“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.

“Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams” by Eugene T. Gendlin, Ph.D.

book cover

Eugene Gendlin did research into what makes psychotherapy effective, and distilled what he found into Focusing. The client/Focuser pays attention to what is unclear but present inside, and the therapist/Companion facilitates that.

In this book, he applies Focusing to interpreting dreams. You get a sense inside of the dream, and then ask one or more of the following questions and feel for a bodily response.

First, love and enjoy the dream, whether interpreted or not. The next one may be clearer if dreams feel welcomed. Only the dreamer can interpret a dream. An outsider can offer questions, but the dreamer is the one who knows.

1: What comes to you?
2: Feeling of the dream?
3: What happened yesterday?
(Place, Story, Characters)
4: Visualize the place or setting of your dream. What does it remind you of?
5: Summarize the story in a general way.
6: What/who do the important characters remind you of?
(More with characters)
7: What part of you is that?
8: Be that person? Let your body respond like a character in the dream.
9: Allow the dream to continue
10: Symbols? “Standard” symbols, or “What kind of thing is that?” For example a bridge crosses from one side to the other.
11: Body analogy? High up in your head, lower down in your body, underground unconscious.
12: Counterfactual: What in the dream is different from reality?
(Growth and development)
13: Childhood associations?
14: Personal growth? Where is your growing edge, your stuck place, your struggle?
15: Sexuality? How might the dream apply to how you express yourself sexually?
16: Spirituality? How does the dream relate to the numinous?

There is a whole chapter on question 10, symbols, and it dates the book, with references to Indians in stereotypical roles rather than respectfully referring to Native Americans, and what is now a slur to refer to someone with developmental disabilities.

Bias control: Listen inside in a friendly way, rather than arguing with or criticizing what comes. Notice if you are reflexively interpreting a dream to agree with what you already believe and ignoring parts that disagree with that.

Invite a growth direction from the dream by noticing what is new, different, unaccustomed for you. Consider small actions that move in that direction.

Dreams, especially over time, can give a sense of where we are with a longer process or issue.

Grounding dreams are a special case of this. Many people have dreams of being above ground level, which can correspond with not being connected with the body and the physical sense of being supported by the ground. “The ground holds you with ease, solidly, as an adult can hold a child. You can exhale all the way, stop being careful, let go, just be.” Our capacities are more available to us when we trust we are solidly held by the ground, like a strong person who can move things by pushing off the ground.

Recommended as a compassionate set of tools for interpreting dreams and listening to yourself and your body.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Your Body Knows the Answer” by David I. Rome

book cover

Subtitle: Using Your Felt Sense to Solve Problems, Effect Change & Liberate Creativity

This is a gentle, step by step introduction to Focusing, with exercises for each section and personal annotated examples of Focusing sessions. David Rome calls his approach Mindful Focusing. He explains how to be with ourselves in a Focusing way without a Companion to hold space for us.

It starts with GAP, Grounded Aware Presence. Settle into the support of your chair, or the ground if you’re standing. Notice the sights and sounds of your environment. Sense into your heart and breathing, right in this moment. I like the quick simplicity of that.

The second exercise is friendly attending, being with whatever comes the way we would be with a shy frightened creature, available, observant, warm, allowing it to approach when it’s ready.

The book continues with gateways to the felt sense (mind, body, emotions), and working with felt senses in the context of specific situations. The second half talks about finding actions steps, deep listening with others, and working with conflicts.

There are a lot of words about how to find a felt sense and how to interact with it. I’m still not sure when I’m in contact with one and when I’m in contact with something different (but what would that be). It seems to be part of Focusing for me to be uncertain if I’m doing it right.

Recommended for people interested in exploring Focusing, especially those already familiar with mindfulness practice.

Available at Powell’s Books (half-price on remainder as of 12-Mar-2016).

“Focusing with Your Whole Body” by Addie van der Kooy & Kevin McEvenue

Focusing is a way of looking inside and being with a felt sense of our experience. Alexander Technique is about interrupting unhelpful physical habits to allow the body to move with ease. Kevin McEvenue brought them together: inviting the body to move how it wants to as a way of restoring flow to blocked processes.

Addie van der Kooy learned the process from Kevin and wrote this clear, gentle, welcoming manual. It comes with a CD of guided exercises, although the copy I read no longer had it. At just over 50 pages, it is concise, while still covering the material with care.

The exercises are done standing, feeling a solid connection with the earth through the feet, or sitting, feeling a solid connection through the sit bones and feet. The first exercise suggests: “[I]nvite your body to raise your arms upward from the sides of your body in the way it wants to. […] Listen for and allow any kind of movement, however small and unexpected. It may even have nothing to do with raising your arms!”

After each exercise, there are exploratory questions and discussion. Addie says, “When I do this exercise it often feels like I am inviting myself to dance with the wisdom of my own body.” We invite the body to express itself through movement, and then give consent to what comes (or not).

The following chapters are Grounding and Presence, Allowing a Felt-Sense to Emerge, Holding Both with Equal Positive Regard, and Coming to a Resting Point. Holding Both references Peter Levine’s ideas from Somatic Experiencing about moving between the trauma vortex and a healing vortex.

