Please join us for our last London training weekend for 2018. This will be our final Introductory overview before opening our intake for the next 2-year Certification training in early 2019. You are welcome to attend this overview to learn about Focusing for yourself and for your work with others, to meet us and to find out about the full course.
November 24-25 2018. Saturday 10-5pm, Sunday 10-3pm.
Islington Ecology Centre, Central London.
Cost: £195 for both days (with a less expensive venue we are able to lower our price for this event). For more information, contact: email@example.com
Images of Wholebody Focusing
by Alex Maunder & Lucie Therrien
Originally published in “Focusing Connection”, publ. Ann Weiser Cornell (Vol XXIX No 5, Sept 2012)
Have you always wished you could see into the brain of a person who is Focusing? Have you wished that someone would apply modern brain scanning technology to have a look at a person’s brain before, during, and after Focusing? Alex Maunder and Lucie Therrien have done just that, with a person doing WholeBody Focusing. What a great thing to do! We’re publishing a shorter, less technical version of their article, and you can see the full study with the full-color brain scan images on their website: www.wholebodyfocusing.org. What I find especially interesting is their discussion of the ideas from Kevin McEvenue and Karen Whalen about holding two different objects of attention at the same time.
WholeBody Focusing is an empowering method for allowing the whole body to bring presence and healing to hurts and stoppages in body and emotional process. In WholeBody Focusing, the Focuser typically stands rather than sits, and allows spontaneous movement to emerge from inner felt awareness. WholeBody Focusing was developed by Kevin McEvenue and blends elements of the Alexander Technique with Focusing, with Kevin’s unique genius. Today WholeBody Focusing (WBF) is taught all over the world.
Having felt the profound shifts that take place in consciousness during Wholebody Focusing (WBF) sessions, we (the authors) really wanted to try and research this and capture this magic in images of some sort and to understand the fundamental principles at work. Long term, we also wanted to see if permanent changes in personality and functioning can result from Wholebody Focusing sessions and to prove this in a scientific way.
There are very subtle differences in methodology and procedure between Focusing and WBF, although in essence they are both working with the felt sense as a method of self-enquiry. In WBF we start by inviting the body to function as a whole, and we emphasize the concept of the body as a container using “the power of awareness to awaken the inner wisdom of the living body” (McEvenue & Whalen, Advanced WBF Manual). It is only when I feel grounded and connected to something bigger than myself that I can know who I really am. In a sense WBF is making explicit what is always implicit in the Focusing process: by observing the place that does not feel right within myself, I am also implying that there must be another part of myself that does feel right and it is the interconnection and support generated by these two parts that allows the transformation and shift to take place in the whole intelligent, living organism.
Another subtle difference when working with WBF and the sense of the whole body as a container is that I can often connect with a part of me that feels profoundly joyous – no matter what my outer situation might be – fairly early on in the session. Call it a sense of lightness, of joy, of “Beingness” – this is experienced in the whole of the organism and it is much bigger than, and can contain, the part of me that does not feel right. In regular Focusing this wonderful sense of release and happiness is most often experienced after the felt shift has taken place.
One of the things that has often struck me (Alex) are the actual physical changes in the posture, alignment and structure of the body that take place during the course of a Wholebody Focusing (WBF) session. These are linked to changes in energy levels, as the Focuser comes into a deeper contact with the Self. The Focuser’s face can lighten up, a serene glow can come into the eyes, as there is a shift to a more integrated and relaxed state of being. There are also changes in the tone of voice, subtle changes of resonance, and shifts of intonation. Often the Wholebody Focuser will articulate a sense of being supported by the whole of Life rather than being alone and isolated in the world. There is a deepening of contact as both Focuser and listener become more grounded in Self. At times it seems as though you can catch a thought just the instant before the other person has articulated it.
I wondered if maybe a skilled and tuned-in photographer would be able to capture these subtle shifts and nuances that take place during the course of a session. With the right perspective and lighting, maybe it would be possible to capture that expression in the eyes, the relaxation of the facial muscles, the subtle postural re-balancing that takes place in letting go and being supported by the Earth at the same time. We could have a collection of images that all hint at the profound and subtle changes that are taking place.
But the problem is that we are not such skilled photographers, and even if we were those images would only mean something to an outside viewer if they had an inner attunement to the process that was taking place. It’s just as you can only fully appreciate and savor the music that is being performed out there, when you have the resonance of the inner music that is taking place inside yourself. Or you can only fully appreciate a painting of a landscape after you have sat yourself down on top of a hill and looked at the glory of another landscape unfolding in front of your eyes and felt something come alive inside of yourself.
So when we were seeking to produce images of the WBF process that would be generally understandable to a wider public in an objective way, we had to think of something new, something different, that could try and capture the images of the WBF process and also explain in an objective way what is actually going on inside the brain of a Focuser during the course of a WBF session.
With the advent of modern high-tech brain imaging technology, like MRI scans and SPEC scans, it is now possible to look at exactly what is happening inside the brain of a Focuser and the changes that are induced there during the course of a session. What sorts of connection are being made? What parts of the brain are being stimulated? What sorts of brain wave patterns are being induced? For the first time, these precise images of what is happening inside the brain of the Focuser during a Focusing session are available for view by professionals and the general public alike.
Because we are trying to be scientific, we also need to be testing an underlying hypothesis. What is the crucial part of the whole Focusing process? What induces this transformation of consciousness? For us the crucial part of Focusing is the experience of the “felt shift” and what induces it is the neutral observing consciousness that is able to step back into the position of the detached observer. So when we were seeking to produce images of the WBF process that would be generally understandable to a wider public in an objective way, we had to think of something new, something different, that could try and capture the images of the WBF process and also explain in an objective way what is actually going on inside the brain of a Focuser during the course of a WBF session.
All of these patterns of neural firing were measured on a qEEG scanner, and the five sets of results were recorded, which showed both the type of brain wave activity and the areas of the brain that were activated.
We set up a series of specific experiments where we asked our subject to:
- Be at rest, just allowing thoughts to come and go in a random manner.
- Direct awareness to two different parts of the body simultaneously, e.g., be aware of both the hands resting on the upper parts of the thigh and the soles of the feet in contact with the ground, at the same time.
- Pay attention to an auditory sound, e.g. birdsong outside the window, or random sounds from within the room or from the corridor outside – while maintaining a sense of the observing self by staying grounded within the totality of the whole Self.
- Be aware of “what does not feel right” within the body, where it hurts or where there is tension.
- Think of the area of tension and stay “in grounded presence” at the same time by being strongly aware of the soles of the feet contacting the floor in a neutral observing manner.
All of these patterns of neural firing were measured on a qEEG scanner, and the five sets of results were recorded, which showed both the type of brain wave activity and the areas of the brain that were activated.
In addition, we also took SPEC scans of our client, at rest before the WBF session (baseline scan) and immediately after one WBF session. As a result of this we got beautiful clear crisp images of brain surface SPEC scans and interior brain SPEC scans, and we could compare the before and after images to show the influence of the single WBF session. All these images can be viewed on the website at www.wholebodyfocusing.org
What are we really measuring?
In this research, we are investigating “mindfulness” (to use a Buddhist term) and how our awareness can be directed to function in different ways, at different times. I can be aware of just one thing, e.g., I can be aware of just my feet contacting the ground as I sit here typing, or I can be aware of just the background sound of the washing machine spinning and I can easily get sucked into it. My reactions start to kick in, like the machine distracts me, and it starts to annoy me, and I start to tighten in my upper chest and stomach muscles. Or, I can choose to be aware of myself being aware, and something different happens, I become non-resistant and my consciousness expands to include a sense of both my whole self as an embodied being and the sound of the machine in the background. I feel completely different and something has shifted in my attitude towards the situation and in my brain function. Funnily enough the machine then stops spinning as well.
When we did this listening to the sound experiment something very interesting happened on the EEG scans. The brain shifted from beta wave activity in (1) into alpha wave activity in (3) which is a much calmer rhythm of brain activity associated with creativity, openness, relaxation and meditation. The awareness now encompasses two reference points simultaneously and the interconnecting space in between comes alive. There was a marked shift in the type of brain wave activity from beta waves in experiment (1) Baseline (at rest), compared to all the other 4 experiments, where the brain went into alpha and even theta wave activity (the super-calm relaxed state) during the WBF experiment at the end.
You can replicate experiment (2) for yourself right now, if you want to. Sit upright on a chair with the palms of your hands resting on the top of your thighs, or flat on the table top in front of you. Be aware of your hands resting there in a relaxed manner and at the same time be aware of the soles of your feet contacting the floor. Hold both points in awareness “in equal positive regard” (in a neutral detached way) and also be aware of the interconnecting space in between for a couple of minutes and see what happens. If the attention wanders, keep bringing it back.
Gradually, after a period of time, what seems to happen for most people is that the breathing starts to calm down, the body starts to feel grounded and more relaxed but more supported at the same time. The space in between the two points starts to come alive. There is an inward drawing and concentration of energy and awareness in the brain and the spinal column and a rising and expansion of consciousness as the brain goes into alpha wave brain rhythms. There naturally arises a feeling of calmness, relaxation and openness. This could be the start of meditation or it could be a very productive time for going into a Focusing session with yourself.
The general principle is that there are two points of reference and the interconnecting space in between. I believe that exactly the same thing is also happening during regular Focusing, because there is a detached, observing consciousness (self) and the part that does not feel right. When the focuser can say “something in me is calling for attention, it hurts, it feels like……” and yet there is also the observing self that is bigger than that, the observing self can contain the part that does not feel right in detached awareness and not get sucked in by it. It is the interplay between these two parts and the interconnected space in between, which actually allows the brain to go into alpha rhythms and allows the shift to take place. If the Focuser cannot do this for themselves, then they need help and one of the most vital interventions that the listener (or Focusing-oriented therapist) can make is to ask the Focuser to change their language to say “something in me is feeling….” and that then stops all of you from getting completely sucked into the emotional memory of the pain/trauma and helps to facilitate a shift. I have appreciated this type of intervention in the work of Ann Weiser Cornell and Joan Klagsbrun at the Focusing Institute Summer School and I have always noticed how effective it is in facilitating a shift.
The same thing happens in WBF, but in a slightly different way. A really crucial intervention that is often needed is when the listener/FOT asks the Wholebody Focuser to be aware of both (a) the sense of a part of the body that carries tension and does not feel right (and the exploration of meaning associated with that) and (b) also the sense of strength and support that you get from feeling the soles of the feet being in contact with the floor and being in grounded presence. The request is to see if you can “hold both in equal positive regard” (Kevin McEvenue, Dancing the Path of the Mystic).
In our research study during the WBF session Client X had become aware of a bodily felt sense of “not being connected … I feel disconnected … I feel empty … I feel disconnected with myself.”
After the listener had reflected back these words, Client X contacted even more of the felt sense: “I’m not expressing … not putting energy out into the world … not connecting with the world … not feeling supported.” So a really crucial intervention at this stage was when Client X was asked to connect with the support of the ground through the soles of the feet and “to hold both with equal positive regard”. Having done so in awareness for a period of time Client X began to experience something else happening.
That something else that Client X experienced during the course of the WBF session was revealed in the qEEG brain scans. What had happened is that during the course of the WBF session the brain went from normal Beta waves right into Alpha and even stronger Theta wave patterns. As the clinical psychologist Dr Christine Kraus reported: “Overall, it appears that the therapy that was addressed within the various sessions increased visual and sensory awareness to one’s self and increased the relaxed focused state. It appears that session 5 (the WBF session) also enhanced the super learning or creative spiritual thought process as Theta was increased as well” (Dr Kraus, Amen Clinic, Newport Beach).
You would expect Alpha waves in a pleasantly relaxed, creative state, and during regular meditation periods, but Theta waves are normally only present during periods of very deep meditation by highly experienced meditators, or during deep hypnosis. During Theta (4 Hz – 7 Hz) there is deep calmness, creativity, the recovery of suppressed long-term memory, and the facilitating of repressed emotions. There can also be a vibrant, living awareness of our ever- present spiritual connection with the whole of the Universe, or God, which is often hidden by the speed and stress of modern life.
At this stage of the WBF session, Client X reported experiencing feelings of “joy, elation, ecstasy, feeling connected to something bigger that myself, a sense of unity with the whole of creation.” So on the one side we have the trauma, the anxiety and depression – which is clearly indicated in the brain surface/brain interior SPEC scans and in the words, imagery, and body sensations of the WBF session (also in the initial reported attachment history of the client). On the other side we have a very clear indication of a sense of joy and a sense of connection. Something else has come into the client’s field of consciousness and is offsetting the experience of trauma.
What is crucial in WBF is the intervention to ask the client to “hold both in equal positive regard,” because there are now two points of reference that can be held in the field of neutral awareness and a whole new inter-connected energy comes out of that, something happens between them. This is in line with the expectations of Field Theory which is actually “a region of mutual influence between two or more points in space, often via a force like gravity, electro- magnetism or a conscious human being.” (McEvenue & Whalen).
There is a blocked energy in the trauma that can now free up by connecting with this other place. There is a participation, an engagement of both, not a getting rid of something. The link between the joy and the trauma is what gets the client moving. And in this feeling of awakened new energy the self seems to want to experience itself more fully and explore its full potential.
The suppressed energy within the trauma can now turn positive, when seen from a bigger perspective all the pain and suffering of the defended position and all the adaptations and desperate survival techniques are seen for what they are – just a way of defending a vulnerability that was not strong enough to stand unaided.
Another interesting result of the EEG scans was the left hemisphere/ right hemisphere story that emerges. This is in line with the writing of Peter Afford, in his very interesting article “Focusing in the Age of Neuroscience”. Focusing first starts to operate in the right hemisphere, as the right brain goes into Alpha and Beta wave patterns. It is the murky, unclear felt sense of the “whole of the situation” as “something that is not quite right” struggles to emerge into consciousness from the holistic and symbolic perceptions of the right hemisphere during the Focusing session. It is the right side of the brain that first goes into Alpha and Theta wave patterns and opens up to a sense of connection with a greater whole and a sense of knowing – even when this cannot be expressed cognitively yet. It is that sense of “I know something but I’m not sure what it is and I cannot express it fully yet.” Then the Alpha and Theta brain wave pattern moves over into the left side of the brain to influence the cognitive functioning of the brain as the Focuser gropes to find the right word or phrase that will fit the image or the feeling. This is “finding a handle” in Focusing terms, but even at this stage there is still a slight right brain preponderance of Alpha and Theta wave patterns – which is exactly what the EEG results in this study have confirmed.
Not surprisingly, the 3D Active (interior) SPEC scan images, which look deep inside the brain to the more primitive, deep-seated emotional reaction patterns in the basal ganglia and the focal thalamic system show no change in the before/after scans and this reveals that the more fundamental, severe anxiety and depression issues were not dealt with in a single WBF session. This all points to the “elephant in the room syndrome,” an issue that is so big and so prevalent and that affects so much of the behavior of the client that it isn’t even talked about explicitly in the Focusing session. Barbara McGavin and Ann Weiser Cornell have developed a way of approaching this sort of issue in their “Treasure Maps of the Soul” methodology. The tentacles of this particular issue reach into many seemingly disconnected areas of life but at root is a feeling of dis-couragement and dis-empowerment. It is probably a big issue rooted in the attachment history of the client and the body, in all its wisdom, will need more time to resolve it. Obviously these are big issues and no one would seriously expect a single WBF session to change all of this; but on the flip side of the coin the amount of positive, forward moving life energy that is waiting to be released is also huge. So over the course of the next six months during ongoing weekly WBF sessions the plan is to work in a very focused way with Client X, within the therapeutic relationship, on these attachment issues, the memory of which are retained deep within the muscular tension patterns of the body and the subconscious mind. The test is to see if regular WBF can change these deep-seated patterns of anxiety and depression. This we will see when we do the final follow-up brain SPEC scan at the Amen Clinic to see if any permanent changes in the 3D surface and active SPEC scans can be verified.
