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Integrating Focusing with Health Care

by Joan Klagsbrun, Coordinator, USA

Joan Klagsbrun, Ph.D., is a psychologist on the faculty at Lesley University in Boston, has a private practice and lectures and does Focusing workshops all over the world, particularly with medical and health care workers.

There are many ways in which Focusing can be used as an effective tool in the area of healthcare. Focusing is a unique and effective means for :

• developing a more collaborative relationship with patients

• reducing stress, anxiety, and fear in patients (and reducing stress in health care providers);

• assisting patients in making important decisions about their treatment;

• generating better coping strategies for pain control;

• making major behavioral changes (e.g. diet, exercise);

• dialoguing with one’s symptoms and with one’s illness.

In the last few years, we have taken great strides in educating nurses, physicians, social workers, psychologists, acupuncturists and other health care professionals in how Focusing can be integrated into their work. The Focusing Folio (v.18, n. 1, 1999) devoted an entire issue to the role Focusing can play in the healing process. It contains 39 articles offering a wealth of information on ways to incorporate Focusing into the practice of medicine.

Workshops and master classes for professionals on the uses of Focusing in health care have been held at behavioral medicine conferences in the U.S., Australia, and Hong Kong. These workshops and classes presented Focusing, Listening, and Mini-Focusing techniques tailored to the needs (and time constraints) of healthcare professions.

The first Focusing Institute training on Focusing and Medicine for health care professionals took place this past November. Professionals from the U.S., Argentina, Chile, and Britain gathered for two days to learn how Focusing could be integrated into their practices. Individuals whose work settings were as diverse as hospice, hospitals, acupuncture schools, and outpatient clinics shared information and ideas. Some wonderful steps came out of this workshop, including the prospect of Focusing being included in an acupuncture school curriculum, and prospective research on the effect Focusing might have on the quality of life of ALS patients.

One good way of informing professionals about the usefulness and versatility of Focusing is by writing an article in a professional journal. For example, an article for nurses on Listening and Focusing as holistic health care tools will be published in a nursing journal this year (Nursing Clinics of North America, June, ’01).

Gene Gendlin has recently drafted a proposal for studying Focusing as an effective form of preventive medicine. This proposal will be submitted to various HMO’s around the country. If you know of a site that might want to quantify the cost benefit of Focusing partnerships as a means for lessening the need for health care services, please let us know.

There is also a prospective study being planned at a major cancer center in Boston that will look at how Focusing, in combination with expressive arts therapies, can lessen anxiety and depression, and improve body image in women with breast cancer.

If you would like to teach Focusing to fellow health care professionals, write an article for a professional journal, envision a role for Focusing in your health care facility – or if you just want ideas about taking next steps – please contact me at joanklag@aol.com, or Doralee Grindler Katonah at grindkaton@aol.com. We will be glad to help!

by Joan Klagsbrun, Ph.D.

A mini-focusing moment involves the use of some aspect of Focusing when you only have a short period of time. When paired with listening, it provides an excellent way for the clinician to hear the patient’s deeper concerns.

A mini-Focusing moment can be utilized when:

1 The practitioner only has a short time for a patient interview, but notices that the patient has many questions or concerns. The practitioner can begin the appointment by asking the patient to "please take a moment, check inside yourself, and see what feels pressing to you. Notice which concerns feel most important to address today." These simple questions empower the patient, rather than the practitioner, to make the decision about what is discussed; and is economical with time (since patients often begin with their least pressing concerns, and, as the interview is ending, reveal their deepest, most anxiety-filled concerns).

2 The practitioner is about to perform a procedure on a patient. A simple focusing invitation, such as "Please take a few moments to check inside, and let me know when you’re ready for me to begin," can alter the experience for the patient, creating a positive, empowering framework

3 The practitioner is facilitating an illness support group. By beginning each group with ten minutes of ‘Clearing A Space,’ people come into the present moment, are more available to each other, and an ambiance is created that promotes centeredness and depth. "Let’s all take a few moments now to sense inside, and see what we’re carrying today." With that frame, they are more receptive to changing some aspect of their lives.

The practitioner wants to create a more empathic connection with her patients. By using Focusing, the practitioner can invite each patient, for even a few minutes, to explore her inner experience (her reaction or feelings), in a gentle, compassionate way. For example, "So sit quietly for a moment and let’s see if we can sense where that scared feeling is. Can you sense it in your body?"


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