Focusing as a Therapeutic Technique
with Children and Young Adolescents
From: Innovative psychotherapy Techniques in Child and Adolescent Therapy,
Ed.Charles E. Schaefer. Wiley & Sons, Inc.NY, 1999
We are all born with the capacity of organismic knowing and internal evaluating called focusing. However, as a consequence of life’s demands, our access to that bodily wisdom tends to get lost. Eugene Gendlin, who introduced the concept of focusing in the field of psychotherapy (Gendlin, 1981; Gendlin, Beebe, Cassens, Klein, & Oberlander, 1968), described it as a skill that can be reconstituted by means of specific therapeutic interventions. He developed the focusing technique to enrichen other therapeutic methods and modalities with this facilitator of bodily experiencing.
Initially, focusing was taught almost exclusively to adults. It demonstrated
its effectiveness in psychotherapy with cancer patients (Grindler, 1984),
psychosomatic clients (Fuhrmann, 1992), incarcerated domestically violent men
(Bierman, 1997), and others. Combinations with imagery (Olsen & Gendlin,
1970) and with dreamwork (Gendlin, 1986b) have been explored. However, the use
of focusing in child and adolescent psychotherapy lagged behind. In 1988, Neagu
concluded that “this experiential procedure has been largely untried with
children and adolescents”
(p. 266). Today, the literature is still limited. The purpose of this chapter is to call attention to this technique to stimulate others to explore its effects in the context of other methods of child psychotherapy.
HISTORICAL ROOTS AND RESEARCH
Gendlin’s (1962, 1964) thinking about personality change was inspired by the phenomenological and existential philosophers Husserl, Sartre, Buber, and Merleau-Ponty. His contribution to psychotherapy is historically rooted in humanistic psychology (Gendlin, 1994). In the fifties, Gendlin was trained by Carl Rogers. Rogers and Gendlin worked together closely for many years. Gendlin gave Rogers full credit for his influence. He described focusing as a special kind of client-centered psychotherapy (Gendlin, 1984).
Gendlin (1986a) learned from Rogers that
if every bit of a client’s expression is taken by the therapist, checked, verified, and then left to stand as it is, without editing, without “correcting” and “improving” and “interpreting,” then this inner relief and space lets more and more come from inside until a self-propelled change rises in the client. (p. 10)
However, although still convinced that such a nondirective therapist attitude of accurate listening and responding is important as a baseline, Gendlin began to emphasize that the presence or absence of a bodily response in the client determines the success or failure of psychotherapy. Without that kind of resonance, the client stays stuck in “mere talking” and in repeating “the same old feelings.” A research project on client-centered psychotherapy with schizophrenics (Rogers, Gendlin, Kiesler, & Truax, 1967) confirmed that a specific kind of teaching is necessary when a client is stuck or far from experiencing change. The Experiencing Scale was developed (Klein, Mathieu, Kiesler, & Gendlin, 1973) to predict success or failure from listening to the client’s manner of talking-an expression of level of experiencing-during the first psychotherapy sessions. Gendlin began to develop focusing instructions to help clients with low levels of experiencing to improve that capacity. He made that skill of inner reference teachable.
Focusing theory emphasizes the importance of bodily felt experiencing. Experiencing (Gendlin, 1962, 1964) is the reaction of a person’s body to all that comes to it from either the outside world or the inner world. The body reacts to those stimuli with a constantly changing feeling quality, to be distinguished from sheer emotions and physiological sensations because it encompasses all felt aspects of a particular problem or situation. It is a bodily sensation with meaning. Most of the time, this bodily felt process does not get our attention; although basic to our psychological functioning, it operates at the edge of awareness. When someone experiences bodily, he or she connects with a vague-but clearly immediate-feeling. Gendlin calls this the felt sense of that problem or situation.
When a person is able to welcome a felt sense and to keep it company just the way it is, it will be ready to express itself. But frequently, people are unable to do this. Their structure-bound manner of experiencing makes them behave in a structure-bound way. Their crudely directive conscious self stands in the way. They need to learn how to connect with the edge of awareness, where the felt sense can be noticed. Focusing-oriented psychotherapy stresses and teaches this crucial distinction-between the usual conscious self and the felt sense-at every point of the therapeutic interaction.
Gendlin speaks of psychological health in terms of the quality of the interaction between a person’s experiencing and current symbolizations (e.g., words, gestures, images). Health presupposes that preconceptual experiencing is in continuous interaction with those symbolizations. This enables felt senses to change and new facets of meaning to unfold. On the other hand, to the extent that experiencing is structure-bound it is curtailed: the interaction between perceptions, thoughts, verbal utterances, and actions on the one hand and their experiencing has been disturbed. Certain cues tend to trigger “the same old feeling” and the same habitual behavior, without doing justice to the complex reality of the situation. In a case of extreme structure-boundness, persons will not perceive their feelings and actions as “owned.” They find themselves watching the movie of what just happens to happen. The absence of a feeling process coincides with the lack of a sense of self. Just as occurrences in the outside world may lack an interpretation based on bodily experiencing, this bodily felt process may lack a relationship with the self. The case examples in this chapter illustrate how a decrease of structure-boundness coincides with the recovery of the sense of self.
Focusing is the mental activity that leads to the reconstitution of experiencing (Gendlin, 1981, 1997; Santen & Gendlin, 1985). Focusing-oriented psychotherapy facilitates clients’ acknowledgment of troublesome experiences at the depth of bodily sensing. To achieve this, clients need to be helped to stop being directive and coercive with themselves. They are helped to help their inner critic stop preventing their inward client (their felt sense) from speaking:
Some people talk all the time, either out loud or at themselves inside, and they don’t let anything directly felt form for them. Then everything stays a painful mass of confusion and tightness.... It is necessary for the person to keep quiet, not only outwardly, but also not to talk inside, so that a feeling place can form. (Gendlin, l974,p. 231)
Clients are encouraged to become client-centered with their felt sense. All interpretations and interferences in the client’s head are welcomed with respect, but shelved, given a separate space. This allows felt senses to form, open up, and speak. Focusing instructions enable the client to receive it all, including what comes from a felt sense (e.g., words, images, memories), “to stand next to it, to stand it, to bear it, to give it space, to be with it, to let it be, to maintain himself/herself next to it, to let it come more into focus if it will, but not to push it” (Gendlin, 1984, p. 91). This facilitator of change is reminiscent of a mechanism described by Franz Kafka (1935):
You could think: you must dispose of yourself, and yet-without contradicting that statement-stand your ground, in the awareness that you have acknowledged that. That would really mean pulling yourself out of the swamp by your own hair. (p. 55)
The case examples in this chapter illustrate how this can be guided.
