"A superb manual for self-managed therapy. . .a tool beyond price."—Brain-Mind Bulletin
Focusingby Eugene T. Gendlin
Based on research at the University of Chicago, focusing is a new technique of self therapy that teaches you to identify and change the way your personal problems concretely exist in your body. Focusing consists of steps of felt change. Unlike methods that stress "getting in touch with your feelings," there is a built-in test: each focusing step, when done correctly, is marked by a physical relief, a profound release of tension. Focusing guides you to the deepest level of awareness within your body. It is on this level, unfamiliar to most people, that unresolved problems actually exist, and only on this level can they change.
- Random House Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt
The Inner Act
At the University of Chicago and elsewhere in the past fifteen years, a group of colleagues and I have been studying some questions that most psychotherapists don't like to ask out loud. Why doesn't therapy succeed more often? Why does it so often fail to make a real difference in people's lives? In the rarer cases when it does succeed, what is it that those patients and therapists do? What is it that the majority fail to do?
Seeking answers, we studied many forms of therapy from classical approaches to recent ones. We analyzed literally thousands of therapist-patient sessions recorded on tape. Our series of studies had led to several findings, some very different from what we and most other professional therapists expected.
First, we found that the successful patient—the one who shows real and tangible change on psychological tests and in life—can be picked out fairly easily from recorded therapy sessions. What these rare patients do in their therapy hours is different from the others. The difference is so easy to spot that, once we had defined it, we were able to explain it to inexperienced young undergraduates, and they too were able to sort out the successful patients from the others.
What is this crucial difference? We found that it is not the therapist's technique—differences in methods of therapy seem to mean surprisingly little. Nor does the difference lie in what the patients talk about. The difference is in how they talk. And that is only an outward sign of the real difference: what the successful patients do inside themselves.
The purpose of this book is to tell you what they do and how you can do it. For this uncommon skill, this internal act, not only is useful in a psychotherapist's office, it is a way of approaching any problem or situation.
We have taught this skill to large numbers of people not in therapy in subsequent years. Now that it seems anyone can learn it, I also want this book to be readable by anyone. The book is addressed to professionals, but not only to them. Therefore I am writing it simply and not in the technical manner of my philosophical and scientific publications.
The skill we have observed and defined is not only for problems. Among those who know it, it becomes an internal source that is consulted many times every day. I am using it right now, in the process of writing this book.
The skill I am about to teach you is called focusing.
It will enable you to find and change where your life is stuck, cramped, hemmed in, slowed down. And it will enable you to change—to live from a deeper place than just your thoughts and feelings.
One fact that disturbed us the most in those research studies was that patients who did the crucial thing inside themselves could be picked out in the first two therapy sessions. We found we could predict success or failure right from the start just by analyzing the early interviews. According to a careful statistical analysis, there was less than a thousand-to-one chance of getting the same finding accidentally.
Today we know how to teach focusing. So this finding does not mean that some people cannot learn it. But at the time this was a shocking discovery. Here we had therapists and patients embarking on a year or more of hard effort. Much human need, hope, devotion, and money would be involved, and we already knew they would fail.
The finding means that psychotherapy as usually practiced doesn't show patients how to do psychotherapy. In other words, patients did not improve with practice. If they did not somehow know right from the start how to approach themselves inside in that special way, they did not achieve major changes, no matter what they or their therapists did or how earnestly or for how long.
This finding was contrary to my predictions, and to what had been my own firm subjective conviction. I thought I had experienced the gradual opening and increasing ability of patients to come into touch with their feelings. I had been certain that patients learn to do psychotherapy in themselves over the course of treatment, and do it more effectively in the second half. I had had many experiences of beginning with patients who seemed inept at sensing themselves inwardly, and, by my own skills as a therapist, and with the patients' efforts, I had brought many such patients to a successful resolution of their problems.
One reason why research is so important is precisely that it can surprise you and tell you that your subjective convictions are wrong. If research always found what we expected, there wouldn't be much point in doing research.
