What is Focusing
Focusing is a body-oriented method of self-awareness, change and growth. It is a process through which we pay attention and listen to how our body experiences various situations in our lives.
In Focusing we use the term "felt sense" to describe what we feel in our body about what is happening in our life.
The expression "felt sense" may not sound familiar, but we all experience felt senses all the time. For example, we may feel a tightness in our stomach every time we approach a particular person. Or every time we stand up to speak we may feel butterflies in our stomach or a tightening in our throat. At other times the felt sense may be very subtle or elusive or it takes time to form. We can invite a felt sense about any issue in our life.
Focusing is the process that allows us to pause and listen with a respectful and friendly attitude to what we experience in our body.
And when we do this, new ways of understanding ourselves are opening up. We also experience spontaneous changes in the direction that is best for us.
"Focusing is a mode of inward bodily attention that is not yet known to most people. It differs from the usual attention we pay to feelings because it begins with the body and occurs in the zone between the conscious and the unconscious. Most people don't know that a bodily sense of any topic can be invited to come in that zone, and that one can enter into such a sense"
The discovery of Focusing
Focusing is a natural process that some people already know how to use. Eugene Gendlin discovered this when he worked with Carl Rogers at the University of Chicago.
Together with other colleagues they posed the question:
"Why is psychotherapy helpful for some people and not for others?"
Looking for the answer to this question they analyzed literally thousands of taped therapy sessions. They found that they could easily identify the therapy clients who had successful treatment - who showed real change on psychological tests and in their lives - from the first two sessions.
What was the difference they identified between those who had successful treatment and those who did not?
They noticed that this difference was not in the therapist's technique, nor in the content of the session - what the therapy clients were talking about. The difference was in the way that they were talking.
These clients at some point started speaking more slowly, searching for words to describe something they were feeling at that moment, and they seemed to be in touch with something within themselves.
In contrast, therapy clients who failed to make significant changes in their lives always spoke clearly, stayed "in their heads", and talked about feelings but did not feel them.
When you think about it, these results were very disappointing because it meant that whatever the therapist did could not bring about any meaningful change in the clients. Gendlin determined to find a way to teach this skill that successful therapy clients seemed to possess. He called it Focusing and created a step-by-step method to teach it, initially in the context of psychotherapy, and later as a skill that anyone could use.
Today Focusing is taught and applied all over the world in a broad range of fields, beginning in the counselling and psychotherapy and extending to many other activities such as coaching, meditation, education, complementary medicine, bodywork, art and creativity, business and more.
Focusing can help us...
To get to know ourselves on a deeper level and be able to understand what we really feel and what we need
To learn to trust our intuition and creativity
To be able to make the decisions that are right for us at any given moment
To be able to manage difficult emotions
To soften the critical inner voices and experience greater self-acceptance
To release blocked processes such as writer's block or procrastination
To find relief from tension and chronic pain
To increase the effectiveness of counselling and psychotherapy
How Focusing is practiced
There are many ways to apply the Focusing process. The most popular is to take a seminar to learn Focusing and either practice it on our own or with a partner with whom we exchange Focusing sessions.
We can also work with a professional who provides individual Focusing sessions, who will guide us through the process. Finally, there are many psychotherapists who incorporate Focusing into their therapeutic work with their clients.
Focusing and meditation
The process of Focusing has much in common with meditation and mindfulness practices. As in meditation, Focusing is about turning our attention inward and observing our experience. In both processes we keep an open, friendly, non-judgmental attitude to all the experiences that arise.
However, there is an important difference. In meditation we usually bring our attention to our breath or to the sounds or to what is happening in our body. If thoughts or feelings come, we let them go and return to our practice.
In Focusing, when we experience sensations, thoughts or emotions, we turn our attention to them, and instead of letting them go and returning to a point of focus, we stay and start a conversation with them. Through this process, the deeper meaning of each experience unfolds. Old blocked processes have the opportunity to emerge and release, leading to effortless shifts in the direction that is best for us.
Focusing in counselling and psychotherapy
Any therapist, regardless of their psychotherapeutic approach, can be trained in Focusing and use it in their work.
With Focusing, therapists can enhance the quality of their presence by developing the authenticity, precise empathic attunement and openness that will help them understand and help their clients more effectively. They can also become more aware of the subtleties of their clients' mental and emotional processes so that they can better facilitate them.
At the same time, Focusing equips them to help their get in direct contact with their experience in the here and now.
Specifically, Focusing helps therapists:
To be able to help their clients who do not know what they are feeling or who feel "nothing"
To be able to help clients who talk about feelings but do not experience them
To help clients not to be overwhelmed by strong emotions
To be able to work safely with clients who have experienced traumatic experiences
To be able to identify different processes in their clients such as blocking, self-criticism, indecisiveness and to know what to do with each one
To help clients regain a sense of trust in their bodies so that they know what they feel and what they need
To learn to listen to and use their own "felt senses" in the sessions to move the therapy forward
To experience moments of real change and progress with their clients