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- Dvonne Loring
The following essay is a reflective piece on my growth as a Focusing oriented counsellor over the course of the semester. It will document my introduction to focusing as a subject, my experience as a Focuser and as a companion and the evolution of each throughout the semester. In addition, my understanding of the process and the development of my own existing skills and the acquisition of new skills will be stated. A final reflection on my relationship with Focusing as the subject draws to a close will also be included.
Over the course of the semester, I have consolidated my understanding of Experiential Focusing, the concept of the felt sense and how they contribute to therapeutic healing. I began this subject with no knowledge of Focusing whatsoever. The idea of bringing my awareness and entering the body was daunting for me as I operate on a very cognitive level. Learning that experiential Focusing is a gentle process oriented approach to therapy that invites the utilization of the body’s rich wisdom to facilitate therapeutic change (Cornell, 1996) helped ease some of my subject related anxiety. I learnt that to access this inner knowledge, a person’s awareness is shifted inside and navigation is done with the enigmatic felt sense as a guide, rather than intellectualizing (Purton, 2007).
The felt sense is the quintessential concept of Focusing and one of many key aspects and principles developed by Eugene Gendlin. It is important to note however, Gendlin did not invent Focusing, it is a natural skill that he discovered (Cornell, 1996). It took me some time to really grasp what the felt sense was as it is not an emotion nor a body sensation or an altered state. A felt sense is a subtle, whole body sense of a complex situation (Gendlin, 1996). The more I attuned to and became aware of my own felt senses through experiential practice, where I learnt how to describe it rather than interpret it, the deeper my understanding became of the subject as whole throughout the semester. I had to learn that it was about feeling, not analyzing (Purton, 2007).
What Focusing does is it accesses the felt sense which draws from a place of emergent unconscious process that is ready to be put under the light of consciousness. It draws from the vast realm of knowledge from the edge of awareness and channels it into transformational potential through in the moment experiencing. Focusing allows us to dip below the surface of the explicit into the implicit (Silverton, 2014). Thus with the use of the Focusing process and the felt sense, I began to realize I was learning how to help clients engage with their feelings and facilitate here and now experiencing, which is the key to successful therapy (Purton C, 2007).
The Focusing process helped me release the angst I was experiencing about being a Focuser, and it also helped me with the struggle I was experiencing towards the subject itself. The idea of being a Focuser initially triggered some dim anxiety in me. I was concerned about what I might come across inside. Learning how gentle Focusing is however, and welcoming whatever arises (Gendlin, 1996) as well as understanding that the Focusing ‘procedure involves the maintenance of a comfortable distance’ (Purton, 2007, Pg. 46) was reassuring for me.
I began using the experiential practice sessions where I was the Focuser as an opportunity to explore my existing and very present resistance to the actual subject and its content. There was always something in me that was stopping me from fully embracing the subject matter. With use of the Focusing process, I was able to enter my body with that as my issue and get a full body sense of it. Simply being with my felt sense caused a felt shift – a moment of movement (Purton, 2007). Having this experience on several different occasions was uplifting for my relationship with the subject and also empowered me as a Focuser. It helped me understand that encouraging clients to know they are the experts will motivate them to ask, interrupt, ignore or even to simply have a voice when something does not feel right for them in a session. They have choice and are allowed to communicate their preferences about what they need from their therapist as a Focuser and from the process, as it is their process (Leijssen, 1998). In doing this, they have an opportunity to achieve a real sense of self-autonomy as I did, which is what this non-directive process empowers clients to accomplish (Purton, 2007).
My understanding of the importance of presence strengthened my ability to be a companion. Being in the role of the therapist, I wanted to execute my learning soundly and accurately. I wanted to have the Focusing attitude which embodies presence, gentleness and the ability to be vulnerable (Leijssen, 1998) and to also employ facilitative language with the use of appropriate reflections and invitations rather than questions. I learnt that the philosophy behind this approach highlights that the focusing process is not a technique but a way of being; it is an attitude to embody (Purton, 2007). I had to learn how to facilitate the process while personifying the Focusing attitude; it was a matter of finding the delicate balance between the two so that the Focuser perceives the empathy and acceptance that is being offered to them (Purton C. , 2004). Whenever I was in the process and my mind became cluttered with the theory and how to execute the skills I was learning whilst trying to hold space for the Focuser, I would remind myself to just be; my being was much more therapeutic than my doing. Bringing my awareness to my Focuser became an anchor for me. Ironically, in my attempts to perfect my ability to be a Focusing-oriented counsellor, I was in fact pushing myself further away from the most important thing which was my presence (Purton, 2007). What I learnt to remember is that all of this takes place in the present moment (Silverton, 2014). By being with my client and putting my trust in being guided by their process reminded me that I was not the expert which in effect liberated me as a companion.
I was able to consolidate my understanding of the Focusing process which was helpful for some of the difficulties I came across in my practice. Gendlin’s six step process helped me grasp each stage. The process incorporates – (1) Clearing the space, (2) Felt sense, (3) Handle, (4) Resonating, (5) Asking and (6) Receiving (Purton, 2004). I found clearing the space a valuable method that can be used on its own or within the Focusing process, as a tool for stress reduction (Purton, 2004) through creating appropriate metaphoric distance. This practice can become a wonderful friend, offering a path to self-knowledge (Silverton, 2014).
My experience with the process illustrated to me I was confident leading my Focuser in and coming out. Inviting a felt sense to emerge and getting a handle were the most difficult steps as it was hard initially for me to differentiate when my Focuser was describing ‘something’ or a ‘part of them’ as a pose to when they had discovered a felt sense. Sometimes an entire session would be checking in with the Focuser to see if a felt sense was going to emerge.
