Last month HACP had the pleasure to host John Leslie Threadgold who gave a talk on Focusing and Focusing-Oriented Therapy. John kindly filled in at the last minute as our original speaker had to cancel. I was intrigued by the title and wondered how this talk would enhance my knowledge about the topic. Focusing is a tool that I already use in my Gestalt practice and I was hoping to learn or understand more of what focusing means and how it works with other modalities or on its own.
FOT comes from the work of philosopher and psychologist Eugene Gendlin in collaboration with Carl Rogers. The talk began with the idea that focusing occurs naturally in all of us and how, in our counselling room. It is helpful to spot when this is happening in our clients. John referred to FOT as ‘any therapy that encourages clients to have focusing moments’. John offered an interesting question: “Why do some clients succeed in therapy and others don’t?” He referred to Kirtner and Cartwright’s research in which they could identify, within the first two therapy sessions, whether this would be the case. The way they knew this was by observing the way a client would work with his or her issues internally. These clients had higher experiencing levels (focusing) and knew what to do with that information. They could check and notice inside themselves a whole bodily-felt sense of their issues.
How can therapists spot when a client is ‘focusing’ in a session? John presented four scripts of how clients may present in the counselling room. These four ways of talking, as I understood them, are as follows:
- Clients that tell their story without depth
- Clients being merged with a feeling but without reflection
- Clients that can analyse and understand their narrative but are not emotionally connected to it
- Clients that display all of the above BUT also have the capacity to create meaning and have a felt sense underneath their narrative
One of my favourite parts of the talk was the opportunity for members to participate in role-playing four different clients with four different scripts (as described above). This exercise gave all of us the opportunity to hear, listen and have an idea of the client’s felt sense at that moment. During the exercise I kept thinking of how in my practice, and maybe yours, I have come across with clients presenting in these four ways.
A member asked something along the lines of: ‘how do we do ‘focusing’ with clients that are unable to identify what they feel? John responded by suggesting to use the word ‘something’ when a client cannot articulate this (‘you feel something’, ‘is there something more?’). I was very struck by this because it made absolute sense to me that even though someone may not be able to identify how or what they are feeling, it does not take away from the fact that they ARE feeling it and that it is true and valid for them at that moment. The word ‘something’ describes what the client does not have the vocabulary for…yet. The word takes the meaning from the felt experience.
John offered to do a client-counsellor role play where he would act as the counsellor to a volunteer member of the audience to demonstrate for us how Focusing works in a therapy session. This was a very interesting, inspiring, educational and moving moment for me. John had a client that was able to tell her story, was able to merge with her feelings and emotions, understood her narrative AND was able to make sense of it and create meaning. There was nothing left for John to do but as he puts it: ‘not to get in the way’. In a very warm person-centred way, John was able to help his client explore her issue by connecting to her emotions, raising self-awareness in his client. He noticed how she would slow down her talking and invited her to notice within her body what was going for her. He tried to match his intonation to hers and remained curious about her experience.
After this role play, John shared with us one question he asks himself when working with clients “Am I sensing it as you are experiencing it?’ This has led me to reflect even more about the way I relate to my own clients. The end of the talk left me thinking that Gestalt and FOT theories could complement each other and I wondered how I could integrate FOT into my practice rather than using it as a tool within my current work.
David Brown had a few words to say about this talk too: ‘What I enjoyed most in the evening was the demonstration of the method with a brave client from the audience. It was a good example of facilitating a client’s felt exploration of an issue where the therapist was not “getting in the client’s way.” We could all sense the “felt shift” in the client as she relaxed into a more accepting felt understanding of her issue, which was empowering for her. The “release of tension” that John had been talking about was also evident in the client as the short session came to an end. This was all achieved by listening to and reflecting back to the client in a careful, sensitive, exploratory way. It seemed like twenty minutes well spent for the client!’