Alex Maunder and Lucie Therrien invite you to “Read the whole study” on the website www.wholebodyfocusing.org to view all the images and read about the pilot study in full.
Editor’s Note: The full study can be found at this link:
http://www.wholebodyfocusing.org/Images of Wholebody Focus.pdf
This article has been published in Self and Society.
They stand in a dark and threatening line in front of me, their cowls shadowing their faces. Their sabres raised against me, gleaming bright against the dark hollows where their faces should be. I can feel the waves of malice rolling off them towards me. I can feel a writhing in my stomach of fear, almost nausea threatening to bring me to my knees. And then I feel a rising anger, a resistance to being threatened by these figments of my imagination. ‘Begone!’ I yell at them. They remain impassive, immobile. I look down and find that I have a light-sabre in my hand and I brandish it above my head and step forward slashing through the threatening monks. They fall, one after the other until all are lying in a heap before me. I feel a lightening in my stomach and rejoice in my taking action against these monsters.
Ah, if only that was the end of the story and everything was just fine after that. However, it didn’t take long before those seemingly vanquished inner critics were back in full force as if nothing had happened. And then I had not only those critical presences but also the feeling of having been subtly and mysteriously outmanoeuvered somehow. I was at a complete loss as to how to proceed.
It was after many years of trying to banish, vanquish, control, belittle and dismiss my various inner critics with no discernible lasting effects that I came to realise that a completely different approach was going to be needed if things were to change in any kind of meaningful way. And I needed change. I was beset, as you probably gathered from the story above, by some pretty scary inner monsters that were making my life truly unpleasant. In almost every aspect of my life they would turn up and turn my stomach into a writhing mass of fear and shame.
So, what was I to do?
I had been practising Focusing for several years at this point (the early 1990’s) and in many ways my life had vastly improved: feeling more grounded, embodied, contained, centred, stronger emotionally, more able to cope with day to day ups and downs.
And I had been bringing Focusing attention to this area of my life as well. I’d been sitting with the parts of me that felt so bad about being criticised. I could sense them in my body very clearly. I would listen gently and compassionately to how this part or that felt attacked, undermined, as if something wanted to annihilate it. And it would feel a bit better for a little while, but something was missing. Give it a few hours or perhaps, if things were pretty good in my life, a few days and the attacks would be back. The sense of shame and pain would return.
The turning point came when two things came together for me.
For some time I had been feeling increasingly uncomfortable with the difference between how we had been treating what we called ‘the inner critic’ and everything else in our awareness in Focusing. I had been taught to dismiss the inner critic with a ‘contemptuous wave of the hand’, to send it away until it had something new to say to me. This jarred with the basic Focusing approach that whatever needs my attention receives gentle, compassionate, patient awareness. I started to wonder if perhaps what this critical part of me needed was the same kind of awareness.
The second insight had to do with a limitation of the Focusing process itself. I could feel in my body the part of me that felt criticised, but not the part of me that was doing the criticising. As Focusing is essentially a body-based process of awareness, I had at that point no way of being able to Focus with a part of me that I couldn’t feel in my body.
Just thinking about it logically I came to realise that if something in me is feeling criticised and there is no one in my life that is criticising me at that moment, then there must be something inside me that is doing the criticising even if I can feel or hear it. I started to wonder if I could act as if it were there and start to have a relationship with it, even though I couldn’t hear it or sense it in my body.
Bringing these two insights together, I began to turn my awareness to an unfelt part of me whenever I felt ashamed, bad about myself, not good enough. I would act as if there was something I could relate to with compassionate curiosity. It was as if I was saying ‘hello’ to this unknown, unfelt part. And, lo and behold, it started to respond. Thus my journey of transformation of my inner critics began.
My colleague, Ann Weiser Cornell and I have learned many things since then about those parts of us that are behaving critically. We have learned how to spot them, the dynamics of how they operate in our lives, and how to relate to them so that they can release the positive, living-forward energy that is trapped within them. Here are some of the things we have learned and some of the models that we have developed.
The experience of inner criticism
Inner Critic, Super Ego, Bad Parent – some names that we have for this experience. What they all have in common is that you feel bad when they are around. You feel smaller, weaker, your confidence undermined, your power fading.
Inner Critics bring shame, withdrawal, apathy, lethargy, depression, aggression, hyper-achievement, rebelliousness, defensiveness. They make us afraid to fully and freely express ourselves, develop our talents, reach out to others, live from our hearts. When we are busy coping with an inner critic attack, we cannot be fully present in our lives. We misunderstand what is happening around us. We are not able to respond in the present moment; we react with knee-jerk replays of situations that happened long ago.
Although everyone that I know has experienced inner criticism, it can be very helpful to take some time to notice just how this lives in your life. Different people experience their inner critic in different ways. Some people feel bad when they are around (I’m that kind of person). Some people hear them. Some people see the dire consequences of ‘bad’ actions or thoughts. Here are some common manifestations of being in the grip of something in you that is being critical.
- You feel ashamed, embarrassed, guilty
- You label yourself: ‘I’m lazy.’ ‘I’m weak.’
- You diagnose yourself: ‘I’m trying too hard.’
- You feel that you have to control some aspect of your personality or behaviour
- You feel bad when someone gives you friendly feedback
- You hear an inner voice that tells you just how you are failing, inadequate, bad which attacks you in a snide, sarcastic, mean, harsh, righteous, impatient, belittling manner.
And, of course, our natural reaction to that is to try to get rid of those kinds of experiences. Most of us want to destroy them, just like me with my light sabre.
The Nature of our Inner Critics
Our inner critics are obsessed about the past or the future: how badly you have done, how inadequate you will be. They make generalised judgements about who you are and what you are capable of doing. They tell you that they know what’s wrong with you, why you are in such a mess: They offer pat solutions for your problems. It often sounds like this: ‘If only I were more…(hard working, loving, assertive…)’, or ‘What I need to do is…(work harder, forgive him, stand up for myself…)’
When you hear yourself saying you ought or should or must or never or always… do or think or feel something, you can be sure that something in you that is feeling critical is active.
Inner critics seem to be determined to make you feel as bad about yourself as possible. They seem bent on showing you how incapable you are to deal with this dangerous world. They let you know all the dreadful things that will happen to you if you don’t heed their warnings and advice. They seem so powerful because no part of you wants to experience those dreadful things. But the truth is that they don’t know how to tell you how they are really feeling: they are afraid. They are trying to control your behaviour, your thoughts, your feelings because they are terrified of something.
And any part of us that is afraid, needs compassion and company in order that it can become transformed.
Moving towards transformation
Focusing on personal issues is like listening to something inside you that wants to communicate with you. And yet, like a shy animal or child, this ‘something’ may first need to discover that you are trustworthy and safe before it can come closer and reveal itself to you. And parts of us that are behaving critically are always frightened.
Almost always we have been trying to get rid of these critical parts of ourselves. But think about it from their point of view for a moment. Think about how you feel when you can see the danger in a situation and your warnings go unheeded? Frustrated? Angry? Critical?
I’m not saying that this part of us is right and we should simply agree with what it is saying. Far from it. However, to empathise with the difficulty of the situation that this part of us finds itself in, is a big step towards reconciliation and transformation.
That in me which can keep company
So what is it within ourselves that can empathise with this criticising part of us? Ann Weiser Cornell and I experience this as a state of being we call Presence. When I am able to be in this state, I am capable of keeping company with anything within myself (or, indeed, within another person) no matter how vicious, how terrified, or how alien it feels.
Presence is powerful. When we are in a state of Presence, energy effortlessly flows from us towards what needs attention. We are not overwhelmed; we are not denying. We are present to the truth of how we are right now. We sense what is there emerging into our awareness, with non-judgemental, open attentiveness.
We do not judge whether some part of us is right or wrong. We don’t take sides. We notice how it is, what it is like, what it is feeling, what it needs. We are able to keep company both with what is being criticised and the part of us that is being critical.
Some of the qualities that people experience when they are in a state of Presence include: compassion, clarity, receptivity, courage, curiosity, being here in the moment, responsiveness, empathy, being attuned to self and others, trusting in the power of life to find its own healing way forward, feeling separate (clear boundaries) but also connected, open, strong, whole… and there are many more qualities that we could differentiate.
Whenever you relate to something you experience, and the quality of that relating is interested, curious, non-judging, you are developing your capacity for Presence. For example, when you acknowledge that you can sense something, or when you sense how some part of you feels from its point of view, you are deepening your state of Presence.
Being in a state of Presence creates the conditions where change occurs spontaneously, organically, effortlessly. When the right conditions are there the living-forward of the organism flows naturally. All parts of this painful dynamic contribute essentially to its positive resolution.
Some ways to access and deepen the state of Presence
Ann is a linguist with a particular interest in conversational linguistics and has developed simple, but powerful language to help elicit this state of Presence. We have been refining this language since the early 1990s.
The most simple language that we use, ‘I’m sensing something in me…,’ has been found to have a profound effect. People who have been feeling overwhelmed regain a sense of being centred and grounded, no longer at the mercy of their emotions. You might try it for yourself. First say out loud, ‘I’m feeling really sad.’ Notice how that feels in your body. Now try saying, ‘I’m sensing something in me that’s feeling really sad,’ and notice how that feels.
Or, conversely, when something seems distant, almost not there, this language can help it to be more available. For example, ‘I’m not sure that this is important’ can become, ‘I’m taking some time to sense something.’
This language helps you to move your identification from a part of you that is caught in a particular emotion or point of view, to an expansive, inclusive, centred state of Presence.
A second way to enhance the experience of Presence is by carefully bringing your awareness into your body and noticing anywhere that feels easy, flowing, energised, alive. When you are in a state of Presence, the natural experience of the body is one of aliveness. This is true even when you can also feel pain.
A dynamic system of Controllers and Reactors
If we think about it for a moment, anything which is criticising is actually making an attempt to control the feelings, thoughts or behaviours of another. And an attempt to control demands a response of some sort. Most often what it gets is a reaction. We have noticed that these reactions take three common forms which correspond to the classic stress reactions of fight, flight and freeze.
When a fight reaction is triggered, we rebel against the critical part, ‘I am not stupid!’ ‘I don’t care! I’m doing it anyway and hang the consequences.’ These rebellious parts of us react against anything they feel is constricting. Many of us identify with these rebels. They can give us a feeling of energy and power that can be very seductive. Sometimes we only have access to them when we are under the influence of drink or drugs.
When a flight reaction is triggered, we withdraw, reach for the drink or the chocolate, throwing ourselves into work, burying ourselves in a book or sports…
When a freeze reaction is triggered, we might blank out, become confused, numb, forgetful. It is as if something inside collapses and we can sink into feelings of shame, guilt, depression, self-doubt, exhaustion, defeat. It is as if this part of us is agreeing with what the critical part is saying. Many people live a great deal of their lives feeling under internal attack, identified with those parts of them that feel so bad.
These reactions happen so fast that we are not aware of it.
If the first step to releasing this dynamic is recognising when something in us is under attack, the second step is acknowledging the part of us that is attacking. When we are caught up in the dynamic, we are merged with one side or the other.
Perhaps the most wonderful thing that I experience in my work is this moment of recognition and reconciliation when someone’s relationship with a part of them that they had been experiencing as attacking them suddenly transforms. They may have been trying to control this part or even excise it completely from their life. They have been locked in a fierce battle that has been sapping their energy, undermining their vitality. And in a heartbeat they sense how this part of them is actually something that needs their care, their attention, their compassion. They begin to sense how it has been working incredibly hard to warn them and advise them – utterly isolated and reviled by the rest of them. They sense how it feels like it is the only part of us that can see how things really are – and what needs to be done to avert disaster. They sense how lonely this part of them has been striving, perhaps for years, isolated, wanting nothing but their greater aliveness and safety. In this moment something that I can only describe as magical occurs. It is as if a light begins to shine in this darkest of places. And that light is love.
Barbara McGavin teaches Focusing full time to all sorts of people in as many interesting and beautiful places as possible (last tally ten countries on both sides of the Atlantic and both sides of the Equator). With her colleague, Ann Weiser Cornell, she has developed a body of work they call Treasure Maps to the Soul which uses Focusing in some of the most difficult areas of life, including self-criticism. They have also co-authored The Focusing Student’s and Companion’s Manual.
Barbara helped to found The British Focusing Teachers Association and
is an Accrediting Mentor of that body. She is also a Certifying
Coordinator for the Focusing Institute. She directs The Bath Focusing
Centre, which offers courses to the general public at all levels. She
can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
or on 01225 311062.
Are you truly coming from a place with no agenda?
When you Focus, can you really find that source of compassion?
It is not just about not being judgemental. It is about being compassionate and able to hold anything!
I suspect that,if we could really grasp Presence and never again let it go, the rest of the techniques used in Focusing would become unnecessary. “Grasp Presence”? The choice of words reduces Presence to a concept. My sense is that it is more than that – it is in the realms of experiencing the indefinable, on a different level from ideas or science. This makes it impossible to fully explain or impose. It cannot be taught (in the sense that is usually understood in our 21st century education system).
As a Focusing Teacher, I can only point the way and allow people to discover it within themselves. This may take far longer than one weekend or even five. This is about your process carrying you deep into the Presence place, which will take as long as it takes.
You may not find it and may live your life with Focusing, benefiting enormously from it. And you may find it easily with minimal help from me. But, maybe, like me, you will search and not be satisfied with the level of your experiencing, understanding just a little but never quite managing to disidentify with that part that tries to be in Presence!
What is the Presence place? By definition, it is Here and Now and so you are, in fact, in it already! What takes time is for the light to dawn so that you can see that!
I have been teaching Presence qualities and Presence language, hoping that people will grasp the concept. I trust that their awareness of Presence will develop when the time is right. The crux of the matter is that, if we are really seeing and listening to our inside places from Presence, experiencing being Presence, Focusing becomes much easier. Every time we need a guiding move, a suggestion, it is because we are not truly in Presence. The more we are, the more we can just Be Here, allowing what is here to unfold.
My experience is that the part of me that attempts to position itself in Presence, gets as close to Presence as it can and then gets drawn back, because I haven’t quite settled myself (come to reside) in this Presence place.
It is taking a long time. I have done my thinking about it; I have done my Focusing on it. Now I am practicing it. In everyday life this is not always easy, sometimes still not possible. I have a friend who finds herself walking her path alongside me – we are doing this work together. We spend time together just Being in Presence, being aware of what is here now. We have been doing this regularly for nearly two years.
This has developed into our offering residential retreat weekends. So far we have run four. We call them “Silent Presence”. These weekends are a chance to move more deeply into Presence. Relieved of everyday routines and challenges and with no expectation of “sitting down and doing” a Focusing session, this is an opportunity to get used to Being in the Moment. When we facilitate a Silent Presence Retreat, we go into Silence before bedtime on the Friday night. Before that, we spend time introducing the participants to Focusing and Breathwork. We make suggestions that may help them to be more present in the moment. And we honour the principle of not imposing a way of doing on the participants. They are free to use whatever practice or technique they bring with them. They are encouraged to sense for what is appropriate for them in each moment. We have a pattern of sitting and walking in silence and even this is not compulsory. If a participant senses that the pattern is not appropriate right now, she/he is encouraged to go with that sense. We advocate being aware of this moment, dwelling in the Present, even when the mind is moving through the past and the future. This is about Being Here Now and noticing what the mind is doing.
If we are silently Present, what do we do with what is here? We may label things; we may think how pretty or ugly they are. This seems to me to be judgement, although I am not making that wrong. Certainly we are back in our heads with our minds running. As a Focuser, I find it is natural to Focus on what is here inside in response to this moment – that is, I notice and spend time with the body sense and anything that may require attention within or around that.