With further practice, Gendlin’s steps became more of a guide for me. The process follows the material of the Focuser therefore the process cannot be rigid. The Focusing process is actually quite simple, but I found the complexities as a companion lie in the multitude of complex processes that include the language, terminology, how to reflect, how to invite and how to create the right amount of distance in order to follow the unfolding process with the Focusing attitude. Being aware of the subtle nuances of the Focuser in their tone, mannerisms and gestures was also important as in these are avenues to intricate possibilities for moving forward (Fleisch, 2009). The more I grappled with the process, the more I was able to identify areas for further improvement in my practice. In doing so I was learning how to deepen the client’s awareness to their own embodied knowledge (Fleisch, 2009).
This subject gave me an opportunity to consolidate existing skills and develop a set of new skills. Core person-centred conditions such as presence, unconditional positive regard and empathy are all essential in the Focusing process. I gained further experiential practice as a companion at grounding myself with presence, holding space and meeting my client’s with unconditional positive regard. Despite majority of my Focuser’s having their eyes closed during their process, I would still mirror their non-verbal communication, as this helped me to remain present and was helpful in my attuning process. Once I had a reasonable theoretical understanding of the Focusing process I had to master the acquisition of new skills such as facilitative language used to support presence and to stay with the emerging process at hand. Reflecting is important as it helps the client know they are being understood. Reflections should follow the Focuser and their felt sense as this is the therapist’s attempt to grasp what the client is experiencing by repeating back exactly what they are trying to say (Gendlin, 1996). It is done with a soft and gentle tone of voice which came quite naturally for me, and always precedes an invitation. I definitely found invitations were much more effective in accessing felt senses than asking questions. Questions run the risk of deviating from presence, and shift the client back to a cognitive level of thinking. Invitations encourage a friendly attitude towards the felt sense (Gendlin, 1996). Focusing is a constant intervention with its consistent checking in and checking back. By strengthening these existing and new skills, my facilitation to help clients to attend wholly personal issue improved. Thus they can open up fresh perspectives and new insights which is what Focusing offers (Silverton, 2014).
My relationship with Experiential Focusing has grown over the semester as it coincides with my beliefs about what therapy encompasses. I respect the Experiential Focusing approach in that it is non-directive and follows the guided process of the Focuser. It really reinforces my true belief in every human being’s ability to self-actualise and my role as a Focusing-Oriented counsellor within the holistic framework aids in facilitating this. I deeply resonate with its gentle approach and how through presence, a client can feel heard, met and have their existence validated but to also have the opportunity to listen to and potentially build a relationship with their felt sense (Silverton, 2014) to access their own empowering knowledge. Focusing sees an individual in process, not as a problem or pathology. Rather diagnosing and curing, Focusing gives a person the opening to be and to allow. This was affirming for my learning and development as an aspiring person-centred, holistic counsellor.
The bulk of my learning in this subject came experientially. Cognitively it was a struggle to understand, but I found my inner understanding of fundamental Experiential Focusing concepts grew tremendously through actually participating in or observing the process. The more I understood what the felt sense was and became aware of my own, the more the comprehensive the theory became for me. Thus, Focusing taught me how to deal with ambiguity and vague ideas, and gave me the ability to simply sit with them. It comes as no surprise that the hard to recognise notion of the felt sense is hard to grasp in contrast to our social context where there is huge pressure in our technological culture to know (Silverton, 2014). We have lost trust in our bodies and our feeling (Cornell, 1996), forgetting that the body has sophisticated understanding and Focusing gives a means of accessing that. With Focusing being process-oriented means it is fluid. It can adapt to people varying a great deal in being able to sense what is going on in their bodies (Purton, 2004), ‘letting that which arises from the Focusing depths within a person define the therapist’s activity’ (Leijssen, 1998). This is at the core of person-centred methodology and my personal beliefs.
Through theoretical learning and experiential practice, I have gained insight and deepened my self-awareness through participating in the Focusing process as a Focuser, observer and a companion. These have all contributed to my growth as a Focusing-Oriented counsellor over the semester, all of which have been essential for my learning as a holistic counsellor. I have embarked on a learning journey to have a comfortable relationship with strong feelings, to acknowledge them and listen to them using the Focusing method, and I now have the ability to invite a client for an opportunity to do the same. Focusing offers a safe and contained environment to access and explore the felt sense which has its own depths of meaning (Gendlin, 1996). By encouraging felt experience as a whole, one gains admission to an abundance of emotional self-healing.
Cornell, A. W. (1996). The Power of Focusing. Oakland: Raincoast Books.
Fleisch, G. (2009). Right in Their Hands: How Gestures Imply the Body’s Next Steps in Focusing-Oriented Therapy. Person-Centred and Experiential Therapies, 173-188.
Gendlin, E. (1996). Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy. A Manual of the Experiential Method. New York: The Guilford Press.
Leijssen, M. (1998). Focusing Microprocesses. In L. W. Greenberg, Handbook of Experiential Psychotherapy (pp. 121-154). New York: The Guilford Press.
Purton, C. (2004). Person-Centred Therapy: Focusing-Oriented Approach. London: Palgrave Macmillian.
Purton, C. (2007). The Focusing-Oriented Counselling Primer. Ross-on-Wey: PCCS Books.
Silverton, S. (2014, October). How to Think Like a Poet and Make Better Decisions. Retrieved from British Focusing Association: http://www.focusing.org.uk
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