Focusing on Focusing

This is a very philosophical paper[1]. It explores the philosophical implication underlying the practice of focusing. It brings out the complications and difficulties of putting our experiencing into symbolic forms (e.g. words, imagery, metaphors etc.) In fact, our experiencing is so rich and intricate that it is beyond anything that our symbols can render. Our attempt to put our experiencing into words should be preceded by our attention to the experiencing. Hence, when we request our clients to put their experience into words, we are trying to bring their attention and awareness on their experiences. The felt sense is at the interface between the experiencing and the symbol. The attention and awareness of the felt sense, and the staying with the felt sense are crucial before one is able to articulate what is really going on in one's experience.

Purton also highlighted Gendlin's emphasis on 'clearing a space' or a process of 'putting things down'. This is an essential step that is in itself very therapeutic. When we try to 'put something at a distance', we are stepping back from oneself and seeing oneself as though from another perspective. The person is both the observer and the experiencing person. It is a way of self-consciousness (and I think it is mindfulness of one's self).


The emphasis and purpose of focusing is not disidentification with the problem or externalization of the problem. What is emphasized in the process of focusing is the interpersonal relationship between one's whole self and one's problem or concern. A person is not only in constant interaction with his/her physical surroundings but also with the reaction of the people around him/her, especially his/her significant others. In the case of the process of focusing, the most significant others is one's own self, one's own bodily reactions. One needs to stand back, looks at the whole in its whole context and gets a sense of the whole experiencing. This reminds me of the importance of unconditional positive regard (UPR) embedded in the theory of person-centered therapy in helping one's experience to carry forward. In focusing, the attitude of UPR both for the therapist and the focuser is very crucial. The total acceptance of one's self at that particular point of time helps to bring one's growth forward.

It is also important to note that all kinds of experience (not only emotional experiences) may lead into a felt sense and with the awareness of felt sense the change steps of the focusing process can occur. The concept of clearing a space helps me compare the Zen concept of emptying the cup to allow the space for receiving and see the importance of just acknowledging all that are going on. 'Putting things down' should not be confused with putting out parts of the person outside, otherwise it would become a compartmentalization of one's self. Focusing is concerning the well-being of the whole person and the process of evolving change from the sensing of where one is getting stuck to carrying one's life forward.

In conclusion, to be a focusing-oriented psychotherapist, it is crucial not only to have the refinement of practice but also a deepening understanding of what is involved in the process.

[1] Purton C. (2002), Focusing on Focusing: the Practice and the Philosophy in Watson, J.C., Goldman, R.N. & Warner, M.S.’s Client-centered and Experiential Psychotherapy in the 21st Century: Advances in Theory, Research and Practice. Ross-on-Wye: PCCS Books.

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