This book describes a loving, careful way to listen to the body. I tried the exercises on my own, and I want to try a facilitated Whole Body Focusing session sometime. Highly recommended.

Available at the Focusing Institute.

Kevin McEvenue also wrote two articles about how he came to develop Whole Body Focusing as part of his healing process. They are combined in “Dancing the Path of the Mystic.”

“The Focusing Student’s and Companion’s Manual” by Barbara McGavin and Ann Weiser Cornell

Recommended to me by: Jael Emberley

I took Focusing classes I and II from Jael Emberley, and bought both parts of the manual, even though the second part is for classes III and IV. Both parts are written in clear, friendly language, and delightfully illustrated by Mary Ferris. Her expressive line drawings of anthropomorphized hares capture the subtleties and humor of Focusing.

Focusing is paying attention inside to an unfolding felt sense about an issue or situation. Somatic Experiencing includes a lot of Focusing. I read Part Two now to learn more about how to be present with merging and exiling of internal “something”s. Suggestions include

  • Use presence language. “I sense something in me that feels overwhelmed.”
  • Turn toward the Something that has Feelings about the Feeling, and might be saying things like, “I don’t want to be scared!” “It’s bad to be angry.”
  • Notice behaviors that come out of Feelings about Feelings, like rushing the process, forcing a choice, analyzing, diagnosing, deciding, fixing, doubting, arguing, and especially criticizing.
  • For critics, sense for what they’re not wanting.
  • Acknowledge parts that are trying to force other parts to Do It Right.
  • Exiling – something is judged as so bad and dangerous it is removed from awareness. As it comes back, the symbols for it might move from inanimate to animate.
  • Exiles need a lot of time and safety to gain trust and come back into inner relationship.

Recommended for learning about Focusing and being amused and touched by the line drawings.

Part One and Part Two are available from FocusingResources.com

“Focusing in Clinical Practice” by Ann Weiser Cornell

Subtitle: The Essence of Change

Recommended to me by: Ann Weiser Cornell’s other books

As a bodyworker who integrated Focusing into my work, it seems that I would be the perfect reader for this book. It contained useful bits of information about Focusing, but my primary experience while reading it was a sense of exclusion.

When I try to put that sense into words, what comes is, “There is a Right Way to do Focusing, and you’re not doing it,” despite disclaimers throughout the book saying that Focusing does not stand alone and each form of therapy has its applications. In the chapter showing how to integrate Focusing with specific types of therapy, the author carefully states that there is nothing wrong with the examples as they stand, before adding Focusing to them.

Ann Weiser Cornell’s first two books emphasize equal partnership in Focusing and acknowledgement of the Focuser’s resilience and resources. That essential respect does not come through when she discusses Focusing in the unequal relationship between therapist and client.

At the same time, Focusing continues to be tremendously useful in my bodywork practice, and I picked up new phrases and understanding of “felt sense” from this book. “How does that whole issue feel now?” “Check in with your body about all of that.” I appreciated the client vignettes and information about types of therapy related to Focusing.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Radical Acceptance of Everything” by Ann Weiser Cornell

Subtitle: Living a Focusing Life

Recommended to me by: Ann Weiser Cornell’s website

I bought this book because of my excitement about The Power of Focusing. I was not disappointed.

These essays by Ann Weiser Cornell and her working partner Barbara McGavin describe both the theory and practice of Inner Relationship Focusing, as well as some of the history behind its development. They show specific, concrete ways to radically accept everything, including Inner Critics, exiled parts, internal conflicts, and non-response.

I started reading the book on the train, but stopped because I was embarrassed to cry next to my seatmate. The tears came from recognition and longing. This is how I want to be heard, and how I want to hear others. This is how I want exiled parts of me to be welcomed home.

Highly recommended.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Power of Focusing” by Ann Weiser Cornell, Ph.D.

Subtitle: A practical guide to emotional self-healing

Recommended to me by: Nancy Lebovitz

Eugene Gendlin discovered that the difference between successful and unsuccessful therapy lies in the client’s ability to pause and attend to something wordless inside, and get to know it better. He named this skill Focusing and began teaching it, developing a protocol of six steps.

Ann Weiser Cornell learned from Eugene Gendlin and began teaching workshops. She developed a variation called Inner Relationship Focusing which still has steps, but is less concerned with a strict protocol.

In this book, she introduces Focusing through client stories and teaches the skills involved with analogies and detailed instructions. The body’s felt sense is like a shy animal at the edge of the woods. We say hello, and wait. As trust is built, the felt sense comes closer and reveals more information. As it is heard, without judgment, it can change and release.

Focusing can be done alone, or with a Focusing partner who reflects back discoveries with gentle neutrality.
Focuser: “I don’t know what to call this feeling in my throat.”
Listener: “You’re feeling something in your throat.”

When there is a negative reaction to the felt-sense, attention turns to that reaction with interested curiosity.
Focuser: “I’d like to push this away.”
Listener: “Maybe you could say hello to that feeling of wanting to push this away.”

This book and the articles on Ann Weiser Cornell’s website are both highly recommended. This is the work I try to do, and the work I want others to do with me.

One of many articles on Ann Weiser Cornell’s website: The Radical Acceptance of Everything.

Available at Powell’s Books.