Whilst on the Counselling Diploma at the University of East Anglia I learnt and practised an approach called Focusing.
Focusing was developed / discovered by Eugene Gendlin in the 1950s. He was a philosopher and psychotherapist who worked alongside Carl Rogers (the chap that created the person centred approach to therapy). He researched what made psychotherapy effective. From the research he concluded that those who benefited most from therapy were those clients who had the ability to be in touch with their bodies; they were able to have a ‘sense’ of uninformed feelings and they were able to connect to it.
The Felt Sense
This ‘felt sense’ was connected to by using words and images. This often happens with clients when as they are talking. They’d have an ‘ah ha’ moment where something suddenly pieces together and leads to better understanding. Even if at that point it isn’t fully understood or known, the process of realising something is there allows the process to move forward. This acknowledgement causes an opening or release in the body which Gendlin termed ‘felt shift.’
“A felt sense is usually not just there, it must form. You have to know how to let it form by attending inside your body. When it comes, it is at first unclear, fuzzy. By certain steps it can come into focus and also change. A felt sense is the body’s sense of a particular problem or situation.”
Gendlin, Focusing (2007)
Using it within Counselling Sessions
Sometimes clients have expressed a desire to get in touch with something they can’t quite understand. Experiences that create a lot of anxiety or distress that aren’t clear. Focusing can be useful for them to ‘break down’ their experiencing. Slowing down and honing in on their full body experience when talking about the experience they have had.
Focusing can involve a few moments of quiet. Sometimes clients feel comfortable closing their eyes so they can ‘clear a space.’ They get in touch with everything that comes up, no matter how irrelevant or disconnected it seems. If a number of experiences or issues come up we can imagine them as boxes. Once they are recognised and labelled the boxes move to the side. This allows the focuser to see which concern needs attention. Once it all feels clear and the boxes have been perceived the client is left to decide which issue they would like to explore in further detail. Or perhaps all are connected in some way and this then becomes apparent. Often colours may start forming or images that help the client to connect more deeply and personally with the concerns they have.
How it’s different to normal listening
If a particular concern is seeming more important to explore then my client is free to go into this experience. I accompany slightly differently in comparison with ‘normal counselling’ as I stay extremely close to the words they use. My responses may be shorter and more silences may be appropriate to allow the connection to occur.
“The most important rule for a therapist or friend to observe, in helping someone to focus, is to stay out of the focuser’s way.”
Gendlin, Focusing (2007)
Focusing for Anxiety
This has proven helpful to clients experiencing anxiety as it allows a ‘breaking down’ of the lead up to and experience of the anxiety. By giving attention to the bodily sensations and thoughts happening in sequence this can improve connection to what is happening and lead to a better understanding of why it may have occurred. For a lot of clients and myself included sometimes the unknown element of anxiety is what can make it more uncomfortable. It seems so uncontrollable, so powerful and out of reach.
Focusing in on experiences or concerns that we would rather back away from can at first be challenging. It can however, offer such movement within therapy sessions and a greater connection to your own experiencing. This can then be carried and used throughout the rest of your life. It offers the chance to gain better self-awareness and understanding. Which can lead to a greater ability to cope with the ever continual ups and downs of life itself.
To learn more go to focusing.org or get yourself a copy of