Have you ever gone to a therapist to just talk for an hour straight and though it feels good to vent, you notice that the perpetual cycle of day-to-day issues tend to move along just the same? Then, you start to wonder why is it that you are paying money to go sit and talk and you say to yourself something like: mustn’t there be more to therapy than this? There can be, yes.
Focusing is a philosophically and psychologically based therapy pioneered by Dr. Eugene Gendlin. He wanted to know why some people were getting better in therapy and why others weren’t, so he spent many hours studying sessions and noticing differences between the two camps of clients. He didn’t create Focusing, he discovered it through this diligent process and it has been helping us ever since.
Focusing is a body-based therapy that integrates thoughts, emotional feelings, body sensations and memories in a unique way. Rather than sitting and discussing issues from a ‘thoughts only’ perspective, Focusing Oriented Therapy (FOT) goes deeper. Your thoughts are important, but there are other avenues in which we can derive information. Just as meditation and mindfulness have been teaching us, we need to include the wisdom of the moment. This is also important with Focusing and we also add for inclusion - the wisdom of the body.
To do so, we need to pause and ask “how do I feel in there (in the body)”, while also connecting with our emotional feelings and memories connected with the experience. With an FOT therapist, you will be encouraged to ‘listen’ to other information that you experience. You’ll be able to tune into them by being mindful of how you’re experiencing the issue in that moment in your body. The initial check-in will usually give you an unclear picture of what is going on for you, but if you continue to sit with it, new information will emerge.
A client may come in with something really bothering them. Let’s say they have just had an argument with a significant other, or a good friend and they are feeling very uneasy about how things went. We can take a moment to talk about it, so the therapist gets a sense of what their experience was, then the client will usually close their eyes and we check to see how the body is reacting to this issue. We want to be mindful of the body and respect that it is carrying something important – this issue in our life that is important to us. We wait and listen.
The body will usually give you some information in the form of tight feelings in the throat, chest, or stomach and you will start there. After 20-30 minutes, with the therapist’s assistance, the client will gain much insight and more often than not, a shift in feelings will occur, relieving the client of the distress they walked in with. This inherent knowing of the body gives the client the information needed to move forward with the issue and provides calmness and clarity. It is embodied, so the client carries it with them. It is useful and helpful in that moment and for their future.
Focusing is better experienced than explained, so the next time you're feeling the need to seek therapy, I welcome you to consider Focusing. If you wind up giving it a try, please feel free to let me know what your experience was like!
Nicole Mitchell is a Canadian Certified Counsellor and Registered Psychotherapist in Toronto, Canada. Nicole started working in the mental health field in 1999 and currently works in private practice with individuals experiencing anxiety, depression and addictions. Nicole also works with families, couples and groups (Internet addiction and social anxiety).
Gendlin, E. Focusing. Second edition. New York, NY: Bantam Bell a division of Random House Inc.; 1981
Weiser Cornell, A. Power Of Focusing: Finding Your Inner Voice. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications; 1996.
Winhall, J. Understanding and Treating Addiction with the Felt Sense Experience Model. In G. Madison, editor. Emerging practices in focusing-oriented psychotherapy: Innovative theory and application. London, England: Jessica Kingsley Publishers; 2014. 178-193 p.