What is Focusing?

Core Process psychotherapeutic technique: Focusing

with Tatiana Voloshina

 

‘Focusing is a beautiful and meditative approach to psychotherapy and personal growth. It offers a deep parallel to the practice of mindfulness in a carefully developed and sensitive way’.

Jack Kornfield

 

 

Clients come into therapy with a hope of alleviating their dis-ease and suffering or as part of their journey towards healing and personal growth.   The task of the therapist, in addition to providing a confidential and safe space to explore the nature of the issues, brought by clients,  in summary,  can be defined as the facilitation of the process of uncovering and setting aside unhelpful thoughts, emotions and ways of acting in the world.  This is possible when underlying issues are addressed and worked through, and one of the effective ways of addressing this is through the method called Focusing.  Focusing is one of the main techniques used in Core Process Psychotherapy, a mindfulness-based psychotherapy approach, and is the method that makes the therapeutic process more effective, especially when used short-term.

 

In Core Process, as in any other type of therapy, conceptual reflection is the first step into the work, a “story telling” part of the therapeutic dialogue, where the client talks about their experiences, becoming more aware of how things actually are, and becoming less identified with the story and the experience, often gaining some relief from suffering or internal conflicts.  In the Core Process model, there is no particular conceptual framework to learn – clients are simply encouraged to explore whatever arises in the present moment, whether those are thoughts, feelings or memories – “What is happening right now?”

 

However, the story telling process has its limitations - we can be telling the upsetting story over and over again without any positive change, and in fact that is what usually happens, either in therapy or in our every day life.  This is usually when therapeutic intervention in the form of the Focusing technique may be helpful.  Focusing is actively encouraged in the Core Process model as a method of directly contacting the experience that is part of the current difficulty for the client – “How is it for you right now?”.  This is the next step that deepens clients’ awareness of their situation or issue.  Allowing deeper exploration of the experience, in the safety of the therapeutic relationship, often results in further cognitive insights as well as the release of energies held around the underlying problem. 

 

Focusing is a method developed by Eugine Gendlin, a philosopher and psychotherapist, during his research with Carl Rogers, an eminent psychologist, 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 named the ‘felt sense’) with words or 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:

  1. clearing a space
  2. focusing on the issue and locating a felt sense, which is not just a thought or an emotion,  or a combination of those, but the sense of the whole issue, the murky discomfort of the initially unclear body-sense of it.
  3. finding a ‘handle’ (a word or an image that describes the felt sense) e.g. difficult
  4. resonating the ‘handle’ with the felt sense again to make sure they match by going back and forth between the felt sense and the ‘handle’ and checking that the description is right, the handle can be modified for a better fit, for example difficult can change to heavy.
  5. when there is a good match, asking “What makes this issue/feeling so heavy?” and taking time for the feeling to stir and give you an answer.
  6. receiving the shift when it comes.

 

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.   Felt sense is a “global perception of the whole of the arising process”, a subtle reaction of the organism to the perceived object or situation on the level of feeling tone, before emotions, thoughts or physical sensations arise and manifest as unclear bodily sensations.  It gives us an ability to access all the elements that constitute our personality and start uncovering the meanings behind what we sense.  Becoming aware of  the ‘veils’ through which we colour our world has the effect of them being dissolved if they are no longer helpful, and often we don’t even have to name or understand them – direct experiencing is enough.

 

This experiential tool, incorporated into a practice of psychotherapy, also offers clients an opportunity to learn a skill that can be taken away and used to deal with any situations in life that require deeper attention.  Focusing is a way of paying mindful attention, staying present and responding skilfully to what’s happening in our lives. It helps people manage their thoughts, feelings, behaviours and relationships with awareness and compassion, leading to greater well-being and appreciation, as well as more choice in how to meet challenges.

 

 

My qualifications:

MA in Core Process Psychotherapeutic Practice.

 

What I offer

I offer 60-minute regular weekly sessions.  First session is Free, thereafter £40/h.

 

How many sessions needed?

Everyone is different; some people prefer to work in an open-ended way while others would like to focus on and work through a particular issue.  In either case, the first 6-8 sessions would typically allow a person enough time to work through an issue, learn the Focusing technique, or determine whether to continue open-endedly.

 

Bibliography:

Eugene T. Gendlin, ‘Focusing’, 1978.

 

 

 

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