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What Is Focusing?



Focusing, a form of "felt-sensing," is a practice of allowing our bodies to guide us to deeper self-knowledge and healing; it is also a powerful antidote to oppression and hate in chaotic times. The name "Focusing'" is not used in the conventional idea of focused attention. Rather, Gene Gendlin chose this word as a metaphor for the process of recognizing vague, subtle, or ephemeral somatic sensations that could gradually be brought into focus, as one might adjust a pair of binoculars to turn a blurry visual image into clear, recognizable objects.  We usually capitalize the word "Focusing" in order to indicate that we mean it in this particular way.

Once a felt sense has come into focus (meaning it is more present, clear, and stable) one can move to the step Gendlin calls "asking." Simple questions like "What are you worried about?" or "What do you need?" are addressed to the felt sense itself, as if talking with a friend. Often (not always) if one waits patiently and gently, the felt sense will answer with an unexpected insight, an "Aha!" moment, along with a body sense of release or opening (often referred to as a "shift"). Something held deep inside has come unstuck, providing a new sense of direction and fresh energy to undertake it.

Focusing has found applications in a broad range of fields, beginning with psychotherapy and extending to healthcare, education, parenting, decision-making, conflict resolution and more. It is central to the methodology of Community Wellness, a compassionate, holistic and culturally-sensitive approach to providing social services and community-building in countries experiencing warfare, health crises, poverty, oppression and their aftermath. Training programs for indigenous social workers and counselors have been established in Afghanistan, Pakistan, El Salvador, Gaza, and West Africa.



We invite you to pause ...

Focusing shows how to pause an on-going situation and create a space for new possibilities for carrying forward. This practice shows how to apply open attention to something which is directly experienced but is not in words.


Your body knows more about situations than you are explicitly aware of. For example, your body picks up more about another person than you consciously know. With a little training, you can get a bodily feel for the "more" that is happening in any situation. From that bodily feel come small steps that lead toward resolution. The International Focusing Institute offers many resources for learning to access this bodily knowing. On this page, you will find some basic information, and elsewhere on our website, you can purchase telephone/Skype/Zoom sessions, books, videos, search through the many classes and courses offered directly by the Institute or by our many certified teachers, and a search function to find Certified Focusing Professionals who offer individual sessions and/or teach.

See Mary Hendricks Gendlin's Revolutionary Pause >


With “Focusing,” we invite ourselves into a certain kind of awareness.  In our everyday lives, most of us spend a great deal of our time with our attention on tasks or issues.  Many of us ignore or even try to silence our inner, bodily-felt experiencing of all that is happening in our lives. In contrast, the "Focusing attitude" is an invitation we offer ourselves to be open and centered on the whole of what is happening in the present -- most especially the usually-ignored body’s inner sensations. When doing Focusing, you silently ask, “How is the whole of me experiencing all of this?”



Perhaps all is well, and your bodily experience is one of calm and spaciousness.  Or, perhaps there is something (or even many somethings) which are hindering your ability to feel good. That inside place might not respond quickly to your curiosity, but it does respond. By learning the practice of Focusing, we invite a much richer and more complex sense of our lives than a simple “feeling good” or “feeling bad.”


As you wait attentively, something forms inside you that is vague, indefinite, difficult to put into a words. You try to describe this sensation and maybe a sentence comes, or an image, maybe a word or two.  These words or images somehow seem to represent this sensation, even if they seem illogical.  It might then become clear that your vague sensations have something to do with specific situations or experiences in your life. For instance, inner sensations of “I feel heavy,” or “It’s like an empty cave inside” might be related to a depressing situation you're facing.  An exciting opportunity, on the other hand, might bring up words or images such as, "My whole being feels like it is expanding, getting larger," or, "I feel like a jaguar inside, ready to sprint."  Such seemingly opposite sensations can even be present at the very same time.

This vague, not-yet-fully-articulated experiencing is called a “felt sense.” It is more than simply a "gut feeling" or an "intuition," and it is more than thoughts or feelings.  The "felt sense" is, rather, the sense of the whole of a situation. The felt sense can include thoughts, feelings and intuitions, but a felt sense is somehow more than all that.  Many times, if we don't know how to listen to our felt senses, we might find ourselves asking, "Should I follow my heart or my head?  My gut or my logical mind?" In any given moment, our "gut" can say one thing, while our mind insists on something else entirely.  The value of Focusing is that we learn to open up ourselves to the whole of our body's experiencing.  In Focusing, we don't choose between disagreeing parts of ourselves; rather, we ask ourselves what it is like to experience all of it.  The felt sense is that fuzzy, unarticulated sense of the whole.  Felt senses are full of our felt meaning of a situation.  Learning to listen to the felt sense through Focusing allows us to hear the messages that our bodies are sending us. Recognizing the felt sense is the important first step of Focusing.


STAYING WITH THE FELT SENSE: The heart of the Focusing process

Focusing is the ability to stay with the felt sense as it develops, to look at it with curiosity, without judging. It is the ability to welcome what comes, to maintain a friendly attitude to whatever is inside you. Focusing is the ability to listen to that place that is trying to tell you something and being ready to be surprised.


Staying with the felt sense helps you learn that which some part of you is aware of, but that you don't yet fully know. As you pay attention to the felt quality of your current experiencing, you develop new expressions: words that are fresh, appropriate and alive. The felt sense talks to you in words and symbols that are not separate from your experience, but which evoke that experience for you in the present moment. That experience was below your awareness, but not below the awareness of the body.


When in contact with this sea of experience which you carry in your body, you come to understand how you are living a situation, a relationship, a problem or a challenge. As you search to give words for what you feel, there is often a wonderful result. Something inside you changes. You relax; your body becomes more energized, because something you'd been holding is released.  Often, a sense of gratitude or wonderment comes.  Often there is a physical change such as a deep breath or a relaxation of the shoulders or other areas where there's been tightness. This change, which is perceived directly in the body, is called a "felt shift.”  New possibilities emerge from what had been "stuck" places.

Eugene Gendlin introduces Focusing: International Conference Toronto 2000
(12 minute excerpt)



What is Focusing?





Once learned, Focusing can become a resource in all moments when you want to be in touch with your felt sense, with your intuition and with the wisdom that your body can give you. Focusing permits you to:

  • understand what you are truly feeling and wanting
  • surmount obstacles, make decisions and solve problems creatively
  • become more attentive and friendly to yourself and others
  • integrate body, mind and spirit
  • find relief from tension and chronic pain
  • be independent from external belief systems
  • deepen and make more effective the process of counseling and psychotherapy