What if our visceral, i.e. embodied felt-experience could tell us more about ourselves than another mental process could?
Well a whole line of self-help and psychotherapy comes from just this idea. It is called Focusing, or Focusing-Oriented-Therapy.
Back in the hey day of humanistic psychology and psychotherapy there was the infamous Carl Rogers:
who poineered the use of empathy (along side Winnicott and Kohut coming from the psychodynamic school) and the therapy relationship as well as a more emotion focus over mental insight to cause change.
One of his proteges, a Dr. Eugene Gendlin:
was working under Rogers in the 1960's. He was researching the essential elements that caused psychotherapy to be successful. What he discovered was that successful therapy could be predicted if a client could begin to slow their speech down and begin to talk from their direct, felt experience.
For example: imagine a client in a therapy session. They're discussing their issue that brought them to counseling, when they become aware of a feeling in the pit of their stomach. This person, naturally connected with their felt-experience would begin describing what this feeling in their stomach was about. They may say something like:
"This feeling in my stomach feels like a heavy-tense ball... like my problem with my husband is a heavy feeling hanging over me... it's like I want to to get angry at him but I just hold it in all the time... now I feel it relaxing a bit... now, it's like an energy... like I can feel my frustration towards him... yes, that's it, I don't have to just hold it in my stomach anymore. I feel like I can say XYZ to him now... I feel better, like I can breathe now."
I made this up, but it represents what I have seen in my clients and experience in myself hundreds of times. Notice how the client is in touch with the quality of her experience. She's not thinking about her experience but is reporting on it and describing it as it appears in the moment.
It may be an abstract issue, but it is now on the level of how it is held in the body. When it is listened to and attended to, especially in the presence of a non-judgmental other, it tends to shift. This is called a "felt-shift."
The felt-shift is usually accompanied by a sense of feeling better, new truths and directions arising, new actions steps, a sense of space, that the person can breathe and so on.
This "felt-sense" is a sense of a whole of something in the body. I'm not sure where I heard this, but someone involved in neuroscience once said that there is more information coming from the body into the brain than the brain sending information into the body.
The body literally holds countless bits of information about a subject or problem.
- Take two different things or people. Such as your mother vs your father, or one season vs another season.
- Take the first thing or person and get a sense of the whole of, or "all about" the first thing. Feel that amorphous sense in your body of your entire experience with it or him/her.
- Now, get a sense of the whole or all about the second thing or person.
- Compare how each was different. Fall feels different from Spring, Your experience of your mother has a different quality than your father.
This is the "felt-sense" or what I like to call: the felt-dimension of experience.
The felt sense is a sense of the whole of something. Is is usually implicit, or in the background. Like a background hum of things. When focused on and described using qualitative language, it tends to become a focused feeling in the body. Usually in the middle of the body.
As a client or Focusing practitioner takes time with the felt sense of something unfinished, like a problem or issue, it tends to shift and reveal meaning. And one's relationship with the problem shifts, even if the problem isn't solved. Hopefully this leads to new energy and a sense of what to do to change the problem.
This is one of the few psychotherapy techniques to be taught as a self-help technique. It has also been empirically studied since the 1960's, well before very much else in psychotherapy was empirically studied.
From the genius from Dr. Fosha, an experiential psychotherapist and founder of a specific school of psychotherapy, I have learned to go beyond focusing for a shift, to focusing on the experience of change and feeling better. In a therapy, counseling, or coaching setting, this focusing on and reflecting on the change process itself, sets of waves of healing emotions which are like high octane fuel for rapid transformation. But more on positive emotion and this "meta-therapeutic processing" on another post.
For now, I want to lay out a simple way to begin Focusing and to share some helpful links on the subject.
To get the general feel of Focusing, which becomes a way of life over a technique with time:
- Take several minutes to slow down and deepen into the moment and what you are aware of.
- Breathe deeply, meditate, feel the sense of the body and perceptions of the moment or anything else that slows you down and helps you become focused.
- Ask yourself a question such as:
- "Am I completely okay right now?"
- "What's between me and feeling completely fine right now, or at peace right now?"
- "What has been going on in my life?"
- "Is there something coming up right now?"
- Take a moment to feel the sense of the whole of it, or "the all" of it.
- Begin to describe what it feels like and sense the middle of the body, from the face to the lower belly.
- Continue describing what's there and notice how it might change and become embodied.
- Or sit with it patiently until it seems heard or felt so that it can have space to be. Sometimes just sitting with a felt-sense that doesn't seem to shift causes a shift to occur spontaneously at another time (this has been my experience)
This is just an intro. There are specific steps and the right language to use and so on from the main teachers of this method. The above it what works for me, but I have been practicing this for 6-7 years and have tinkered with it at length.
I recommend learning this way of inner listening. It will change your life. Your true self is embodied, not an image in your head. There is vastly more knowledge in your body and emotions than in your thoughts and mental maps.
Here are the main sites to learn Focusing from: