A Self-Managed Therapy
by Sherry McDonald
Focusing is… a method of self-exploration and therapeutic change that grew out of the clinical work and evidence-based research of Eugene Gendlin, a psychologist, psychotherapist, and existential philosopher at the University of Chicago. Gendlin became interested in why sometimes clients got the change they wanted from therapy and sometimes, even after years of therapy, the client still struggled to change.
In the 1970s Eugene Gendlin, and a group of his colleagues, took up a lengthy research study investigating what helps a client change and heal during counselling sessions. This body of work extended the initial research of Kirtner and Cartwright in Carl Rogers’ group at the Counselling Center of the University of Chicago. Gendlin and colleagues analyzed thousands of therapeutic counselling sessions (between therapist and client) and found that a client’s eventual success in therapy was predictable within the first few sessions. That ability to predict success was based on a particular behaviour exhibited by the client even in those first few sessions. Gendlin discovered that client change had little to do with the experience of the therapist or the type of therapy offered. Change in therapy depended mostly upon the way the client paid attention to his or her own experience.
Clients who could stay with a physically-felt unclear sense of a problem, until it gradually became clearer to the point they were able to express it in symbolic language in some manner, found their experience and their problems changed as a result. Gendlin was able to describe what these clients were doing naturally and developed a very simple way to teach it to others. This natural, gentle process is called Focusing. We are born with this ability but at some point, many of us lose touch with it. Focusing is a way of remembering how to invite our attention to stay with a feeling that is different than something easily defined as an emotion. Letting this kind of physical feeling have our attention, even briefly, can lead to surprising insights, resolutions of problems, easing of symptoms, and a little added richness in our daily lives.
This surprised the psychological and counselling community. Significantly, one of the key discoveries of the research was that most people can learn and practice Focusing as a way of engaging their life challenges. (Gendlin, 1982) Focusing has demonstrated its potential within the therapeutic context and beyond; what Gendlin named Focusing is at the heart of therapeutic change. Focusing can and has been integrated with most other therapeutic modalities, but it arises out of a natural human process. As such, it is not a technique and is not limited to therapy or self-development. It has also been integrated into many diverse creative human processes such as spiritual expression, business processes and problem solving, and literary and other aesthetic endeavours.
Research and development of Focusing has continued and is supported by the Focusing Institute, an international community interested in the practice of Focusing and related research. Much of that research is available online at www.focusing.org.
For more information about Focusing-oriented Therapy sessions and Focusing Workshops contact Sherry McDonald in Saskatoon at firstname.lastname@example.org or (306) 384-5593.