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Frequently Asked Questions about Focusing Partnerships



Time & Structure

Keeping Boundaries


A Partnership Charter

About this FAQ



What is a Focusing partnership?

A Focusing partnership is an agreement between two people to meet (in person or by phone) to exchange Focusing and Listening turns.

What is a Focusing turn?

 When it's your turn to Focus, you bring your awareness inward and begin sensing what wants your attention. You follow your own Focusing process, speaking out loud if and when you want to. [For more about Focusing, see An Introduction to Focusing: Six Steps] The person who is doing this is called "The Focuser."

Does the Focuser always Focus in their turn?

The Focuser's turn belongs to the Focuser and they can use it whatever way they want. This includes talking about the problem, asking for advice, having a cup of coffee. If they want to use it to brainstorm or set goals or meditate, that's their business. Usually, they will use it for Focusing. But there is no requirement to do so. This is important, because it means that no one else (particularly the Companion) can tell the Focuser what they can do in their turn, or whether they are doing it right.

What is a Listening turn?

While one person is Focusing, the other person (the Companion, also called the Listener) is Listening. This kind of listening is more than just hearing; it is really being present for the other person's process. Usually you say back ("reflect") all or some of what the Focuser is saying. This kind of Listening seems simple, like you aren't really "doing" anything - yet it can be powerful and helpful, and there is a subtle art to it that can be developed with practice.

Does the Companion always Listen during the Focuser's turn?

The Companion gives whatever support the Focuser asks for. Listening (reflecting, saying back) is standard; it's what we do unless we're asked for something else. But the Focuser may also ask the Companion for silence, for input (advice, reactions), for guiding. The rule is that the Focuser can ask the Companion for what kind of presence they need.

Are there rules or guidelines that help a Focusing partnership feel safe for both parties?

Safety Rule Number One: Never never never mention the content of the Focusing session, even after the session is over, unless the Focuser brings it up. This includes not chatting about similar things that happened to you, and not giving advice about what the Focuser can do about their "problem." This is EXTREMELY important. Just after a session has ended is a particularly vulnerable time, and needs to be treated with the same sensitivity as the Focusing time. *Any* kind of comment on content from a Focusing partner can seriously compromise the safety of your partnership. Even a seemingly innocent comment like "I hope your back is feeling better" can violate the safety the Focuser feels to explore what they need to explore.

Safety Rule Number Two: Privacy. It's important that the Focuser feels that they have the right to be as private or as open as they want to be. They are in charge of revealing or keeping private the content of their Focusing. Sometimes the things that come may need time to be known by just the Focuser before being shared. Sometimes they need to be kept private forever. It is not necessary for the Companion to know what the Focuser is Focusing on. If you're Focusing, you can say to the Companion "I can sense what this is connected to," or "I can sense what this is about," without revealing the details. If you're the Companion, never ask "questions for clarification," never let your curiosity about the content interfere with your ability to hold the space for the process.

Safety Rule Number Three: Confidentiality. Unless you have specific permission, never share anything from your partner's Focusing session with another person. No exceptions.



Do the two people always take turns?

It's important that the partnership be equal. So taking turns is basic. Equal turns can be equal in time, or simply equal in opportunity. For example, if two people make an agreement that they will each Focus as long as they want to, that's equal, even if one session is forty minutes and the other ten. Also, the turns don't have to be at the same time: some partnerships have a deal where one week is one person's turn, and the next week is the other person's turn. That's OK. It's even OK if one of you always wants to go first and the other one always wants to go second. Those arrangements are up to you.

My partner and I seem to spend more time scheduling a time to meet than we actually spend Focusing!

What seems to work best is finding a regular time and sticking to it, even if you have to skip some weeks because of other events. You will begin to protect that one time in the week, and look forward to it as special for your Focusing.

My partner and I forgot to schedule a new time, and now weeks have gone by. Do I call her, or does she call me?

You'd better call her, since you're the one who's asking. But to prevent this problem in the future, see if you can agree on a regular time, and assume that you are meeting then unless agreed in advance that you are not. And don't forget to schedule! It's good to get into the habit of checking your calendars at the end of each session.

Where does the Focusing partnership take place?

If you are meeting in person, you can meet at any convenient, mutually agreeable place where the two of you will neither be overheard nor interrupted. You'll need chairs in which each person will be comfortable, and a watch, clock or timer (preferably one that counts up like a stopwatch) to keep time.

