What is Focusing?

Focusing, an approach to tuning in to one’s deeper implicit knowing, is used all over the world for many projects. Gendlin’s Philosophy of the Implicit can be used in many ways, one is Focusing which is a way of delving deeper into your experience by becoming aware of that which is present but hasn’t yet become fully conscious. It’s on the horizon of your awareness but easily skimmed over and not noticed, not something completely unconscious, but just out of your grasp, on the tip of your tongue not yet expressed. It can feel like when you awake from a dream you must pause and stop to notice it or you miss it, or how it is to be in a totally new place taking in things you have no name for yet. In Focusing we deliberately slow down and see it. When we grasp what out Inner Process is saying and really listen it is very helpful and always surprising. It also lightens our load, as we were already aware of the totality of the information somewhere in our bodies and hearts, now we know more of what was there in the depths, the relief comes from being clearer about our experience, we can see it head on. Now we have more choice – we can get the right distance, we can have space by separating our self from the emergent thing we were meshed in. 

In Focusing its like we put the lights onto our experience rather than walking around in the dark. It sounds really difficult to ‘turn the lights on’, but Gendlin made clear learnable steps which you can practice and teach your clients or bring to your other relationships, work and art. Perhaps you’ve tried and sometimes you can and sometimes it’s still tough and you feel disappointed, take heart in the knowledge that we are relational beings, we can do things with other people which we can’t do by ourselves. By ourselves we can’t sustain a curious attitude easily, so we shut down to a part of ourselves, maybe cultural troubles, trauma or disappointing past experiences makes this very hard for you, when this arises we may find another person’s encouragement helps us to be more gentle with ourselves. Using recent Brainspotting techniques from can help us keep the right distance, ground in resources and move from stuckness in and through ‘felt sense’ experiences. We cannot force it, but when we become able to pause wait something comes, life moves forward, it’s just about getting the support you need.

How is Focusing used?

While we can do this by ourselves Focusing within the context of a relationship is very rich and helpful. Learning to Focus helps us communicate, to listen to each other, to slow down in places where we are often triggered into reactivity, and instead really try to hear what is going on, what the other person is saying, without having to agree or change the situation. Focusing isn’t another technique or an abstract philosophy but a way of being with oneself, alone or in community. The Focusing attitude is one of openness, presence, we cultivate it in relationship and by pausing and when we focus the attitude is strengthened. In this way Focusing connects to nonviolence, spiritual beliefs and as Gene says, ‘carrying forward’, natural, simple, non-dogmatic curiosity. If we are trying to develop our performance and creativity having someone guide us in a new way of approaching the problem can be a great help. We are social mammals, and find safety and stability through relationships we can trust. When working through difficult material and the healing experience of being held in the present in a caring, attentive, trustworthy relationship can be of great benefit. For clients interested in going beyond usual efforts to think and behave differently this approach offers a way to engage with their lives relationally.

Focusing for Therapists

Focusing is a human process, developed in the University of Chicago by Dr. Eugene Gendlin, his work has been awarded five times by the American Psychological Association. Focusing consists of learning to listen to our body-mind and its sensations, making contact with its wisdom and bodily conscience, accessing a deeper knowledge of ourselves that enables transformation from within us.

Focusing invites us to approach problems from another space, through the only tangible thing we have in the here and now: our body. This allows us to have access to new and fresh information.

“Be a part of everything and a witness at the same time.”

Focusing is a sub-process that complements any other therapeutic process, bringing greater depth and clarity to the client about their own therapeutic process. It is useful for any process though it has been particularly associated with therapeutic ones. It invites a fresh, curious attitude and results in creative change.

What is the ‘felt sense’?

Gendlin used the term ‘felt sense’

“Experience is a myriad richness. We think more than we can say. We feel more than we can think. We live more than we can feel. And there is much more still.”

