A collaborative day underpinned by discussion and demonstration. A Safety Protocol, including confidentiality, was agreed. John explained his belief that people consist of body, mind, emotions, the psychological and the soul and all needed to be whole. A key influence was Eugene Gendlin (2003) who described Focusing as a phenomenological approach:
‘Experience is a myriad richness. We think more than we can say.
We feel more than we can think. We live more than we can feel.
And there is much more still’.
A short video of Carl Rogers discussing Gendlin’s ‘flow of experiencing’ showed it offering the client a reference point that may be revisited time and again to aid understanding of any felt experiences in the present moment whilst acknowledging the body is immersed in its environment. Gendlin described empathy as allowing some sensing of this felt meaning in the now and by continuing to offer this to the client it encouraged the reaching of ‘its full and uninhibited experiencing’. Rogers discussed the empathic reflections that were offered to a client which were rejected until the word (disappointed) was offered which matched the client’s visceral experience in that moment and gave him the insight he felt he needed. Rogers said the power of listening empathically ‘is one of the most delicate and potent tools we have’, saying that every empathic response of his includes within it a question ‘Is this the way it is in you?’ Empathy is a process, John explained, which entails walking sensitively with the client in their world, being at ease with doing so, being aware of any changes in the client’s felt sense at any moment and being without judgement. Simply by the use of attentive listening we begin to hear the feelings and emotions which may be hidden or concealed behind the words. The therapist holds this new understanding without sharing unless the client begins to explore independently such feelings. The therapist may offer their own congruent sensing when it feels appropriate, constantly checking they are helpful for the client’s process and being guided by the client’s responses. We are companions in their world and changes are to be self generated by the client and the power located within them.
Through different case study discussions and the work of Kirtner & Cartwright (1950, Journal of Consulting Psychology, 22(5), 329-333) plus that of Gendlin and Carl Rogers we learned of research that had highlighted the fact that ‘successful clients could be spotted in the first/second session’ i.e. those who were ready and/or able to explore feelings and their meaning within their bodies in the ‘here and now’ and so find understanding and change. Change, of course, may be experienced as a significant event or just a small step in understanding. John explained that ‘the body bypasses the defences to trauma’ and if we place our focus within our bodies we will find our sense of truth in any situation and be able to retrieve some of our lost power. Some clients, however, may seem completely stuck in the past with its hurtful or traumatic events, going over and over what has happened, mixing in blame, guilt and sometimes shame. Their words may be critical of others and also of self, fed by strong, possibly hidden, emotion. We see the person in the ‘here and now’ but a part of their ‘being’ is locked with the past events. There is sometimes an absence of awareness of the body and its sensations and so finding a sense of detachment and a safe space in which to just breathe may be too difficult or frightening. The time for Focusing Therapy may not be now and perhaps the clients may prefer and benefit from a different approach first.
John demonstrated Focusing and reflective listening with different willing clients ensuring they felt grounded and were comfortable before inviting them to say what needed their attention now. John checked regularly whether his client felt safe and reassured him/her that if they began to feel overwhelmed the session would stop. He was so gentle and tentative in his interventions and what he terms ‘process proposals’. He reflected back asking if maybe they could sense how it feels inside whilst pointing to the trunk of the body (is it throat, chest, heart or stomach that senses something amiss?) John seemed aware of his own body experiences and checked regularly that his ‘clients’ were ‘ok to stay with theirs – to slow down and sense into their body’. When his clients met their own experiencing, sometimes for the first time. he would gently ask if he and they could keep it company for a while and perhaps ask what it wants to say, and might it be scared and to offer reassurance that it is safe now? Once the feeling was identified by the client, John asked if perhaps they ‘could let it know it has your full attention and does not have to be that powerful’. As each session ended, the client was asked to thank their body and promise to return. Both the observers and clients noted that through John’s way of working, how ‘deeply the clients had moved into their own Focusing experience’- very moving to watch and, of course, ‘experience’. John had explained to us that if the therapist can stay with the process and go deeper, the client will follow. If the therapist is worried and withdraws from the process, so will the client. John gave details of focusing partnerships, groups and further training that might be helpful.
John shared insights into a ‘young baby’s experiencing and language’. Babies are born complete focusing beings who can sense long before they can talk. Conversations with a baby in which simple language is used to describe what they and we are experiencing, noting tone and delivery, links words to their experiencing and so language begins to make sense and become another something the baby can use to seek the help needed or to explore its world. For us, when working with clients, it is important to use the nuances of language sensitively, with a high level of empathy, without judgement and to stay with our own felt sense as we offer others the space to find theirs along with self directed change and the power within.
This is a brief snapshot of a very full workshop. Thank you John, for such an inspirational day.
Rogers C. 1980 ‘A Way of being’, Houghton Mifflin & Co. New York.
Carl Rogers on Empathy: www.youtube.com/watch?v=2dLsgpHw5x0
Gendlin E.T. 1996 ‘Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy’, Guilford Publications Inc, New York