How does phone Focusing work?

Phone Focusing is just the same as meeting in person, except you meet on the phone. It's a good idea to turn off "call waiting" and inform family members or co-workers that you will be on the phone for a while.

Some people find it uncomfortable to hold a phone receiver to their ear for a length of time. If you find this, you could try using a speaker phone or a hands-free headset (try Radio Shack/Tandy).


Time & Structure

How long is each session?

That's completely up to you. Some partnerships take as little as twenty minutes each, others take as much as an hour each. Even shorter or longer times are possible. What matters is what works for you.

Who goes first?

Either of you could go first, it doesn't matter.

How does a session start?

After you've decided who will be the first Focuser, the other person (now the Companion) asks three questions:

  1. [in person] where would you like to sit and where (how far from you) would you like me to sit?
    [on the phone] Are you sitting comfortably and can you hear me OK?
  2. How many minutes would you like to know before the end?
  3. What would you like from me as your Companion?

After the Focuser has answered these three questions, she or he begins the session in whatever way feels right.

How do we keep time?

When the Companion ask the Focuser, before the session starts, "How many minutes would you like to know before the end?", the Focuser tells the Companion the amount of time you need to end your session fully and comfortably. Examples: "Three minutes." "Five and then two, please."

The Companion gives the time alert in a clear audible voice, like: "There are about three minutes left." If the time to alert the Focuser comes while they are speaking, best to say back what they said first, then give the time alert. Give the time alert they asked for even if you lost track of time; if they asked for three minutes, but there is only one minute left, say "Three minutes."

If they go over time, *don't* say "Time's up" or anything like that. If they go five minutes past the agreed time, you might say something like, "You might see if there is a stopping place soon."

It seems like the best parts of my Focusing session come at the end. I'd prefer my partner to be flexible about time and let me go on longer if I want to.

Unless you are really sure that the other person feels relaxed about time, as you do, better to respect time boundaries as agreed. It's part of the "care and feeding" of a Focusing partner. One thing you *can* do, is ask for a longer time alert. If you've been asking for three minutes, try asking for eight or ten. That way you can have the luxury of your long stopping time without stepping on your partner's toes.

Of course we are not machines and it should always be possible to renegotiate time agreements if needed. If you give a two minute alert and your partner says, "It feels like this needs five more minutes, is that OK?", you would probably feel better about being asked, like that, than if your partner goes over time without asking. You would probably also feel better if such a thing is asked for only rarely, as a special request, rather than regularly. The key is to respect your partner's needs and your own.

I don't feel ready to Listen right after my Focusing turn.

How about having a 15-minute break between turns? That's long enough for a cup of tea or a walk around the block, and you can come back to Listening refreshed. Or you might want to take ten minutes after your session, by agreement, to write in your Focusing journal.


Keeping Boundaries

What if I need to change or cancel my Focusing partnership appointment?

If you really need to change or cancel, then let the other person know as soon as possible - and then you take the responsibility to call and reschedule, also as soon as possible.

But did you really need to change or cancel? How important was the other thing that came up instead? Focusing partnership works best when the time is treated as sacrosanct. Your Focusing partner is a Very Important Person, and you communicate that when you treat your appointment times with respect, and cancel only when you really really need to.

Shouldn't I cancel the appointment if I don't feel like Focusing?

It might well happen that "something in you" doesn't feel like Focusing.

Part of you may say things like: "Nothing will come," or "I'm feeling too shaky," or "The other person can't handle this." In fact, as your Focusing process takes you into deeper places, this is likely to happen, and is actually a sign that you are close to something important.

One of the great treasures of Focusing partnership is that, with a regularly scheduled time and another person there expecting to meet with you, you are brought to your Focusing process even when "something in you" would rather run like hell in the opposite direction.

You would never force yourself to Focus. But you might see if it would be OK to acknowledge the parts of you that are saying things like "nothing will come." Then wait. Or if there's fear, or concern about what might be there, you might acknowledge that. And wait, just being with that.

How about if I keep the appointment but I don't take my turn? I'll just Listen while my partner Focuses.

This is not a good idea because it can alter the power relationship of the partnership, and mark one person as the needy one and the other as the giver. Perhaps even more important is the difference not taking your turn makes in your relationship with yourself. This is a time when you are committed to turning up and being available for whatever wants your attention inside. It is part of developing a trustworthy inner relationship. Remember you don't have to Focus during your time, but we strongly suggest that you take at least a moment to sense inside for what you need that week. You might take a little time to sense what the not wanting to Focus today is about. You have the option to use your time for chatting or talking something over with your partner if your inner places really don't want your company today.

