What is Focusing? We Invite You to Pause ...
Focusing shows how to pause the ongoing situation and create a space for new possibilities for carrying forward. This practice, developed from the Philosophy of the Implicit, 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, including well-developed instructions for accessing this bodily knowing. Please explore our site, where you'll find workshops, first steps for newcomers, a library, and more. You are also welcome to contact us with questions.
Focusing is supported by a long series of operational research studies conducted first by Gene Gendlin and colleagues at the University of Chicago and now internationally. You may be able to learn Focusing by reading the Focusing book, or working with one of more than 1000 certified Focusing trainers from 40 countries who are available on Skype or telephone for one or several hours of Focusing training. From our list you can also find a Focusing-oriented therapist who lives near you and speaks your language. You can also participate in one of our discussion lists, find a Focusing partner, and more. The International Focusing Institute is making differences in communities all over the world.
“Focusing” is to enter into a special kind of awareness, different from our everyday awareness. It is open, turned inward, and centered on the present and on your body’s inner sensations. When doing Focusing, you silently ask, “How am I now?”
Perhaps you feel just fine. Or perhaps there is something in the way of feeling fine. That inside place might not respond quickly, but it does respond. It will give you a bodily sensation that is more rich and complex than a simple “feeling good” or “feeling bad.”
As you wait attentively, something forms inside you that is vague, indefinite, or difficult to put into words. You try to describe this sensation and maybe a sentence comes, or an image, maybe a word or two which describes this sensation, and lets you know that it has something to do with a certain situation or experience in your life. For instance, a depressing problem might cause you to say “I feel heavy,” or “It’s like an empty cave inside,” or “there’s a huge ball there, dark, fiery, no, it’s more like—” etc.
This sensation in your body is called a “felt sense.” It lies behind your thoughts and feelings and is significant and full of meaning. It is a message from your body to you, and will speak to you when you listen. Contacting the felt sense is the important first step of Focusing.
Focusing is the ability to stay with the felt sense as it develops, to look at it with curiosity, without judging. Focusing 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 to be ready to be surprised.
Staying with the felt sense helps you learn that which you don’t already 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. As you search for a name for what you feel, there is often a wonderful result. Something inside you changes. You relax; your body is energized, grateful tears may come and a deep breath. This change, which is perceived directly in the body, is called a ”felt shift.” You feel better and different in a good way.
Focusing gives you a better capacity to confront difficult situations and find creative solutions.
Listen to an interview with Catherine Torpey, the Executive Director of The International Focusing Institute, discussing Focusing and the work of the International Focusing Institute.
A list of the benefits
Once learned, Focusing can become an affordable 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
Focusing Session Video
Watch this video of a short Focusing session with Certifying Coordinator Ruth Hirsch and our Executive Director Catherine Torpey.
How to Learn Focusing
Most people appreciate a combination of the following:
- Read more about Focusing. Many people start by reading Dr. Gendlin’s seminal Focusing book. (You might also want to read his helpful introduction, More about Focusing.) Another good beginning book is The Power of Focusing by Ann Weiser Cornell. These you can find, along with other books, DVDs, and audio tapes, in the Focusing store.
- Six steps. It is important that you become familiar with the basic steps of the Focusing process, so a description of the six steps is included on this site.
- Phone sessions. Call our office at 845-480-5111 or visit our online store to arrange for one to three individual telephone sessions with an Institute-certified Focusing Trainer.
- Groups and classes. Attend an Institute workshop, locate a conference or workshop on the Bulletin Board, and/or participate in one of the informal Changes Groups near you. These groups consist of people who meet regularly to exchange Focusing time together at no charge. Note: you will need to contact these groups separately as each one may be organized a little differently, or contact a Coordinator near you for more information.
- Find a Trainer or Coordinator near you. Trainers generally offer individual sessions, while Coordinators offer more extensive services such as classes and workshops. If you are a beginner, be sure to locate the Coordinators in your area or country by clicking “yes” on “Show Coordinators Only.”
- The self-guiding instructions on this site are a useful shortcut once you have some familiarity with Focusing.
- How to become a Trainer. These pages outline the advanced instruction which is offered through The International Focusing Institute coordinators.
Origins of Focusing
Focusing originated from the research and insight of Dr. Eugene Gendlin who, in collaboration with Carl Rogers at the University of Chicago, was interested in why some people benefit from psychotherapy and some do not
By examining taped recordings of many therapeutic sessions, Gendlin found it possible to predict the future success or failure of clients, based not on what the therapist was doing, but on the abilities of the clients themselves. In fact, even his graduate students could make an accurate prediction of the future success of a client by listening to the first session alone.
So what exactly were the “successful” clients doing? They paused more often. They might stop in the middle of a sentence to sense what they had said or to sit with some uncertainty. They seemed willing to deal with unclear aspects of their experience. They were listening to or sensing some totality of their inner experience that was vague and difficult to describe.
As the client “focused” on this vague sensation, giving it attention and respect, the inner experience became clearer and a space opened up for new insights and unexpected possibilities. The “felt sense” of the situation changed and the change felt good. The shift in their bodily-felt experience often led to changes in behavior.
Gendlin organized the skills he observed into a teachable practice which he named Focusing. To make it easier to learn, he broke the process into a number of steps, which he described in his book, Focusing (1981), which has sold over half a million copies and has been translated into seventeen languages. More than 100 research studies have shown that Focusing is teachable and effective in many settings. For instance, Focusing decreases depression and anxiety and improves the relationship to the body.
In 1986, The International Focusing Institute was founded to help people all over the world to learn this process and apply it to many areas of their personal and professional lives, including psychotherapy, philosophy, parenting, education, health care, management skills, writing, movement, and other creative arts. With a network of over 1000 Certified Focusing Professionals, it has a worldwide membership, holds conferences, publishes a newsletter, and has a large online library of research and articles.
Who was Eugene Gendlin? (1926-2017)
Eugene T. Gendlin received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago and taught there from 1963 to 1995. His philosophical work on "Philosophy of the Implicit" has been important in many fields. His philosophical books and articles include Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning, Language Beyond Post-Modernism: Saying and Thinking in Gendlin's Philosophy (edited by David Levin), and A Process Model.
Gendlin has been honored four times by the American Psychological Association for his development of Experiential Psychotherapy. He received the first "Distinguished Professional Psychologist of the Year" award from the Clinical Division, an award from the Philosophical Psychology Division, and he and The International Focusing Institute received an award from the Humanistic Division in August of 2000. In 2010 he was again honored with Division 24's highest award—Award for Distinguished Theoretical and Philosophical Contributions to Psychology. In 2008 he was awarded the Viktor Frankl prize by the city of Vienna and the Viktor Frankl Family Foundation.
He was a founder and editor for many years of the American Psychological Association's Clinical Division journal, Psychotherapy: Theory Research and Practice. His book, Focusing, has sold over 500,000 copies and is translated into 17 languages. His other books include Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams and Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy.
He is internationally recognized as a major American philosopher and psychologist.