I also realise that, when something arises within, it is the result of a pull either into the past or into the future. I notice that from the Still Silence of Presence Right Now. So when something in me wants my attention, inevitably it is either hitched in to the past (perhaps it needs to let go of something) or it is dragging me into the future. When I attend to it, it rests Here Now, with the light of Presence upon it. I wonder at the qualities of Presence and I look at the qualities that are uncomfortable, seeing that I can list them under Past or Future. For example:
Grief, regret, loss, sadness, judgement based on past experience, anger (we are angry with something that has already happened), bitterness, victimisation, inferiority, superiority (all are based on previous experience).
Frustration, fear, impatience, wanting, greed, anticipating, wanting time to pass (i.e. not valuing this moment), anxiety, worry, nervousness, dread, excitement (even this can be uncomfortable).
The preoccupation of all of these hides the Present Moment and leads to confusion and lack of clarity.
And then there is Presence! What a wonderful place in which to reside! And of course there is no other place where we can be. We just need to awaken to the truth of that.
Lesley Wilson and Addie van der Kooy
Having been regular Focusers for over 10 years, we are still amazed at how
powerful a tool Focusing truly is. It has helped us with making important
decisions in our lives, it has been pivotal in managing physical pain and it has
become instrumental as a tool for healing, for example in facing deeply held
traumas from the past. But above all, Focusing is for us a very simple and
practical process for healthy spiritual growth which is firmly grounded in our
Focusing has enabled us to touch a directly felt experience of who we truly are
and a directly felt connectedness and sense of belonging to some larger Life
Process or Presence. Whether this is given a name – like Higher Power, God, Tao
or the Great Universe – is not important. What matters is that we can actually
feel and experience it directly in our bodies. For us, this has become the core
of our journey and in this article we will explore the elements of Focusing that
have opened the door for us into this experience.
But first, we want to acknowledge the pioneering work of two psychologists of
religion, Dr Edwin McMahon and Dr Peter Campbell. Their work and teaching has
been inspirational to us, providing profound guidance for our journey with
Focusing. They recognised the significance of Focusing as a bodily grounded,
practical pathway for healthy, spiritual growth. They trained and worked with
Dr Eugene Gendlin and have, for many decades, been researching, developing,
teaching and writing about the spiritual dimension of Focusing. They use the
term “Bio-Spirituality” to describe this body-based spirituality which goes
beyond doctrine, religion, language and culture.
As they say in their book “Bio-Spirituality – Focusing As A Way To Grow”
“There are two critical issues in spiritual development..The first is
to discover a holistic approach for letting go of the mind’s omnipotent
control as a prelude to allowing some broader wisdom within the entire
human organism to speak. The second is to allow the unique next step that
is “me” to emerge as an integral, harmonious expression of some Larger
Letting Be – “Letting go of the mind’s omnipotent control”
Two words lie at the spiritual heart of Focusing: “Letting Be”. They point to a
bodily felt unconditional acceptance of what is there. When we listen to
a place inside that hurts, for instance, the quality of our presence is not the
usual one of fixing or trying to make it feel better. Rather, we are willing to
let it be exactly as it is. Sometimes you can almost hear the place give a sigh
of relief when it feels this non-judgemental attention. It may soften or
intensify and as you continue to be with it in a way that says, “It’s ok for
you to be there, exactly the way you are now” , it often opens up and starts
to tell its story. As this unfolds, you can begin to understand the pain and
listen in a more compassionate way.
This total acceptance does not always bring immediate change to the place
inside, but it does change you, because you are holding this part of
yourself differently. Instead of feeling uptight about these horrible feelings
inside – “I shouldn’t feel like this!” – you relax and begin to feel
okay about yourself for feeling all this. There is a deepening of kindness
towards yourself, a healthy “self-love”. This is a major step to becoming a
whole person, welcoming home those parts of you that were split off or that you
had been holding out on, judging and suppressing. And there’s more – in doing
this you begin to have a sense of who you truly are – that you are much larger
than the wounded parts and can actually accept and embrace them. To have a real
body feel of this is extremely freeing.
Letting go of our mind-sets of how we, others and the world should be and
instead letting go into the reality of the present moment, is extremely
powerful. It is also very much misunderstood. Accepting what is present and
real now – inside and
outside – is not the same as acquiescence. True acceptance does not turn you
into a passive doormat for others. On the contrary, because of its non-reactive
nature, it gives you the space inside to trust and allow intelligent and
graceful resolution or action to arise that is fitting for the situation.
Presence and Identity
To be consistently present in this accepting way to what goes on inside creates
a safe, inner climate in which deep change can happen. In Bio-Spiritual
Focusing this bodily felt presence is called “caring feeling presence” and is
specifically evoked and nourished as a way to develop inner kinship with what
goes on inside. This is especially important when we are with painful feelings.
As Gendlin said, “Every �bad’ feeling is potential energy toward a more
right way of being, if you give it the space to move toward its rightness” .
A gentle, caring presence creates a nurturing climate – Gendlin’s space – so the
feelings can move and change in the way only they know is right for them.
It is not always easy to maintain this sense of caring presence, especially when
Focusing with intensely felt traumatised places, which may be overwhelming. But
in the very struggle to find your own unique way to be present and caring, you
are growing into your own sense of presence. For instance, you may need to find
a place somewhere in the body that feels safe and unaffected, e.g. the sensation
of your feet touching the ground can give a sense of safety and strength, a
sense of your own presence that says “I am here and all is well!”
This is emphasised by Kevin McEvenue, an Alexander practitioner and Focusing
trainer, in his teaching of “Wholebody Focusing”. He places great importance on
awareness of the body as a whole to provide a resource for being with
places. As Kevin says, “When a part of me feels loved it awakens to its own
As you continue to Focus you begin to increasingly experience that this sense of
presence is who you truly are. A process is unfolding whereby you are gradually
dis-identifying yourself from parts and places inside you with which you were
previously identified. Your sense of identity is peeling away from entanglement
these parts. You begin to know yourself as that sense of presence: a simple
sense of �I Am-ness’ that cannot be affected by anything that happens internally
or externally. Nothing can be added and nothing can be taken away – I am simply
present and aware.
Trusting A Larger Process
To practice letting go of the “mind’s omnipotent control” of how Life,
the Universe and Everything should be, encourages a humility to emerge in
oneself. A deepening sense that “I don’t know and that’s ok” . A sense
of being content with not knowing. Having Focused for quite a few years it has
become clear to us that this humility brings a sensitivity and openness to a
larger intelligence that is present within the physical body. An intelligence
that can set in motion powerful healing processes. The body carries a wisdom, a
knowing how to move things forward inside so that stuck or hurt places can be
Focusing is all about allowing this “broader wisdom within the entire human
organism to speak” . It is about getting sufficiently out of the way, by
letting go of the mind’s control, so that this body wisdom can express itself in
its own unique way. So when we take our attention inside, it is clearly
important that we have no investment in a specific result, but rather an
openness and curious interest in where the body wisdom wants to take us.
But, our openness to the body’s wisdom must be genuine. The body can’t be
fooled. It will know when there’s still some kind of agenda, a wanting to fix
and change things in a certain way. Our conditioning to assert our judgements
as to what is good and bad and what should be and shouldn’t be is deeply
ingrained, so to let go to and trust this larger intelligence or process is a
huge step along our spiritual path.
As we begin to allow the body wisdom to speak in and through ourselves, there’s
an undeniable sense that this wisdom or intelligence is much larger than we are.
It’s moving in us but is also carrying us in it’s unfolding.
Paradoxically, the body gives us the experience of being both whole in ourselves
and yet, at the same time, part of something much larger. This may be
experienced in different ways. For instance, it may feel like my feet are
plugged into some large batteries hidden inside the ground and there’s a strong
sense of being connected with a flow of energy that is much larger than I am.
Often in that flow there is a sense of compassion for hurt places welling up
which I could not feel on my own. I have a sense of being surrounded and
supported by the whole earth, nature, the stars, the universe – a larger
Presence or Process. As Gendlin says:
“Your physically felt body is ..part of a gigantic system of here and
other places, now and other times, you and other people – in fact, the
whole universe. This sense of being bodily alive in a vast system is the
body as it is felt from inside” .
Feeling part of a Larger Process is a natural spiritual need that is deeply
etched in the psyche of human beings. It is often inadequately substituted by a
sense of belonging to certain cults, groups or even religions. To have lost the
experience of this “sense of being bodily alive in a vast system” has
been the primary cause of much human misery.
Felt Shifts – “Grace Unfolding”
Once you have a felt sense of a place inside and it begins to open up, it will
tell its story through a variety of symbols, such as images, words, insights or
physical movement. As the story unfolds, something may begin to shift. Either
the place itself or the way you are holding it may change.
Felt Shifts can sometimes happen in ways that could be described as “internal
alchemy”: the freeing up and transmutation of stagnant energy from stuck places
inside us. This freed energy strengthens our sense of Presence. There’s a
sense of being more present, more vibrantly alive. In his book “The Power Of
Now“, Eckhart Tolle calls this “internal alchemy or the transmutation of
the base metal of suffering into the gold of consciousness” .
These Felt Shifts are not of our own making. All we can do is to provide the
right climate for these places to feel heard and to step back and wait to see
what wants to happen. The body in all its wisdom inherently knows the direction
in which these places need to move in order to be resolved, so that, ultimately,
we can become whole.
When these shifts happen there is a sense of being gifted or �graced’ by the
movement of a larger process at work through you. Like being in a river that
powerfully flows towards it’s destination.
“Following the directions of Focusing is much like paddling a canoe
from some protected inlet out into the middle of a river. Once there…you
soon discover that the stream has a life and movement on its own. It does
not bend to your paddling any more than your canoe can change the course
of the river’s flow. All you can do is go with it in case it should catch
you and carry you along.” Peter Campbell and Ed McMahon.
Felt Shifts may be minute steps or they may be dramatic and instantly life
changing. They may change the way you hold a certain issue or a certain
situation in your life. They may open the door to creative solutions which your
mind couldn’t have thought of in its wildest dreams. Or they may unlock painful
places. Whatever it brings, a Felt Shift always feels good inside. First,
because we are at last beginning to know and accept ourselves; and second,
because we are reconnecting with the movement of some Larger Process which
deeply satisfies our spiritual need.
So Focusing facilitates this experience of the movement of the Larger Process
through one’s body and mind. To experience the immovability of one’s own unique
spirit, whilst also experiencing oneself being changed by the movement of a much
Larger Process inside may seem paradoxical. But the world inside one’s body is
a different world, with paradox and contrasts happily living together.
Living In The Now
As Peter Campbell and Ed McMahon have said, there is a critical issue in our
spiritual growth as human beings: the mind’s “omnipotent control” . The
mind generates an incessant stream of thoughts. When we observe this seemingly
unstoppable stream, it becomes obvious how much these thoughts take us out of
the present moment, because most are related to either the past or the future.
The only access point to our own unique spirit and connection with a larger
Process is the Here (our body) and Now (the present moment).
When Focusing becomes a way of living, you have a simple discipline that
provides an excellent way of disengaging from the control of the thought stream
and coming back home to the present moment. When you notice that you have
jumped on a train of thought that has left the Here and Now, you can simply ask:
“How does it feel in my body to think these thoughts?” This takes your
attention inside your body and back to the present moment. This simple
discipline, which can be done anytime, anywhere, offers us a way of living that
keeps us connected to the dimension where we can be gifted by the intelligent
energy of the larger Process.
Peacemaking From The Inside
As we begin to live this way, deep changes begin to happen in the way we relate
to ourselves and others. Whenever something happens that triggers strong
emotion, we are less likely to get swept away in the usual reactive cycle of
violence-begetting-violence. Violent thoughts may be stirred up but by noticing
them in a Focusing way you can unhook yourself from the violent thought stream
and give yourself a choice in how to respond. This may not be easy in the heat
of the moment and will take some practice, but even a few seconds of such bodily
awareness can already be powerful. Even in such a short time there can be an
experience of “grace”, of something shifting in the way you are holding the
When these feelings are �graced’ inside, it may also become clear whether there
is some action to be taken with regard to the situation. You have broken the
usual chain of reactive violence and any action you take now will come from a
more peaceful way of being inside.
As Campbell and McMahon put it,
“Through developing a relationship with the inner realm of “Grace” or
“Gift” we give ourselves the chance to live in inner harmony instead of
inner conflict. Then we are much more likely to be a catalyst for peace
rather than conflict in the outer world”
“I’ve given up trying to focus alone because I never get anywhere”; “I can’t stay with the process when I’m on my own”; “I need the presence of another person for something to shift.” All these comments were made by experienced Focusers. So why is solo Focusing so much harder for most people than Focusing with a companion? And can anyone learn to focus effectively on their own? In the hope of finding answers to these questions I quizzed 15 focusers about their own experiences. All of them were familiar with the various helpful tips available and yet the majority of them found Focusing alone difficult. Just two said their solo Focusing was as valuable as Focusing with a partner.
Why People Find Solo Focusing Difficult
The main reasons for solo Focusing being unsatisfactory, as stated by the Focusers themselves, were:
- “My mind wanders”. “I find it difficult to concentrate and keep drifting off on daydreams.” (In this case whatever the Focuser is thinking about, he labels it “drifting” or “wandering” )
- “As soon as I sit down to Focus I start to think I haven’t really got time for it.” “I keep getting distracted by thinking of all the other things I need to do.”
- “It goes OK up to a point but then I just get a foggy stuckness.” (A range of similar reports included “fuzziness” and “getting lost”.)
- “When I go inside there’s nothing there”.
- “I can always find a felt sense but I can’t get it to shift.”
- “I sit down to start Focusing but then I get scared that if I go too deeply into something I’ll be overwhelmed.”
These obstacles have two things in common: they happen after the Focuser has begun to direct their attention inside; and they are either easily surmountable or not evident at all in the presence of a companion. This suggests that although the Focuser may perceive them as obstacles to the process getting underway, each one is actually “a something” which could be given attention within a process which is already underway. To use the second quote as an example: there is a difference between not planning to focus at all due to a genuine lack of time, and deciding to focus, sitting down to begin, and then thinking “I haven’t got time for this.”
So the main pitfall of Focusing alone could be missing the obvious – that which is directly under our noses. Why does the Focuser not say to themself: “I’m noticing something in me which feels I haven’t got time for this”? Likewise, what prevents the “easily overwhelmed” Focuser from acknowledging their fear by saying “something in me is scared I’ll be overwhelmed”? Clearly, in each case, the Focuser is merged with something – yet even when my interviewees were reporting their difficulties, this possibility did not always occur to them – and I am certain that all of the Focusers in question would immediately spot such an instance of merging if they were in the companion’s seat! It seems that there is a particularly subtle dynamic in place here which can hide the obvious from us when we are Focusing alone.
Most of the Focusers I spoke to reported that if they do get past the point of settling down with a felt sense and it begins to make steps, the session usually runs smoothly thereafter. The main danger area, then, is at the very beginning of a session when self-listening skills are not yet consciously engaged – the transition zone between usual thinking patterns and Focusing.
Let’s borrow Ann’s analogy of arranging to meet a good friend in a cafe. Say friend A has the intention of finding out how friend B is really feeling. Imagine she says “So how are things with you today?” and friend B replies: “I really haven’t got time for this now because there’s still so much I need to do today” or “I’d rather not talk just now because if I do I know I’ll get really upset” or “Everything’s just fine – nothing really to report at all at the moment”.
If friend A were to follow up with a comment such as: “What’s wrong with you? You always come up with the same pathetic excuse for not talking to me” or “Well if you’re going to be like that, I’m off!”, she would be responding in a similar way to how Focusers sometimes respond to parts of themselves. No wonder such parts react by digging in their heels! Obviously, these would be examples of not listening from Presence – obvious at least if a Focusing partner were to make such a response out loud, but much less easy to spot in our own ambient thoughts.
