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Community Wellness Focusing Update

Community Wellness Focusing Update

by Nina Joy Lawrence and Patricia Omidian
Published in TFI Newsletter In Focus May 2013

We have learned a lot about sharing Focusing in different cultures since 2001 when we started working with Afghans.  There we combined Eugene Gendlin’s Focusing theory and Ann Weiser Cornell’s lesson plans with something similar that Afghans already had, Jalaludin Rumi’s Guesthouse poem. The experiment worked so well that we thought spreading Focusing into a new cultural context had a lot to do with finding local metaphors for Focusing so it could be accepted as already belonging.

Co-creating a Way to Meet Community Needs

As other Focusers tried using our model we all began to realize success was due to more than finding a good metaphor.   Community spreading of Focusing also worked in Afghanistan because we responded to what the community needed, not just what we thought would help them. 

We are so grateful to Beatrice Blake for helping us see this more clearly.  She bravely took the Afghan model to El Salvador, developing a wonderful lesson plan including the Guesthouse poem.  What was so meaningful in Afghanistan turned out to be something laughable in El Salvador, so she did what good Focusers do, she paused and really listened to the Salvadorans, who let her know they wanted less violence. She started with non-violent communication skills, and crossed it with some Focusing skills, which worked marvelously!

We now see that Focusing actually did spread by a similar process in Afghanistan. The aid workers said, “We are traumatized and we are going crazy from war.  Help us!”  So we started with their need for psychosocial information and strategies to deal with stress.  Together we explored normal social and psychological health in Afghan families, and discovered the signs and building blocks of Afghan resiliency.  Focusing using their Guesthouse metaphor could then answer their need for resiliency in the face of stress.

Focusing - Not an End Unto Itself 

We have realized that Community Wellness Focusing isn’t about teaching Focusing in order to spread Focusing.  There are urgent needs in the communities that can be met by including small bits of Focusing with other skills.  We are more concerned with aiding the communities to meet their needs.  If the small bits of Focusing skill provide all the help that is wanted right now, we are satisfied.  We can hold ourselves ready to share more when people ask for more. 

Anna Willman, in her book Creating Confidence: How To Do Social Work Without Destroying Souls, talks about the way the Confidence Clinic was co-created in Roseburg, Oregon by the people who needed social services and a few renegade social workers.  When she became involved in the clinic she began using bits of Focusing to meet the needs of the clients, including a Focusing attitude in all group work, teaching the women to listen to each other.     

William Hernandes in Ecuador shows  how he teaches a small part of Focusing, the Pause.  Some Focusers have wondered if he is really teaching Focusing.  At first we got the same reaction about our use of the Guesthouse poem.   What Anna’s Confidence Clinic work, William’s NGo and our Afghan program do is start small and add more small Focusing skills as needed.  The Guesthouse poem points to the Focusing attitude, bringing caring presence to whatever is coming inside.  The Pause helps people sense there is something inside themselves.  Listening training helps people accompany their own inner process and be partners to others. 

About Afghans we worked with, Pat says “I think about some of these people who told us they finally got to sleep at night through use of Focusing.  And then they had enough free attention to notice, ‘I’m arguing too much. Can Focusing help with that?’  and soon  ‘I remember something that happened when I was a kid ... can I do something to help how I feel about it now?’ People do take the little bits and ask for more as they feel the need to go deeper.”  First in Afghanistan, they needed psychosocial understanding of stress and normal development and resiliency.  And then they realized they needed something that helped with more personal challenges.  We noticed them realize more and more how deep the human is, and ask for more Focusing skills.

Supporting Inside Focusing

It’s hard to create a viable Community Wellness program if the teaching is coming from outside the community periodically. To respond effectively to the needs of a community by combining Focusing with other solutions, we have found a kind of team that it works well: at least one support person from outside the community who is well steeped in Focusing working with one or more members inside the community to create a cross of Focusing and other answers to the needs of the community.  The team members create Something and Focusing, come to use it, love it, and want to share it.  Beatrice Blake found this in El Salvador as she traveled there to teach.  A number of people experienced NVC and Focusing, and eventually there arose an enthusiastic mother-daughter pair, Melba and Yara Jiminez, who have joined with Beatrice to create Nuevos Rumbos, an NGO for ongoing training in El Salvador.    

Jerry Conway, UK, helped start what is developing into the Gaza project.   Mohamed Altawil wanted more therapeutic ways to work with children and families in war ravaged Gaza so after learning psychosocial wellness and Focusing from Jerry,  they made a support team with Mary Jennings, Simon Kilner and others.  The team found some funding, took small steps, and have completed their second training trip for the workers in the Palestine Trauma Center of Gaza. They combine psychosocial wellness, Focusing, and family therapy.

