Eugene Gendlin, the developer of the Focusing technique, was a student and colleague of pioneering psychologist Carl Rogers who developed Client-Centered or Rogerian psychotherapy. Together, at the University of Chicago in the late 1950s and 1960s, they researched what helped clients in successful psychotherapy. Gendlin noticed that if clients turned inward in a specific way, the therapy progressed but clients who didn’t turn inward stayed stuck. Gendlin began looking for a way to teach these clients a way of getting unstuck, which later developed into the Focusing technique. His clients learned to access an initially obscure, bodily-felt meaning or felt sense, allowing them to articulate that experience (Heuman).
Focusing is a method of “inward bodily attention” that “differs from the usual way we pay attention to feelings because it begins with the body and occurs in the zone between the conscious and the unconscious” (Gendlin, 1996, p.1). Many “people don’t realize that a bodily sense of any topic can be invited to come in that zone and that one can enter into such a sense. At first, it is only a vague discomfort, but soon it becomes a distinct sense with which one can work, and in which one can sort out many strands” (p. 1).
“How long it takes to learn focusing seems to be unrelated to other variables. Some clients deepen their therapy immediately when they are invited to attend physically. Even therapists who do not know focusing can markedly improve therapy with some proportion of their clients, simply by asking how what is being discussed makes them feel in the middle of the body and then waiting quietly for the client to sense there” (p.1).
“When therapists discuss cases, they use rough metaphoric terms to refer to a feeling process. They often say that they observe clients ‘emotionally absorbing something,’ or ‘working through,’ or ‘feeling through.’ The therapeutic process is observed to involve not only concepts but also a feeling process, which I would like to call ‘experiencing.’” Experiencing has several aspects including (1) “Experiencing is felt, rather than thought, known, or verbalized. (2) Experiencing occurs in the immediate present.” Experiencing is what someone “feels here and now, in this moment.” (Gendlin, 1961, p.234).
(3) Experiencing can be directly referenced by someone as a felt sense in their body. An example involves a client who “has all along asserted something about himself, for example, ‘I am afraid of being rejected.’ After many hours of therapy, he comes upon the feelings which make this so. He discovers anew that he is afraid of being rejected. Usually, he is then somewhat troubled by the fact that the feelings are new, different, amazing, yet no better words exist for them than the old, trite, ‘I am afraid of being rejected.’ The client then struggles to communicate to the counselor that now he ‘really’ feels it, that the concepts are old but the experiencing is new.” In this way, it becomes more apparent “that the client is referring to something other than conceptualizations. He is referring directly to his present experiencing” (p.236).
“Experiencing is a variable of the process of therapeutic” change; it is a process of feeling, rather than concepts. Experiencing occurs in the present moment and can be directly referred to by someone as a felt sense in their body. Experiencing guides a “client’s conceptualizations, and has implicit meaning”. Change happens in therapy even before a client has accurate concepts to describe the feelings they directly refer to. Experiencing is, more importantly, “felt rather than known conceptually. Experiencing can implicitly have a great many complex meanings, all of which can be in the process of changing even while they are being directly referred to”. When therapy is effective, it’s because it utilizes experiencing (Gendlin, 1961, p. 245).
Gendlin, E.T. (1961). Experiencing: A variable in the process of therapeutic change. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 15(2), 233-245. From http://previous.focusing.org/gendlin/docs/gol_2082.html
Gendlin, E. T. (1996). Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy. New York: Guilford Press.
Heuman, L. (2011). Focusing. Tricycle. Retrieved from https://tricycle.org/magazine/focusing-gendlin/