So why are these thoughts that come up at the point of entry into a Focusing session so particularly hard to identify as ‘parts’? One reason – substantiated by the observation that most of us seem to have one particular recurring ‘obstacle’ – is that the more habitual it becomes, the more invisible it becomes. For instance if someone has an experience of “drifting off into thoughts” the first few times they attempt Focusing alone, they soon begin to carry this information with them as a fact : “When I try to Focus alone I just drift off”. It follows that they are likely to become so merged with this negative expectation that it is impossible to recognize it as something which could be acknowledged: “Something in me is wanting to drift off.” Another possibility is that our recurring difficulties with Focusing alone are the equivalent of our habitual forms of process-skipping – the mechanisms we tend to use to avoid staying at an edge where change can happen. In this case we would already be oblivious to our use of a particular avoidance strategy and if this were adapted as a means of avoiding an edge in Focusing we would be less likely to recognize it. McMahon and Campbell write: “My defences against such bodily-felt, authentic contact are strong, automatic, process-skipping and invisible – at least to myself.” (Bio-Spirituality Newsletter, Winter 1998 )
Why Focus Alone?
Given the difficulties of solo Focusing, can anything be said in favour of persevering with it? Are there any benefits of Focusing alone which cannot be accessed by Focusing with a companion? In an article on Focusing alone Dorothy Fisch says: “Focusing ‘alone’ is when I feel most connected with the oneness of life… I valued partner-Focusing, but it led me to different places.” (TFC, Nov. 1992) Another experienced Focuser says: “My solo Focusing is the core of my Focusing practice.” Others give various reasons why Focusing alone is sometimes preferable to Focusing with a partner. These include Focusing on issues which are of a private or sensitive nature, occasions when something needs immediate attention and no listener is available, and times when the Focuser would feel inhibited by the presence of a listener.
There are also times when something needs much more time than would be practical for a listener to give and often just “keeping company” while it slowly unfolds. Dorothy describes her experience of this beautifully: “Solitary Focusing…is like watching an oak leaf unfurl. It happens very slowly. First you notice a nub, then a few days later a leaf bud, days after that the unfurling starts to happen and you have a leaf.”
The term “Focusing alone” is generally used to denote a formal type of Focusing session – a “sitting down to it”, however, another form of solo Focusing is that which could be said to be the long-term aim of all Focusers: to be lightly aware of the felt sense of the moment at all times. Touching base with the felt sense briefly throughout the day is an especially valuable practice which helps to soften the boundary between “outside” and “inside”. It leads to a sense of being more consistently in touch with oneself and more authentic in interactions with others.
Focusing alone also provides a unique opportunity to acknowledge parts which tend to be “off-stage” when a companion is present. In my determination to undertake regular solo sessions whilst working on this project, I found myself acknowledging a part with which I had hitherto been merged. Finally settling down with this part developed into a bizarre though very valuable session during which I made the following notes. The transcript begins after I suddenly realized I’d spent five minutes just thinking about whether I ought to be doing something else instead of Focusing. (Qualities of felt senses are described in brackets; words I ‘hear’ from a felt sense are in italics; my own “listening-me” responses are in inverted commas; …. = silences /taking time to acknowledge something).
“I’m sensing something which is saying it’s really important for me to think about whether I ought to be doing something else just now”…. (Ache across torso) ….
I really hate it when you feel unsure about what you want to do ….. I don’t want you to waste time struggling over what to do. I hate it when you feel tense and scattered and unsure ….. I can see there’s lots to do and I don’t know what’s most important …. I want you to be focused and in the moment – in flow. ….
(Tense, desperate pushing under diaphragm) ….
There’s so much to do and not much time …. get ON with something – ANYthing – then I can relax …..
“Ah, what you really want is to be able to relax” …..
Yes… like when you’re Focusing with someone else….
“Like when I’m focusing with someone else – then you can relax”..
Yes.. And I know Focusing is good for you and well worth the time but like this I really struggle with feeling perhaps you ought to be doing something else ……. actually I’m here nearly all the time like this but you don’t notice me. ….
(Ache elongating – exhausted, strung out, stretched thin) ….. “I’m going to just stay here and keep you company”…..
Do you really want to spend time being with me when you’re so busy?
(Weak, tired, surprised) ….”Yes”…. (ache released, spreading warmth)
I stayed with the pleasant warmth, enjoying feeling relaxed and centred for some time before finishing. This ten minute session proved to be a valuable step for me. Since then I have been able to keep this part company “on the hoof” when it is around, enabling it to gradually shift in a life-forward direction. It has also made me aware of just how much this one part has influenced the way I perceive my use of time – and taken a lot of tension out of that whole area of my life. As I have never encountered this part in my partner Focusing, it demonstrates that solo Focusing can provide a unique opportunity to come into relationship with such habitual process-skipping strategies.
So having convinced myself that there is enough to be said in favour of solo Focusing to make it worth persevering with – indeed to make it highly recommendable – I decided to try to shed more light on the problems encountered in Focusing alone by looking at when they tend not to present themselves:
When Focusing Goes Well and What Facilitates the Process
The vast majority of the people I spoke to said their Focusing usually goes well a) when alone if a pressing issue is clamouring for their attention and b) when Focusing with a partner.
a) “If I’ve got something worrying me I can usually focus on it alone.” Several people said that although they don’t focus regularly alone – due to one of the problems previously mentioned – they do use Focusing to address pressing issues and/or strong emotional reactions as they come up. When something is already physically felt or when strong feelings facilitate rapid access to the felt sense, obstacles are less likely to be encountered. The danger area has been bypassed. Not only are we already engaged in the Focusing process by the act of noticing the felt sense, but we also have a set purpose for the session – we have something in obvious need of attention and are motivated to spend some time with it. Some degree of Presence is automatically established in the act of identifying something inside as separate from “me” and being interested in finding out more about it. Therefore having the idea of Focusing on a currently felt issue is in itself an indication of an intention and capacity to be with something rather than be merged with it.
b) In a prearranged session with a companion there is often no such burning issue present. The intention is to simply check in with ourselves and see what, if anything, wants our attention – just as in an equivalent solo Focusing session. And yet the vast majority of Focusers report rarely, if ever, encountering their usual obstacles when Focusing with a companion. Why not?
Ann Weiser Cornell and Barbara McGavin write: “There are three qualities which a partner brings which need to be brought into Focusing alone, often consciously and deliberately: 1) containment (being held), 2) concentration (the opposite of spacing out, wandering, etc., 3) non-judgment.” (early draft of Focusing Student’s and Companion’s Manual)
On sensing that a companion has these qualities and is thereby supporting Presence, it becomes possible to stay at an edge of experiencing where one may otherwise not feel safe to go. Ed McMahon and Peter Campbell put it this way: “So the companion is there to support the Focuser in finding his own innate ability to keep himself company in a gentle, caring way. If a person has lost this ability and/or developed a strong habit of disconnecting from the felt sense, he will be unable to Focus alone.” (“Bio-Spirituality”)
So we are not speaking here of a simple application of technical skills, but of having the capacity to provide the kind of Presence which allows our own self-process to unfold. Gene Gendlin explains why the first step towards developing this capacity is to Focus with a listener: “To be myself I need your responses, to the extent to which my own responses fail to carry my feelings forward. At first, in these respects, I am ‘really myself’ only when I am with you.. The continued carrying forward into ongoing interaction process is necessary in order to reconstitute experiencing long enough for the individual himself to obtain the ability to carry it forward as self-process.”(“A Theory of Personality Change”)
Can Solo Focusing Be Learned?
Gendlin’s words prompt a question: Can solo Focusing be learned at any stage or must a certain capacity to listen to ourselves be developed before we are able to begin to focus alone? In other words, is it always possible for a Focuser to provide the qualities of Presence necessary to support their own process?
Most Focusers need very little from a companion to support their process. In fact, as I discovered by accident, often literally nothing apart from simply being there (even on the other end of a phone) is needed to generate an atmosphere of “containment, concentration and non-judgment.” Naively attempting to simulate solo Focusing as closely as possible to observe the process, I listened silently to several sessions and found that the effect of the experiment itself defeated my object! People who when alone had difficulties in beginning a session, settling down with something, staying with the process or experiencing a shift, had no problems whatsoever when I was simply ‘listening in’. It seems that although a companion’s reflections and suggestions may provide a very useful and welcome aid to Focusing, it is the overall effect of having someone there which facilitates the Focusing process. Hence many Focusers are pessimistic about their abilities to focus alone because in partner Focusing they perceive the companion to be “holding Presence” for them. It makes a subtle but important difference to consider that successful Focusing can only occur when the Focuser is also listening to himself from a place of Presence. In this sense it could be said that even when a companion is present, the Focuser is still Focusing alone! Whatever level of support the companion is providing, he is still not ‘doing’ the Focusing himself. Would it follow then that anyone who is able to focus successfully with a companion is also able to focus alone?
Technically it might appear so, but there are occasions when solo Focusing is – by definition – just not able to fit the bill. One Focuser says this beautifully: “Sometimes the words need to come out of my system and be met by another human being.” I strongly feel that no efforts to support solo-focusing should attempt to minimise this very real and healthy desire for human contact when it arises.
With the exception of such specific requirements for a listener, it appears likely (to me) that in most cases Focusers do have the capacity to provide themselves with the necessary qualities to support Presence. Therefore I propose that problems can be traced back to just three specific areas of merging:
- the Focuser does not succeed in establishing Presence at the beginning of the session. This makes the likelihood of merging with whatever comes up almost inevitable.
- at the point at which something begins to make steps, a “critical part” throws doubt on the Focuser’s ability to focus alone and the Focuser becomes (and remains) merged with that part.
- a “controlling part” is present which feels a sense of responsibility for directing the session. It may feel that it has to initiate something which will make the process flow faster or make a shift occur or that it has to do something to “fix” something. This area is a quagmire if the Focuser becomes merged with it – and the risk is high because there is, of course, some truth in the idea that “I” am responsible for directing the session. As much emphasis is placed on the role of the companion in Focusing and students learn many subtleties of listening responses, it is not surprising that many feel daunted by the prospect of “doing both jobs” in solo Focusing.
It seems that many of us assume we know the “ground-rules” of Focusing so well that when we sit down to focus alone we comply with them automatically, and yet according to my findings, it is not unusual for experienced Focusers to either “forget” the basics – or believe that they can dispense with them. Consequently all the effort we put into learning to cultivate Presence as a companion goes out of the window when we focus alone! There is a notion that to simply pause and look inside denotes the beginning of a solo Focusing session – and indeed it does on the condition that we have a respectful, compassionate, non-judgmental attitude towards whatever we might find there. If not, then we will become merged with our ambient thoughts rather than be in a position to say hello to them.
Taking it forward
What then can we do to avoid becoming merged with ambient thoughts? I feel the answer lies in going back to the basics – reminding ourselves that moving into Presence does not always happen automatically and that normally we have to do something to encourage it to happen. And remembering, above all, that any attitude other than one of respectful, compassionate, non-judgmental attention denotes a merging with another part.
So before coming up with any new suggestions on how to alleviate the problems of solo Focusing, I first came to a point of realizing just how good all the old ones are! Almost every article and chapter on Focusing alone includes a list of suggestions on how to stay in Presence, from “Conjure up the person you would most like to listen to you, then have them respond in exactly the way you want” (Diana Marder, TFC, Nov. 1992), to “Write down key words like the description, the questions you’re asking, and whatever else feels important” (Cornell, “The Power of Focusing”) and “Speak into a cassette recorder and play it back if you get stuck or lost” – and there are, of course, many others.
Finding some means of consciously becoming one’s own listener seems to be essential. This means having a concept of “listening-me” which feels bigger than all the rest of me – whether one imagines it to be another person, a computer, a teddy bear or oneself. During the session I transcribed, I was writing down not only the significant words that came from the felt sense but also my own listening responses. Having a very clear sense of “listening-me” was what enabled me to come into relationship with a hitherto hidden part.
I have noticed that doubts around self-guiding skills and impatience when something doesn’t shift appear to diminish with experience. People who have been Focusing the longest are generally much more content to just keep something company – for a long time if necessary – trusting that a shift will occur if and when it is ready. In his book “Focusing”, Gendlin writes: “If the felt sense does not shift and answer right away, that is all right. Spend a minute or so with it. We do not control a shift when it comes. What is crucial is the time you spend sensing it. If you spend time sensing something unclear that is right there ..then you are Focusing.”
So although we are responsible for maintaining Presence, we are not responsible for directing the process itself. To remember this during each session could take a considerable amount of unnecessary stress out of solo Focusing.
It might also be helpful to let go of expectations that solo Focusing should feel the same as Focusing with a companion but to increase the value we place on it in terms of developing the habit of being in touch with our moment to moment authentic experiencing. Seeing solo-Focusing as a step on the way to cultivating Presence in our lives in general rather than as an end in itself could significantly ease some of the difficulties it presents. Focusers are less likely to encounter problems when “checking in” with the felt sense briefly throughout the day. If all else fails it might be advisable for a struggling solo Focuser to take a break from formal sessions and simply enjoy sensing inside at times when they are feeling good.
Finally, a quote from Neil Friedman strikes me as particularly relevant to solo-Focusing: “Focusing is relaxing. It feels good in the body.” (“Focusing: Selected Essays”) It follows that if it starts to feel unpleasantly scary, sad, frustrating, empty, lonely, or whatever, we can assume we are merged with something. So I would like to offer just one fundamental tip: If it doesn’t feel good – step back and acknowledge it from a place which feels safe and comfortable. This will take you to what is “right on top” in your experiencing – the outermost edge of that which is needing attention – and to be with that will always bring a sense of rightness and relief.
Since accepting that by following this one guideline we can consistently spend time with something in our authentic experiencing in a caring way, I have tentatively come to the feel that – yes, with sufficient support, anyone can learn to focus alone.
This article has been published in Self and Society in September 2005.
I came across focusing in 1984 while training to assist on the sort of personal growth courses popular back then in which a hundred people were locked in a room for a weekend and provoked into dramatic catharses. The subtlety of focusing was in stark contrast with the excitement and terror of these experiences and, perhaps because of this, it eluded me at the time. However, some time later, with the help of my ex-wife who was a natural ‘focuser’, and the experience of biodynamic therapy in place of drama and provocation, I got the hang of it.
So when I came to do a therapy training in 1990, I had been focusing for some time. There being no UK training available in focusing therapy, I opted for psychosynthesis because friends had taken this route and I had thereby gained a feeling for it. It would have been logical to do a person-centred training, as focusing is an offshoot of the person-centred approach. But I knew little of the British person-centred world, and anyway it had somewhat rejected focusing as being too directive.
Psychosynthesis and focusing are eminently compatible, but my evangelical enthusiasm for the latter meant that I judged everything else in the light of it, usually unfavourably – an easy trap for focusing aficionados. But the psychosynthesis people were a kind and tolerant lot, and gave me my counselling diploma. Ignoring advice to start one’s career in a particular orientation, I made up my own blend of focusing, psychosynthesis and Jung, who was my original source of inspiration.
Now I have a solid body of experience under my belt. I’ve done short-term counselling and long-term therapy, post-traumatic stress interventions, workplace counselling and private practice. Focusing has been at the heart of my approach in all these settings. I’m not sure whether I am really a ‘focusing-oriented’ therapist, because I don’t know what a such a therapist is meant to look like. But I am clearly a therapist who’s oriented towards focusing and endeavouring to orient my client towards it.
Having focusing at the heart of my work means that I help my client to connect with their bodily experiencing in the session. For example, I may invite them to turn their attention inside to the flow of feeling in their body. I may seek to phrase what I say so as to prompt them to look within their feeling body as well as their thinking mind. I often slow my talking and go deeper into my ‘felt sense’, to find the right words and to model focusing. And much more.
So here I shall reflect on my own interpretation of the term ‘focusing-oriented therapy’, and in so doing tackle some questions that focusing raises about the therapeutic enterprise.
