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Psychological and Clinical Sources of Focusing

Freud said that the process of "working through" was the most important part of psychoanalysis, but he did not expand greatly on it. Working through is what happens moment by moment in the therapy hours, and is always much more specific than the concepts of a theory.

Freud considered an interpretation successful when it brings a "dynamic shift" in the person, a change in the energy balance, a released energy and sometimes new content arising from the unconscious.

Otto Rank emphasized that clients should "stand in the actual experience they are discussing in therapy at that moment."

Carl Rogers found that a deeper and deeper therapeutic process arises from inside a person, if one only listens, and adds no interpretations, no editing, no advice. The effort is to understand exactly what the person intends to say. One responds by saying back moment by moment to check one's understanding after each bit of communication (Heinz Kohut, in a somewhat different spirit, has adopted this kind of responding and it is now used by many Freudian analysts.) Tom Gordon ("Parent Effectiveness") and Harville Hendrix ("Imago Relationship Therapy") have further developed this kind of responding and taught it to some millions of the general public.

"Reflective" or "mirroring" responses enable a person to remain with what they said, and more importantly, with that in themselves from which they spoke. One can usually say only a little of one's trouble, but much more is felt or sensed in a more-than-verbal way. By saying back exactly what a person meant to say, not arguing nor adding or changing anything, we give people our company without taking them away from the spot at which this inner more-than-verbal is opening, step by step, in little increments.

From philosophy Gendlin marked that more-than-verbal experiencing, from which clients speak, and to which we respond by reflecting. He translated Wilhelm Dilthey's "erleben" into the English word "experiencing."

In early work (reprinted recently in The Person-Centered Journal, V.1, #2) Gendlin and Zimring proposed a Scale by which progress in psychotherapy could be measured as this increasingly deep speaking from what was then called "pre-conceptual feeling." In Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning Gendlin had called it "pre-conceptual. Seeman had earlier written of something he called "unformed emotional experience." Since then we use the term "felt sense" for such a bodily sense at the edge of what we can say. Emotion is something quite different from this. One recognizes anger, fear, joy and the other emotions, but the felt sense cannot at first be categorized at all. It is not truly pre-conceptual because all kinds of concepts may be implicit in it, but it is more-than-conceptual in that no concept encompasses it. New speaking and thought can come from it, usually in tiny steps.

A series of research projects ensued (references) in which the Scale was several times revised. It has become the Experiencing Scale. A series of studies have shown and replicated the finding that successful clients are higher on the scale throughout psychotherapy.

But originally the prediction had been that successful clients would begin low and increase this direct reference to felt sense over the course of therapy. Instead, successful clients tended to begin already doing this, while clients who failed to get better in therapy tended to begin low and remain low on this variable. Some years earlier, Kirtner had similarly found that successful clients could be picked out from very early interviews.

The implication was that those who do not already engage in this manner of therapy process ought to be shown how to engage in it. The result: what we now call focusing instructions.

During therapy most therapists give short small bits of such instructions, so as not to obstruct the client's ownership of the hour. Separately, we have developed explicit ways of teaching the public at large how to let a felt sense come, and how to focus on it and let steps come from it. It need not be a part of psychotherapy. Focusing has many other applications in many other settings.

You may want to visit the psychotherapy section of our site.

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