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FOCUS ON: Atsmaout Perlstein

By Ellen Kirschner, M.A., U.S.A.

Atsmaout Perlstein, who works closely with her sister Bilha Frolinger, developing Focusing in Israel. She can be reached at atsmaout@aol.com.

When Atsmaout Perlstein, Coordinator from Israel, talks about Focusing, what comes shining through her words is a vision of Focusing as a way of living, a passion to contribute that vision to society, and a commitment to do whatever is needed for Focusing to permeate the language of everyday life. Her goal is to create a world where everyone – whether over coffee, dinner, at an important meeting, in a space of conflict or in an intimate setting – can pause, take a moment, and share with one another the “more” of their experience. Known in Israel as “Focusing Over Coffee,” this vision is shared at the start of every workshop, as students are taught to introduce elements of the Focusing process into simple day-to-day conversations with family and friends.

In May, 2004, Atsmaout was invited to share her vision by leading a workshop at the 12th Annual International Conference on Conflict Resolution in St. Petersburg, Russia, sponsored by Common Bond Institute, Harmony Institute, and the Association for Humanistic Psychology. Over 700 hundred adults and 70 children representing 31 countries participated, with political leaders, psychologists, and relief workers from areas in conflict around the world – including a delegation from Israel and a delegation of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip. Atsmaout and Pat Omidien from Afghanistan led a one-day workshop for professionals on Focusing and Conflict Resolution. It was so well received that they were asked to present a Focusing training program.

Meeting for the first time with Palestinians from Gaza was a personal challenge for Atsmaout. “It was an emotionally charged encounter which made me appreciate peace efforts in war zones,” she said. “Only after I took the time to do a full Focusing process was I able to face my feared and threatened places, which were filled with horrors. I then took the option to approach each one of them individually, to get to know them beyond all ideas and images. Still, it took courage and self inner talk to approach and meet each one. After that we traveled and danced together and became friends. I was even asked to come to Gaza and train people in Focusing.”

To remain in that threatening situation Atsmaout employed Focusing skills she has developed to manage “flooding” – the ability to sit with powerful emotional and physiological reactions, to find a right distance from which to relate to them, and to develop the emotional “muscle” to calm the body organism. Flooding is the third part of the dynamic approach that Atsmaout and her sister, Bilha Frolinger, have developed to teach Focusing in Israel, responding to the daily uncertainty in peoples’ lives, to Israelis’ sense of themselves as learners, and to their need to find immediate action steps to apply what they learn in real life situations. This model does not use “levels.” Rather, it involves 60 hours of learning in 20 meetings, once a week for three hours. The first part is devoted to finding ones “presence” and becoming familiar with ones own “self-process,” an approach she encountered in a workshop with Ann Weiser Cornell. Because Israel is a group-oriented society where it is important to do what is acceptable to others, Atsmaout devotes the first eight sessions entirely to self-process and self-acceptance. She is convinced that this time and concentration are required to strengthen the ground of self that will enable a person to take what Mary Hendricks-Gendlin has called “the revolutionary pause” – the step back that allows a person to live from their felt experience, even when it contradicts outside expectations.

The next eight weeks are spent listening to and guiding others, and the last four are devoted to dealing with emotional flooding – learning the techniques that enabled Atsmaout to sit face to face with Palestinians. Time is also spent dealing with the “inner critic,” which in the Israeli personality is very strong. A pre- and post- course check-up is administered, and results-oriented Israelis are happy to learn that by the end of the training the influence of their “critic” can be cut in half.

Atsmaout’s first contact with “Eugene,” as she fondly calls him, was in 1986, when she went into therapy with him after the death of her father. But it was not until 1991, as a fulltime clinical psychologist in Chicago, that her colleague and friend from graduate school, Robert Berry, said to her, “If you really want to work well with people, go and learn Focusing.” She took a weeklong workshop at the Villa Redeemer led by Mary McGuire, Janet Klein and Bala Jaison. “That weeklong changed my life,” she said. “I was totally taken by the miracles I witnessed in myself and other participants while learning the process of Focusing. It was then that I decided to devote my energy and efforts to bring Focusing to professionals and the public as the ‘missing piece’ in human interaction.” She went on to learn Interactive Focusing from Mary McGuire and Janet Klein, now life-long friends, who taught her the leadership and organizational skills she needed to build an Israeli Focusing community.

Atsmaout returned to her native Israel in 2000 where, with the support of Mary Hendricks-Gendlin and the hard work of Bilha and other Israeli trainers, she is building a strong Focusing community. There are now 11 Israeli trainers, and a group of 12 who will begin training in November. Bilha and Atsmaout are teaching Focusing to six groups of 20 new participants for the Fall/Winter semester.

Her dream is for Eugene Gendlin to open the 2007 International Conference in Israel. “The world is ready for Focusing,” she said. “I can feel it from within, and in my bones.”



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