“Focusing” by Eugene T. Gendlin, Ph.D.

book cover

This is the 25th anniversary edition of Eugene Gendlin’s original book explaining his Focusing method for the general public. I sought it out after learning Inner-Relationship Focusing and Untangling(TM) from one of his students, Ann Weiser Cornell.

Eugene Gendlin’s approach is deeply kind, and goes back to the essence of Focusing, which is keeping someone company in their process by listening.

Focusing came out of research into psychotherapy, so it shares that fundamental bias that the problem lies inside the individual, rather than naming systemic, societal issues that cause individual distress. The book does not mention race at all. It does include women as Focusers, but unfortunately feels the need to evaluate their size and attractiveness, where men are not described in those terms.

That said, when Focusing is used with care and respect for the wider context, it can bring contact and movement to stuck places inside us.

Gendlin’s six steps, with some notes:

  1. Clear a Space. Ask what is between you and feeling fine. Let your body answer. Don’t go into any one issue, just acknowledge what’s there. This can bring relief in itself, bringing attention to troubles without drowning in them.
  2. Felt Sense. Choose one issue. What is your sense of all of it? Yes, that unclear muddy queasy sense – that. This is how your body has this issue, including all the past events it links with and all the subtle signals that you have sensed in the present. It is not divination – your body might have opinions, but it cannot tell the future.
  3. Get a Handle. This is a way to keep coming back to this felt sense. What word, image, phrase, or sound expresses it just right?
  4. Resonate. Keep checking your handle with the felt sense, adjusting as needed. If it fits, sense the fit several times.
  5. Ask. “What is it, about the whole problem, that makes me so —- (put in your handle)?” Or, “What’s the worst of it?” or “What would make it okay?” Let the feeling stir and provide an answer.
  6. Receive. Take time to receive the answer. Be glad it spoke. Protect it from critical voices.

At some point there may be a shift in the felt sense, a releasing or unknotting, a deep breath, more ease. Focusing is the act of paying attention, and does not require a shift to be “successful.” Sometimes we just need to sit with ourselves without demanding a change.

This book is friendly, gentle, kind, just as Focusing is meant to be. It emphasizes that Focusing is supposed to feel good. If it stops feeling good, back up and find the place where it went awry. Being heard about something very difficult should feel good in the midst of the difficulty. If it starts feeling weird, also back out, since it’s not meant to induce a deeply altered state.

I’m not sure how this book would read for a beginning Focuser. For me, it was illuminating, after experiencing several different people’s interpretations of Gendlin’s original method. I’m keeping the idea of being gentle, and stepping back to feel a response to the whole of a situation.

I will also note that Gendlin described Focusing, rather than created it. People have been paying attention to their body sense of a situation and keeping each other company in many ways across time.

Available at Powell’s Books.

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