Gendlin compares focusing with a motor. You wouldn’t have a motor running without something (an avenue or method of psychotherapy) that it runs. It is the combination that makes sense.
The use of focusing in psychotherapy sessions-ranging from a minor focusing suggestion by the therapist to an emphasis on formal focusing teaching-can reconstitute a process once stopped. Gendlin (1997, p. 276) assumes that “the body has implied the next steps ever since, and will enact them if the interaction makes it possible.” Conditions are shaped to release this enactment. The therapist can sharpen his or her sensitivity as to when such “next steps” could be facilitated. He or she may notice that clients talk (or play) round a subject without going into their feelings of it, although it seems obvious to the therapist that it is meaningful to them. Clients may say (or play) all they can say (or play) clearly, without knowing how to go on. They may tell/show nothing meaningful, though they seem to want to. They may mention bodily symptoms that indicate their structure-boundness. Or their bodily posture may show it.
When clients are stuck in such a way, focusing instructions can help them to get into their body “at the edge of not-yet-knowing what this is” (Weiser Cornell, 1996, p. 30) and unlock their feeling process. Gendlin teaches this in six steps (Durak, Bernstein, & Gendlin, 1997):
The teaching of the first step begins after checking if the focuser has the ordinary capacity for inwardly sensing the middle of his body. He is invited to sit straight and relax a bit. If he wants to, he can close his eyes.
(1) The focuser begins with learning a certain relation to a problem-neither swamped by its intensity, nor avoiding it. This is called “clearing a space”-inwardly making a place to stand clear of the problem, but still feeling it at its edge. “There” the focuser feels the whole problem, but he does not enter it or work on it. He sorts out the various problems he is carrying at the moment, and he adopts this relation to each of them.
(2) The focuser chooses a specific problem. It’s “felt sense” is enabled to come. The “felt sense” differs from the familiar intense emotions. It is a holistic bodily quality, often slight in comparison. It is how the problem as a whole affects the middle of the body, usually an uneasy sense, unclear as to content but distinct in quality.
(3) The focuser finds a phrase or an image to express this bodily quality, for example: “heavy,” “tight,” “jumpy,” “fluttery,” or “a picture of stormy clouds”-some quality words, a phrase or an image.
(4) The resonance between felt sense and words or image is checked several times, to get a confirming bodily response.
(5) The “felt sense” is then directly “asked” by the focuser- much as one might ask another person-what is it about the problem that makes this quality? Another kind of question is: What does this felt sense want or need? The focuser learns ways to maintain this asking-contact with the unclear bodily quality of the problem, or to return to it if it is lost. If that can be done for a minute or so, there is often a “felt shift,” a release, and along with it a small step of change in the problem.
(6) What comes at such a step needs to be quickly protected from the focuser’s usual attitudes, thoughts~ and self criticism. Feelings are distinguished from action choices. Such a step is not final-further focusing usually changes it further. It is important for the focuser to keep what came at such a step, so that further steps ensue. (p. 9)
INSTRUCTING CHILDREN AND YOUNG ADOLESCENTS ON FOCUSING
The kind of stepwise teaching of focusing just described cannot be used without modifications in therapy with children and young adolescents, because of the less abstract and conceptual nature of their thinking. Research on such unmodified teaching of focusing to children 10 to 14 years old (Heintz, 1997) shows that they get lost along the road. They are able to differentiate their bodily felt sense and to clear a space, but they appear to be overtaxed by the time they go to the rest of the focusing process. They cannot sustain their attention. They need more active ways.
Children need more anchors than most adults do. They respond better if they don’t sit in the rather passive focusing posture adults use. More than adults, they should be taken by the hand. They can be invited to stand, walk, talk, listen to their own voices, write, or paint. They can record what they say and listen to their words. Their art can concretize and document the felt sense for them. The physical act of drawing can help their felt sense to move. Visual images thus created can remind them where the focusing process began and where it ended. These images can function as a tangible reference point to return to in later focusing sessions. Bodily felt images, experienced in the child’s body, can be treated like a felt sense (Rappaport Friedman, 1988; Weiser Cornell, 1996). Equipped with such anchors, children and young adolescents can improve their focusing ability as well as older adolescents and adults can. The literature concerning such modifications with children (Iberg, 1997; Marder, 1997; Neagu, 1988; Santen, 1990; Santen & Koopmans, 1980; Yuba & Murayama, 1988) and with adolescents (Barba, 1985; Santen, 1988, 1993) explores these possibilities.
INFANTS: FOCUSING THROUGH MEDIATION
As mentioned before, newborn infants have full access to their felt senses. The sustainment of this experiential process presupposes empathic relating by parents, usually the mother. Through bodily and verbal reflection of feelings, nurturant acts, and attention focus, the mother can carry forward the infant’s experiencing. She symbolizes the process of experiencing implicit in the infant’s rhythms; when the infant withdraws, she retains a silent focus and allows the infant to experience himself or herself. Also, she verbalizes the infant’s felt experience (Coyle, 1987).
The natural process may be disrupted if the mother gives structure-bound responses. Parents can learn to recognize their structure-boundness as reflected in their experiencing and their parental behavior. Improvement of their ability to attend to their felt sense of the parent-infant relationship can improve the quality of their empathic relating with their child. In this way, the child’s focusing ability can he repaired (Boukydis, 1990).
PRESCHOOLERS AND LATENCY CHILDREN: FOCUSING BY PLAYING
As children grow older, many influences put their focusing ability under pressure. On the other hand, most children’s focusing is nourished by their nonverbal play through metaphor. Play provides them ‘a relatively safe way of symbolizing, without too much concern for external realities and judgments. When we see children switching to different toys and playing out another scenario with a slightly different theme, they are probably resonating by themselves. In this way, the child “gets at the ‘all that,’ the felt sense, going deeper into it” (Huebert, cited in Lou, 1997, p.91).
By giving their children the opportunity to play, parents give them opportunities to carry their experiencing forward. If children have enough support and safety in daily life, and if their parents basically accept the right of their feelings to exist, there probably won’t be any need for psychotherapy.
