What do I mean when I say I am a Focusing oriented counsellor?
Firstly, I should say something brief about what Focusing is. As I see it, Focusing is a way of learning about others and myself. It combines what is generally described as meditation or contemplation–the bringing of my attention to bear on a specific content and steadily holding it there–and creative expression–the use of language, pictures, movement, music, etc. to gain an understanding of that content. The bridge between these two activities is what Focusing calls the felt-sense or felt meaning. It is a sense, often experienced physically in the middle of the body between the abdomen and the throat, and sometimes loosely described as an intuition, a notion that does not yet have words to describe itself, and yet which contains all my past experience and knowledge pertaining to this particular content and all possibilities that could issue from it in the future.
Let me try to give a simple illustration of what a Focusing oriented counsellor might help me explore.
Suppose my partner and I are having difficulties serious enough to threaten our relationship. Over the years, we’ve both tried our best to sort it out but have failed. Now, I feel totally stuck, powerless, and at certain moments panicky. Rather than trying to move away from these unpleasant feelings, I choose to spend some time with them. I find a place where I can be with these feelings, not as a victim overwhelmed by them, but as an interested observer. Easily said. Not so easily done especially when the point of contention with my partner touches deeply to the core of how I see myself. It takes practice. The practice, the finding of a safe place of observation is the meditative move in Focusing. It is similar to what the scientist does when they take up the attitude of a detached observer as they study changes in weather patterns or the workings of the human immune system (There is also an important difference, which I will say more about later). If I am patient enough (and with the help of a bit of grace), when I sit with my formerly unwelcome emotions, I will have an inexplicable, unexpected sense, I may feel it in my body, that my life is not quite the misery I thought it was. It’s as though being with my despair, rather than looking away from it, has brought me a degree of calm. Initially, this new feeling makes absolutely no sense to me, for it seems I have done nothing, nevertheless, I stay with it. It is still there in my chest. I try to find words that will say something about this new feeling of calm. This is the expressive, creative move of Focusing: the step I take to understand the experience I am having right now. If I find some words, a metaphor, a memory, it gives form to the vague impulse I started with, so that now I can hold it in my mind, mull it over because it has become concrete, and I can work further with it. And so the work unfolds.
When I apply Focusing, the bringing together of my experience with the creative act of understanding, to the counselling work I do, it shapes a collaborative relationship between the client and myself, in which I listen to (Focus on) the client describing their experience. When I sense the client may be close to that wordless “something” that is just below the surface of their awareness, I may invite the client to slow down so that their last statement is not too quickly rushed over, or, if I discern the client’s process has a forward momentum, I will simply sit back and offer my silent presence as support. As a Focusing-oriented counsellor, my intention always will be that what I say and do will emerge from my “feeling-sense” of where the client is trying to get to. And here is a good place to say more about the difference I referred to earlier between the rigorous observation of the scientist and that of the contemplative. The scientist is detached, unemotional. The contemplative is empathic, emotionally engaged. It is out of this shared, intimate space created by the client and myself, that new ways of seeing the same old problems emerge. New visions open up into newly imagined possibilities and doings never before done. Over time, if sufficient “felt-understanding” is achieved, so that the client develops a clear, bodily sense of their direction, they will then have a starting point, a source within themselves, to which they can return whenever a fresh approach is needed to solve old, intractable problems.
As a Focusing oriented counsellor, I am there in all of that. One psychologist has described this being with as a kind of midwifery. I think that’s a pretty good description, Though I would season it with more words like companion, witness, friend, or maybe mate. I didn’t grow up in Australia, so I don’t know if I have the right feel for the term, mate, but, for me, it always conjures up the vision of someone, not necessarily helping me in any specific, obvious way when I’m in trouble, but more their simply being there, silently trudging along in the muck beside me.
Recently, in a conversation about what we humans emotionally need, a person commented, “It’s so simple!” My feeling in response was “Absolutely, spot on!”. My sense of the matter became complex when I tried to explain it. And in the end, that’s my experience of Focusing and Focusing oriented therapy: it’s simple and it’s complex. .
Should you be interested to learn more about Focusing-oriented counselling there is a wealth of free, downloadable information at http://previous.focusing.org/