Focusing is a process whereby the focuser, often with the help of a companion-in-presence, attends with spacious awareness to the as-yet-implicit bodily felt sense of a situation. Continuing with kind, clear and spacious attention to this felt sense leads to the fluid emergence of more explicit understanding and organic forward movement.
What is meant by “bodily felt sense”?
Think of someone with whom you have an awkward or difficult relationship. Imagine that you are sitting in a room, maybe by yourself, maybe with some others whom you know and are familiar with. Suddenly, this person enters and approaches you. How does this whole situation feel in your body? Or…, say you are sitting calmly in the room and a person enters in whose presence you feel deeply known and much loved. How does this whole situation feel in your body?
Notice that in either case, the felt sense of the situation is really much more than can easily be put into words. We tend to touch only briefly into the felt sense (like a stone skips on water) and immediately label it, often with a feeling or an evaluation, e.g., in the first instance, above, “I feel afraid (or angry or uncomfortable or just bad).” or, in the second instance, “I feel happy (or excited or loved or good).” Really, though, if one continues to be present to the felt sense, it is much more alive and rich than are these summary assessments.
Another way of identifying what is meant by the felt sense is by paying attention to what happens when one is speaking…and the words just don’t sound right. The words aren’t conveying what we mean. We then go back and refer again to the felt sense of the situation and allow words to form anew that more accurately transmit our meaning.
The key role of the felt sense in successful therapy.
It turns out that this process of pausing and sensing anew what one is actually feeling in the moment is the one thing that was noted in studying recordings of sessions of many different types of therapy that made a difference to the success of the therapy. The clients who, in the course of their therapy, were seen to pause and sense what they were actually feeling in the moment–“Hmmm, no, that’s not it. I’m not really just angry…I’m scared, too…and I feel like I might lose it!”–progressed in therapy. Those who did not so pause and directly refer to their felt sense did not progress.
I see my essential work as counselor being that of facilitating, by way of shared presence and in-the-moment support, the client in being present with—neither identifying with nor rejecting—the flow of in-the-moment experience that is available by way of the felt sense. The development and use of this felt sense brings integration, autonomy, centeredness, and equilibrium and frees the client from the need for the outer counselor.
The Simplicity of Focusing
Focusing is a simple process, a process only sometimes made difficult by our own complications. Within a single weekend, many people can receive adequate training in being both focuser and companion-in-presence to have and to facilitate others in having significant inner healing and development. With a series of a few weekend trainings, many can develop their focusing skills to the point of being able to develop richly rewarding long-term personal practices and/or partnerships.
Find out more about Focusing
Focusing was originated by the philosopher, Eugene Gendlin, some 50 years ago. There is now a large and active focusing community. See focusing.org for many resources, classes, etc.
An early student of Gendlin’s, Ann Weiser Cornell, developed, with others, the most popular adaptation of Focusing used today. She has also developed some of the most widely used books and teaching materials. See focusingresources.com.
Local Classes and Learning Community
I am participating in offering Focusing trainings with the Dynamic Peace organization. These trainings are currently co-facilitated by myself, my wife, Lori Nelson Martin, MA, LMHC, LMP, and Dawn Flynn, ND, LAc. In person trainings have been on hold due to COVID. Contact Dawn for online offerings.
Monthly practice groups are administered by Dynamic Peace and are open to those who have completed one of the workshops.