The Art of Focusing: An Experiential Approach to Existential Psychotherapy
After attending Focusing workshops by Greg Madison (lecturer Focusing Institute) I realised that Focusing had the essentials to help me listen to by body sense or felt sense so that I could communicate with a higher level of empathic listening. I practice the art of Focusing at home before I begin my daily practice. Just as with meditation it is important to set aside a quiet time and find a comfortable sitting posture and try to become more sensitive to bodily sensations. The inner acts of Focusing are broken down into six steps:
Clearing a space
I begin by inviting attention inside and go along with anything that I become aware of and take time to notice anything that is being held in a bodily way (i.e. a worry or unresolved situation).
Getting a felt sense
I then select one personal problem to focus on. This is called a felt sense.
Finding a handle
By going back and forth between the felt sense I attempt to discover a name or word that fits the “felt sense of the word. This might be a word like tight, sticky, scary, stuck, heavy or jumpy for example.
The process of resonating enables my felt sense to emerge more clearly and come into focus.
Then I then ask what it is about this problem, Questions such as: “What is it about this that feels so tight or sticky?” for example, or “How can this be so scary.
My aim is to have friendly open attitude towards the felt sense and receive whatever comes. However is not required that I listen or agree with it or even like what it brings, what is important is that I gives it space to be there.
I practice the art of Focusing because it offers a way forward by allowing me to acquire wisdom and knowledge by the faculty of direct experience and intuition that is stripped of all mediating factors of intellectualism and theoretical constructs. In this way the listening process is a body sense or intuition based communication. This seemed rather promising for what I call a holistic therapy that encompasses the interpersonal relationship as well as the person, whilst setting out that bodily felt experience and emotion are just as valid as intellectual thought and are not separable. Focusing like existential therapy is a model that moves away from the medical model of psychiatry, which is confined to mere rationalising and intellectualising without direct participation of ongoing experiencing.
As an existential therapist I am of the disposition that the client is his or her own best expert. We intuitively know this and this and it comes into focus with a bodily felt sense. I believe that experiential therapy is a unique place where the inexpressible inner experience could be investigated, which in turn allows us to pay attention to one’s being-in-the–world and our interaction as it is experienced through the individual body. Focusing arose from my own passion to connect in a deep and authentic way with another person in existential practice. What is important is allowing the time to listen and reflect on what is going on inside my body when I am with a client. The process is never the same each time. Sometimes I feel a connection and a sense of hearing and availability. At other times I just sit and wait. I believe that when I move beyond the intellect to interact with my bodily sensations and feelings (bodily felt sense) I get in touch with my deepest emotional experiences that are embodied in my physiology. This is what it is meant by Focusing.
When I focus on my felt sense during the psychotherapy session I feel that I am able to understand the client more fully. In focusing my attention inwardly I am able to separate myself from the trivialities of life. Thus by letting go of my mental cognitions I am able to be with my client in a very different way. In practice the client’s words, attitude, behaviour and body language tell me something about the client. However focusing my attention inwardly allows me to have a different kind of contact with my client. Within the session I can tune into my felt sense and ask inside how I am feeling being with this particular client. In this way I feel more open to the experience of the client in a respectful and a non-judgemental way. I have learned that it is not always easy to stay with this physical experience or felt sense because of my desire for knowledge and understanding. More to the point it feels very uncomfortable being in such an unclear place of not knowing with my client. Through focusing I have learned to stay with this part of me that “experiences” instead of checking back to a idea, theory or assumption that I already know. Now I have courage to stay with the un-knowing instead of wanting to providing answers and quick fixes for my clients.
Focusing has helped me engage with my inner experience in an exiting and new way. As a therapist I can open up to new possibilities in practice that I couldn’t have known without the Focusing experience. I know that I have gained trust my own felt sense instead of believing it to be weird and uncanny. Now I have the confidence to acknowledge some of my own feelings during the therapy session and confirm these with more confidence.
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About Janet Joosten
Janet Joosten is a BACP counsellor, UKCP psychotherapist and CBT therapist. She has a special interest in health related issues and depression.