Explicitly teaching ‘Focusing’ vs. Implicitly encouraging ‘focusing’
‘Focusing’ began in the 50’s when Gene Gendlin, a colleague of Carl Rogers at the University of Chicago, identified it as a self-reflective behaviour that some clients did naturally from the outset of therapy and others didn’t, and that correlated strongly with successful therapy outcomes. He devised instructions for teaching this inner attention to all clients, and later these instructions became a method for anyone seeking self-help skills. As self-help, peer-partnership focusing developed, those who followed in Gendlin’s wake started putting a capital ‘F’ on the front. So ‘focusing’ is the natural skill of listening to bodily felt experience, and ‘Focusing’ is the learnt method and practice of inner attention that encourages the natural skill.
One way to bring focusing into therapy is to teach it to your clients explicitly, or to send them to another Focusing teacher. I don’t do this unless requested, because I am wary of making such a strong intervention that might lead to resistance or compliance in my clients. I don’t think anyone in the Focusing world has ever done the research needed to evaluate the usefulness of such a strategy, which is strange as Focusing originally grew out of research.
More importantly, I think it is simplistic to believe that clients taught Focusing the method would then be doing focusing the inner behaviour. Yes, it helps if clients deliberately pay attention to bodily feeling, but this is not a therapeutic panacea. What I’ve found to be most helpful is for clients to develop their ability to reflect on their felt experiencing – to focus naturally – during therapy. It’s a skill that’s transferable to other relationships.
The ability to focus on felt experiencing develops from birth onwards through zillions of experiences both in and outside the therapy room. The deliberate learning of Focusing is a drop in the ocean compared to the subconscious learning that takes place in close relationships. So I like the implicit encouragement of focusing – e.g. “does it feel right when you say that?” – topped up sometimes with pointing out an aspect of focusing – e.g. “that feeling you have that’s hard to put into words, it’s important”.
Lengthy Focusing interventions and brief focusing moments
People who know a little of Focusing may think the focusing therapist guides their clients through the sort of step by step process outlined in Gendlin’s ‘Focusing’ book. That’s one way, but it is cumbersome. It is much more helpful to make up a guided process spontaneously to fit the moment. And whilst I sometimes guide clients through longer spells of Focusing, much more often I encourage brief moments of pausing to ‘go inside’.
The advantage of having clients attend inwardly and silently is that they orient more of their awareness towards the body, towards feeling, and towards the unconscious and the quiet depths from which images and transcendent experience arise – away from intellectualising, words, and the conscious mind. But this can happen naturally in therapy for brief moments, and a balance has to be struck between the client’s intrapersonal contact with their bodily experience and their interpersonal contact with the therapist. Of course, the two are not mutually exclusive.
The more seamless the moving from a lively interpersonal exchange to a deeper level of intrapersonal experiencing and back again, the happier I am. I don’t like to feel I am doing techniques – I prefer to sense that together my client and I are extending the boundaries of what and how we can communicate.
‘Experiential’ listening: the bees knees in empathic listening
I learnt Focusing under my own steam in the 1980’s by practising it with my ex-wife, reading the literature and benefiting from my own experience. It was only when I went to Chicago in 1990 to do a week’s training with Gendlin and his colleagues that I appreciated their style of reflective listening. It’s a sensitive and intimate style, and I came home feeling as if I had found the holy grail.
Therapists may do reflective listening, but we don’t necessarily learn how this basic counselling skill can become a creative therapeutic art. In Chicago they called their style ‘experiential listening’ to denote that the aim is to reflect not only what the client says but how they are experiencing it inwardly. Responses can point to the bodily ‘felt sense’ of what is being discussed – e.g. “something about all this feels uncomfortable for you”, and the therapist can stay close to the client who is on the edge of feelings that are hard to articulate – e.g. “yes, yes, it feels sort of ‘zingy’ in there …..”.
Especially with painful feelings, I noticed that where the psychosynthesis people remained silent, respectfully but distantly, the focusing people would be right in there with empathic noises and statements like “I can sense that this place needs very gentle care just now”. This close support helps those of us with a tenuous connection to uncomfortable feelings to overcome our shame of experiencing them in front of others. Silence can be experienced as ‘this isn’t really OK’.
I suspect that such close reflection can recreate the empathic responses we may have missed in infancy, so that we learn how to be with distressing or hard to articulate feelings and states in the company of a supportive person. It relates to the area of unconscious right-hemisphere communication between infant and caregiver that is the focus of current neuroscientific study.
Focusing delivers transcendent experience
Focusing (the method), through its inwardness and quietness, frequently delivers transcendent experiences, especially in the lengthy intervention format. Such experience, in which the individual discovers a surprising inner depth, gives a taste of the creative power that lies within. It is impressive in the way that something unexpected and transformative wells up from an unexplored corner of the mind. However you conceptualise it – spiritual, the higher self in action – it is experienced as empowering.
Transcendent experience may not be necessary for therapy to work, but it helps. It inspires and gives confidence that change can happen. For clients who find intimate relationship a struggle, it provides self-esteem whilst they continue the difficult process of learning to relate better. I think it is not absolutely necessary to therapy because it is available outside the therapy room, whereas working through the thoughts and feelings aroused by intimate relationship is not – not to the person who feels they need therapy, at any rate. All embodied transcendent experience involves focusing, and Focusing is a good way to help it happen.
Gendlin believes the unfolding of the bodily felt sense is Jung’s ‘transcendent function’ that lies beyond thinking, feeling, intuition and sensing. I think this is sometimes the case, but it usually takes the lengthy and deep Focusing for this to happen, or a similar process involving symbolic imagery. On the other hand, the bulk of unfolding from the felt sense in therapy comes in the course of dialogue, and is about grounding the ego in the client’s embodied experiencing – a local synaptic re-structuring perhaps, rather than a global transcendental uplifting.
“It’s the therapeutic relationship, stupid!”
In contrast to transcendent experience, much of therapy is of necessity the hard work of going over the minutiae of life experience, unglamorous and often painful. The therapist is not only the provider of comfort and support but also the challenger and the deflater, the one who speaks uncomfortable truths, and the fumbling human being with his or her own inner fault lines.
Whilst my aim is to be both the facilitator of transcendent experience and the companion on whom my client can project what they will, in practice I am more often the latter. If someone comes to see me for a Focusing session, they get the facilitator of possibly transcendent experience. But if this becomes a therapy relationship with its ongoing dialogue, I become the companion they may feel ambivalent about, and I then have to deliberately change direction to switch the process back into the inner depths.
I now tend to believe that the best cure for a poor ability to reflect on bodily experiencing is the experience of a good therapeutic relationship over time. This relationship can be extended to include focusing, with both parties listening to their felt sense of what is happening in the space between them. Transference can be explored in this gentle, step by step way, with both parties’ experiencing being informed by, but also taking precedence over, psychodynamic theory.
The theory of focusing is as rich as the practice
Focusing is better known as a method than as a theory. People want to know what they can do as therapists, and clients want to know what can be done in therapy, that isn’t plain old talking about the problem. Focusing offers them an inner process, a way to explore topics experientially, a way to turn one’s attention from mind and thinking to body and feeling.
But Gendlin’s theoretical ideas of immense value too. In fact, I haven’t come across any better description of what really happens in therapy. Any technique is limited in scope, and this is true of Focusing: there is client resistance, the fact that techniques do not always work as planned, and the fact that therapy is often such a demanding task that we have to abandon our favourite procedures and invent something new to fit the person in the moment. And to create on the hoof, a good foundation of theory is needed: principles, understanding, and experience arising from them, that enable us to do better than make stuff up at random.
There is not the space here to go far into Gendlin’s ideas. His paper ‘A Theory of Personality Change’ is the best place to start if you are interested (to go much further, you have to venture into his philosophical works). I think he undermines his case by not coming to terms with the notion of unconscious feeling, but as an explanation of how new conscious contents emerge in the therapy room, it is brilliant. He shows how fresh feelings, thoughts, images and memories unfold when there is a human relationship and a ‘feeling process’, and advises the therapist to respond “to what is happening in the client that the client doesn’t respond to”.
Think ‘felt sense’
A key Gendlinian concept is the ‘felt sense’. There was no English
word for the experience of bodily feeling in the moment until he
coined this phrase, though obviously this aspect of experience was
known about. It underlies each moment, it’s the source of fresh
feelings and creative thoughts, and it’s the place from which the
‘unfolding self’ unfolds. But without a name, it has been relatively
unavailable for popular consumption. The neuroscientist Antonio
Damasio has written a book about it, ‘The Feeling of What Happens’,
and describes it as “the feeling of a feeling”.
The term, however, fits with popular language, because we say “my sense of this situation” and “it just felt right”. When the therapist pauses to speak from his or her felt sense, the client is subliminally encouraged to do likewise. And when the client speaks from their felt sense of what they are exploring, then you can be sure that something valuable is happening. We heal emotional wounds by moving between our felt sense of them and our attempts to express them. People come to therapy because they have an experience the felt sense of which they are unable to sit with for long enough to form in consciousness what is implicit within it.
Speaking from the felt sense is not the same as speaking with feeling. ‘Feeling’ is a concept we have a name for, like ‘sadness’, ‘anxiety’, ‘frustration’, but we may or may not have a sense of it in the moment. ‘Felt sense’ is the here and now bodily sense of something we don’t yet have words for, it’s the faltering attempts to find ways to express our experience, it’s what gives rise to the odd things we say that don’t make logical sense yet ‘we know what we mean’.
In the therapy room, the felt sense is the client’s meaning that they struggle to articulate, or a vague and incomplete “something …” that appears amidst their explanations. It’s the therapist’s awareness of the particular counter-transference feeling evoked by this client, the sense that something is too much for the client to talk about just now, or that a kind or a confrontative response is needed. The felt sense is visceral, sometimes powerfully so, other times very subtly so. Effective therapy is the interaction of two flows of felt senses in two people: when this interaction stops, the therapeutic process risks going nowhere.
If you are puzzled, read on, read Gendlin, think about it. I have been mulling over what ‘felt sense’ really means for years, and I’m still doing so. That’s the sort of creature it is – in itself, a shift in consciousness.
Keep your head screwed on and have a bodily felt dialogue
People often bemoan the futility of mere ‘talking about’, the apparent limitations of words and language to reach the parts where life is deeply felt, and criticise ‘being in the head’ as if they would welcome placing their’s on the executioner’s chopping block. We all know the satisfaction that comes with other forms of self-expression – movement, imagery, drawing and so forth. So how do we make the talking meaningful, and how can we orient our talking so that it connects us with our bodies? And if we don’t bite the bullet in the therapy room, how will we learn to talk with heart and mind in our relationships and friendships?
Dialogue can be embodied, felt in the body. We can learn to speak from the felt sense, to think from it, and to refer the theoretical ideas and concepts we take from our mental filing cabinets to it. If we don’t, these ideas and concepts – all of which once emerged from someone’s felt sense – may come to dominate. They need to be brought to heel, to be made relative to the bodily self. Then they are useful helpers instead of tyrannical figures.
Here are some ways I use to keep the dialogue rooted in the felt sense:
“hold on, let me check I’ve understood you here” (and then I say it back from my felt sense of what my client said)
“take a moment to check inside whether it feels right to say that”
“what do you think?”
“how does what I’ve said leave you feeling?”
I try to be mindful of the place my speaking is coming from in me, and the effect it is having on my client – and of the place their speaking seems to be coming from in them and its effect on me.
Something that I don’t think is well recognised in the Focusing community is that the felt sense is evoked by discussing meaningful content as well as by ‘going inside’. If the dialogue is to the point, both therapist and client connect their heads with their hearts and beyond. The longer I practice, the more I want to engage my clients in a lively dialogue where I include my own experience and knowledge.
The use of Focusing and a focusing orientation in therapy brings inwardness, reflection, bodily feeling, moments of reflective silence and transcendence, into the room. If overdone, it can result in the client hiding from the therapist and the therapist hiding behind a procedure. But sprinkled in sensitively, it adds depth and embodiment to other therapeutic methods and to the dialogue. Clients like it, because it feels good when something new unfolds from the felt sense and they can trust an inner resource as well as the outer resource of the therapist.
It takes time to appreciate focusing in depth, and there is no substitute for the experience of peer-partnership Focusing. Many therapists do little bits of Focusing, e.g. “invite an image to come”, “stay with it”, but I doubt that those not well exposed to it say the following sorts of things to their clients:-
“you had something there just a moment ago, maybe you could find it again”
“I can see you’re really feeling it now”
So why can’t you train in focusing-oriented therapy? Because Focusing on its own is insufficient, as Gendlin himself admits. It’s better suited for weaving into a more comprehensive therapeutic training, as we are doing at Regents College on their Integrative and Existential courses. You can study it after qualifying, for example at the University of East Anglia which is running an MA programme devised by Campbell Purton and colleagues (Campbell is also the author of an excellent new book – ‘Person-Centred Therapy – The Focusing-Oriented Approach’). Or, you can learn Focusing for yourself and adapt it to your work.
I cannot say if I’m a better therapist for my knowledge of focusing. But I think I orient myself to the task in hand with my clients more easily because of it. It offers many ways to help them experience the therapeutic process as arising from within themselves, and an experiential base for the therapist to mould their theoretical understanding to the particular client.
Damasio, Antonio, ‘The Feeling of What Happens’. Heinemann, 1999, London.
Gendlin, Eugene, ‘Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy’. Guilford Press, 1996, New York.
Gendlin, Eugene, ‘Focusing’. Rider, 2003, London.
Gendlin, Eugene, ‘A theory of personality change’. In P. Worchel and D. Byrne (Eds.), ‘Personality change’, pp. 100-148. John Wiley and Sons, 1964, New York.
Gendlin, Eugene, ‘The client’s client: the edge of awareness’. In R.L. Levant and J.M. Shlien (Eds.), ‘Client-centered therapy and the person-centered approach’. Praeger, 1984, New York.
Purton, Campbell, ‘Person-Centred Therapy – The Focusing-Oriented Approach’. Palgrave Macmillan, 2004, Basingstoke.
NB: the two articles by Gendlin can be downloaded from
Copyright Peter Afford, May 2005.
Susan Jordan and Sally Nealon
Published in The Fulcrum, the craniosacral journal.
Many craniosacral therapists already use Focusing as a tool to deepen awareness and ground experiences in the body. Those who are not familiar with it may be interested to know more about what it can offer to both therapist and client in cranio-sacral work.
For those who have not met it before, Focusing was discovered or identified in the 1950s by Eugene Gendlin, a philosopher and psychotherapist who worked with Carl Rogers on his research into what made counselling or psychotherapy effective. Gendlin found that those people who were able to make contact with the bodily sense of their process, which he named the “felt sense”, were more likely to experience changes during therapy than those whose understanding of themselves was less connected with their inner sensing. He developed Focusing as a way of teaching this skill, which we all use naturally to some extent, to those who do not access it so readily(1).
In craniosacral work, as with other forms of bodywork, if the client can sense into what is happening, including their own resistance to it, they are already on the way to allowing the process to move through more freely. This then makes a connection to what Franklyn Sills (2) describes as the “inner realm which allows access to how we hold meaning in an embodied way”. Through bodily sensing, Focusing provides a way of experiencing this meaning. If the client does not seem able to sense into the body, this may be because the shock and trauma, often too early to be consciously remembered, have caused them to freeze or dissociate. It is easy to assume that if someone is not sensing anything, this means they are not accessing the felt sense. In fact the apparent nothing is ‘something’, and by acknowledging it the client can begin to make more space around it. The practitioner can help the client to do this through the non-judgemental acceptance of whatever arises, and perhaps by reflecting back in a Focusing way (see below).
It is sometimes difficult for people to distinguish between feeling an emotion, which will probably be expressed as “I’m angry”, “I’m scared”, and sensing into it, which Focusing might express as “I’m noticing that something in me is feeling scared”. Further sensing might reveal that the “something” is not only scared but also perhaps hurt or outraged, or whatever else it may happen to be. Sensing into it in this way can enable someone to disidentify without dissociating, to be with the experience rather overwhelmed by it. The practitioner’s presence and ability hold the larger space can help the client to do this. In Focusing there is an implicit trust of the process, and also an acknowledgement that at times something may simply be too much for the person to be with.
