Skip to main content

This is a handout from the Trauma and Focusing course by Shirley Turcotte.

FOCUSING ASKING: Now that you have brought awareness into your body and found something that wants to communicate with you it is time to find out what it has to say. To this point, focusing is like meeting someone and learning his or her name. Now it is time to sit down with this inner part and learn its story. Typically, most of the session time is spent working in this focusing step. To find out what the felt sense is, you must ask it directly. This involves spending some time (a minute or so, which can seem very long) staying with the felt sense. Using the handle we make the felt sense vividly present and ask into it using open-ended questions. It is important to let the fast answers from our head go by and wait for an answer from the felt sense, the implicit self. Even the first implicit felt sense places may be vicarious memory pieces and you may want to get even under that to find your way to the authentic self places.

Waiting for a body shift is important in receiving the answer. The questions should be wide and open enough that the body has room and permission to offer up an answer.

An attitude of openness and curiosity is really important in focusing and at this stage of the process as well. Answers to questions will come. They may be surprising, unexpected, and unrealistic. It is very important to allow the answers to be, to have space and again to set aside the need to contradict and impose more 'logical' solutions. Allow the body to feel the 'rightness' of the answer.

Remember that the guide is not asking the questions, but is guiding the focuser to ask the felt sense a question.

The felt sense may not shift and answer right away. Take some time. What is crucial is the time spent sensing it. That is Focusing.

ISSUES OF SAFETY may need to be attended to throughout the asking stages. When, and only when, you sense the client may be overwhelmed or losing touch with their observer self you might ask: "Is it O.K. to be with the felt sense for a while?" or "Take a moment to be more comfortable being here with what is so uncomfortable" or " What do you need to be where it so uncomfortable?" or " What do you need to do to be able to sit beside this uncomfortable spot?" Help the client to hold a space for the felt sense without getting lost in it.

1.First try general questions that are broad and open-ended.

  • "What's this?"
  • "What more is there?"
  • "What would it like you to know?"
  • "What does this connect to in your life?"
  • "How is this like your life?"
  • "What brings this now?"

2.Then try crux questions that go for the essential aspect of what one is experiencing.

  • "What is the crux of this?"
  • "What is the worst of this?"
  • "What gets you the most about this?"
  • "How old are you there in this place?" ***Only when you see regression. When there is regression look to see all around and on the body. Is there a possible memory/flashback "hanging" there. Look for speechlessness and if there is speechlessness notice into your own felt sense. Is something being projected to you, esp. big emotions of helpless, hopeless, fear, anger, confusion, stuck, etc. Start to "flush out" the memory piece. For example: "Can you notice with me, staying how you are there now, the area around your throat and mouth. It is as if you can't speak in the spot where you are. Do I have that right? By saying "in the spot where you are" you are containing the memory/flashback and helping the observer part of them be able to respond rather than react to what is in the room. Or if you are seeing your client pull back and away from a "something" from a regressed place, ask, "From here it looks as if we are in a place where you were pulling away from a someone. Do I have that right?". Again by naming it as a place and putting it in the context of "were" it helps their adult observer to stay present to integrate the memory piece. Once you are sure the observer is on board you can start handing back the projections carefully. " It is as if you are showing us a time where you were terrified and hopeless? Have I got that right? Etc. Remember to keep your tenses straight so the observer gets that this is a then place, not a now place. Remember to believe how it was and offer no false hope, or you will only be handing out "band-aids". " Oh, we are at the place where you lost your father forever. Have I got that right?".... We are at that place where you will never have the mother you needed... etc. Help them to accept those "truthes and lossess". Help your client discover the resources within to wonderfully live without ever having that. (Or they wouldn't be here today) Regressed client begging... "I want her.. I want her.. I want her...I'll die without her...etc Possible responses.. "Here is where you wanted her so much and you were sure you would die without her. And she never came.... And you never did die...... That is a lot of loss to accept inside there.... Does this place know it is over? .. Does this place know that you are fine and whole without that?.. Does this place know the adult part of you?" Develop self-soothing. Sometimes it will help that place to know it is not alone and that millions of children grow up fine without having had people love them, counter to cultural belief. Sometimes you can move it even further to. "Here is that place where you never got what you needed... where did you get what you needed? Where did you get raised lovingly? Check inside.. Where did you go for that nurturance.. Was there a tree or an animal or a something that raised you well, inspite of all of that?" It is amazing what people get raised by... A flock of birds, trees, wheat fields, sun, water... Once they connect the memory of what was working so well to what didn't work, a big shift occurs. Often they are profoundly moved to find they had universal parenting rather than people parenting. *** If someone is lost in a flashback.. keep telling them, not asking them, where they are and what you are seeing. Sample: client regresses to spot where it strongly looks like they lost consciousness during a rape scene and maybe stayed stuck there." This looks like a flashback, you are at a spot where you were loosing consciousness when something was happening to you. From here it looks like a possible rape scene. Your lower body was shifting rhythmically, now your eyes are rolling, your body is dropping off. It is as if this place doesn't know you survived this. Here is where you maybe think you died. You are maybe upset and afraid you were going to die or upset and afraid you didn't die.".. The more you tell what you see specifically, and your felt sense client-projection observations, as best you can, in a firm clear grounded voice, the more the client will soften and open to their observer adult present self. Try to find the meaning and thinking or "unfinished business" from any memory/ flashback place. That implicit past place may have all kinds of irrational thinkings and decidedness that needs interrupting..
  • "When do you first remember sensing something like this before?"
  • "Is there something you or it needs to say to each other? "or " What would it say if it could speak?"
  • "What is the newness about all of this?"


3. If there is some movement but it still feels unfinished ask foreword direction questions. These questions help nudge toward movement. Forward direction questions should not be used first. Rather, they should be used after time spent in crux. When used too soon these questions become a form of rescuing, taking away from the opportunity to acknowledge and be with something without getting the most from it.

  • "What does this need?"
  • "Which way is fresh air?"
  • "How would this feel if it were all OK?"

One focusing session may have several cycles of Felt Sense/Handle-Asking, Felt Sense/Handle-Asking. Once you have a response to Asking, notice whether there is a new Felt Sense. Does it feel finished or is there something more?

If it feels like more, you can choose:

  1. To go on to find a Handle and be with a new Felt Sense.
  2. To provide closure by marking the place and agreeing to return to it later.

It is absolutely critical that the client is all the way back and in the present. On completion, ask the client to check in with their entire body and to see that every part is all the way back to being all "adult". Remember to also close the circle. Whatever they first brought into the room as an issue needs to be checked back into to see how it is now different and if there is a small step that they can see into about that now.