If play therapy is indicated, the therapist should always keep the following question in mind: “Will whatever I want or do help the inward sensing, make the safety or space for it, or will it crowd, impose, distract from the child’s own track”(Gendlin, 1986a, p. 11). In most instances, explicit focusing instructions would disturb the child. Then the therapist can trust “that ‘the body knows’ and that it will bring along the suitable solutions if it gets the right space to clarify itself” (Meurs & Leijssen, 1997, p. 245). The therapist-with a safe and steady presence, therapeutic rules and materials-follows and reinforces the direction and meaning that presents itself in the child’s play and in the other ways the child expresses himself or herself. The child moves on into whatever he or she needs to explore, and that is therapeutic because “those feelings that are acknowledged can
move to a better place, those that are denied get stuck and cause all sorts of problems” (Lou, 1997, p. 91).
However, some children in play therapy need to be introduced to focusing. During their therapy sessions, we can see them depict their emotion in a structure-bound way: anxious, swamped, or avoident, caged in repetitious play themes and/or repetitious verbalizations. There seems to be no movement into a forward direction:
The lives of these children seem to be filled with difficult feelings that they dare not attend to or they would be completely overwhelmed, because they experience their outside world as unsafe. They do not have a safe place inside. Helping these children find or create such a place would be a crucial first step in their therapy. (Marder, 1997, P. 79)
When we provide such children with the safe structure of focusing ‘interventions and help them to disengage somewhat from what bothers them, without denying that it bothers, they can find a sufficiently safe place for themselves and learn a way of self-relating that initiates change.
MESSAGES TO CONVEY
Whenever the therapist introduces focusing, he or she should communicate several characteristics of the process that the child is asked to engage in.
The teaching of focusing has a directive element. It adds structure, and it interferes with the child’s habitual ways. This cannot be done without asking the child to invite some unpredictability. The process has its own direction, its own reasons. Children are invited to stop reasoning with it, although they might discover the emotional reasons behind this reasoning or attacking. They must counteract some of their own ways of keeping control. Although invited to keep their own pace, they are helped to get out of their own way. On the other hand, they should experience that focusing has a nondirective element as well. Nothing but the child’s own experiencing is facilitated. The therapist does not oppose or comment on feelings/longings that the child’s “own body center coming from himself” (Gendlin, 1979, p. 2) expresses, whatever those feelings/longings may say.
The therapist helps children to experience that focusing brings ego strength. At children’s own pace, they are alternately encouraged tomaintain and then let go of ego control. What comes at the edge of awareness can be used constructively by the child’s ego. The therapist tries to make the child experience that, although a deep process is involved, it need not be hard and overwhelming work. The therapist does no pushing into the con±ents of “heavy stuff.”
Focusing is the child’s own process. Most of all, children need to learn a new way of self-relating. The therapist should communicate to children that they have both the freedom of sharing and the freedom of silence, as long as they share this one goal of their concerted action: the decrease of inner muteness within the child.
THE STEPS WITH CHILDREN
A child, focusing during therapy, is involved in one or more of the following mental acts: clearing a space, welcoming a felt sense, getting a handle on that felt sense, asking that felt sense questions, and/or protecting the change focusing brings by receiving that change in a welcoming way.
CLEAR!NG A SPACE
At the beginning of focusing work, there are two possibilities:
children begin to work on something they deliberately choose, or they await what demands their attention. in the second case, again there are two possibilities: one specific issue comes to the front, or all troublesome experiences the child’s body carries clot together. If children seem to be stuck, but find no specific concern, they can do a first step of clearing a space: welcome and acknowledge each of the bothersome issues their body carries, by giving each of them a space of its own without going into it. Preschool and latency children are able to do this, but until children are about 10 years old, they cannot rely just on their imagination to achieve this. The younger the child, the more he or she needs to act, for example, actually put each “bad” feeling into a stuffed animal, or actually empty his or her pockets of all problems. Children can put their problems on the therapist’s desk as if they were real objects, or they can draw themselves, surrounding their picture with cloud shapes. Each of these cloud shapes can be filled in with words for “one of the things that are happening.” Children older than 10 years have other possibilities to clear space. They can play Complaint Department, putting each complaint on tape. Or they can find out what stands between themselves and their good feeling at the other side of the playroom by giving each troublesome experience size and shape by cutting it out on paper and putting all the pieces somewhere on the floor.
Patsy (14 years old) mentions that it bothers her that she never feels cheerful. She is invited to sit on a chair. The therapist asks her to look at the bench on the other side of the room, and to imagine that the cheerfulness she misses is over there. She is asked to find out what bothers her that interferes with cheerfulness. When she looks at the bench and checks inside, “not belonging anywhere. . . feeling alone” appears to be the bodily “no, not fine” response. She writes this down on a piece of paper and puts that note on the floor on a place where It somehow feels right to put it right now. Then she asks herself, “If this were somehow all right, how would I feel inside?” She waits and sees how she would feel. Then a second package comes up connected with “feeling inferior,” as she says. When she puts a note about this concern on the floor in the same way, she looks at both, then chooses to focus on the first feeling she mentioned (Santen, 1990, p. 784).
Whatever method has been chosen, children should respond with some bodily release. If no sense of free space results, children may need to find their “background feeling” (always a bit sad; always . . .). When space has been cleared for that background feeling as well, a bodily release is likely to result.
When all this has been done, the child can choose one “package” to welcome its felt sense. Most often, there is no general round of clearing a space. Children may struggle with a specific problem or situation. The therapist joins them right there. Children are helped to make a place to stand clear of that problem as a first step toward the welcoming of its felt sense. The therapist helps them to disidentify somewhat from the “something” inside their body that might want to say something. This enables children to be with their feeling from a somewhat different perspective. They can witness their feeling without having to deny its intensity (Weiser Cornell, 1996).
If children’s structure-boundness is not too invalidating, they can clear a space easily when they turn their attention inside. The therapist makes them understand that they can attend to a place in their body that can speak and be listened to.
Sarah (6 years old) is very upset about being teased by a friend. That bad feeling doesn’t seem to go away. The therapist asks her if she can find that bad feeling inside. Sarah does this easily. The therapist suggests to her a different way of relating to it: to listen to it in a welcoming way and see if it has anything to tell Sarah from its newly cleared space (Marder, 1997, p. 76).
James (10 years old) doesn’t want his parents to help him with a problem he has. He doesn’t know why. He just doesn’t feel like doing it. That feeling is cleared as a place that can speak and be listened to. “You don’t know why,” the therapist says, “but you can feel it that you don’t want them to come, right?” When James confirms this, the therapist continues: “you can just keep our mind on that feeling, and it will probably tell you more about why” (Iberg, 1997, p. 70)
If children’s structure-boundness boxes them in too much, they need additional anchors to achieve disidentification.