Peter Levine (3) talks of the importance of bodily sensation in processing trauma and uses felt sensing as a way of helping people to reconnect with their experience. Michael Kern (4) also refers to this in the context of craniosacral work. As the client begins to re-associate with the dissociated sensation, the body can start to release the trauma by shaking or other forms of discharge. A Focusing attitude can help the client to acknowledge the process as it is happening and sense what more needs to come. This can generate an attitude of acceptance which makes it possible to be with distress and disturbance. Focusing-type interventions such as “perhaps you could just see what that feels like” may help to facilitate the process, as can the judicious use of reflection (“so that feels really heavy” etc), which can help the client to connect more deeply with the experience. If someone is asked “How are you feeling now?” their immediate response may be to say “I feel fine”. The practitioner can then ask if the client can sense what the ‘fine’ feels like, and this may carry the process forward. Alternatively, rather than asking “How do you feel?”, it can sometimes be more useful to ask how it feels (i.e. the particular place, sensation or emotion). This can help the client to become interested in the process rather than identified with the emotion – or lack of emotion. In this way the client has access not only to emotion but to feeling, which is the subtle interface between emotion and bodily sensing, and which may include thought and imagery.
Focusing can also be directly helpful to practitioners. By checking inside from time to time, they can notice when they have slipped out of ‘practitioner neutral’ and been drawn into the client’s process. This noticing can give the space to re-set fulcrums and come back into what Focusing describes as Presence, i.e. the sense of the larger holding field. If the practitioner is aware of feeling uncomfortable, they can take a moment to sense what is happening in the relational field and whether the discomfort is theirs or the client’s, or both. Learning to do this and to hold the neutral state is particularly important for new practitioners.
If a client is experiencing strong emotion or bodily manifestations such as violent movement, a new practitioner’s first reaction may well be “What on earth do I do?” Sensing into oneself at such moments, and helping the client to sense into themselves, can open up the space in which the process can complete. When working with physical manifestations which seem overwhelming to the client, such as unexplained pain or nerve impulses in particular areas, the practitioner can easily begin to feel overwhelmed. Taking a moment or two to acknowledge that “something in me” is feeling overwhelmed can help to hold the whole space and enable the practitioner to step back from feeling responsible. If the client experiences extreme tension, the practitioner can help the client to relax simply by acknowledging that this is there, rather than taking on the tension and struggling with it.
In all of this, Focusing can support being with what arises rather than becoming it. When this is difficult for the client, the practitioner’s presence and ability to be with themselves can create safety. Cranio-sacral therapy works non-verbally with the relational field, and this can have a profound effect. In addition, the verbal ways of reflecting and supporting process which Focusing teaches can enable clients to hold themselves with more space and compassion.
If you are interested in finding out more about Focusing, you can visit the British Focusing Teachers’ Association website, www.focusing.org.uk. A number of Focusing teachers offer courses in different parts of the country and individual sessions are also an option. Other websites with articles and further links are the Focusing Institute, www.focusing.org, and Focusing Resources, www.focusingresources.com.
Susan Jordan is a British Focusing Teachers’ Association recognised Focusing teacher and a Focusing Institute certified trainer. She is also a UKCP registered Core Process psychotherapist and trained at the Karuna Institute with Maura and Franklyn Sills. She offers Focusing courses and individual sessions in London. Her website address is www.susanjordan.net.
Sally Nealon, RCST, is a senior tutor at CTET and a visiting tutor at the University of Westminster’s School of Integrative Health. She trained at CTET with Michael Kern and Franklyn Sills. She has a private craniosacral practice in North West London and can be contacted at email@example.com.
- 1 Gendlin, Eugene Focusing (2nd edition), Bantam New Age Books (1982)
- 2 Sills, Franklyn Craniosacral Biodynamics, North Atlantic Books (2001, 2004)
- 3 Levine, Peter Waking the Tiger, North Atlantic Books (1997)
- 4 Kern, Michael Wisdom in the Body, North Atlantic Books (2006)
The Development of Wholebody Focusing
Kevin McEvenue, from Canada, has brought together his skills both as a Focusing teacher and an Alexander teacher, and developed Wholebody Focusing. He discovered that within the body is contained the possibilities of its own healing. In this article, I describe the Wholebody Focusing process, giving some examples of its uniqueness and usefulness. I also explore the process in relation to healing trauma, and to spirituality. I have found Wholebody Focusing to be an enjoyable and effective development of Focusing.
What is Different about Wholebody Focusing?
What is Wholebody Focusing, and how does it differ from normal Focusing, and from other bodywork and movement practices? Many of the essential elements of Focusing are present in Wholebody Focusing: the sensing into the body, becoming aware of how it feels, and noticing parts of us that may be coming up for special attention. As in normal Focusing, I find some way of symbolising what is experienced in the body. This may come as descriptive words, images or sounds, and would include life story; how does this connect to my life in some way.
The Wholebody Focusing way follows the Focusing process of resonating – checking back with the bodily felt experience, to see if that symbol (word, gesture, movement) does, in fact, match precisely what that place is feeling or experiencing. This resonating process deepens the experience, and opens the Focuser to new and further developments. This takes time, awareness and concentration. That may mean the movement is slow or repetitive at first. The Focuser is continuing to be aware of that part of them, as it is experienced in the body; noticing if it changes in response to the movement or phrase, and making room for more to happen.
The Body in the Environment
Wholebody Focusing is a development from normal Focusing, in that the Focuser consciously invites a sense of the whole body, a ‘me-here’, grounded and present, supported by the environment. (McEvenue 2002 p.12) There is a sense of this body-mind organism held in the larger context of the environment; the room that is containing or sheltering the Focuser, and the natural environment outside; the weather, nature, the place where the Focuser is. This awareness process happens at the beginning, placing the Focuser in a larger context.
The Grounded Body
The next step, and one that is held throughout the session, and returned to as often as need be, is to consciously be aware of the ground under the Focuser’s feet; the floor, the earth under the floor, and the weight of the body as it is supported by the ground underneath the Focuser. Or, if the Focuser is seated, noticing the support of the chair and how the body is being ‘held up’ by the chair, rather than the body holding itself up. A relaxation often happens here; not a slumping, but a coming into alignment and balance. Feeling supported, the Focuser’s body may subtly grow taller. There is less of the contraction, less holding on, that many people habitually experience. The joints become softer and more relaxed. There’s less holding in the knees, hips and shoulders. The head finds a resting-place on the neck, gently easing out tensions, allowing a sense of support to come there too. Even the hands and arms can feel the difference when the Focuser consciously becomes aware of the support coming up from the ground through the feet. This is the starting point of Wholebody Focusing. There’s a sense of wholeness, of the whole body, balanced and supported by the ground and the environment.
A Sense of Acceptance
A crucial aspect of Wholebody Focusing is the quality of the relationship that I have, with whatever is there in my experience. It is of key importance to have an accepting, welcoming and non-judgemental attitude, especially to parts of myself that may be hurting, out of balance, or wounded. So there are three aspects to be aware of: the whole body, the parts that need attention, and the Focuser’s sense of ‘presence’, that resourced place in me that can be with anything. (McEvenue 2002 p.10)
Wounded/Hurting Parts Find Expression
From this resourced place, I can invite parts of me to come to awareness that might need special attention. This could be physical aches and pains, conditions that the body is experiencing. Or it could be emotional, or difficult life situations the Focuser is facing. A movement, a gesture or posture is invited to come, that symbolises how that part of the Focuser is experiencing itself. The Focuser not only resonates, as described earlier, refining the movement to be a more precise expression of the part. The Focuser also holds a sense of the whole body at the same time. This creates a special dynamic, where a sense of the whole, and the part or parts that need attention, come into a new relationship that was not there before. (McEvenue 2002 p.5) The relationship space in which change can occur is not so much between the Focuser and the Companion. Rather, it is the relationship between a sense of the whole, and a sense of the parts that need attention. The job of the Companion is to awaken a sense of the whole, in the Focuser. The body does the rest.
A Hurting Place Finds a Step Towards its Resolution
In this session, I spent time with a ‘pushing’ place in my jaw, shoulders and upper chest. It felt utterly drained and helpless. It connected to a fearful place in my solar plexus that also felt hopeless, and just wanted to give up. The more desperate that place felt the more the ‘pushing’ place in my upper body pushed, and tried harder.
As I spent time with all of this, giving my acceptance to these places to be just the way they are, and to be more, my arms stretched out, pushing things away, making more space. The words came to me, ‘open and back.’ That’s what the pushing place wanted me to feel. I began to feel that more and more. Less hunched over, less pushing forwards. It wanted me to be more open, and to come back. I became aware of my back. The front of my body felt open and relaxed. The rest of my body was hanging from my spine, being supported by it. It told me what I could do in my life to support this ‘open and back’ feeling that it wants for me. It is a stage in a larger process, but nevertheless, a very useful one. The body not only told me what it needed; it also gave me a real-life experience of what it felt like to meet that need. I now have an embodied reference point to which I can return. It showed me how I can get there, and what to do if I loose it.
When the body starts to move, the Focuser is allowing the movement to unfold. I am not developing the movement like a dancer would, however. The resonating process stops it being simply an expression, or an acting-out of an emotion, a feeling or a hurting place. The Focuser is aware of the movement, and is asking, is this what you need right now? Is this movement meaningful? The Focuser is in charge, and I don’t loose myself in the process. The Companion is also there, supporting presence, reminding the Focuser to stay present, while giving permission and allowing the movement to happen. There’s a subtle balance of attention. The Focuser is aware of the whole body, and is also tracking changes as the parts that need attention are expressing themselves in movement.
There is a crucial balance between actively giving consent for a movement to unfold, and not making something happen. The movement is coming from a place all of its own. The body contains its own wisdom, its own knowing of how it should have been, its blueprint of how it could be, if this were all resolved (Gendlin 1981 p.76). The Focuser is not trying to fix it and make it all better. The Focuser stays back from becoming too closely involved or immersed in the process, and maintains an attitude of ‘interested curiosity’ and a compassionate openness, making space for whatever wants to happen. (McEvenue 2002 p. 11, p.15)
In the following example, I reminded myself not to think too much about it, and that it is really very simple. I found the balance of not making something happen; not doing, but allowing something to happen. I was open, expectant, and I made room for movement to happen. I did not judge what was happening. I watched what was unfolding with my attention. Like saying to my body, here’s the problem, what’s your response. And then setting it in motion, like gently swinging a pendulum and watching what it does.
An Example of Giving Consent
I recently Focused with a dream I had, where I witnessed a lot of cruelty. In the session, I realised I dissociate from cruelty. That’s not-me. I see the violence and cruelty in the world, and I make a separation between me and the others in the world, and say that’s not me. I moved into a Wholebody process. My hands and shoulders held a lot of tension, gathering all the cruelty, and trying to crush all the cruelty into nothingness. As I did this, I felt the hopelessness of the task, as if I was on a beach, trying to squeeze all the water out of the wet sand. It felt impossible.
I went back to a sense of my whole body, standing and supported by the environment, and I asked my body to show me what I don’t yet know, about this. I relaxed my knees and arms, and swayed gently, allowing movement to develop as it would. I found my arms were sweeping over my energy field, as if I was clearing my energy, and I enjoyed the sensation of the air moving over my face. Eventually, I started turning in place, like a Sufi turn, and this built up a momentum. As I stopped, I was immersed in a feeling of total surrender and ecstasy. I was balanced and harmonised, in harmony with the stars and the cosmos. It felt profound, like a big answer to a big question.
The role of my Companion was also important, as I shall explain later. Her Presence made it possible, and I could not have done it on my own.
Body Parts Connect Up
The Focuser gives space for hurting places to be ‘more’, giving them all the room they need, to experience just how it is for them right now. This might lead to them to connect up with other parts of the body, and the movement process develops. The Focuser finds that rarely does a body part operate in isolation. A whole complex dynamic begins to reveal itself. The Focuser gives active consent to the movement that is unfolding. It is being in a process of unknowing, and allowing the change process to follow its own dynamic. The Focuser is asking, what does my body know about this, that I don’t?
An Example of Body Parts Connecting Up
In a recent session, I Companioned a Focuser who was being with the back of her neck, which was feeling tense and contracted. It wanted to release and come forward, and she let her head and body relax forward, which stretched and released the tendons, the muscles and the spine in the back of her neck. As she continued to do this for a while, she noticed a place in her solar plexus that was feeling extremely vulnerable. She realised the tension that was being held in the neck, was also protecting her from having to feel the vulnerable place. She stayed with both places; releasing the tension in her neck, and giving caring to her vulnerable place, and the protection it needed. She looked a lot brighter, and said she felt a lot more ‘present’ and ‘in her body’, after the short session.
The Role of the Companion
Although the central relationship in Wholebody Focusing is between a sense of the whole, and the sense of the parts that need attention, the role of the Companion is crucial to the whole process. As Companion, I support the Focuser by being present in my own body, aware of my ground and connection. The Companion’s body becomes fine-tuned as a listener; able to respond to the subtleties of what the Focuser is experiencing. The Companion holds a large, compassionate, expansive space, supporting the Focuser in welcoming whatever comes. The Companion reflects back what the Focuser is saying or doing, in a way that makes room for that, too. As Companion, I am supporting the Focuser in giving consent for whatever wants to be there, and to be more. I continually remind the Focuser to be aware of their ground, to be present, able to make choices, and give permission to what is happening without getting lost in it. The Companion also reminds the Focuser to be aware of their whole body; not to loose touch with that, when a part becomes active and shows its needs.
About Companioning, Eugene Gendlin in his book, ‘Focusing-oriented Psychotherapy’ (1996) says,
‘Although attending inside, one is alive in the company of the other person. One senses the difference physically. The other person is holding the weight of the world, as it were; contributing energy to the Focuser’s inward attending. The other person’s presence makes all the difference in the manner of the Focusing process, even if the content seems to be only about the individual. There is no split between “intrapsychic”and “interactional”‘ (Gendlin 1996 p.109)
Wholebody Focusing and Trauma
Peter Levine’s work with healing trauma is described in his book, ‘Waking the Tiger.’ In it, he demonstrates the key role the body plays in releasing trauma. He suggests,
‘Until we understand that traumatic symptoms are physiological as well as psychological, we will be woefully inadequate in our attempts to heal them. The heart of the matter lies in being able to recognise that trauma represents animal instincts gone awry. When harnessed, these instincts can be used by the conscious mind to transform traumatic symptoms into a state of well being… The healing of trauma is a natural process that can be accessed through an inner awareness of the body.’ (p. 32 and p. 34)
Wholebody Focusing is particularly effective in releasing trauma because of its twin processes of starting from a resourced sense of the whole body, and because the body is already in movement. This creates a safety around the issue. I can move away from what is too scary or difficult to be with. I experience myself as standing on my own two feet, and I have a choice. The movement helps me through a stuck place.
An Example of Working with Trauma
I did a demonstration session with Kevin McEvenue, where I got in touch with a lot of holding in a part of my body, and a fearful place that is absolutely terrified of letting go. It just couldn’t do that – it’s too risky. My movement developed until I was almost taken over by the strong body movements. And yet I was still present, aware of my feet, aware I had choice and was continuing to say yes to the process. I also trusted Kevin, my Companion. I could not have got this far on my own. At the end of the short session, my whole body was shaking. It was finding a way of releasing what I could not.
Contra-indications, and What to Watch Out For
It’s important to make sure the Focuser is in presence, and can choose to stop if it is getting too uncomfortable. Reminding the Focuser that ‘I’m here, and you’re here,’ is helpful. Also, there is a need to discern if the movement is simply avoidance. Continuing to be grounded is helpful with this. It is important to watch out for dissociation, becoming bored, not feeling the aliveness or connection. Here the Focuser can ask how this whole thing is connected to my life story, or what else is alive here.
