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Focusing in Malmö

I have just run a workshop in Malmö, Sweden, where I ventured to bring in a little bit of focusing* into a solution-focused exercise. Its impact and the participants’ reactions have encouraged me to do more of this. I explained focusing as paying attention to one’s physical experiencing, noticing what is going on in one’s body, when one is thinking about something – which is known as its felt sense. The felt sense is a sort of overall, often vague and elusive  feeling, and the sort of question that is asked to help someone focus on their felt sense is “What does all of that feel like?” To illustrate, I used the example of a symphony – when you think of Beethoven’s 5th, you don’t tend to hear or think of all the separate notes or instruments, you have a sense of the whole thing. Then, when someone is focusing, that is, paying attention to their bodily experiencing in this way, they will notice physical shifts, which often accompany or presage shifts for the person concerning whatever it is they are focusing on.

My attention was really drawn to focusing when I found out about its origins. Researchers were interested in differences between clients who ended up with successful outcomes from therapy, compared to those who didn’t have a good outcome (I believe the research was carried out within person-centred therapy). And what they discovered was that the successful clients were focusing. There are parallels with the development of solution-focused brief therapy in Milwaukee, though there it was what the workers did that worked that was observed. A fascinating idea to consider what successful clients were doing. If focusing led to good outcomes then the question to be asked is, can clients be helped to focus, and the answer has turned out to be yes.

In the workshop, I had the participants do a fairly standard** preferred future interview – think of a quality you want to have more of in your life – now imagine you do have more of this quality, how would it show? etc – and before and after this future-focused description, the interviewer helped the interviewee to focus, by asking before: “I’d like to invite you just to pay attention to what you are experiencing in your body… you might or might not yet be able to put words to it… pause… just stay with whatever it is you are feeling at the moment… have you got a sense of that?…” and after: “Now, having described these signs of this quality increasing on Thursday, pay attention to what you are noticing in or about your body now. What is your sense of all of that? Can you find some word or words for what you are noticing? And it’s fine if no words fit… Just stay with that for a few moments…”

The reactions of the workshop participants were positive, and for some it accentuated the impact of their future-focused description. One person made a comparison with mindfulness techniques, another with Ericksonian hypnosis, though the focusing as done here was seen to be a simpler activity.

Later, the participants did an exercise where one person acted as consultant to another, whose work with a client in a tough situation felt stuck. The consultant used a simple scale to elicit all that the consultee knew – about the client, the work, their relationship and themselves – which told them that change was actually possible. One of the participants suggested that the effect of this could be enhanced by the introduction of some focusing, with the consultee being invited to focus before and after the scaling, and then to remind themselves of their felt sense at the end of the consultation, after the scaling, just as, or just before, they were next seeing their client. This is a terrific idea, and there seems to me to be real potential for focusing in helping people carry with them helpful shifts they have noticed, from one situation, eg a consultation session, into another, eg their next meeting with a client.

Thanks to the Malmö workshop participants, to John Threadgold, my focusing teacher, and to Rob Rave, my fellow focusing learner.

*Eugene Gendlin. Focusing: How to gain direct access to your body’s knowledge. Rider Publications. Updated version of Gendlin’s original book

**Well, fairly standard now, maybe, though only because of BRIEF’s development and use of a store of simple and effective exercises over the years.

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