Focusing as a Skill
Dr. Eugene Gendlin uses the term “focusing” to describe a specific body-mind skill that anyone can acquire for the purpose of stress reduction and emotional growth. It involves paying close attention to one’s bodily expression of emotion in order to resolve negative feelings. By contacting the inner feeling (known as the “felt sense”), welcoming it, accepting it and listening to it, a person is able to clear it from his system. This process is very different from talking about a feeling. In order to change a feeling, the feeling must actually be contacted directly. Focusing helps a person to make that contact so that the necessary healing can occur. Dr. Gendlin describes the steps of focusing in his self-help book called Focusing (Bantam Books, 1981). People who have learned the skill of focusing can use it to further their work in-between psychotherapy sessions or can use it instead of psychotherapy to help unravel inner conflicts, psychosomatic pains and other signs of emotional distress.
Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy utilises the processes of focusing in order to help clients clear emotional blockages. These processes involve gently guiding the client to notice the bodily sensations of emotion and address them. For example, a client may complain of feeling “anxious.” The therapist directs her to notice where in her body this anxiety expresses itself. The client may point to the pit of her stomach, or an area near her heart, or she may just feel it “all over.” Through a process of describing this physical sensation in detail, in finding the right words to name it, and in finding the right image to portray it, the client is assisted to make deep contact with her experience of this anxiety. Focusing can help her identify the source of the anxiety, and what is needed in order to ease it. Through this slow, always unique journey, the bodily sensation eventually “shifts:” the lump in the throat melts away, the beating of the heart calms down, the knot in the stomach releases. The client experiences a deep inner resolution. A healing of old injuries takes place, accompanied by a profound release of stress.
Focusing-oriented psychotherapy is a form of experiential, client-centred therapy. This means that the therapist acts as a guide to the client’s inner process. Rather than offering interpretations, advice or information, the therapist offers suggestions as to how to take the next step in exploring a troubling emotion. This form of therapy is also known as process experiential psychotherapy. The therapist is like someone who holds a lantern for the client who is “in the dark” with a particular emotional response. By lighting the way with directions on the inner journey, the therapist helps the client “hit home” with his or her emotion. It is this locating of the felt sense and its shift that causes true psychological change.