FOCUSING WITH CHILDREN  (forword)
FOCUSING IN PLAY-THERAPY
FOCUSING WITH CHILDREN
FOCUSING IN SCHOOL

Focusing in Play-therapy a possibility ?
by Anneke Broertjes

 

Introduction

In my present occupation as a teacher in LOM education a project was stated in 1994 to come to concentration-improvement by focusing with children in the basic school age. I attended to this project from the beginning.

The focusing we are practicing here is a mini-process of the client-directed method by Gendlin.

Bi-weekly we are excursing the ‘clearing space’ in the class with the whole group. This is the first phase of the focusing process. This process starts with the “turning inside” to find bodily experience feeling about something, next directing this feeling by drawing it. Finally the children get room to discuss their experiences. The whole process is developing in a atmosphere within which every child can give its own feeling, e.g. a girl closes her eyes at once when the session is started, a boy (ADHD of the combined type) starts with much unrest and he does not closes his eyes, but he comes to rest and then draws what is coming up in him at that moment without disturbing the others, a boy reacts with the remark “nice”, another say she does not know what to draw but stays with herself and draws without instruction. After a habitation with the concentration it appears that children find this way of “staying by yourself” quite common.

It does not offer ready to hand solutions for problems. Children do experience that they handle their experiences differently. It is giving “air” and rest. In some cases there is a … to have an individual profound discussions with children.

This they will indicate themselves.

The children psychotherapist who is attended to the school accompanies the whole project.

The process is in development and asks for expansion.

In Canada, Chicago and Japan experiences has gathered as well to do this “clearing space” class wise with children.

The subject of this article is if and how far the client-directed approach “Focusing” by Gendlin can be applied totally in the play-therapy with children.

In this article there is first of all given a description of the theory of “Focusing” by Gendlin. Thereafter is checked which purposes are pursued to use this approach. Thereafter the practice examples are described, in which is worked with children in this manner.

Important here in is the aggravation to the therapeutic working with children namely which interventions fit well/not in the client-directed approach. Thereafter the main line of an interview with a children psychotherapist are reproduced, who is using Focusing in her therapy with children.

The article is closed with a personal reflection, how I will give myself a filling in to this theory in the therapeutic working with children; and the possibilities and impossibilities are described.

THE THEORY: THE FOCUSING BY GENDLIN

Eugene Gendlin developed focusing in the sixties in the post-person-centered period after 1967. Gendlin is a philosopher, psychotherapist and professor in psychology in Chicago. He was a direct co-operator to Carl Rogers. He played an important part in the continuous development of the client-directed therapy.

The Focusing

Focusing is a carefully build up changing process, giving you access in a very natural way to your real workings of the mind. By focusing you get in touch with “something” which is bodily perceptible and which is deeper then thoughts and emotions. By staying with this bodily experience with you inner attention keeping you busy, touches you and offended you, there will develop space for discovery and transformation from this inside.

During the focusing process you are prepared to experience and recognize the moments in which an actual transformation innerly occurs. It is a bodily felt shift in which you perceive an inner transformation.

Transformation is not occurring simply by talking or just crying, Gendlin puts that you cannot archive an inner transformation without seizing yourself from this bodily experience.

The Focuser and the Therapist/attendant.

The Focuser

There are two important elements in the initial attitude of the focuser. First the focuser must seize himself in a sphere of warmth, liberality and frankness. Everything may be experienced, although it may feel severe of negative. Secondly, the focuser himself is responsible for his own process. What comes from the inner is true. No attendant can meddle there of.

The Therapist/attendant

Attending consists of sympathizing and listening with a positive attitude, and give evidence that you are listening by repeating (reflecting) and experimentally mirroring what the focuser describes from his inner happening, when he gets the feeling of really being heard, this already can create a pulling of relief of space.

The Therapist/attendant does not give advise, does not put unnecessary questions, does not give interpretations, and is giving just process protecting and process promoting interventions.

The & base principals by Axline (1969) for the non-directive/client directive approach are here finding expression to a large extent,

  1. There is a warm, friendly relation involved
  2. There is an unconditioned acceptance
  3. There is tolerance, indulgence and appreciation to all that ia expressed
  4. The Therapist/attendant is alert to recognizing feelings that are expressed, and reflects
  5. The client/the child/the Focuser has the possibility to solve his own problems make choices and start developments
  6. There is a question of a gradual process and no question of haste
  7. There may be n question of a directive approach: no giving into a distinct direction
    thereby I remark that the handing of the focusing process is a directive action
    Gendlin is empathically creating space for a more directive attitude of the therapist.
    The therapist can compile the relation to a client and his experiences purposeful and try to influence same.
    This always happens from the client directed basic attitude, which means that the therapist does not impose or preserves anything, ut even tests the interventions to the experience process with the client (de Bruin-Beneder, 1992, page 113)
  8. In the therapy the relation must be linked to the reality and limitations must be stated for the sake of the security of both principles.
    In the literature are investigations on focusing it is stated ever again that these principles are valid undiminished.
    This client-directed basic attitude is the basis of the accompaniment.

