The 'something not quite right' - how focusing can help

Focusing is a technique which may be used in counselling, but also independently. It's a way of paying attention to felt senses. Felt senses are the kind of hunches, niggles or intuitions you get about a person, a place or your whole life that you can't explain. They are distinct but they aren't thoughts exactly, and they aren't feelings. You could say that you're angry, or that you think that your partner is wrong. But there's something not quite right about simply saying that. It isn't enough. It's different, there's more.

Focusing was discovered by the philosopher and therapist Gene Gendlin, while he was researching therapeutic effectiveness. He and his team noticed that clients whose therapy was successful had something in common, they had a tendency to grope around: "it's that… no that's not quite right... it's more this…". They were trying to match up a "something vague that they couldn't quite put their finger on" with words. It wasn't senseless mental rambling either, when they did hit on the right phrase there was palpable relief and a new kind of making sense, not only on the intellectual level. Things felt different, things were changed.

Gendlin investigated what these clients were doing as they talked about their lives in therapy, and broke the process down into steps so people to whom it did not come naturally could benefit too. His short book, Focusing, presents the method. But focusing is for many of us a very natural thing. When "something tells us" that what we're saying is just not quite right, we try to formulate it a different way and pay close attention to check whether the new way fits, we are focusing. And the point of it, is that it works. When the checking stops and we "just get it", we know it's right and this brings a fresh sense of relief, energy and new possibilities.

Abstract as it may sound, the "that's it!" moment is in practice, the most concrete thing. We might associate it with some kind of exceptional creativity, but it works in everyday life too, bringing clarity and change. Unclear understandings, memories, feelings, or whole life situations that have been causing stuckness and pain, gently break up and move forward, in a new way.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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