Both the Focuser and Companion need to feel they are safe. If the Focuser cannot take care of him or herself, Kevin McEvenue suggests coming out of the process. The Focuser is self-responsible, and the best way to take care is to ‘find the feet,’ as a simple reminder of the resourcing possibilities. It is unsafe for parts of me to heal, until those parts feel enough support coming to them from somewhere within me. Addie van der Kooy, in his article ‘My Experience with Wholebody Focusing’ says, ‘For this alchemical healing to take place, I can’t emphasise enough the importance of holding the wounded place and the positive ‘me-here’ energy in equal positive regard.’
Wholebody Focusing and Spirituality
Wholebody Focusing has implications for deepening my experience of spirituality. It is through my body that I have access to a deeper reality, a broader context. Through my body, I experience my connection with all life. It is in my body that I sense openness, joy, and enthusiasm for life. Griffith and Griffith, in their book ‘Encountering the Sacred in Psychotherapy’, (2002) say, ‘Spiritual experience is expressed not only through language but in the immediacy of bodily experience. It exists not just in words but in the sensations and movements of our bodies.’
Kevin McEvenue suggests that we can draw on this bodily felt connection with our spirituality. Especially at times when I feel stuck and cannot resolve the situation, it may be helpful to ask, is there a something larger in me that knows more than I do, about this. I have seen people do this, and it brings about a change that is surprising, could not be predicted, and is in the direction of more life. McEvenue says, ‘Wholebody Focusing is a way of accessing the body’s awareness of its own wholeness. This sense of wholeness has an inner direction and a purpose all its own.’ In this article I have shown how it is possible to allow healing and integration in directly felt positive ways through using Wholebody Focusing.
Fiona Parr, 2005
Gendlin, Eugene Focusing Rider 2003 London
Gendlin, Eugene Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy Guilford Press 1996 New York
Griffith, J.L. and Griffith, M.E. Encountering the Sacred in Psychotherapy The Guilford Press 2002 New York
Levine, Peter Waking the Tiger – Healing Trauma North Atlantic Books 1997 Berkeley
McEvenue, Kevin ‘Wholebody Focusing’ in Dancing the Path of the Mystic Self-published monograph 2002 Toronto
van der Kooy, Addie ‘My Experience with Wholebody Focusing’ in The Focusing Connection Focusing Resources September 2002 Berkeley
This article appeared in Positive Health magazine, May 2005.
When we bring our awareness into the Present Moment and begin to notice what is happening in our own inner space, we are amazed at how much is there. We begin to notice subtly different qualities of how we are within ourselves.
There is this thing called Focusing which has only one ‘s’. It has nothing to do with spectacles or photography, nor with a retail outlet for DIY. The spelling came with it across the Atlantic, where its origins lie, and serve to distinguish it from focusing with a small ‘f’. What it is is hard to describe!
Certainly it deserves more than a five-minute attempt across a dinner table in response to a polite inquiry as to what I ‘do’. On such occasions, conversation is generally fairly superficial, often consisting of feigned interest for the sake of good manners and a not-listening to the reply as something else diverts the attention — the food and wine, or some other interaction between the guests.
The average member of our society lacks listening skills. Too often (almost always), we do not give our attention to the person who is speaking or the words that they are saying. We tend to hear some words and latch on to them, judging them, comparing them to something in our own experience, trying to work the content out for ourselves at the same time as the speaker is continuing what she/he is saying. We structure our reply and wait with impatience for the end, so that we may bring it forth. In the meanwhile we have missed most of what the person is saying and words taken out of context often fail to mean what they were intended to convey. On the whole, we do not listen well.
Listening with a capital ‘L’ is giving our whole attention to the speaker moment by moment — what is he/she telling me Right Now? That way we can see the whole meaning of what is being said, sense how it is for the speaker, as if we are viewing a whole painting rather than one little detail within it.
Can you recall a time when you really felt Listened to, really felt heard? Truly being heard brings a sense of empathy, of the Listener Being With you, keeping you company. Not necessarily understanding — that can divert the attention into trying — but holding that space in which what the speaker wants to convey can come.
The Present Moment
We have to be Here to Listen, Present in this moment rather than thinking of our Past experience or planning what is yet to come. The Past no longer exists and the Future is only a dream. The truth is we are very seldom aware of the Present Moment, despite it being the only reality that we ever have. This is what makes us such poor listeners.
Moreover, we not only do not hear what other people are attempting to communicate to us, we also fail to be aware of what is Here Right Now. We miss the details of our own present experience, our eyes and ears as good as closed to the beauty around us and the intricate patterns of interaction that make up our life. Communication is not just words; it is the interaction that comes in this moment between us and other forms, be they people, things or situations. We can sense in our bodies our response to other forms and we can be with that.
We do not notice what is happening in our bodies — the physical and emotional reactions that are continually creating our experience. If we do notice, we tend to ignore or suppress them, dictating from our minds according to our past programming, criticizing and judging many of our own reactions and successfully ignoring the rest.
Being stuck in our inner process does not benefit our health or our sense of well-being. The physical qualities that accompany both the frustration of the unheard aspects of ourselves and the resistance against them do not tend to be conducive to good health. When these aspects are heard, there is often release and expansion, a letting go of the stress and tension that was there.
When we bring our awareness into the Present Moment and begin to notice what is happening in our own inner space, we are amazed at how much is there. We begin to notice subtly different qualities of how we are within ourselves. In the Present Moment (with Past and Future no longer involved) we find ourselves able to accept without judgement and we find that those parts of us that were ignored or suppressed before come forward to be known. This is Focusing!
I practise and teach Inner-Relationship Focusing, which is the skill of keeping company with whatever aspect of the inner self wants to be known. It is about befriending whatever is here in a Present Moment way, supporting it with love, honour, respect and gentleness.
Sometimes what comes may be scary, threatening, or in some other way not easy to like. There may well be another part of me that wants to get rid of it. I can Be With that too. Focusing brings a realization that everything that comes has our best interests at heart. We realize that the scary, threatening behaviour is the result of frustration at not having been heard, of having been suppressed or exiled by our minds. With respectful attention and in its own time, whatever it is will transform of its own accord and move our inner process on.
This is a macrocosm/microcosm thing. In the Outside World where dictators rule, the people are suppressed. Nobody will listen to them or allow them freedom to live as they want to live. What occurs then is a building of frustration into a desperate bid for freedom that may go to any lengths in an attempt to obtain it. Freedom fighters can get very scary and threatening! In a democracy the people have a voice and, through being heard, contribute to the building and development of their society. Integrated community becomes more possible. So it is in our Inner Worlds and we can find this through Focusing.
Having this skill does not enable our minds to fix things. It does allow us to accept what is Here for us Now, recognizing the whole of our experience without becoming identified with those parts of ourselves that struggle so, as, from their narrowed perspective, they judge, criticize, condemn and try to control both in our Inside and our Outside Worlds.
Focusing is a natural skill which most of us have had programmed out of us. It was rediscovered in the United States of America in the 1960s. Carl Rogers had introduced Client-centred Psychotherapy to the world and was working from Chicago University. In spite of his revolutionary techniques, the number of clients really benefiting from therapy was still unsatisfactory. He instigated research which he put in the hands of Eugene Gendlin. Many therapy sessions were recorded, both those that appeared to be successful and those that didn’t. On play-back, there seemed to be no noticeable problem with the way the therapists were working. However, when they listened to the clients, they discovered that there was a common factor amongst those who benefited from therapy. They would at some point in the session hesitate, become less articulate, bringing their attention down into their bodies, saying something like “What is this? I can feel it right here! How can I describe it? It’s almost like –” These people were naturally Focusing. From this Gendlin developed a means of teaching Focusing to those clients who didn’t know how to do it. This was so successful that people wanted to learn it for use in their everyday lives. The practice of Focusing has evolved from there, with Focusers being encouraged to support and Listen for each other. The means of teaching it has also developed gradually to a point where it is more of a supporting and facilitating the new Focuser to discover the skill naturally within.
I teach Focusing one-to-one or in a group. Groups may be in the form of a weekend, one day each month, or one evening each week. The big advantage of a group is that you get to experience Focusing, companioning and being companioned by your peers. A Focusing session is more powerful when you are supported by another human being and Listening to another human being. Focusing can be a privilege and a joy. Groups lead to Focusing partnerships which can be a very valuable part of your inner journey.
We live in a time when the development of the intellect is considered all-important. We are educated to think rather than to feel, to observe and analyse rather than to experience. We are encouraged to control and are afraid of our inability to do so. Focusing is a natural process. As the brain has become all-powerful, we have allowed our Focusing ability to be suppressed. It is a skill that can be relearned.
Gendlin ET. Focusing. Rider. Ebury Press. London. 2003.
Cornell AW. The Power of Focusing. New Harbinger Publications. Oakland. CA. 1996.
Cornell AW and McGavin B. The Focusing Student’s and Companion’s Manual. 2 Vols. Calluna Press. Berkeley. CA. 2002.
Around any symbol or emotion, you can feel a kind of resonance, anaura. This subtle aura is not merely associated feeling, but is itself the meaning of the symbol.
Here is another image. A symbol is a mere surface. For example, an
emotion – a feeling in the ordinary sense. It simply isn’t enough, when
we know only the thin surface, the symbol itself. We need to dip our
hands down into a thickness beneath, into hidden and uncertain
Or again. It is as if we are letting a vessel down into a cool, deep well.
Drawing up good water. Here, at this spring, dreams, images and
music find their interpretation, and ideas their origin. Here the spirit of
Every word or image or feeling is pregnant – full of possibility. We may
sit with a symbol, gently touching or tapping it, sensing around, behind
What is this like? Perhaps like being in an ancient wood of oak, pine or
cryptomeria, with grey and mossy rocks, at a water’s edge – I may feel
wretched, but the source is constant. I have only to stay here at the
edge – only to be present. The source is like some place of rebirth. It
seems to be inexhaustible.
Listening to ourselves with compassion
Deciding – We make the turn to the source when the forward
movement is blocked. Something in your life is stuck, troubled, haunted or
puzzling. Or perhaps it is joyful, playful, longing or fertile. It may even be
hurtling forward or frenzied. Go slowly! You are deciding where to begin.
Resonating– What is this “something” about?
This blocked or uncertain place has a unique overall quality, mood or tone.
It has a story to tell, since it is connected to your life. Typically, the feel
of it is both subtle and distinct.
The feel is physical. It is a sense of meaning. A sense of aboutness. It
is the feeling of all-of-this. You can refer to it now, directly. It may come
right here in the middle of your body. Or sometimes the feeling is barely there
– a vagueness, a nothingness, an absence. There may be a two-way conflict, in
which both sides must be heard. Or perhaps there are several strands. Often
there is a feeling about the feeling.
Now you are looking for “handle”. This is a word or a phrase – or perhaps
an image, sound or gesture. It describes the quality of the feeling. It needs to
feel just right – so when you lose the feeling, the handle will bring it back.
Sensing-and-Welcoming – Waiting for the gift of the felt
Infinitely patient, intent and still, you are a poet and an artist. You place
your attention delicately and precisely, returning to the feeling over and over.
You are sensing for the crux of the issue. Little by little, tentatively,
words or images, sounds or gestures form.
When something comes which resonates, you will feel a distinct moment of
movement, a moment when it appears that change actually occurs. You
welcome this small felt opening or easing with thankfulness, taking time to
savour it. Afterwards, you ask: is there more?
Befriending – You are not the feeling – you yourself are not any
You sit down quietly next to the feeling. You become profoundly feeling-
centred. You are here to listen with interest and great kindness to an
emerging story – here to be fearless and sincere with yourself, about how
things are going (or not going) in your life right now. You are preparing a
friendly welcome, since the feeling may be about to open.
Or maybe not. Sometimes it seems as if nothing will ever change. Still, you
can be with the way it is. We can be gentle, accepting, patient and enduring.
Nothing has to happen. We can always be kind.
Actively un-knowing – We can�t know what may come. We may be
far beyond our limitations. Something shadowy and unformed is beginning
to stir in the silence of the heart. You are dwelling here for a little while –
waiting, asking and holding. It is essential to be uncertain – open, curious,
unintrusive, and deeply receptive.
Listening to one another with compassion
Contact – Contact is the key to any friendship. Until we are in
contact, the good which may happen is severely limited, and the evil
When there is a real sense of meeting or encounter, an awareness of a
living contact actively sustained moment after moment after moment,
a profound mutual sense of accepting and being accepted by one
another may creep up on us. A quality of trust and safety flowers, and
a sense of rapport or mutual resonance may grow naturally.
Being in contact is a miracle, both in itself, and in its creative and
Humanity – Everything we have learned or can imagine is with us.
Our feelings, memories, dreams and reflections inform our meeting,
and yet nothing must come between us, nor disturb what is unfolding.
Our sensitivity to the human condition is a vast and subtle
background, which profoundly illuminates what is happening here.
Humanity is imagination, out of which empathy is possible.
There is a clear duty to be vividly alive – to be in the body – to bring to
our listening our whole experience of ourselves, of persons, and of the
world – in so far as we can.
The person we are listening to has a right to expect that, because
otherwise what we are offering is inescapably – in the present moment
– an experience of conditionality, isolation, ambiguity, abandonment
Humanity is about standing in the open – about having the courage to
be defenceless – about fully engaging with one another with the whole
of our being.
Humanity is about being aware of our own feelings.
Reflecting-and-Refusing – As the person says each little piece,
you say back the whole felt essence of it.
The person tends to pause, asking : is that right? – Listening is easy,
when the person refuses to be misunderstood!
Both people are taking great care that what is being said is heard in
just the way that it is meant, that nothing gets twisted or heard in a
merely conventional sense. In this way we know that what is meant is
what is heard, and so you and your companion stay close together.
Even so, some of what comes may be private, just for the person.
A listener is not a guide. Your work as a listener is to enter the other
person’s world, as if it is your own, but always without losing the as-if.
Always following – never losing sight of the person, the one who is
carrying this weight of experiencing, living it, going through both the
pain and the joy of it.
Our being together is gentle, vivid, friendly, supple, easy and
respectful. There is a natural sway here, to-and-fro, flowing forward.
Sensing-and-saying may tend to slow down, gradually becoming clear,
deep, wide, and strongly forward-moving.
Listening is very peaceful.
Listening is easy. You can do it.
From ancient times, listening – to ourselves and to others – has brought
gifts of imagination, vision, blessing and healing.
What happens may be surprising.
What comes may be fresh and new – forceful and active – or tender and
|Touching the Source – Brief Version
Listening to ourselves with compassion
We make the turn to the source
when the forward movement is blocked.
This blocked or uncertain place has
a unique feel, quality, mood or tone.
We return to the body over and over,
as words or images, sounds or gestures form.
We sit down quietly next to the feeling.
Nothing has to happen.
We can’t know what may come.
We may be carried far beyond our limitations.
Listening to one another with compassion
An awareness of a living contact, actively sustained
moment after moment after moment.
Humanity is imagination, out of which empathy is possible.
Humanity is about being aware of our own feelings.
As the person says each little piece,
you say back the whole felt essence of it.
The person tends to pause, asking, �Is that right?”
Listening is easy, when the person refuses to be misunderstood.
Listening is contact, borne on the wings of empathy.
Listening is easy. You can do it.
10th June 2005
Eugene Gendlin is an existential philosopher who wants to point us back to our lived experience. He invites us to stand in our experience and then to ask from there, What kind of world is this? What is a human being if this kind of experience is possible? He wants to return the human being to a central place in our various ways of understanding life. Since the 1950s, Gendlin’s interests have lead him from the writings of Dilthey, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, etc. into collaboration with imminent psychotherapists and psychological researchers. Gendlin saw therapy as a unique place where the process of symbolising experience could be explored. According to Gendlin,
A person struggles with and finds words and other expressions for unclear but lived experience. What was felt but undefined by the client was thought to be unmeasurable and incomprehensible and it made people uncomfortable to talk about such a variable. When it correlated with success in therapy while other variables did not, people began to try to understand it more seriously (personal communication, c.f. Friedman, 2000:47).