With hindsight I realize I was thinking only of the successful patients and not of the many patients with whom I failed. Now we know how to teach these people the crucial skill as well.
The research shows plainly, and repeatedly, that successful patients do indeed improve in this key skill, but the research also shows that they had it to some extent right at the beginning. The others, those who failed, did not have it at all and never achieved it through psychotherapy alone. At that time we did not know how to teach it.
Most therapists don't know what this crucial internal approach is, let alone how to help patients learn it. So I was led to wonder: can it be taught?
My first feeling, stemming from my training as a psychotherapist, was to say no, it can't be taught. I was trained to believe that only a very naive therapist would try to tell the patient in words how therapy works. Someone who hasn't experienced it wouldn't understand the words. Psychotherapy was supposed to be an art, a mystery, not a science. Some groups claim to have developed exact scientific techniques, but this is only a propaganda claim. The omniscient and totally self-assured psychotherapist exists only in the movies. Of course, each school of therapists has its own ideas and techniques, but they all know that they stumble around confusedly when their techniques don't work, which is more often than not. Therefore no serious psychotherapist would claim to be able to put into words exactly what makes therapy work, how to make changes happen inside a person. Only therapy itself was supposed to teach how.
But the research had shown that therapy does not teach how to those who don't already know how. The research had also shown very specifically what the crucial inner act is. Was it naive, now, to think it might be teachable?
Despite my doubts, I set out to see if I could make that all-important inner act teachable. With many people's help, I gradually devised specific directions for doing what those rare successful patients had somehow known how to do. We tried those directions out on large numbers of people and revised them and tried them again many times over a period of years. Those instructions have now become very specific and very teachable. Research conducted in several places has shown that people can be taught effectively in these ways to perform that internal act (see appendix).
Since this crucial internal act can be taught, and is not taught by therapy, people need not be therapy patients to learn it. What follows from this fact is a kind of revolution. No longer need this change process be in the charge of therapists. People can do it for themselves and with each other.
Of course they are not "therapists" or "doctors" or "authorities" with each other, but the authority aspect of the medical doctor never has really fitted the human process of personal change at all. Human problems are by their very nature such that we are each inherently in charge of ourselves. No authority can resolve our problems or tell us how to live. Therefore I and others have been teaching more and more people to help themselves and each other.
This book will let you experience and recognize when actual change is happening in you, and when it's not. There is a distinct physical sensation of change, which you recognize once you have experienced it. We call it a body shift. When people have this even once, they no longer helplessly wonder for years whether they are changing or not. Now they can be their own judges of that. Often, when focusing is taught to a new group, some people experience a bodily shift, a step toward resolution of a problem they have discussed with a therapist for many years without change. They are shocked. Could a few minutes of this let me experience more change than I've had in my expensive psychotherapy?
People still think of the therapist as an authority. Even if patients feel no change, they think "the doctor" must know what's happening. If "the doctor" thinks they should keep coming, they accept it as necessary. They think something "must be happening." As someone wrote me recently: "When I confronted my therapist about there being no change, he thought it was all right if I have a paid friend for the rest of my life. I never went back . . . but after four years!"
When the revolution in self-help fully takes place and people generally learn and do these helpful processes with each other, will professional psychotherapy be unnecessary? I think expert help will always be wanted. But it will have to be better than what ordinary people can do when trained in specific skills. People will know how to recognize, unmistakably, whether they are being helped or not.
One must try out a number of therapists (a few sessions at a time, not years!) in order to find real help. You can do this after you learn the unmistakable bodily experience of a bit of change going on.
My approach to therapy and some of my colleagues' approaches too have been radically changed by the knowledge that the crucial inner act is teachable. When people come to me for help, I no longer let them talk and talk. And of course I don't—and never did—just analyze their feelings intellectually. Nor do I let them scream the same phrases and work in circles on the same things over and over again as happens in some of the newer therapies. Many people can get in touch with feelings—but then what? They have "gut feelings" all right, but the feelings don't change.