My partner is going through an upsetting time and seems to need a lot of Focusing, whereas I feel basically all right. Isn't it OK for me to give him my time?

We understand that giving away your turn can seem like a favor to the other person, but it actually isn't, because it isn't good for the long term health of the partnership.

People are different. Some have a lot going on, a lot of the time. We call that "Close Process." Some people usually think that nothing will come. That's called "Distant Process." Both kinds of people can and do get a lot out of Focusing. They can even get a lot out of being partners for each other. But the Distant Person should not, repeat not, be tempted to give away their time to the Close Person because the Close Person seems to need it more. They don't. Everyone needs Focusing. (Besides, a person who is upset or going through a tough time can get a lot out of being the Listener: a feeling of centeredness, the self-esteem of being able to be there for someone else...)

Again, if it is just for one week under exceptional circumstances, it isn't disastrous. But even then, make sure that it is a conscious choice that both of you are making. If it's their turn first, don't just continue and let them have all the time without agreeing that that is happening. This is how the imbalance in the partnership is most likely to happen.

One of the most important things that Focusing can teach someone who has a tendency to be overwhelmed with feelings is how to learn to contain them without repressing them. And one of the most important things that someone who doesn't have a lot of intense feelings can learn is that taking time to sense inside is important for them too even if they are feeling basically all right.

What if I'm the partner who's going through an upsetting time, and it's OK with me if my partner doesn't take a turn so I can have a longer one?

We still don't recommend this. We don't think it's a good idea for either one of you unless it's under exceptional circumstances (e.g. the death of a loved one). Partnership is equal, and it's two-way. If you feel like you need more time on a regular basis maybe the two of you could agree that both your sessions could be longer. Or if you feel you want more Focusing time, you could have a second Focusing partner. There's no rule that says you have to have just one!



Is it OK to be Focusing partners with a friend?

Many friends have become Focusing partners, and many Focusing partners have become friends. There is no problem with this. (And it is also OK to be just Focusing partners, and not also become friends.)

The key to remember is to keep the Focusing space separate from the friendship space. For example, if you like to chat and catch up on your week, do it before the session starts. Once you begin Focusing, keep the friendship type of chat totally out of it. If you like, you can signal this by moving to your "Focusing chairs." People working on the phone can make a similar boundary: "OK, let's start now."

What about being Focusing partners with an intimate partner?

Focusing can profoundly deepen your relationship. It can also intensify any areas between you that are troublesome. It can be done; the rewards are great. Consciousness and care are also required. (Focusing teacher Christel Kraft suggests using content-free Focusing when working with your intimate partner; i.e., Focusing without saying what it is about.)

I'm not sure that my partner is really Focusing. What can I do about it?

Fortunately, nothing! Remember that it is the Focuser's session, and it is not your responsibility as Listener/Companion to make something good happen in their Focusing, or even to make sure they're Focusing at all.

The locus of responsibility between Focusing partners is this: when someone is Focusing, it's their session. It's their time. If they want to use their time to 'talk about' instead of 'sense into', that's their business. If they want to use it to brainstorm or set goals or meditate, that's their business. Just ask how they would like you to be with them. Then you don't have to worry about your role.

I'm nervous because my partner is more experienced in Focusing and Listening than I am, and I'm afraid I won't be a good enough partner for them.

A Focusing partnership is a peer relationship; mutuality rules. Even if one of you is much more experienced than the other, the underlying basis of the partnership needs to be one of equality. All Focusers are equal, in that all Focusers have an inner knowing that can be trusted.

If you are Focusing, it is always fine to tell your Companion what you want from them, even if they are the most experienced Focusing Companion in the world.

If you are the Companion, let the Focuser tell you what they need from you, and follow their lead. The news is good: the more experienced a Focuser is, the more they are able to use the Listening of a novice Companion. So relax, and you'll learn quickly!

I don't feel safe working on certain issues with my partner. She's not a professional; I'm afraid she can't handle the depth and intensity of what I'm going through.

There are two things to say here. One is to encourage you to trust your inner sense of rightness about what feels OK to bring to your Focusing partnership. Never push past your own inner safety warnings. They are there for a reason.