Gene Gendlin

Ecotherapy, Animism, Indigeneity and Focusing

Focusing is the way into recognising ourselves as a part of the natural order, ending the split between science and spirituality, ‘objectivity’ and inner knowing, and a method for learning how to dialog between the two.

Burnout, overwhelm and secondary trauma in relation to ecological and social justice challenge. For scientists, activists, policy makers, food producers, parents, grandparents,reporters artists and anyone who encounters the outdoors first hand. A space for those who has suffered or experienced ‘disenfranchised-grief’ when you feel ‘shut-down’ by others when expressing grief. And first hand trauma having survived an ecological disaster, aboriginal people or first fire. 

As the pressures on our world mount so is people’s interest in engaging with the land in an through a living or animist relationship. Focusing offers a direct link with noticing life energy which is not dependant on any special belief system or to any culture, making it a useful modality for Western people who do not have Indigenous links to land reverence and were probably not raised with assumptions that other beings, ancestors, the elements and land are obvious sources of relationship. Focusing offers us a way to heal from the separation and to grow in confidence as allies of the natural world, and avoids culturally appropriating from traditions which are not our own. Some Indigenous Psychotherapists have used Focusing models to express their work and being an ally to Indigenous healers and leaders is one of the many ways Focusing can have active political and anti-racist and anti-white-supremacist outcomes.

Focusing for Bodyworkers and Therapists

Focusing is a sub-process that complements any other therapeutic process, bringing greater depth and clarity to the client about their own therapeutic process.

We believe that being in touch with our essence of just being human while combining it with our Focusing roots has the potential to carry all of our lives forward in unimaginable way. Focusing is a way of being as you work with your modality, it is both an experience and a philosophical study of how changes takes place or “carries forward”. It cultivates presence and connection to yourself, your client processes and the relationship. 

Gene Gendlin was working with Carl Rogers at the University of Chicago studying recordings of therapy. The team realised they could predict the client’s likelihood of success in therapy in the first session, noticing that some clients came to therapy already able to engage with their felt sense, while the ones who could not staying with the content of their difficulties. Gendlin developed Six teachable steps to allow stuck clients to access their felt sense and the Process Experiencing Scale which can be applied to any relationship and modality.

For Groups – experiential seminars, single introductions or several meetings.

  • Communicating from the heart (Nonviolent Communication and Focusing) 
  • Child-centred coaching for parents and professionals (educators and therapists) 
  • New parents and babies groups (Child centred Focusing)
  • Holistic health professionals (Working with traumatised clients in a Polyvagal, somatically-informed, relational way)
  • Focusing for college and university groups (handling stress, solving problems, developing creativity)
  • Teenagers and children – Personal Social Race Sexuality Education for Nonviolence. 
  • Businesses Wanting to working with staff and clients in Person Centred way. (Change of paradigm, changing recruitment, human resources) 

Learn to focus – 1:1 or as part of a group

As an Aid to the therapeutic process

For people already engaged in therapy but feeling stuck. One or two sessions can teach you the steps of Focusing used by Gene Gendlin with clients who were not progressing in therapy. Here you learn to access your body as a tool for successful therapy.

Sports coaches and trainers learn to help your clients listen to their bodies.

To overcome performance blocks.

Athletes and sports teams, martial arts, dancers, performers, speakers – handle performance anxiety without fighting it, using the felt sense to identify and overcome performance blocks.

Creative breakthroughs and confidence in your work.

Academics, journalists, designers and writers, artists, musicians entrepreneurs; overcome blocks to stuck thinking process, discover new creative breakthroughs and have confidence in your work.

To Manage chronic pain, fatigue, stress.

Learning to relate differently to your body, hopefully with less exhaustion and more joyful. Using a Buddhist Psychology, Neurobiological approach.

For Therapists and Bodyworkers

Learn to help your clients with stuck processes, talk to clients about their felt sense in a clear way, improve the clarity you have about your own felt sense use it to strengthen therapeutic relationships, using the felt sense can provide a road map for the therapeutic process.

