nostrils, tongue and balance). We are then moved before becoming active in the moving (in order not to be moved whereever by whoever to whatever consequence), then searching through talking towards meaning which, in its turn, will be seen and heard, and which in its turn touches the surroundings and those who are there” (Andersen, no date).

              If we look back, then, overall on these changes now, and if like Tom we ‘go into’ some of his sayings and actions to see what more we can see ‘in’ them, then I think we must be amazed. Overall, Tom has moved us out of the old, mechanical ‘clockwork’ universe and into a whole new world of living, growing, creating, and developing relationships. Although it is intellectually strange to us – as children still of Descartes and Newton – it is not at all strange to us in fact, in practice, for it is of course the world of our everyday lives together. But it is intellectually strange, and thus it is not easy to intellectually legitimate our actions within it... But discussions of that task are for another day.

              Here, what is important for us and which we must not forget, is that we can, I think, find the first steps towards Tom’s way of living – of his living ‘in the moment’, ‘in motion’ – as arising out of a very special ‘felt need’ to be in a certain kind of selflessly sensitive relationship with his surroundings, with both the others and the othernesses in them, and to be able to ‘answer to’ the ‘calls’ that came to him from within that relationship. And we must not forget it, for – just as Tom was till ‘working’ when he died to re-orient himself and others ever toward new tasks – so is our task the same: there is a whole still largely unexplored jungle of different kinds of relationships ‘out there’ whose nature, whose features and characteristics, will only become familiar to us in our ‘walks’ around within it, if we can be guided by appropriate expectations and anticipations ‘in here’ – that is, if we can find and sustain that same way of being in our selves that Tom found within himself. It is a task full of beginnings and beginnings and beginnings... without end. Tom had not finished when he died.

References: (incomplete)


Andersen, T. (1997) Researching client-therapist relationships: a collaborative study for informing therapy Journal of Systemic Therapies, 16(2), pp 125-133.

Andersen, T. (2002) Crossroads: Tom Andersen in conversation with Per Jensen. In H. Anderson and P. Jensen (Eds.) Innovations in the Reflecting Process. London: Karnac.

Andersen, T. (no date) Stones and Hands

James, W. (1890) Chapter IX.The Stream of Thought. In The Principles of Psychology London: Macmillan & Co.

Johnson M (1987): The Body in the Mind. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Hansen, V. Psychiatric services within primary care; mode of organization and influence on admission-rates to a mental hospital. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavia, 76, pp.121-128.

Ruthhof, H. (200) The Body in Language. London: Cassell.

Todes, S. (2001) Body and World Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.