The Focusing process

Focusing is a way of handling your own bodily felt inner world. Its not only fertile when handling yourself, but with others as well. Parts of the focusing process can be integrated in the daily getting about with yourself, but with others as well. The inner engagement by which transformation can be effected in yourself and solutions for problems can occur, can be learned. Gendlin has, for those reasons, divided the focusing process in concentrating himself by letting in his/her attentions into his/her body. The focuser can be helped thereby with directed process - indication.

1. Creating Space
How do you feel ? What stands between you and a good feeling ? Do not answer at once. Leave that to what is coming up in your body. Do not go into it deeper. Welcome every question announcing itself. Put it aside temporarily, at a safe imaginary spot. If that is at a fair distance, how do you feel by then ? Can you say to yourself: “I’m feeling well ?” continue this until it fits.

2. Bodily experiences feeling about something.
Choose a problem to focus at. Do not go into the problem. What are you feeling in your body when recalling the total of that problem ? Feel that all, that “something”, the still dark, unpleasant or unclear bodily feeling of it.

3. Let the handle come up
What is the quality of the experienced feeling ? Which word, sentence or image, sometimes a movement, is coming out of that experienced feeling ? Which word could be the most appropriate to define ?

4. Let it resonate
Go back and forth between word or image and the bodily felt feeling. Is it right ? If they fit together, be ware of it. If the felt experience is changing, follow it with your attention.
When you get a feeling, whereby the words (images) exactly fit to this feeling, let it feel to yourself for some time.

5. Questions
Ask if the process is not developing further:
- What’s about the whole problem, that makes me so … ?
- What’s the worst about this feeling ?
- How long do I know this already ?
- What does it need ?
- How would it feel, if every thing was in perfect order ?
-What’s in the way by it ?

Do not answer yourself, but wait until the bodily experienced feeling is stirring itself and is answering to you. Let the body answer.

6. Reception
Welcome what comes through, specially the new bodily feeling. Be glad that it has been speaking. It is most of time one step with this problem, not the last . Now that you know where it is, you can leave it and return later to it for a next step.
Protect it against critical voices trying to come in between.
Would your body like to focus once more or is this a good point to stop ?

What focusing is not

Focusing is not a way of talking to yourself . Instead of putting yourself on the “outside” and “talking into” yourself, you are able to listen to what comes up from inside you. Focusing does not analyse your behaviour but it is a process in which you expect changes, which you create yourself. You are making contact with the entire problem and everything linked to it. By working step by step with the feeling you experience the bodily shiftings. Focusing is not just a sensation in your body but it is an experienced feeling, a physical awareness of a problem, an anxiety or a situation. It is a physical representation of the root cause.

Focusing is not the same as the experience of strong emotions. An experienced feeling is a more spacious, initially unclear, vaguely discomforting feeling, which is produced in your body by the problem as a whole. To let it form itself, you have to take some distance from the emotion.

The experienced feeling often is vague, less intense and at first difficult to recognise and all encompassing. It is the way in which your body carries the problem and the necessary changes, which are already there.

 

Supporting theories.

In support of Gendlin’s theory some similarities in other theories and theoretical reflections by others are given.

In the book “On the threshold of life” chapter 1: the road to psychoanalysis, Grof (1986) writes that he experiences a contradiction between theory and practise. On the one side he finds that, by using Freudian psychoanalysis, one can draw conclusions on all sorts of matters (dream symbolism, psychopathology and so forth.), whilst on the other hand he is disappointed with the results. For example not all patients are suited for psychoanalysis.

According to this theory certain emotional, psychosomatic experiences, symptoms and symbolic images are connected with birth, and appear as accompanying phenomena at a particular stage in the birth process. Grof developed a scheme in which examples can be coupled with four different stages of the birth process, before, during and immediately after birth and thereafter describes the influence of the birth trauma on further life.

Grof poses the problem of whether the revival of traumas -in this case the birth trauma- could be a healing in itself. Why should this revival have a therapeutic effect and not just cause a new trauma?

Grof is of the opinion that it is not a re-experience in the literal sense of the word and that it does not even have to be a re-experience of something one has experienced in reality. It is more a matter of not having digested the experience at the time. This undigested event can be made accessible to the awareness by experience directed techniques. It is then the first time that this event can be fully experienced and digested.

Thinking further in this theory, it seems to me that in focusing it is also possible to space to experiences, which originate from a very early stage in development. The writer points to bodily sensations, to unconscious processes that start to lead their own life. With focusing, experiences, which are stored in your body, are brought to your consciousness by the action of experiencing and feeling. These experiences can be recent ones, concerned with the future, or long past. It would be too much to try to fathom whether babies are already building up a memory before birth (the cortex not yet being myelinised). It is more important is to realise that one has a bodily perception of things which must be taken seriously. Explanations do not solve anything for the client; the lived through and changed bodily feelings do.

Frans Depestele (1995, psychiatrist - psychotherapist) describes in his article: “an introduction to the study of Gendlin; the experimental character of psychotherapy “ that an intervention - technique in the psycho-analytic interpretation has effect when the answer is not only cognitive but comes from a deeper level than the conscious awareness and is coming through on its own behalf. ……………

The client learns to deal with therapy better when the various steps of the focusing process are explained. Focusing, however, is not psychotherapy, says Depestele, because the relationship in psychotherapy is primary and fundamental, but in practise we see how much focusing and listening are interwoven. With focusing it is not only a question of what is said, but the listener is seeking for a precise reflection which is directed to, and tries to make contact with, that felt feeling from which he speaks.