Ronald (12 years old) notices that he has short flashes in his head. Thoughts reach awareness, but they are repressed so fast inside that, until now, he has never given it particular attention. What he refers to as “the devil” is short cut by “the angel” immediately. The therapist asks Ronald to write a story called “The Devil and the Angel.” He asks Ronald to record it on a tape recorder, to listen to it silently
and to wait for a bodily response. Hearing himself through his cars makes it easier for Ronald to check inside and stay concentrated (Santen, 1990, p. 791).
Hester (14 years old) complains that she has “a stone” in her head. The therapist asks her to draw that bodily felt image, welcome it, and show it to her body to wait for a bodily response. Looking at it, Hester begins to talk about “dark territories” and “a kind of labyrinth. ”The therapist asks her to close her eyes to enable herself to imagine that stone at a distance that feels right for her. A feeling process, until now inhibited by frozen rage, can start from this point (Santen, 1990, p. 787).
When children need more anchors in the beginning, they usually also need more structure during following steps, until their feeling process becomes more self-propelling.
WELCOMING A FELT SENSE, GETTING A HANDLE ON THAT FELT SENSE, RESONATING THAT HANDLE
The child now stands clear of his or her problem. The therapist helps the child welcome its bodily felt sense. The child can welcome fresh words or images originating from this bodily felt sense. Whatever handle word or handle image comes will be matched with the feeling inside once again to see if it fits. New words or a changing image might be the result. If the child’s inner critic interferes inside with critical comments or with “feelings about feelings,” these are welcomed in a friendly way and shelved to a separate space. The feeling place must keep its freedom to breathe.
Excitedly and fearfully, Ronald listens to his own story on tape. The story includes no reference to feelings. Ronald’s sentences (“You must kick a child,” the devil says; “don’t do it,” says the angel.”) function as a handle, awakening the bodily felt sense of this ongoing struggle. They resonate from the outside with the felt sense, stirring a bodily talking-back. When Ronald begins to write again, this writing shows that his experiencing has been carried forward. The new handle words refer increasingly to a felt process.
Hester imagines looking at her stone. The therapist helps her find a bodily response by inviting her to ask inside how she feels when she thinks of the existence of that stone. Hester attends inwardly. The stone functions as a handle. It changes, becomes lighter. Little flowers appear around the edge. Hester goes back and forth between looking at the handle and turning her attention to the middle of her body. The body responds with new handle words: “An island, surrounded by boiling tar. . . a whirling mass.” The unfreezing of a feeling process has begun.
Children can be invited to ask open questions to the felt sense (“What’s the crux of this?” “What needs to happen?” “Where does this get me the worst?”). This can help them to get to the “more” that might be there. This kind of curious asking-followed-by-waiting can help them maintain their respectful inner attitude. However, as can be seen in the case illustrations in this chapter, a merely verbal way of asking doesn’t meet the child’s needs. To deframe their habitual pattern, children may ask their felt sense if there is an image that represents it in some way. If the child already painted a bodily felt image of a felt sense, he or she can be invited to paint “the heart” of it, or to paint it “a thousandfold enlarged”; when the child has painted “the black,” he or she can be invited to paint what is called “into the black.” Such new images may resonate with the felt sense and initiate a felt shift with new handle words, new insights.
This waiting for a bodily talking-back needs time. Any interference by the child’s mind (quick answers, criticism, feeling on top of feelings) is traced by the therapist, guided apart; the waiting is for a bodily answer.
Children should get time to shelter what has come from their deep source. They should neither run away from it, nor go into it. There is no need to act on what has become clear now, no need to criticize it, no need to rush to the next thing. Gendlin (1979) compares this with pitching a tent, preparing to stay for a while.
Neagu (1988) calls this “a new biointegrative way of living with the problem” (p. 272). The therapist protects the child against any inclination to hurry on, inviting the child to write some of the newfound words on paper, to walk or sit with them for some days by keeping them in a pocket. Thus, the child’s body gets the time, space, and protection to adapt to what’s new.
Sarah: Play Therapy Combined with Focusing
The following case illustration was prepared by Marder (1997), who conducted the play therapy.
In many ways, Sarah (6 years old) was a well-functioning child, relatively at home in the world of feelings. However, after a difficult period including a custody battle between her parents, who had divorced two years earlier, she was displaying many symptoms of anxiety: she wet the bed, “played with herself” a great deal, had a difficult time making decisions, and seemed to feel that she needed to be perfect. Most of all, she was reluctant to express negative feelings or anger.
The therapist saw Sarah for a total of 29 sessions; four of these were focusing sessions. The therapist described them as pivotal in the psychotherapeutic process.
From the beginning, Sarah fluctuated in her ability to tolerate her more difficult feelings. When Sarah first entered the playroom, she focused on a poster of children displaying many’ different emotions. The therapist asked her to point to a picture “that you sometimes feel like,” and she pointed to a sad face, saying, “I felt sad when Mommy and Daddy got divorced.” When the therapist asked her to draw a picture of this, however, she drew a bright, happy picture before talking about her sad, frightened feelings. After some time, apparently tired of all this emotion, Sarah asked to play. She played creatively and with great energy; one could see the health and vitality that existed side by side with her struggles.
During the next eight sessions, the therapeutic medium was individual play therapy. The therapist soon realized that Sarah was struggling with both angry, aggressive feelings and a desire to be coddled and babied. She alternated between expressing these aggressive and regressive feelings and retreating to the safer although highly creative artistic play that she so much enjoyed. Sarah’s true self seemed to be struggling to break through her protective identity of a “cute little girl.”
During the next few weeks, Sarah seemed to retreat slightly from dealing openly with her feelings, and the techniques the therapist regularly used in therapy to elicit feelings from children didn’t seem to be sufficiently effective. However, she was clearly grappling with aggressive feelings: she made pretty little objects out of Play-Doh, finished a Play-Doh man, and at the end of the session smashed it with her fist, saying. “You’re dead.” Outside of the play therapy situation, her experiencing was becoming slightly less structure-bound; her mother reported she was more open emotionally. However, she continued the by now familiar pattern of aggression followed by retreat.
The following week, the tenth session, the therapist introduced focusing instructions. Sarah was very upset about being teased by a friend at school. The therapist asked Sarah if she’d like her to show Sarah something the therapist sometimes did when she had a had feeling that wouldn’t go away’. She asked Sarah if she could find the bad feeling inside; Sarah did this easily. Then the therapist suggested to her a different way of relating to that troublesome experience, by listening to it in a welcoming way and seeing if it had anything to tell her. The words that followed (“He didn’t mean it”) may have reflected blocking by an inner critic, but her lightened, changed demeanor suggested the possibility of a genuine experiential shift. She seemed done with the issue and wanted to play.
