Using the Filipino Practice of Shared Inner Perception in Psychotherapy By Roanne de Guia-Samuels, LMFT on 8/14/23 - 11:43 AM

Pakikiramdam (Shared Inner Perception)

Shared Inner Perception is the essence of the Filipino core value of Pakikiramdam. It is the sensing and attunement that occurs when people interact. Although I speak of it within a Filipino cultural context, many other collectivistic cultures share a similar value. And from an ancestral anthropological viewpoint, we were all collectivistic at one point in our histories.

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Pakikiramdam is a Filipino core value that is antithetical to the Western philosophy of directly stating what one feels or needs. The word “stating,” makes all the difference. Through Pakikiramdam, the Filipino — usually the immigrant or in the first-wave generation — is able to state or communicate far more without words than is typical or even comfortable for those solely dependent on the literal word for communicaion.

In mixed-generational or mixed-racial families, these two styles of communication often clash, leading to instances where the intent of the speaker becomes lost on the listener, while the listener feels out of touch with the speaker. In my clinical experience, this scenario often plays out in therapy with Filipino clients, leaving members of the family feeling unheard, mis-heard, or unvalued. If the therapist is not keenly attuned to the client, whether Filipino or not, the potential for miscommunication multiplies.

Shared inner perception in the therapy room starts with deep listening. It is using the therapist’s gift of intuition, attunement, collaborative projection, and co-transference. When the intuition channel of the therapist is clear, it’s like a light shone on a map that the client possesses. When the intuitive channels are unclear, ridden with ideologies and blind spots that belong to the therapist, intuition is instead like a broken compass, taking the client somewhere he intends not to be.

Pakikiramdam’s language relies on watching, listening for, and sensing non-verbal cues; paying attention to what is not said as much as to what is said. This includes paying attention to changes in vocal inflections, subtle facial and bodily movement, breathing patterns, and subvocal sounds, such as tsk, tsk, tsk.

This is not an uncommon scenario:

Ricky, a Filipino American son asked his elderly mother, “Do you want me to pass by your house before I head straight to work?” “His mother replied, “Oh no, just go right ahead.” And so the son did. A few days later, he realized that his mother experienced Tampo (having her feelings hurt, although not completely angry or upset, by someone they care about). Why?

Here’s the other part of the conversation from the mother’s perspective:

“No, just go right ahead. Oh, by the way, I remembered I have to call the plumber because I can’t flush my toilet. I had a stomachache yesterday, I guess I used too many toilet papers. Now, I don’t have a single roll. Gosh, I need to go because my neck is starting to ache holding onto the phone. Bye.”

It would’ve been more useful for the son if the mother had clearly and directly articulated her needs, even though he did repeat his request to her to stop by. Let’s explore this scenario.

Self-Soothing Versus Collective Coregulation

The “rules” for communication in individualistic and collectivistic cultures differ widely. Individuals and family members in cross-generational, or mixed cultural/racial families often experience scenarios similar to that of Ricky and his mother.

Systems of care in a particular culture are influenced, in large part, by the self-soothing strategies that are part of that culture’s value system. In America, grandparents can babysit their grandchildren but more formal out-of-home, out-of-family care, like daycare or school, provides American families with the stability and consistency of care that the parents need to manage their livelihood and parenting responsibilities.

In non-Western, collectivistic societies, cooperative care is the social norm, through which children are raised by non-family “trusted-others.” These informal resources allow primary caregivers to pursue much of the same goals parents have across cultures, that is, to pursue economic opportunities and navigate parenting with ease. In these collectivistic cultures, Filipino included, parents emphasize the importance of being part of a system, which includes relying on others and being someone to rely on.

In the Filipino culture (in the Philippines), preparing and rehearsing children to read non-verbal cues are taught almost instinctively by adults from birth. The words, iyak-iyakan (pretend crying), galit-galitan (pretend being mad), sakit-sakitan (pretend being hurt), may be used in a playful, teasing way with young children so they can read real situations when they arise.

I had the interesting experience of a being a kindergarten teacher both in the Philippines and in America. The stark difference in the use of teasing as part of the group dynamics with children and the adults was notable.

Teasing is defined as making fun of someone in the English language. While I am neither proposing or advocating for teasing, I am referring to a type of teasing where someone who is teased can tease back. In fact, this is not an uncommon strategy of parents in the Philippines to teach their children to tease back playfully when teased. In this instance, the teasing becomes a communal act, as does the soothing.

It’s also not uncommon that such teasing can be used to lighten up an embarrassing moment. For example, if a child trips in front of his friends, his friends might start laughing, not as a way to ridicule him entirely but to elicit laughter so that child does not feel embarassed. Again, rather than burdening the fallen child with soothing themself, that burden is shared by the group and soothing becomes an act of community based on that groups ability to sense or intuit that child’s distress.