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) and Focusing

Needs-based coaching which integrates somatic experience. Our feelings, thoughts and action originate in our body experience. Focusing allows us to move NVC practice forward by learning how to check at a much deeper level if we are confusing a judgment with an observation, a demand with a request, developing a felt familiarity with our needs, jackal language. We can learn to listen to others at a deeper level when we listen from our felt sense. At this level we see there are no conflicts and only strategies which do not succeed for us all. You do not need prior NVC training to learn this, simply a commitment to wanting to live in a world and a home without conflict.

Focusing for meditators

Focusing as a way of doing somatic meditation with someone else, and so creating a shared space to hold difficulties and listen to the voice of our bodies as we go forward.

Working with Children 

Coaching for child-centred parents and professionals.

If you would  like to teach children to live freshly, authentically and boldly in the world coming from a place of abundance and choice yourself is a good start. Too often parents and educators want something better for children in their lives but find themselves repeating old patters. Coaching can help you identify stuck patterns and new choices.

I have a UK teaching qualification and am an Association Montessori International (AMI) qualified teacher for 2.5 – 12. I have an MSc in Education for Sustainability and 10 years experience working child children and young people aged 2-19 and their families. 

I offer coaching to parents, family members and anyone who work with and supports children and families. I work in formal school, alternative education, home school, therapeutic setting or anywhere else. I use a person-centred, developmental principles to identify needs arising to help people work through conflicts, find more ease, support people who feel stuck and burnt out and relationships in trouble and help families and communities find more joy together. 

I work with teenagers struggling to find their identity and comfortable place in the world, fear for the future and difficulty managing their present. I can help them express their worries and support them in identifying nonviolent, authentic understandings and strategies. I have worked with children fearful of environmental collapse, family break-up, learning difficulties, including autistic spectrum and challenges posed by the binary gender model.

Evidence Base

Person-Centred/Humanistic/Experiential research was the first type of therapy to undergo systematic study. Carl Rogers at the University of Chicago in the 1960s was the first psychotherapist to audio tape client sessions and play then back, searching for ‘shifts’. The philosopher Gene Gendlin joined him and together they studied what happened in the therapy room to being about change. Gene as a philosopher student told his teachers that he didn’t want to study a branch of Philosophy as much as learn how people had new idea, how could something new come along. When working together Gene and Carl were looking to see what cause the change and to their surprise they found it was possible to predict how successful a client would be in therapy from the first session. Clients who were able to tune into their bodies sense of knowing, to their ‘felt sense’ made much more progress than others and Gene formed the Client Experiencing Scale (http://experiential-researchers.org/instruments/exp_scale/exp_scale_main.html) to measure what was happening in the therapy room, the scale is still used today. 

To help clients make better use of therapy Gene developed six teachable steps to help them listen to their bodies, the ‘felt sense’, he called these steps ‘Focusing’, he also taught therapists how to use the steps in a therapy session so that clients who didn’t automatically listen to their inner knowing ‘felt sense’ could have more success in therapy, The Focusing Institute is a global continuation of this work. 

Since the mid-1990s findings from the field of Neuroscience enable us to see with precision how changes take place in the brain and that the Brain and Body which make up the nervous system are in a process of continuous change. As Carl and Gene’s work was based on observations rather than theoretical models it makes sense that neuroscience describes what they witnessed in the therapy room at a greater levels of detail. It is now universally agreed that brains, unless they have physical damaged are ‘plastic’ that is able to change. It used to be thought that memories created at times of great emotional stress couldn’t be altered, but practice reveals trauma can be worked with. Following from Gene, Bruce Ecker and others have studied ‘memory reconsolidation’ so that the steps behind therapeutic breakthroughs with trauma can be understood. Therapies which are holistic, mind/body and work deeply enabling trauma to be overcome and change to happen include Focusing, Coherence Therapy, Internal Family Systems (IFS), EMDR, AEDP, Hakomi, Somatic Experiencing, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, AcuTaping, NLP and EFT.