The next two sessions, Sarah absorbed herself in playing again. Then came a session that was critical in terms of her use of focusing to free up some of her stuck feelings. Sarah’s mother reported that Sarah had been clingy and tearful recently. The therapist tried to teach a different way of self-relating again. “Sarah,” she said, “can you find that bad feeling inside you?” “It’s hiding,” Sarah replied after a moment. The therapist handed her a stuffed animal and tried to help her find a way of relating to the feeling from a comfortable distance. “Can you see if it will hide in the teddy bear?” Sarah did try. She placed the bear next to the bad feeling in her stomach and then up to her ear. She was able to find a handle for the feeling: “It’s about too many things happening.” However, she seemed unable to move further; it stayed tight. When the therapist asked what these many things were, Sarah replied that she forgot.
The therapist then began teaching clearing a space. She reached over for a drawing pad and some magic markers. She drew a person with a sad face, glanced at Sarah, and began to sketch the pattern of her clothes. Intrigued, Sarah grabbed the markers and began energetically coloring the person. The therapist quickly drew six cloud shapes in a circle around the person and said, “These are for all the things that are happening.” Sarah filled in the circles, almost all on the theme of “not enough time.” The therapist asked her mother whether there was any way of doing anything about these problems. She readily agreed and found a solution, and Sarah took the initiative in making some suggestions.
Sara seemed to be gaining a stronger sense of herself; her mother reported that she seemed less invested in pleasing people lately. Sarah also demonstrated this during her play time; she made hundreds of Play-Doh “worms” and then gleefully informed the therapist that she was a witch and therefore would have to eat all the worms. She evidently was feeling a little freer inside.
Another crucial focusing session came the following week. Sarah reported that she had been clearing a space at home. “It took six animals to take out all the bad feelings,” she explained. That day, however, she felt nervous, sad, and scared, because a friend had encouraged her to play with matches. Sarah said that the nervous feeling was very deep inside and would not talk. Again, a focusing intervention was used to facilitate the process. Sarah was asked to draw a picture of the nervousness. She drew a large picture of a sad-faced little girl and drew four dark spots on her body, which represented the feelings. The therapist drew some circles for her. Sarah took a toy gun, put it to her body, shot the gun into her hand, then held her hand up to her ear. She did this four times, filling in the circles with her problem feelings, but she was still caught up. The scared feeling about her friend was still deep inside and would not come out. The therapist invited her to keep that feeling company in its hiding place, and ask it every now and then if it wanted to say anything.
A lot of change was reported between these focusing sessions. Sarah became more assertive. Angry feelings about her mother clarified themselves and were expressed directly toward her. Sarah’s increasingly messy but still creative play suggested another step toward being freer inside.
Several weeks later, another focusing session took place. Sarah was in a bad mood and didn’t want to talk about it. In the following conversation, the therapist continued teaching her I the focusing attitude of noncoercive inward attending and receptivity toward whatever was stirring inside. Thus, Sarah was helped to allow herself to be more receptive to her own feelings.
Therapist: Sarah, you can let the feeling talk just to you; you don’t have to tell me and your mother if you don’t want to. How about that?
Sarah: Okay. (quiet for a minute, then pointing to her stomach)
Therapist: What does it feel like?
Sarah: Jumpy and angry; it’s mad and it doesn’t want to talk to anyone.
Therapist: Can you try being very nice and friendly to it?
Sarah: No, I’m mad at it.
Sarah was then helped to realize and accept that she could make room for both the “jumpy and angry” feeling and the “mad,” non-accepting feeling that seemed to he on top of it. The therapist explained that there was plenty of room inside to have both feelings and that the jumpy, angry feeling probably had a good reason for feeling that way. By separating out the “mad at it” part of herself, she allowed room for the feeling underneath to breathe and speak, and this carried her experiencing forward. Her jumpy and angry feeling expressed itself more fully now. “It sure does have a good reason for feeling jumpy and angry! People have been bugging me and pushing me on the playground all day.” ‘Then Sarah reported an exciting discovery: “I think that part of the reason I’m so mad is that I didn’t get to say good-bye to Mom in the morning.” She turned to her mother, who had been asleep that morning, and told her that her stepfather didn’t allow her to wake her mother up. Sarah’s mother promised that she would tell Sarah’s stepfather that it was okay for Sarah to come in and say good -bye in the morning. After this, Sarah insisted that her mother come into the playroom, where Sarah engaged in more witch-stomping. Outside of therapy, Sarah continued expressing anger more frequently than before.
Things seemed to be winding down. Few difficulties remained to report. Sarah’s focusing ability had improved considerably. She seemed to be more client-centered with her bodily felt sense. Her mother reported that Sarah was in touch with a 3-year-old child inside herself, a child much angrier and sadder than the Sarah she had known up to now. During the twenty-eighth session Sarah reported that when she was playing a game with her family, her 3-year-old was sad that she wasn’t winning. Sarah had talked to the 3-year-old, she said, and had told her “I know you feel sad, but maybe you’ll win the next game.” Then she felt better. The 3-year-old also wet the bed whenever Sarah took off her absorbent underwear. When the therapist suggested that Sarah ask the 3-year-old what she could do to help, the 3-year-old said that she was scared and that Sarah couldn’t help. The therapist asked her what she would like to say to her 3-year-old now. Sarah told her that she felt sad and wanted her to stop. The 3-year-old replied that she would try. Sarah was satisfied.
At this point, the therapist felt that Sarah, with the assistance of her mother, was becoming her own therapist. She no longer needed psychotherapy.
Roger: Imagery Combined with Focusing
When Roger was 9 years old, his grandfather died. Roger, who lived in Austria at that time, attended the funeral in the Netherlands. Three months later, the family settled in Holland again.
Roger’s inability to cope with these overwhelming situations caused a considerable increase of his structure-boundness. He got caught up in obsessive-compulsive thinking and ritualistic behavior. Although desperately trying to keep control, he became the impotent observer of his free-floating aggressive thoughts. As time passed, Roger sank into a depression.
When Roger was 12 years old, I was one of the people who advised his admission to a clinic for psychiatric treatment. Roger knew that. When I became his individual psychotherapist several months later, he told me that he hated me. I listened to his strong emotions and we talked about what had happened to him in the far and recent past. But Roger seemed disconnected from what he said. He was caught up in arousal and the sheer emotion of fury. Week after week, his words kept reinforcing his narrowed emoting that ran off with him. Roger seemed detached from a feeling process. He habitually oriented himself toward my presence instead of sensing inwardly. His outer talking needed to be interrupted and replaced by a way of self-relating. I decided to introduce focusing instructions to promote such reorientation.