Lori Ketover in New York has been carrying on a project with children and teens for years.  In a local library she offers children’s groups, combining art, writing and Focusing. She built a support team by inviting local teens to help in the children’s groups, a real inside job!  Now she says the teens are interested to see the connection of their project to the wider network of Focusing.


About monetary support for Community wellness projects, we have learned that they tend to begin in small ways through donations of time and money, and then spread widely when they can be fitted into ongoing already funded projects. When projects are ready to grow and need formal funding, we have found that the way forward is to use the donor’s language and goals, often by directing attention to the “something” and Focusing.  In a discussion with Mary in 2004, she pointed out that if we always couch our work in the language of donors, there would be no record of the successes Focusing brings and no precedence for the use of Focusing as a wellness or healing tool in subsequent projects. This means one has to balance how one presents one’s work to the donors. For example, few agencies will fund a “Focusing” project, but in Afghanistan a UN agency funded a project that addressed the psychological needs of women victims of domestic violence. The tools included psychosocial wellness and Focusing. The approach to funders was through their lens, knowing that Focusing would be at the heart of the work. In working with donor agencies, we found that it is important that Focusing be listed as one of the key skills to be used.

Valuing Different Callings

Another greater awareness we have now is how much we need the Focusing Oriented Therapists, the university professors who include Focusing in their programs, and so many other ways of offering Focusing.  We don’t want to imply that Community Wellness is the only or best way to proceed. It can’t replace the other offerings. 

We love the understanding from public health work of the 3 tiers of care.  The primary tier is basic information continually provided widely in the society, like training for washing hands to prevent spread of disease.  The secondary tier is provided by doctors and mental health professionals for ill individual out-patients, and tertiary care is hospitalization for the few people in a population who are very ill.  Pat remembers a wonderful community trainer in Afghanistan who could identify in a group of 50 women 2 or 3 who actually needed therapy, and one woman who probably needed a psychiatrist to prescribe medication for a mental illness.  The rest of the women were helped in the community setting by psychosocial information and Focusing. 

Each level of care is so valuable and we need different experts for each.  We are so glad we can send somebody to a therapist when it would meet her or his need much better.  We look inside ourselves continually as we work on these projects.  Where is my forward path from inside?  Is something calling inside me to do this spreading sort of thing?  If my calling is to sit with one person and do therapy deeply, the world needs this very much also!  

Encouraging Immediate Sharing

In Community Wellness Focusing we have always used participatory training methods and homework to encourage immediate passing on of new knowledge.  We have learned this continues to be a valuable approach.  When Mary Jennings in Ireland was starting the Childrens’ Focusing project there, she looked for local Certified Focusing Trainers to help teach Focusing to adults who work with children.  She found most of them were not actively teaching at the time. 

At a workshop William Hernandez mentioned to us that he didn’t emphasize Focusing certification within his aid organization, FECD, because he didn’t want people to concentrate on getting a piece of paper, but on making Focusing a part of life and sharing it with others.  His YouTube video is entitled “Breaking the paradigm of the teacher and the student, the one who teaches and the one who is being taught, to cooperating and learning together.” 
In 1992 Elena Frezza from Argentina began teaching focusing while she still felt like a new Focuser.  She set up a training center and developed an academic plan to present to the Education Ministry which included the first two levels of Focusing.  Later an International Focusing Conference I remember Elena reporting that the Teachers Association started sharing their learnings, by publishing a book on the experiences of teachers in the program. 
At the same time as we encourage learners to teach, we are very glad there are wonderful certified trainers who have worked so diligently over so many years to find great ways of teaching Focusing!  We also encourage each other to not wait to be perfected in Focusing before we start passing it on and combining it with other approaches that help our communities.

Pat Omidian and Nina Joy Lawrence are Certifying Coordinators for The Focusing Institute. Pat is a medical anthropologist who looks for culturally appropriate ways to adapt Focusing. Nina Joy is a Friend (Quaker), who says, “holding Presence for everything inside fits so satisfyingly with my spiritual practice and with my belief in building peace.” The two pioneered Community Wellness Focusing in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Through the support of agencies like CHA, AFSC, the IRC, Save the Children and UNICEF, various Focusing projects were scaled up for diverse communities, rural or urban groups, universities, iilliterate women's groups, school teachers and other “formed” communities in Afghanistan, using Focusing throughout.