This ability to stay with an unclear (but clearly felt) bodily experience constitutes a natural form of self-reflection called ‘Focusing’. Gendlin and others found that they could help people re-gain and value this awareness of how we experience our life situations. Focusing is a way of paying attention to one’s being-in-the-world, one’s interaction as it is experienced through the individual (but not separate) body. A felt sense is a temporary wave from the sea of being – it is understood as on-going process, not internal content. The psychotherapeutic usefulness of Gendlin’s philosophy is that it is ‘methodologically individualised’. But, he is concerned that this might be ‘misunderstood as individual rather than social or historical. The historical process is individual when we think further. History moves through individuals because only individuals think and speak’ (c.f. Levin,1997,p.95). So, according to Gendlin, our experience is not ‘subjective’ or ‘intrapsychic’ but interactional.
Life is not pasted together out of unrelated bits of perception, inherited concepts, or isolated internal objects. ‘We humans live from bodies that are self-conscious of situations. Notice the ‘odd’ phrase ‘self-conscious of situations’. ‘Conscious’, ‘self’, and ‘situations’ are not three objects with separate logical definitions’ (Gendlin, 1999,p.233).
Felt sensing often occurs in the middle area of the body, where we typically feel things; throat, chest, stomach, abdomen. Thinking and speaking while in contact with felt sensing is exact and not arbitrary. For example, I cannot convince a ‘tight clouded’ feeling in my chest to be something other than what it is. And if out of that feeling comes the word ‘terrified’, and there’s a sense that word really fits, then I can’t just make it something else. I am not free to just change it, to mould it into something nicer or more acceptable, or more consistent with my view of myself as a courageous person. Focusing entails acknowledging the reality of what is, and then being with it, rather than doing to it.
At times, my client and I can pay attention to this level of awareness explicitly so that we are together in a way that keeps us in contact with the felt experience of our being together. This includes being open to a flow of real-time movement, the said and unsayable, that exceeds and may contradict our own ideas about therapy/psychology/philosophy. ‘Such sensitive phenomenological attention to an implicit speech which is “not yet formed” is precisely what is precluded by standard conceptual thinking about the body’ (Wallulis, in Levin, 1997, p.277-8). It is a radical hermeneutics where nothing is ever understood for long. Psychotherapy is much more than just Focusing, but learning to make explicit the implicit and vague (but clearly felt) process of experience, can free us from forms of therapy that repeatedly obsess over the content of the client’s narrative.
Focusing is the opposite of forcing received wisdom onto our experience (even if it’s received from esteemed philosophers or teachers, including Focusing teachers). It is the opposite of saying ‘tell me what to do’ or of imposing the inner dialogue of social shoulds before we even know what we actually feel about something. It is a philosophically-grounded practice that is useful in therapy as well as our own daily living.
Greg Madison is an existential therapist and Country Co-ordinator for the Focusing Institute. He is currently teaching Focusing to students on the Advanced Existential and Integrative Diplomas at Regents College and University of London. He offers introductory training workshops to therapists and others who are interested in learning more about Focusing for themselves and for their way of being with clients.
(1981) Focusing, 2nd Ed. New York: Bantam Books.
This was the first and remains probably the best introduction to Focusing; how to do it for yourself and share it with others.
(1986) Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams. Wilmette Ill: Chiron Publications.
Re-iterates the method of Focusing and introduces some theory. Concentrates on using Focusing to understand dreams.
(1996) Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy. A Manual of the Experiential Method. New York: The Guilford Press.
Describes Focusing and how to integrate it into different therapeutic modalities and orientations.
(1997) Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning. Evanston Ill: Northw. U. Press.
A philosophical and psychological approach to the subjective.
Levin, David Michael (1997) Language Beyond Postmodernism. Saying and Thinking in Gendlin’s Philosophy. Evanston Ill: Northwestern U. Press.
Different philosophical essays by fourteen different philosophers, with each essay including a reply by Gendlin.
The Focusing Institute, 34 East Lane, Spring Valley, New York, 10977 USA
Web site: http://www.focusing.org/
An excellent web site including articles by Gendlin and others, research evidence, a discussion list and other information.
by Susan Jordan
A good many people have heard of Focusing without knowing exactly what it is. Until recently there were only a handful of Focusing teachers in this country and a few groups practising Focusing together, but in the last few years Focusing has begun to grow as people have realised how much it has to offer. It is gentle, creative and often profound, and is a safe way of being with any experience, even the most disturbed and disturbing. It is based in an ability that most of us have, or can develop – that of listening to what our subtle inner feelings are telling us. What we find when we do so is usually fresh, new, surprising, and deeply satisfying: being with even the most terrible feelings in a Focusing way can actually feel good. Or, if we are Focusing with something ‘out there’, a problem or difficulty may start to shift of its own accord in a direction that we haven’t expected.
Focusing is not psychotherapy – though it may be used within therapy – and does not require a trained professional. It is a skill that can be practised, either alone or in a partnership, by anyone who has learnt it. It can be used in whatever way the Focuser wishes, as often or as seldom as you need. In a Focusing session the Focuser is completely in charge of their own process. People can Focus with one another on the phone as well as in person, and you can Focus with different companions. As in co-counselling, Focusing partners normally take turns at Focusing themselves and listening to someone else. Focusing partnerships can offer a unique kind of support, a space in which people relate to their own, and each other’s, deepest process with both naturalness and respect.
What is Focusing?
Focusing was first ‘discovered’ (or perhaps identified) in the 1950s by Eugene Gendlin, a philosopher and psychotherapist, during his research with Carl Rogers into what made psychotherapy effective. The conclusion he came to was that those who benefited most from therapy had the ability to sense vague, still unformed feelings in their body and connect this sensing (which he names the ‘felt sense’) with words and images that described it. This meant being able to discover what was not yet fully known, which in itself could allow the process to move forward. He noticed that during the process there would often be an opening or release in the body, perhaps accompanied by a sigh, and this he described as a ‘felt shift’.
Gendlin realised that those clients who could relate to their experience in this way already had access to a particular skill. What he came to call Focusing was developed as a means of teaching this skill to people who did not access it so easily. He initially formulated the Focusing process as a series of six steps: clearing a space, locating a felt sense, finding a ‘handle’ (a way of describing the felt sense), resonating the handle with the felt sense to see whether it fits, asking “What makes this issue/feeling so…?”, and finally receiving the shift if it comes. Clearly it is helpful if and when a Focuser experiences a felt shift, but experiencing a felt shift is not the goal of Focusing. The process remains open-ended, and even if a Focuser starts out by sensing into a particular problem he or she may end up in a very different place.
Although the description of these steps is highly specific, Gendlin was aware that essentially Focusing is a universal human activity rather than a set of techniques. As Focusing has evolved other teachers have found their own models, which may prove useful or may be discarded or re-formulated if they do not fit. One of Rob Foxcroft’s formulations has five stages – deciding, inviting, befriending, wondering, returning – while another describes the process differently again. Barbara McGavin and Ann Weiser Cornell, who have developed Inner Relationship Focusing, have defined Focusing simply as sensing a [bodily] response [to something], symbolizing that response, and sensing whether the symbolization fits. (‘Symbolizing’ is the same as ‘finding a handle’.)
Barbara McGavin and Ann Weiser Cornell also give a more concrete description of the stages: sensing into the body, sensing for what needs attention, coming into relationship with what’s there, deepening relationship, and coming out. What needs attention is nearly always seen as ‘something in me’ or ‘a part of me’ rather than simply ‘me’. Inner Relationship Focusing puts particular emphasis on the way that the Focuser’s larger awareness, often described as ‘Presence’, can make a compassionate, accepting relationship with the different ‘parts’ or ‘somethings’, without itself becoming them. Similarly BioSpiritual Focusing, developed by Roman Catholic priests Peter Campbell and Edwin McMahon, talks of Caring Feeling Presence and its ability to welcome whatever is there with kindness and acceptance.
Applications of Focusing
Both these strands of Focusing have developed from Gendlin’s original model, as have the many different applications of Focusing. For Gendlin the philosopher, one important area where Focusing can be applied is that of thinking. Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning explores the notion of ‘felt meaning’ and the way in which any thought, however abstract, is still sensed non-verbally in some way. Gendlin has developed a body of theory and practice, known as Thinking at the Edge, which enables people to tap into the felt sense of thoughts which are as yet beyond our conscious knowledge, meeting the creative edge and allowing what is new to take form. Other practitioners such as Josiah Hincks are using Focusing in a similar way to enable people to work more effectively with their own creative process. As with Focusing and thinking, the emphasis is on the activity rather than personal development as an end in itself. However, there are also many practitioners working with Focusing in therapeutic fields such as art therapy, sandplay, and dance and movement. Focusing can enrich other ways of working and make them more meaningful. As the articles in this issue show, the basic process of sensing into the body for what is needing to form and symbolizing it in a way that fits can be applied to almost any area of life, from financial investment to environmental conservation to cooking a meal. And it is not confined to a particular culture. Recently, for instance, American Focusing teachers have been helping people in Afghanistan to come to terms with some of their experiences of the war.
Can anyone learn Focusing?
In principle Focusing is something that is available to everyone. If someone is interested in learning it, then even if it is difficult to begin with and progress seems slow, they will find they get something from it. As with many practices, what works best is an open-minded approach: an ‘interested curiosity’. If someone is looking to Focusing just to help them get rid of a troublesome feeling or an uncomfortable symptom, it may be more difficult to explore what Focusing has to offer. If, however, they are willing to trust that something may happen, the outcome of which is unknown, they may well find – as with therapy and meditation – that unexpected changes do take place.
People vary widely in their ability to sense into the body. Some people are ‘natural Focusers’, while for others the whole idea seems at first foreign and difficult to grasp, especially if the way in which it is presented does not speak to them. Sometimes someone’s experience of pain and trauma has left them dissociated from their body, perhaps with deep fears of what they may find there; or, for other reasons which are not so clear, a person may simply not be very sensitive to their own inner process. Having preconceived ideas and expectations of what Focusing ought to be can also be a difficulty, in that someone will tend to discount what is going on and may give up because nothing seems to be happening. Or, at the other extreme, someone may be so overwhelmed by painful feelings that for the time being it is not possible to sense into them, in which case psychotherapy which enables them to dip in and out of body sensing may be a more useful starting point than a ‘pure’ Focusing session.
Some Misconceptions about Focusing
Because the name is ambiguous, Focusing is sometimes thought to be a technique for ‘becoming more focussed’ on a particular task or aim. (‘Focusing’ is usually spelt with one ‘s’ and given a capital letter to distinguish it from other kinds of focussing.) Gendlin’s use of the word in fact refers to the way in which something at first fuzzy and unclear gradually becomes clearer, as if one is focussing a camera. As this happens the Focuser may stay focussed on the same ‘something’ or may move on to something else, depending on the momentum of the process. There is no requirement to be with something for the whole of a Focusing session, and a Focuser learns for her/himself when it is helpful to stay longer with a particular felt sense and when the process needs to move on.
Focusing has also been seen as a therapy that someone undergoes. People sometimes talk about ‘being Focused’ by a partner or practitioner, but it is essential to Focusing that the process belongs to the Focuser and is entirely in her/his control. Focusing encourages people to take responsibility for themselves in a reciprocal partnership, where each person Focuses and listens in turn. Someone may of course choose to book a non-reciprocal session with a practitioner, but this does not imply that the practitioner is offering anything more ‘therapeutic’ in a Focusing session than a non-professional partner could.
Although Focusing works with feeling at a profound level, it does not necessarily involve expressing feelings. In older humanistic models there was often an assumption that the client needed to become totally immersed in the feelings in order to express them as fully as possible. While Focusing certainly does not exclude expression, the emphasis is on ‘sensing into it’ rather than ‘getting it out’. ‘It’ will then let the Focuser know whether and in what way it wants to be expressed. Rather than presupposing that one can already identify the feeling – for instance “I’m ANGRY!!!” – Focusing takes time to sense more precisely into its particular quality and to get alongside it. This involves moving into the wider, containing space of Presence. To quote Gendlin, “If you want to smell the soup, you don’t stick your head in it”. In this particular case, as you sense the ‘anger’ it may turn out to be irritation, frustration, annoyance, fury and/or a whole host of other shades of feeling, sensation and emotion, some of which may not be anger at all.
Focusing and Psychotherapy
As I have shown, the applications of Focusing are much wider than the ‘therapeutic’ alone. Nevertheless, for many people Focusing remains primarily a tool for personal growth and exploration, either in its own right or in the context of psychotherapy. Focusing on its own is not sufficient to help many people who come to psychotherapy, where working in and through relationship provides a kind of ‘holding’ that Focusing does not offer. A Focusing session is an intense voyage into one’s inner world, either with a companion or alone; in a psychotherapy session the inner voyage is held in a wider context, and being there with another person is equally important. Ann Weiser Cornell describes the differences very clearly in an article which can be found on the Focusing Resources website. Despite Gendlin’s research, my experience is that people who do not readily access the felt sense can still benefit a great deal from psychotherapy and in time may well learn to touch into their own inner sensing, particularly when the therapist holds the work in a Focusing way.
Within psychotherapy Focusing can be an extremely important means of connecting with experience. Some approaches, such as Core Process – in which I trained – see felt sensing as an integral part of the process for both therapist and client, while increasingly others are learning to incorporate Focusing as an experiential tool. In Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy Gendlin describes in detail ways in which a psychotherapist of any school can bring Focusing into the work. More recently Campbell Purton, who has set up a course in Focusing-oriented psychotherapy at the University of East Anglia, has described using a Focusing approach within person-centred therapy (see other articles on this website). Peter Levine’s work with shock and trauma relies on Focusing to ground experiences in the body and re-integrate them as a whole.
Some of the articles on this website explore the interface between Focusing and psychotherapy in more depth. Knowing how to use Focusing interventions in psychotherapy takes care and judgement, but what can always be useful is the Focusing attitude, the sense of Presence and the larger space, of kindliness and acceptance towards whatever arises. It can help therapists to acknowledge and be with their own difficulties as well as those of the client.
Focusing and Spirituality
Although Focusing did not start out as a spiritual practice and is not affiliated to any religious tradition, many people feel that contacting a larger, more compassionate space within themselves has a quality that they would call spiritual, whether or not they belong to any particular tradition. Buddhist practitioners may find that Focusing has an affinity with certain mindfulness practices, while Quakers may see it as something that can lead them to a fuller experience of the Inner Light. In America Focusers have brought their awareness to Jewish festivals and practices. Bio-Spiritual Focusing, mentioned above, has been helpful to people from different denominations of the Christian church as well as people who have no formal religion. Focusing does not require a belief in the spiritual; it enables people to define their experience in their own way, whatever that may be.
You can find a further selection of articles on the Focusing Institute, Focusing Resources and Bio-Spirituality websites.
In addition the following books may be of interest.
Campbell, Peter and McMahon, Edwin Bio-Spirituality – Focusing as a way to grow (Loyola Press, 1997)
Gendlin, Eugene Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning (Northwestern University Press, 1997)
Gendlin, Eugene Focusing 2nd edition (Rider, 2003)
Gendlin, Eugene Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy: a manual of the experiential method(Guilford Press, 2002)
Levine, Peter Waking the Tiger – healing trauma (North Atlantic Books, 1997)
McMahon, Edwin Beyond the Myth of Dominance – an alternative for a violent society (Sheed & Ward, 1993)
Purton, Campbell Person-Centred Therapy – the Focusing-oriented approach(Palgrave Macmillan, 2004)
Weiser Cornell, Ann The Power of Focusing (New Harbinger, 1996)
Weiser Cornell, Ann The Radical Acceptance of Everything (Calluna Press, 2005)
Weiser Cornell, Ann and McGavin, Barbara The Focusing Student’s and Companion’s Manual, Parts 1 and 2
(Calluna Press, 2002)
This article was first published in Self & Society,2005, Volume 33 No 2, published by the Association for Humanistic Psychology in Britain