During the seventh session, I asked Roger to try a way of clearing a space by means of painting: to paint how he was feeling in the middle of his body. Because his head might interfere, I stressed that there was only one but crucial criterion: a bodily felt stirring that signaled “yes, that’s how it feels like” when he stepped back after painting and ‘went back and forth between looking at what he had painted and letting that brush along the meaning place in the middle of his body.
Roger chose to paint what he called “feeling unsafe.” But he didn’t paint that feeling. Instead, he stayed in his head and painted what he saw as a cause of that feeling. So I asked him to shelve all inner talking (“I want to smash something,” “I am homesick,” “Why am I ill?,” ”I want to be with my grandfather and also with my grandmother,” “What time is it?”), to write each of these thoughts down on a separate piece of paper as soon as it appeared, and go on painting. For a moment, this brought Roger closer to his felt sense: he painted a constricted bird. But after this apparent symbolization of a felt sense of constrictedness, censorship took over again. Roger wrote: “The free bird who doesn’t need to worry about anything. Maybe he doesn’t have friends, but he is happy.”
In spite of that, Roger gave his next painting the name “Sensitive.” He painted a smiling boy who had a small, sad-looking boy in the middle of his body. The small boy cried and looked at his crying heart. Roger referred to his painting as follows: “A second person inside has the same heart as he himself. Their heart cries. But only the second person shows it. The big person is 15. The small person is 9 years and 15 years at the same time. For 6 years already the big one plays puppetry, while the small one does the crying inside.”
In the following sessions, I asked Roger to paint “the crying inside.” He painted a big crying heart, partially grounded in a black basis. He enlarged that black basis in his next painting, which was followed by another one which he called “the anger in the black.” When he checked in the middle of his body how t this “anger in the black” felt, the phrase “anger like a hard stone” came up as a new handle. This anger apparently protected him against what might await him in the black. Meanwhile, experiencing was carried forward. The act of verbalizing the existence of that stone seemed to crack that shield a little.
Roger became more frightened. He reported that images were running in his head. One of these concerned “people who are dear to me dying.” “The button switches it off,” he explained, “so that I cannot see this picture.” Although he didn’t allow himself to keep that picture company, he began to reveal why he needed to run away from what could be found inside: “When I feel miserable I try to distract myself. And then I come here. Then that shield seems to be gone. Without that shield I feel lonely. Feeling that you are alone one of the most dreadful feelings. I feel a bit guilty when I feel that I am alone. The picture of my parents keeps me upright.”
Getting closer to experiencing his “disloyal” feelings toward his parents, Roger felt panic. He told his parents that he wanted to terminate therapy. His parents encouraged him to go on, which gave him more space to receive what would come, whatever it would be. He went on with his introspection: “Somehow, there is no talent for trying out what you say. There’s a wall in between. I resist without knowing that I do it.”Roger had sorted out something inside resisting next to his “I” that wanted to carry on. His “I” seemed to be ready to explore his resisting wall, which should be done with a truly accepting (client-centered) and welcoming attitude. I decided to ask Roger to be with that wall and welcome its felt sense. Focusing was combined with imagery to make it easier for him to turn his attention to a level of bodily talking-back. The imagined wall would function as a handle, like a base camp from where Roger would be able to make his trips toward welcoming the felt sense. Because I let him know that he could always return to the front of the wall, his openness to receiving whatever these trips would bring was facilitated.
Gendlin might have used the following metaphor: “Make a door. Keep your hand on the doorknob. You can later open it a little or not. You know where it all is. It can wait.” I asked Roger to stand upright, to close his eyes, to imagine the wall somewhere in front of him, and to be with it for a while in a welcoming way. From his separate standpoint-the wall there, Roger here-Roger cleared a space. He saw a red wall, surrounded by black. He got in touch with his felt sense. “It is silent there. I feel lonely,” he sighed. Roger stepped toward the imaginary wall, touched it with his hands. I asked him to go back and forth between being with the wall this way and being with that sense of “lonely.” With eyes closed, Roger stepped to the right. He waited close to the black. It felt “even more lonely now.” He stayed with it for a minute.
The next week, Roger stood in front of the wall again. He stepped aside till he had the surrounding black in front of him. Pictures referring to the past began to run “like a movie.” Roger stopped that film by bowing his chin downward, turning his attention to the middle of his body. He began to talk. It seemed that a hurtful place was opening up: “A man is running across the street . .. I see my grandfather. . . My grandmother is sitting in her chair.”
Roger began to breathe heavily. He continued: “I see a brown burning cross in the church . . . My grandfather committed to the flames, the day when he died . . . My brother and I have to step ahead . . We have to stand in front of the coffin . . . My grandfather is wearing black shoes . . . All people are crying . . . Me too.”
Repeating a deeply felt spot quietly and slowly can be helpful to discover the broader bodily sense from where it comes. So I reiterated sentences Roger said while he was crying. They resonated with his feeling place.
Roger: Grandfather’s eyes are closed.
Therapist: His eyes are closed.
Roger: It seems that he sleeps.
Therapist: It seems that he sleeps.
Roger: I touch his leg.
Therapist: You touch his leg.
Roger: I touch his right leg.
Therapist: It is his right leg that you touch.
Roger began to speak more fluently from his hurt place. He addressed the image of his grandfather, told him that he wanted him to live, he repeated it over and over. Each time, I reiterated what he said. Gradually, Roger became more peaceful. “I really wish I could be with you,” he sighed. “I wish you were here. That is what I want.
Roger returned to the front of the wall. He checked inside and looked at the wall. He noticed a change. The lower part of the red wall had turned gray.
The next session, Roger met the wall again. This time, the provided structure made him connect with his anger. The anger was locked up in a “bowl.” When he released some of that anger in his imaginative space, he realized how frightened he was of all that anger inside.
During this process of unraveling. Roger encountered what he called “lots of strings, like tangled snakes.” I used these bodily felt images as a handle to let him clear a space again. He addressed each of these snakes separately, put each one somewhere in front of him, in a space of its own. He checked each one inside to find out if it was on the right place right now. He took some time and reported: “it is quiet . . . As if everything is fine . . . well ordered ... As if I have done very well . . . Just as if I have no worries . . I feel a bit set free . . . as if all thoughts have been taken out of my head.”
The fact that he entered this good space for a while helped him to become aware that “loose fears, piled up and pounding together, give a heavy feeling in my stomach. . . All black. . . Just like: once there was something. and more and more added to it without me noticing it . . . It just clotted together.”