Focusing is the next development after getting in touch with feelings. It concerns a different kind of inward attention to what is at first sensed unclearly. Then it comes into focus and, through the specific internal movements I am about to present, it changes in a bodily way.
Another major discovery is that the process of actually changing feels good. Effective working on one's problems is not self-torture. The change process we have discovered is natural to the body, and it feels that way in the body. The crucial move goes beneath the usual painful places to a bodily sensing that is at first unclear. The experience of something emerging from there feels like a relief and a coming alive.
From this new vantage point, the traditional methods of working on oneself are seen to have been mostly pain-centered. People get into and repeat over and over their painful emotions, without knowing how to use the body's own life-centered and inherently positive direction and force. That way people stay as they are and hurt themselves over and over. One of the chief new principles is that the change process feels good. It feels like inhaling fresh air after having been in a stuffy room for a long time. The moment it doesn't, you stop and back up just a little bit.
This crucial skill is not easy to explain. Many people can do it only after some practice. On the other hand, it is very much easier than struggling for years with the old troubles, perhaps ending with a better self-understanding but with no change, perhaps getting in touch with feelings but being unable to make them move, shift, resolve themselves.
As hard as it was for me at first to accept the research finding that therapy doesn't do the job, research findings can never hurt you. They move you forward. If the therapy as it now exists doesn't do the job, then we must change therapy.
The happiest change of all is that we can build the change process into society generally and not only in doctor-patient therapy that costs so much and sometimes gives so little. Now that the inner act is teachable, we can teach it not just to therapy patients but to anyone. We have found that it can be taught in a school system, in church groups, in community centers, in many other settings. Any person can use this internal process. People can also be shown very specific ways to help each other with it.
Before I start to explain this inner act, I want to make an earnest request of you. Put aside for a while what you know about psychotherapy or inward processes. What I am about to show you is not the familiar "getting in touch with feelings." Nor is it the content-free quiet of meditation. Whether you are a psychotherapist, patient, or intelligent layperson, this inner act is probably quite unfamiliar to you. The internal equipment needed to perform the act is in every human being, but in most people it is unused. A few seem to use it intuitively now and then, but the chances are you have never deliberately done it and have never been aware the possibility exists. Only recently is it being discussed in the professional literature.
Some people learn this inner way fairly fast, while others need some weeks or months of patient inner listening and tinkering.
The process I am going to teach you in this book, the inner act, is a perfectly natural one. But as our language contains no words to describe it, I have had to invent the needed words.
I call the process focusing. It is a process in which you make contact with a special kind of internal bodily awareness. I call this awareness a felt sense.
A felt sense is usually not just there, it must form. You have to know how to let it form by attending inside your body. When it comes, it is at first unclear, fuzzy. By certain steps it can come into focus and also change. A felt sense is the body's sense of a particular problem or situation.
A felt sense is not an emotion. We recognize emotions. We know when we are angry, or sad, or glad. A felt sense is something you do not at first recognize—it is vague and murky. It feels meaningful, but not known. It is a body-sense of meaning. When you learn how to focus, you will discover that the body finding its own way provides its own answers to many of your problems.
The process brings change.
A therapist is not necessary in focusing. By yourself, or with a friend who knows how and when to keep quiet, you can achieve focusing results.
Meet the Author
Eugene T. Gendlin, Ph.D., University of Chicago has been honored three times by the American Psychological Association for his development of experiential psychotherapy. He received the first Distinguished Professional Psychologist of the Year award from the Clinical Division” he and the Focusing Institute received an award from the Humanistic Division in 2000. He was the founder and editor for many years of the Clinical Division journal Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, and Practice. His book Focusing has sold over 400,000 copies and is translated into twelve languages. His other books include Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams, Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy, Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning, Language Beyond Post-Modernism: Saying and Thinking in Gendlin’s Philosophy (edited by David Levin). He has published many articles. He is internationally recognized as a major American philosopher and psychologist.
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