However, it's possible that you may have misunderstood the nature of Focusing partnership. Your partner isn't a therapist or counselor for you. It isn't their responsibility to "handle" your issues. Your partner is simply being present for you and holding the space while *you* spend time with deep and delicate places. If you're not sure that *you* can handle what's coming up, that's a different matter. Then you might consider getting more support from a therapist or counsellor.

One thing to try if you're not sure that your Companion would be comfortable with the content of your issues is to Focus without saying what it's about.

My partner doesn't listen the way I need her to. I need more silence/less silence/more paraphrases/fewer paraphrases/more emotional tone/less emotional tone, etc.

It's built into the Focusing partnership process that the Focuser gets to ask for what she needs from her Companion. At the beginning of the session, the Companion asks: "What would you like from me as your Companion?" That is your opportunity to say what you would like. You can also say what you would like at any point in the session. You can ask for silence, or you can ask your partner to repeat what you said again... and again. It's *your* session. Have it your way. Sensing for what your process needs from your Companion is part of Focusing.

What if the Listener gets triggered by the Focuser's material?

First answer: Good! What a great opportunity!

Second answer: As the Listener, you are responsible for your own feelings and reactions, of course. You are a real person, not impervious to being moved or touched or shaken or stirred by what the Focuser is working on. But they are yours. We'd recommend acknowledging silently any feelings of your own that come up while you're listening to the Focuser. You might say something like "Hello, I know you're there," to them. That may be enough. There is no need to share them. In fact, better not, not even after the session is over. They're too likely to infringe on your partner's content.

If your turn is next, there may be a way to Focus on your issues that were triggered by your partner's work. If you can really own them as yours, not in any way "about" your partner, it should be OK. Remember that you can always Focus on something without saying what the content is. If you're in doubt, you can check with your partner by briefly describing what you want to work on and asking if that would or wouldn't violate their space. This sort of mutually inspired work can actually be rewarding for both people.

The most dangerous type of "being triggered" is when you don't realize it, so that instead of you taking responsibility for your reactions, they emerge as advice, rescuing behavior, criticisms, or judgments (of the Focuser or others in the Focuser's life). The urge to give advice, rescue, help, or judge may well be coming from a place in you that is having a hard time just being with the Focuser's process. Be alert for the urge to help, fix, or rescue. These urges can be golden signposts that there is something in you that needs some company.

What if I'm the Companion and the Focuser asks me to do something that I'm uncomfortable doing or unable to do?

Just say so. You have rights too! Probably there's something similar that you would be willing or able to do, and the two of you can negotiate until you find something that works.

For example: "I haven't learned guiding, so I'm not able to guide you, but if you have a guiding suggestion you'd like me to give you at a particular point, I'd be glad to do that."

What is the best way to end a Focusing partnership?

Not everyone can work well together. It's probably not anyone's fault; you may be incompatible in style or you may have grown out of the arrangement. It is really helpful to end a partnership cleanly and amicably if possible. Sometimes this may mean bringing in a third person to help you hear each other if things have gotten difficult. Sometimes it just may mean having a special session to honor and thank each other for what you did have. Not recommended: just letting it drift away to nothing. This tends to make it more difficult if you want to start it again later.


A Partnership Charter

As the Focuser:

you may:

you need to:


As the Companion

you may:

you need to:


This FAQ page is written and updated by Ann Weiser Cornell and Barbara McGavin. (Parts of it were adapted from their Focusing Student's Manual and Workbook Part 1 and Focusing Student's Manual and Workbook Part 2 which are both available from The International Focusing Institute store.) Email them at ann@focusingresources.com and bjmcgavin@focusing.uk.com with further questions you'd like added to this page.

About Ann Weiser Cornell

Ann is a Certifying Coordinator for The International Focusing Institute. She is editor and publisher of The Focusing Connection newsletter, which since 1984 has linked hundreds of Focusers worldwide. Her book, The Power of Focusing: A Practical Guide to Emotional Self-Healing, is published by New Harbinger Publications.

About Barbara McGavin

Barbara has been practicing Focusing since 1983 and now teaches Focusing full time. She is an Accrediting Mentor of the British Focusing Teacher's Association and a Certifying Coordinator for The International Focusing Institute in New York. Barbara's teaching has taken her to five countries on both sides of the Atlantic.

This page was last modified on 11 April 2008