The following week, Roger wanted to clear a space toward each of the snakes again. He addressed one of them, looked at it, and turned his attention inside to ask if what the snake represented was connected with any part of his (Roger’s) life. The body said back that the snake reminded of “Austria.” When Roger kept these words company for a moment-”snake Austria . . . snake Austria”-to see if there would be a bodily stirring, a sense of “some sadness” came, “a very special feeling that I almost never have: a feeling of goodbye.” Because Roger’s inner critic made him hasten to add that this feeling was “impossible” and “far-fetched,” I helped him to shelve these feelings by asking them kindly to go aside and let the felt sense be. Roger returned to his fragile spot: “I ended up there . . . And suddenly everything was gone . . . I was forced to leave Austria.”
Roger realized that he had truly felt at home there. He stayed with that understanding and waited, until he resumed his talking from that feeling place: “It hurts . - . I was feeling fine there, and then suddenly displaced - . . Suddenly I had to start all over . . . wish I could live here peacefully also, but I have to be a little tense all the time.” Roger cried. His anger grew: “I feel fucked up that I had to leave there. . . I am angry that I-goddamrnit--had to leave there,”
Roger had begun to acknowledge this other “disloyal” hurt. The self-propelling of his feeling process had come to the point where he could share these feelings with his parents. “I didn’t know that all that anger was there,” Roger commented two weeks later. “This week I told my mother that I was angry at my parents. I felt a bit ashamed about it, but my mother said that she understood.” This new action step coincided with a fundamental inner change. “Formerly,” Roger said, “it was as if a feeling kept biting at me, nagging, sticking to me. It wouldn’t go away. As if I was sitting in a bowl. It made me depressed and, goddammit, go away!” Roger described that formerly he had found himself to be either stuck in the “quicksand” of “bad feelings” or in the “arrestment,” because he locked himself up to prevent being swamped: “Now there is a quiet position in myself. Sometimes that bad feeling tries to get me, but I don’t sink away anymore. Now a feeling can stand above that bowl. I don’t have to arrest myself anymore and think: ‘I am stuck’; now I can think and feel: ‘I can go anywhere.’ Roger’s experiencing had developed beyond the former structure-hound state of obsession and depression. As he reported, he actively protected his “quiet” space at moments when he felt more vulnerable.
Some weeks later, Roger’s parents confirmed recent considerable changes. They said that Roger became more authentic, he took more responsibility for his feelings. The gloomy cloud around him was gone. When Roger was asked what therapy had meant to him, his answer confirmed “the actual continuation of processes that once were stopped” (Gendlin, 1997, p. 276): “It has become easier to say goodbye,” he summarized. “When I was with that wall I learned how to deal with that. When I am at home on Sundays now, it has become easier for me to say goodbye and return to the clinic.
Rachel: Art Work Combined with Focusing
When Rachel was 13 years old, she was sent for psychiatric residential treatment because of severe conversion symptoms. Most of her past had been colored by fear and social invalidation. Increasingly, Rachel stayed in bed. She became anorectic. Chronic somatic complaints and extreme fatigue kept her away from school since she was 11.
Soon after her admission to the clinic, individual therapy started. Back then, Rachel didn’t realize that she had been abused sexually for a number of years.
During our first therapy sessions, Rachel seemed distracted (Santen, 1993). She was evidently caught up in a state of self-alienation. At first, when she mentioned the existence of an “impervious cloud of real feelings,” I tried to guide her in finding handle words referring to that experience. But she could not break through the fog.
Because of Rachel’s severe state of dissociation, during the following months, I introduced several ways of clearing a space as entrances for her to reconnect with her felt sense.
To provide her with an anchor to let her find handle words, I offered her pages with quotations I had selected from Franz Kafka’s diaries and letters, quotations referring to Kafka’s own struggle with self-alienation and dissociation. I asked her to read them and to underline phrases, if any, that felt familiar to her. This way of clearing a space, reading a symbolization out there, followed by checking inside if anything stirs in response, enabled Rachel to get in touch with her frightening world in a bearable way’. “I try to tell about something located in my bones, which can only he experienced in my bones,” Rachel marked. “Maybe it is nothing but that fear. Fear extended to everything. Constricting fear of using a word. This fear is maybe not just fear, but also a longing for something which is more than all that’s frightening” (Kafka, 1985, p. 189). Rachel searched for contact. Apparently, behind her fear a longing was hidden. “The road I want to go I cannot go on my own feet” (p. 188). She marked that sentence as well, and that seemed to be another signal. Besides that, she let me know that I threatened her weak identity. “When I’m alone I’m still alive,” she underlined, “but when someone comes to visit me he literally kills me” (p. 177).
A few weeks later, Rachel was mentally distracted again. For that reason, I introduced another way of clearing a space. I asked her to “disappear” behind herself by moving to another chair, behind the one she was sitting on, so that she could actually be more distant from me, in order to find a more suitable relationship toward her felt sense. When she moved, I asked her to check inside to see if anything was coming up. “I scream,” she said, but she couldn’t scream. To help her stay in touch, once again I switched to another way of clearing a space. I asked her to paint in a focusing way: to paint that scream, and to take some steps backward to enable herself to check inside to see if what she had painted really fit in with her felt sense (Santen, 1988, 1990).
Rachel painted: red and black scratches, blue dots. She wrote THE SCREAM above that picture. When I asked her, she took some steps backward again. She was here, and all that concerning the scream was out there. She looked at what she had made, waited silently for any handle words referring to the felt quality of what she had visualized. “It is the scream of all that distress,” she said. “It is located in that wall . :. in that cage.” I let her taste these handle words-”wall” and “cage”-out loud, to let them resonate with her feeling place inside. She found that “cage” fit the best. So she wrote “I cry in the cage’ above her painting and completed it with a frame in red and black.
A week later, Rachel painted the scream again. To promote an attitude of “asking,” to evoke the question “Where does all this distress get me the worst?” I asked Rachel to enlarge the painting. She pointed to the blots she made and called them tears. She mentioned that her inner “voices” kept her from crying. When I guided her in putting these interfering critics slightly aside-by letting her write down each statement of a voice on a separate paper as soon as it came up-this made room for her felt sense connected with those tears. Something got released. She verbalized a felt shift. “A collapsed world,” Rachel said, and when she had said that she noticed that her feelings had shifted. What she had painted, she said, didn’t fit any longer with what she experienced right now. So she painted again, and this evoked new verbalizations. “An injured flower treaded by a foot,” she added. An aggressor treading her had entered the scene. Rachel took some time to receive what had shifted along with the picture she had drawn. She created some distance again, and noticed: “My life has been treaded under foot . . . I just don’t know who has done it.” Some self-propelling of her feeling process manifested itself. When Rachel had written down these last words, she added the word “destroyed” to clarify what she meant. Simultaneously, as in a trance, she eliminated the word “I” from her text. Evidently, the flaring up of feeling took turns with censoring interventions.
