The Folio, Volume 7, number 1, 1988
Focusing As A Means To Help A Child With Learning Difficulties
Bart came to me at the age of eight for learning difficulties. He's now thirteen.
He is a boy with a background of difficu1t development; the results on the intelligence tests are low (70-90 IQ.) The trouble is also in the organization of the brain as is shown by several neurological examinations. But he tells with a
lot of pleasure about the several kinds of chickens they have at home, about their geese and other sma1l animals. He knows how they live, gives the individual names. There his intellectual possibilities wake up. He has no interest in going further.
We went a long way together (four years, once a week) by all kinds of paths and finally in December 1984, I decided to stimu1ate and to guide in a more systematic the deeper way of "thinking".
To connect the real experience was always in our work with children with learning difficu1ties, for it's a natural way
of doing, and new educational movements (already in the 19th century) claimed experience as the best way for children to learn. Psychology and therapy were adding to the concept of "development" as a self-propelled process based partia1ly on experience. The process of experience itself was stated exp1icit1y by Gendlin. Although it was in relation to emotiona1 problems, I presumed it to be basica1ly also in thinking. I decided to give more systematic attention and care to the way chi1dren initiate their concepts and meanings.
Nearly five years ago we started therapeutical p1ay and work sessions with Bart. His chickens, animals, and friends were always welcome. There was also a rich choice in material in order that his emotional problems and functional and intellectual (verbal) developmental lags received their chance. His new combinations and manipulations made me laugh many times about this progress the school results were moderate.
The parents agreed to our cooperation for arithmetic. For me it means first to make accessible the systems we use (number systems and systems for measuring.) I didn't succeed with Bart to initiate the number system. He generated only artificial solutions. He wasn't able to consider the problems in a realistic way for reasons in his emotional development. So we let go and started with measuring.
"I would like a new tabletop. How could I order that from the carpenter?” Bart had all the solutions he learned from school, but without a real understanding. The problem was a "dead" problem. He never experienced it. I was emphasizing, "Here it's not a school,"...and laughing…"I never went to school..."
I was sharing the problem with him, looking with him to the tabletop that has to be renewed, keeping my eyes there when he was looking at me. I accepted it when we didn't find a solution and gave time and rest. That the whole situation could form I repeated after Gendlin: "We don’t know yet but it will come. You will find something," in an objective and friendly way.
It took time to come back from the school to the real problems where the measuring systems are made. But his results improved considerably in a stable way. Later we also had the opportunity to work deeper on his irrealistic personality in a successful way and could initiate the problem of numbers.
But still there was the grammar. The school didn't succeed in teaching him the notions of a verb and a noun. In the secondary school now it became urgent. To learn these basic notions, I wanted to be in touch with the vivacity of the whole vocabulary and the language. Words and sentences contain "life", are carrying experiences (for that reason they can function as a handle), and this is reflected in the grammar. Verbs are the heart of the system and as action-words they are the most changing ones. The noun as second in order is stable and reflects the stability of the things. Of course there are also pure formal aspects.
I was asking for a sentence from Bart, "a free simple one", which is already a special task for him. To get in touch with the concrete meaning, I would ask him to draw it. Afterwards I would repeat his sentence by claiming each word by gestures that expressed the concrete experience of the stable thing (noun) and the movement in the verb. We played the sentences. "Now you said to me that it happened yesterday... that it will happen next week, and we both hear it's the action-word that is changing. We see it when we write the sentence."
In the next week we went back to it. As usual Bart reacted very quickly and went on with his answers, while looking for a reaction from me, and some new questions to help him find the way. In a few minutes, it was all mixed up again, one mess of initial and then later questions that brought answers. Bart was claiming right answers. We had risked to go into the clinch...
It is at this moment I decided that our relationship was strong enough to go a step further and to conduct Bart to the
" focusing place." I introduced it: "Where are you thinking?” "In my head," he answered me without any doubt. Indeed, all the time his face was tensed. Sometimes he exaggerated a bit, expressing his hard endeavour And I went further, "There is a better place to think...Release it there just like you are doing in the relaxation, and go to your stomach." By a gesture I showed him my stomach. "Just wait till it comes there; your body will know.” I did it myself to induce him to put his attention on the right place and to make a new space while waiting, being friendly and objective.
I was really astonished with the cooperation. The tense- ness in his face disappeared, and there came a marvellous concentration. After a rather long while, he found the initial question and received also an answer. It was a very happy and deep experience for Bart; he was very quiet (the hyperactive boy. ..) and happy. He was now completely sure by himself. In no way did he need reassurance from me. I was sharing these deep moments with him and giving him the time so these new experiences could form...
In the following sessions after a few minutes Bart was again a mixture of answers and questions. I directed him to release it all from his head and to let the initial question come from his stomach. "We experienced already that the body knows.”
I was with him in the same way as the first time. But in the next weeks we had to go through al! kinds of reactions, aggression, and confusion; we gave a chance to al1.
The focusing process became more precise; "Your stomach cannot know it alone, but together with your head you may know. Then the body keeps much more than the head." The inner "signs” become more clear. It's al1 about how to learn to think.
There are also moments of escaping the effort that the process needs; Bart was not used to working in that way.
But the joy of the previous successful endeavour encouraged him, and we succeeded nearly every week.
Now he te1ls me, ”I 1earn the right way of thinking,” and there is a spontaneous quietness and happiness on his face. While his hand is turning from the inside to the outside on the place of: his stomach.