Shared Inner Perception in Parenting

In the following illustration, I contrast the Filipino and American orientations to the goals of parenting.

The American parent’s goal is to teach their child to self-regulate, to be independent, and to be self-sufficient. In the individualistic, nuclear family system, there simply aren’t as many helpers that can assist in informally raising the child. A good child is one that can self-soothe, articulate their needs, and do things on their own.

The Filipino parent’s goal is to teach their child to enter group settings successfully. This means teaching children to read non-verbal cues, including watching for subtle changes in facial and bodily movement, as well as tone of breathing and voice. A good child is one who can collectively receive and give coregulation, can share their space, and do things with others.

To contrast self-regulation, coregulation, and collective coregulation (a term I made up to explain this phenomenon), I’ll use the umbrella metaphor:

In individualistic culture, it’s essential that an individual learns to build and toughen their own umbrella so that when rain comes, they won’t be drenched. This is self-regulation. When the rain turns into a storm that surpasses the umbrella’s protective capacity, the individual may seek the company of other umbrellas. After all, two umbrellas are better than one. This is coregulation.

In the therapy room, when trauma, or a client’s deepest hurt, is akin to the rain that turns to storm, deep attunement to that client’s need for the protective umbrella, so to speak, of the therapist becomes crucial. Self-regulation yields to coregulation.

Shared Inner Perception in the Therapy Room

Returning to Pakikiramdam, shared inner perception values the following for the purpose of connecting with others: Pangangapa (to grope), Pagtatantiya (to estimate), Tiyempuhan (to wait for the right time), Tiyakin (to ascertain), Pagsusuri (to investigate), Pakikibagay (to deal with), Pakikisakay (to catch/ride on), Timplahin (to blend or season to the right taste), Singhot (to smell or sniff).

It would be daunting to rely on the therapist’s intuition as a treatment plan. Intuition without a framework can put that therapist in a position of a guru who must rationalize that they were only following their intuition when they have led a client to themselves.

A useful tool is a sense of wonderment which gives way to collaborative projection. In that, the therapist’s projection is likened to a doctor who is giving an intravenous injection. The doctor has seen many veins, good and unsuitable candidates for a shot; they project based on their professional experience. When they finally choose a vein, that projection is essential, and yet they watch for a slight twitch and nuance because only the client can tell that a good vein is actually good.

The therapist who diligently engages in the practice of observing their clients can begin to wonder about the subtle unspoken reactions and changes in their client that serve as guiding cues for therapeutic involvement and intervention. This process of wonderment is not the same as interpreting, since the therapist must constantly check that their projections are in agreement with the client’s and not the other way around.

Shared inner perception is an openness to co-suffering, not just as a mere strategy for treatment but as a human experience that the suffering and the witness (therapist) are both touched by what was shared in the therapeutic relationship. As the client grows in therapy, so does the therapist and vice versa. It is a thread where the beginning and the end are indistinguishable.

It is a dance to take the experience of the client at face value, leaving space that there may or may not be more. In other words, that a no response from a client may be a camouflaged yes and a yes, a polite way of saying no. The therapist who hones their shared inner perception skills doesn’t read their clients like an x-ray, but understands that the x-ray may reveal very different results depending on how it is held.

Final Thoughts

Marco Iacaboni’s research on mirror neurons and the process of co-internalization distinguishes between the self and the other, suggesting that our neurobiology puts us “within each other.” In this vein, interpreting facial expressions and social exchanges becomes a mirroring process, a thread that connects both the therapists and the client, and not merely a strategy “done to” a client.

Although the concept of Pakikiramdam in this article was introduced through the Filipino cultural lens, its tenets are not exclusive to this culture. In addition, its therapeutic use is not reserved for this population. There are modalities in the Western culture that purport a similar framework to healing.

For example, J.L.Moreno’s work on psychodrama encourages therapist spontaneity and flexibility. The other characters in the drama can utter words that the protagonist (client) dare not speak, giving timely voice and necessary silence when appropriate.

Various other modalities rely on creative expression — the sand tray, movement, art, and music — all become powerful mediums through which to explore healing without tripping into the trappings of language that often mean different things to different people. Language in all its forms, spoken and otherwise, is at the heart of the therapeutic communication.


The therapist, therefore, listens deeply like a dancer listening to the rhythm of a tune for the first time, aligning her moves to the serenade of the music. Every beat counts and every beat missed becomes an opportunity to recalibrate the dancer to waltz back to the therapeutic relationship.

File under: The Art of Psychotherapy, Musings and Reflections