Once again, I asked Rachel to clear a space and welcome her felt sense. She took steps backward and looked at her painting. This time, censorship didn’t defeat her emerging ability to feel. Instead, censorship gave way to an authentic sigh: “I know that I shouldn’t say it, but I find it unfair. I am almost fourteen and I don’t know yet what living means. I only looked. I also want to live myself.”
Immediately, this expression of Rachel’s self was responded to by interfering “voices.” She wrote down what they said on the space reserved for those expressions. Their echo resounded in what she wrote: “finds it unfair” and “also wants it herself.”
During the two months that followed, I helped Rachel to sustain basically the same pattern. Each time when we met, I let her start with painting a bodily felt image as a handle; she let that resonate with her felt sense and cleared a good space to receive whatever came up in response. I showed her her last painting, asked her to pick up the handle word(s) that had come up subsequently, and let her use them as a point of reference for a new painting, in this way, a sequence of emotionally related explications originated. Each one was processed in a focusing way. The self-propelled feeling process began to flow.
Rachel and I looked at her last painting. “Destroyed,” I said, to evoke that handle for her. “Would you mind painting that?” Initially, something inside Rachel made her object. Then she took her brush. Up to now, her red stripes had been painted stiffly; from now on they were brushed in more vividly. Rachel almost couldn’t bear looking at what she had visualized: “Just imagine: when it’s like that in your body it is frightening. Destroyed in my thinking; horrible, like an earthquake in the head. Bang! Suddenly everything is gone.”
Rachel discovered that this destruction of awareness had taken place many years ago. She tried to capture how she had suffered from self-alienation. By doing that, she took another step in the gradual process of restoring her sense of self: “I am fed up with . . . that when I do something I don’t know what I say, that I cannot be myself. Then I say totally different things, things that don’t belong to me. That makes one desperate; anyway, it does to me. I am just fed up with being mentally in pieces.”
A few days later Rachel added: “It is as if I’m bursting. I try to let it come out, but I don’t succeed. I am utterly phoney. I am just like a doll. It is as if you are not there, as if something else presses the button and then you start to talk.”
Once again, Rachel painted the scream with an “asking” approach. This time, she painted a thousandfold enlarged how “terrifying-and-beyond-description” it was inside. She painted a big black mass. Red and blue stripes whirled around. But when Rachel had gone several steps backward to welcome her felt sense, she became aware of an another felt shift. Reality appeared to be even more heavy now. Rachel painted again. The whole painting appeared in black, framed in a red cage. Rachel stepped back. She checked inside, looked at her painting, and got in touch with her felt sense of all that seemed to be beyond description. The handle word “apathetic” came up. But when she tasted that word out loud, to let it resonate with the feeling in the middle of her body, she began to realize that this so-called lack of sensitivity was her defensive reaction to a burden heavier than she could bear: “It is so much that I can’t bear it anymore, but I have no choice, so I try to make myself a little bit indifferent.”
Rachel was desperate. She didn’t know how to cope with this situation. However, the reconstitution of her feeling process and her increased ability to verbalize what she felt paved the way for a frightening but crucial discovery. The next time Rachel entered my off ice, she indicated another felt shift. She stated that she hated herself. I asked her to write down “I hate myself” at the top of a new big piece of paper. A few moments later, without noticing it herself, she hid the word “I” behind a black arrow. At the same time, Rachel revealed her inner reality at a new level, with far-reaching consequences. By painting “I hate myself,” Rachel succeeded in clarifying the deadlock of the self-alienated state she found herself in. Two identical females-only the color of their skirts distinguished them from each other-appeared tied together. Their backs were clicking
in a pie. Handcuffs chained their wrists as well as to each other. Their thoughts were merging continuously. Their black hearts were broken, their bellies winced. A cross all over the painting indicated that, as Rachel said, “almost nobody understands this. In fact, this misery is not allowed to exist. However, it does.” At this point, Rachel revealed that she experienced herself to be composed of 10 persons.
Having received this, Rachel and I turned our attention back to the two painted figures. Rachel explained that they hated each other. “They both don’t know what to do. Sometimes there is some space in between, but they are absolutely stuck.” One of the two female figures symbolized a network of alters that Rachel experienced inside herself; the other symbolized her self. By explicating her self-hatred, Rachel had taken a last step inward enabling herself to experience the difference between her “self,” a self desperately trying to reveal what she was going through, and many self-fragments once created by her self to avert awareness. The stepwise unfolding of her experiencing in the focusing process had enabled this clarification of the state of dissociation that had kept Rachel stuck for mansy years. By allowing this process of unfolding, Rachel facilitated the gradual recoverv of her self: her memories, her hate, her fear. The small, still voice of her self had begun to breathe underneath her suffocating whisperings.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
The focusing technique can augment various methods and modalities of child psychotherapy when children are stuck. It can help children to find their way back to organismic knowing and internal evaluating.
The therapist who teaches focusing searches for entrances that may contribute to children’s ability to express themselves. He or she enables children to develop the acceptance, the pace, and the emotional distance-separate from the child’s feeling but still in relation to it-that children need to resolve their structure-bound manner of experiencing. In this way, the therapist can help children contain and process their fearful and painful experiences. Each of the three cases presented shows that this is possible, but also that this cannot happen unless the child (1) is able to draw no some kernel of hope that change is possible, and (2) is willing and able to learn his or her inner critic-his or her most frightened part-to allow and bear unpredictable threatening experiences. Children’s ability to mobilize this hope and willingness inside themselves will be promoted if the therapist shows sincere dedication to children’s own capacity to heal their wounds from the inside.
Children must learn a new relationship with their anxiety. Structure-boundness signals the detrimental effects of anxiety on their functioning. Anxiety is in the way of their ability to fully know, feel, think, observe. To unlock this grip, children need to develop a new distance from their fears as they are manifest in children’s circular habitual patterns and harsh inner criticism. They are helped to truly get to the contents of all that needs to be said. “What has been understood exactly need no longer struggle to be heard. Now it can just be here. It can breathe” (Gendlin, 1977, p. 11). The child’s feeling process can regain its self-propelling quality.
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