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Susan Lutgendorf, M.S.W.


I am writing this article as a follow up to Mary McGuire’s article (Focusing Folio, Vol. S, No. 4) on teaching focusing to children.

I had the opportunity to work with two groups of 24 fifth and sixth graders while they were studying a unit on mental health. Since I was only to meet with each student once, I used the word “imagery” rather than focusing in my presentation so as not to give them a confused idea as to what focusing is.

My goal was to teach them that they were able to have visual imagery, to help them identify that they could have imagery with a bodily feeling, and to teach them to clear a space for purposes of stress reduction and problem solving.
I started out asking the students if they knew what imagery was. I got answers like “what you see when you read a book,” “what you picture when you’re going some place you haven’t been before”, “what you think of when the teadier gets horinF ,” “what you see when you dream.” lEen I had them do an exercise to eleln(~ rate llaat they could create imagery on demand, and that it could be both visual and kinesthetic. I asked them to see the bed that they had slept in last night, and then to get ~, walk into the bathroom, turn on the cold water faucet, and tlvrr) slick their finger under the aucet to see if they could feel the water. Tlicil I asked them to turn off the water, and find their way to the kitchen, and look at the refrigerator. Next I asked them to open the refrigerator and imagine that there was a lemon in the refrigerator. I asked them to remove the lemon allzl to feel its smooth, cold surface in their hands, and then to put it on a cutting board, and get a knife, and cut it into four lengthwise sections. Finally I asked them to take the lemon and squeeze a drop of it into their mouths, and see what it tasted like. Watching the group, I noticed about 6 students in each group winced at the sour lemon taste as they imagined it hitting their mouths.

Next I introduced the idea that when we have images, or have feelings, that they are not only just in our mind, but that they are often in the body also. I asked if .anyone remembered ever having a feeling that they also felt in the body.

Hands flew up all over the room. I received examples like the following: “When I’m at the top of a roller coaster, I feel a lump in my throat.” “When I have to get up and give a recital, I get a lump in my throat and butterflies in my stomach.” “When I have to go and talk to my grandfather, I get a knot in my stomach.” “When I read a scary story, I get shivers inside.” Almost all of the students were able to give an example of a felt sense they had experienced at some time or other.

Then I did the exercise with them of moving their attention up from their right toe to the center of their body. I asked them to think of someone they loved, to get a good image of them in their mind, and then to see how they felt in the center of their body when they thought of that person. About three quarters of the students were able to do this and told me they had felt things like “warm,” “glowing,” “open,” usually either from the chest or from the abdomen. There were a couple of knots in the stomach, associated with images which at first seemed to be of someone they loved, but later turned out to be a person they were also having problems with or were afraid of, like going to the dentist, or speaking in front of class, or someone they diz t quite ~,ct along with. Again I asked them to image this thing, and then I asked them to see how it felt in the center of their bodies. Again, about three-quarters of the hands shot up. I thou8ht of my brother and I got a fist in my stomach.”

ulg,hl of the haunted house on the end of my street at night and got shiecrs up and down my back and jumpiness in my stomach.” “I thought of when my parents have a fight and got a knot in my chest.”

I shared with the students something I usually tell my adult clients, that now they were aware of something very important. If they were ever unsure of what they were feeling, they could always check in their bodies, because their bodies usually could give them a clue to what was going on inside them. I talked a little about the difference between telling ourselves what we feel and listening inside to what our bodies are telling us we feel. - - a.

Next, I showed the students how to clear a space. I used the same instructions that Mary McGuire used with her groups of 6th grade children. I gave them some examples of imagery places they might want to put their worries or problems, such as under their bed, in their closet, in a rocket ship, next to them, and asked them to check

One student later told me, “When I thought of taking music lessons from my new viola teacher, I felt a sickish feeling inside me asif I really didn’t want to do it. But, later, after I knew that was how I felt, it didn’t seem so bad. And I thought, now it’s ok; maybe I can give it a try now’.”

In conchJsioll, almost all the students appeared to have a natural ability to see visual imagery, and most of them were able to feel a felt sense or remember having experience(l a felt sense. They were very enthusiastic and willing to share experiences in this learning atmosphere. The teacher’s obvious interest and participation in all lzo exercises soelned to enhance the students’ involvement. Clearing a space was more difficult for more of the students than feeling the felt sense. Working with smaller groups of students, e.g. with six in a group, would have facilitated doser fee(ll)ack furillg the actual clearing of the space, and probably more successful clearing, a space lelo are some examples of thank you notes sent to me by the students. (I’ve left these comments in their own words and spelling.)“Imagine a bi; whole hearted thank you. I enjoyed it.” “Your coming in today helped me some. See my brother just got out of the hospital We(lnes(lay because he has cancer and it got h his lounF He’s all done with redetion Inll 11C’S FOl kerno yet. He’s only 8 years old, so I had a few problems with that, but now I have some thing I can take my mind off.”

nk yotl lor o omitlg to visit us. Lot’s of problems come up and they hang around and I have no way to get rid of them, now I know how.”

“Thanks for coming to our class. Imagery is strange and doesn’t seem to work for me.”

“I enjoyed your talk on imagery. Thank you very much. It was pretty fun looking in the refrigerator. And I like the idea of putting your problem someplace else.”

“Your Icst)ics really made me comfortable and cozy inside.”

carefully to see if it was the right place f« this w«ry, emphasizing that we didn’t want to get rid of it, but just to take a temporary vacation from it. I did three rounds Of clearing a space and then asked them to put the feeling of something they loved in the cleared space. About half of the students in one class, and about a third in the other class seemed to be able to do this. The rest of them, rather than looking relieved, either looked blank or became restless after the second round of putting something, out.

{Jpon asking the students to share some of their experiences, I got responses like the following: “First I felt a great lump inside, and it was about my brother. I tried putting him on an island that we go to in Maine sometimes, and that didn’t work, so I put him in a rocket ship and sent him into space. Then I felt a lot better.”

“First I thought of one friend who doesn’t like me any more, and I got a sick, sinking, feeling in my stomach. I put that in the basement, and that felt better. Then I thought of another friend that I have the same problem with, and I put that problem in my closet, alKJ I felt a lot better.”

“I Ihenlght of a problem and I put it somewhere, but it came right back.”

“I abt,u; t of a problem with my ma, and when I put it outside, I felt a lot better inside. Then I thought of my cat, and that really made me happy.”

“I gnll art ( lass out on an island. That felt better”

1 rolll each ;,roul) I heard as many examples as students wanted to share about their experiences clearing a space, and then I gave some suggestions to the students who had difficulty will certain parts of it, like things not wanting to 8° out, or things going out but coming right back in.

Last, I asked the children how they thought they could use what we had learned. I got answers like: “When I get frightened or worried, I can try to put my problems outside me for a while.” “When I go to the dentist, I can think of something else.” When I get sad, now I have something I can do.”

“It was Izm to imagine all those things you told us to especially throwing our hard feelings away. It’s good to know there’s a way to relax.”

“What you taught us today really helped me. I think I’ll do that next time I have a problem.”

I found this experience both enjoyable and rewarding. I’m d)aring my experiences, both to encourage others to work with children, and to friVC some additional questions of ways to do that.