What is focusing?

Focusing is a gentle yet powerful process that helps you tap into your emotional intelligence and inner knowledge by listening to your body. The method was developed by American philosopher and therapist Eugene T. Gendlin in the 1960s, and perfected during 20 years of clinical observation and research.

From a Focusing perspective, the term “body” holds a special meaning. It includes our physical self as well as our perceptions, feelings, thoughts and vital energy. It’s the sum of all the building blocks of an individual; the special combination that determines your unique way of “being in the world”.

Our life is an endless stream of stimuli and information. The body processes it all, and retains more than you are consciously aware of. It’s the trusted keeper of your inner wisdom based on all your life experiences.

By focusing inwardly and listening to your body, you can understand how you truly feel about your circumstances, a specific situation or a relationship. Embracing the flow of feelings in a non-judgmental way triggers a transformational process – a change in attitude towards yourself and the world around you.

And that results in enhanced well-being, balance and self-awareness.

Attraverso il Focusing possiamo aprire Porte ed esplorare dimensioni a cui non possiamo accedere usando soltanto l’intelletto.
Eugene T. Gendlin

The ability to “zoom in” on our emotions and fears by paying attention to physical sensations is innate. But as we grow older, it is often “hushed” by an excess of rationality, a lack of self-confidence or everyday problems.

The Focusing method helps you reconnect with a wider dimension of being – and activate a process where your body, mind and soul work together to achieve clarity and a sense of direction.

Benefits of Focusing

The transformative potential of Focusing is enormous. It can help you improve all areas of your life: your career, spiritual journey or personal relationships.

When you embrace the process as a practice, it becomes a part of you. And the new approach helps you align your life choices and actions to your true feelings and desires – and get rid of vicious behavioural patterns and thoughts that stand in the way of self-fulfilment.

Focusing helps you:

Reconnect with all dimensions of your being and become more self-aware.
Develop healthier relationships with yourself and people around you.
Overcome blocks and difficulties caused by traumatic or discomforting situations.
Mitigate emotional or existential distress.
Develop an open, non-judgmental approach to your own feelings and emotions.
Manage stress and anxiety by pausing the ongoing buzz to allow you to focus on the present moment.
Nurture healthier relationships with your family, friends and colleagues.
Make more conscious and deliberate decisions in your personal and professional life.
Tap your intuition and inner wisdom to develop creative ideas and projects.

Is Focusing right for you?

Focusing is for everyone. As Gendlin himself declared, the Focusing process is not an “invention”, but a roadmap people can follow to “get to focusing”.

Children are especially keen on focusing. In the early stages of life, our sense of the world is based on experience: we learn from anything we see, touch, hear, smell or taste. As adults, we seem to lose the ability to trust our body more than our mind – but nothing is lost forever. You can re-discover and practice focusing at any stage in life.

Quando troviamo le parole giuste, il Felt Sense si apre. Tutto scorre in avanti.
Dove prima c’era un blocco, ora il significato delle parole genera un nuovo fluire.
Eugene T. Gendlin

Focusing offers invaluable support to people who:

  • Are pursuing personal development;
  • Want to enhance their relationships and active listening skills;
  • Long for a natural and readily accessible way to enhance their quality of life.

It also proves useful to healthcare professionals, counsellors, therapists, group facilitators, community workers and teachers. While Focusing is neither therapy nor a substitute for psychotherapy, its broad range of applications can provide meaningful support to therapy or physical work.

The Focusing method can be applied alone or with a partner. In a Focusing Partnership, the non-focusing person (called “listener”) does not comment, judge or elaborate on what the partner says. The listener is a gentle, unobtrusive presence that holds the space for the partner and serves as a “mirror” in his/her search for the meaning of a sensory perception.

The Focusing process

How does Focusing work? Gendlin described it as a process consisting of six steps. The objective of the steps is to help you (re)connect with your body. Next, you explore the meaning of signals emitted by your body.

However, the Focusing process is rooted in experience. The steps are, therefore, not followed in a specific sequence of actions but instead it is more like the flow of a river. Focusing is about going with the flow, letting our body (the sum of the dimensions of being) guide us.

As a first step, you make space for focusing. Clearing the space means paying attention to your inner being and connecting with your body, to set the world aside and “be in the moment”, existing just for yourself. This preparation helps you enter a higher state of self-awareness and get ready to grasp the signals of your body.

When you’re fully in the moment, you can zoom in and gently ask your body “how do I feel now?”. Your question can be general, or in connection with a specific situation. As you patiently pay attention, a sensory perception emerges. A tickling tongue, the tensioning of a muscle, etc.

This whisper of your body is called a felt sense. It’s a meaningful and nuanced sensation which is somehow connected to your question. A small hint that will guide you towards the answer.

Felt senses are not to be rationalised. To consult your inner wisdom, you need to welcome the felt sense in an open, non-judgemental way. As you do this, you gently allow the sensation to evolve into a symbol – a word, an image or a phrase – that describes it. By checking how the word resonates with the felt sense, back and forth, you come to find the word (or image) that captures the essence of the felt sense.

The exact definition of a felt sense triggers the dissipation of tension or relief. That is yet another whisper, signalling that we are “in the right place” to explore the felt sense and understand its significance.

Such exploration leads to another physical sensation, which is called a felt shift. It is usually perceived as a sense of relief, gratitude or lightness – and it means that we got our answer, that we understood what the body already knew but we couldn’t grasp.

Embracing this shift paves the way to a transformation, which could manifest either as one huge transformational event/decision or, more frequently, as small positive changes with a meaningful impact on your overall well-being and self-confidence.

Learning the Focusing method

Eugene T. Gendlin has always encouraged his research partners and students to “play around” with Focusing, and try new ways to apply and teach the Focusing process.

This experimental approach led to the development of various focusing-based methods, such as Wholebody Focusing or focusing-oriented art therapy. It also inspires Focusing trainers to develop their own philosophy of teaching, based on their unique background and strengths.

The International Focusing Institute of New York, founded by Gendlin in 1979, hosts an international database of certified Focusing trainers and coordinators. In a nutshell:

  • Focusing trainers are qualified professionals. They teach the Focusing process to individuals or groups and help people reconnect with their inner wisdom.
  • Coordinators are qualified educators. They help future Trainers consolidate their knowledge of the Focusing method and develop their unique teaching style.

Interested in learning more about Focusing, and how it can support your personal development? Browse the latest articles on my blog.

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