Another way Focusing works is because it invites you into a Person-Centred relationship, in which you are enabled to discover hidden blocks and ways to overcome them for yourself. In Focusing there is a general process but the content and nuances are all yours. I was trained at the University of Strathclyde which has a strong research focus. Elliott and Cooper and others use data from the research clinic and metadata from all over the world to assess the efficacy of Person-Centred therapy and publish in peer reviewed journals. While Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is often thought of as being more evidence based the reality is it is much easier to conduct large research trials on CBT because it follows a formula and manuals so it is easy to compare one therapy journey with another, also a lot of money has been available to CBT trials. The long term benefits of CBT aren’t necessarily as good as the results straight after therapy ends, because CBT usually doesn’t go to the depths that Person-Centred/Experiential/Humanistic therapies achieve. Additionally as the studies are often paid for by CBT people when CBT is compared to Person-Centred therapy the quality of the Person-Centred Therapy they choose is often lacking. When high quality Person-Centred Therapy was compared to high quality CBT the outcomes were equivalent, with high-process guiding Person-Centred modalities (such as Focusing and EFT) doing better than CBT and other Person-Centred Therapies.

Bergin and Garfield’s ‘Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavioural Change’ (2013) took data from 14,206 clients involved in 186 studies of Humanistic Therapy and found that Humanistic Therapies were associated with large improvements for clients which they maintained for over one year. Humanistic Therapies brought about large improvements for Relationship, Interpersonal and Traumatic change and moderate to large for depression, medical issues, addiction and substance issues and anxiety.

Timulak and Creaner (2010) brought together 9 qualitative studies on the outcomes of humanistic therapist and found that clients gained greater self-appreciation, more accepting of their vunerabilities, greater self-compassion, feeling empowered, healthier emotional experiencing, had better relationships and developed insight.

Mick Cooper Concludes; 

Person-Centred and experiential therapist, by established standards are generally as effective as other therapist (including CBT); particularly the more active, ‘process-guiding’ approaches’

Mick Cooper, https://www.pccs-books.co.uk/downloads/PCCS_talkMIckCooper.pdf

Norcross (2011) asks what is it that makes some therapists more successful with clients than others, whatever type of therapy (CBT, person centred, psychoanalytic…) there is ‘promising but insufficient research’ that a therapist needs to be congruent or genuine (I imagine that it’s essential if there was sufficient research, who wants a disingenuine therapist?) that positive regard is ‘probably effective’ and that empathy was ‘demonstrably effective’, these are all essential skills for a Person-Centred therapist. In the last ten years the depth of the therapeutic relating has been revealed as a particularly strong way of predicting outcomes, this includes feeling you are genuinely cared about and being really encouraged to have a ‘felt’ experience, not just describe things in your head, Focusing is particularly good at this, it’s the skill Gene realised people needed and taught. 

‘As hypothesised in person-centred theory, the experience of authentic, open and intimate relationships (in or out of therapy) is associated with greater psychological wellbeing’ Mick Cooper

For more information see;

  1. Norcross, J. C. (Ed.). (2011). Psychotherapy relationships that work: Evidence-based responsiveness (2nd ed.). New York, NY, US: Oxford University Press.
  2. Lambert, M. J.  (Ed.). (2013) Bergin and Garfield’s Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change (6th ed.). Wiley publishers
  3. Cooper, M. (Ed.). (2013) Person-centered and Experiential Therapies Work : A Review of the Effectivenss Research on Counseling, Psychotherapy and Related Practices. PCCS Books.
  4. Timulak and Creaner (2010) IN Cooper, M. (Ed.). (2013) Person-centered and Experiential Therapies Work : A Review of the Effectivenss Research on Counseling, Psychotherapy and Related Practices. PCCS Books.

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