Depestele also writes that focusing can be combined with other psychotherapy methods and that Gendlin also asks for that. He thinks that a therapeutic relationship is necessary to help the client to come to that sphere of implicit experience, which he tends to pass by. The interventions of the therapist can be only of benefit when combined with the co-operative work of the client. Experiential therapy is non-directive in a directive way.

Depestele further maintains that the unconscious is seen as a certain type of experience, whereby a certain event in the past can be locked in for a long period, but which in a new interaction can be set free and become solved as a result of the process. It is this new interaction, which makes the new patterns possible, and therefor, not the old forms which just change. Thereby interaction is primary. This makes a new way of experiencing possible, or a new process, and from there come new process-products and contents. Therefore psychotherapy is not only repair work; changing personalities is not simply finishing the work where upbringing and personality development have not been satisfactory. It is also, and most importantly, a creative development.

Depestele proposes that, theoretically, focusing shines a new light on what personality is:

the unconscious, the established psycho-pathological forms, and above all on what is changing. From this perception he emphasises the place which the body holds.

Anne Houston (1992) describes in her article “Focusing in the context of a person - centred approach” that the essential of the focusing process is that the internal feeling, as an actual experience, shows up in the present time. Whilst the listener or therapist may have the theoretical knowledge, she can use to good effect the experience of the richness of the “body sense of …………. ” in her therapy practice. Because focusing gives her a better insight to her own experiences she is of more help to her clients. She shares Rogers’s statement: “the better integrated the therapist is, the higher the degree of empathy he exhibits”.

The above indicates how much in common focusing has with other therapeutic forms and that it is important to take focusing seriously. It is worth searching further for more possibilities of focusing in play therapy.

 

PLAY-THERAPY AND FOCUSING

In this section we will investigate the goals of focusing in psychotherapy, focusing with children and experiences of focusing in play therapy.

What is the importance of focusing in psychotherapy?

In psychotherapy the therapist wants to offer a process whereby the client gets his problems clear and experiences a change. In dealing with these problems in the different psychotherapy methods connections are made in the outside world. All of this can be a mental process, but a real fundamental change is more than only becoming conscious and the finding of sources.

Thoughts and emotions can be guided but they are not the source of the changes. What is important is that situations and happenings that one has oneself experienced are recognised in ones bodily senses.

Only when a situation or a happening is appreciated as a bodily experience is there a real possibility of change. Focusing brings a deeper insight into the problem. By paying attention to what the body has to say, insight can be gained on all aspects of the problem, after which it can “speak” for itself from within. A complete felt meaning has four features: bodily sensation, emotional quality, situation in life, symbolising by means of words and or images or movement. The felt sense should be given friendly attention until a change is experienced in the problem. Focusing is a means of creating a relationship between a problem and oneself. Not to forget it or to drive it out but to look at it without being influenced by it or being consumed by it, and thereby to work on it and eventually to work it out. By teaching a client to listen to the bodily felt sense you further his autonomy and give him change to seek his own direction. To focus implies that one suffers uncertainty and dares to be vulnerable and honest. One doesn’t know beforehand what will emerge from the depths. This attitude shows that one feels safe and is prepared to rely on that which one doesn’t yet understand.

The following sayings indicate how much our body can tell us by means of sensations and/or images:

- my stomach turned over, my throat was dry, I couldn’t speak

- my heart stood still, a heartbreak, it brought a blush to my cheeks

- I was stiff with fear, butterflies in my stomach

- I completely lost my head, my body ran away with me

- I trembled like a leaf, limp as a rag

These bodily experienced feelings bear information in themselves and want to be heard so the implicit growth there in and change direction is set free. This change is perceived as a bodily shift.

Focusing with children.

Little literature exists on this subject. Experience is being acquired with children in school, in therapy and in daily situations. From these experiences the following has been published: Maureen Murdoch (1987) describes fantasy and imagination exercises with children. She assumes that most children have a natural ability to store memories by associating them with their senses. She also finds that by relaxation one can learn better and also get a better insight into problems. She puts the emphasis more on Being than on Doing.

Maureen Murdoch has carried out relaxation and imagination exercises with children from three years on. She found no problem with regard to the abilities of the children; once or twice there was opposition from them, by recognising and accepting this, the opposition changed to cooperation.

When we compare this with the theory of focusing we can conclude that focusing calls on a shallow relaxation and than to continue with awareness of sensory perceptions like……..

…how does it feel… what does the feeling look like (colour, shape, smell, as a….)

The meaning of the felt sense shows itself from within by means of images and connections to reality.

It appears others agree with this view:

George Neagu (1998) states in his article: “the focusing technique with children and adolescents” that focusing is an approach which can be used effectively in every methodology, including play therapy and working with adolescents. This technique can be used with children from three years.

In this respect three points are important:

1. The relationship is more important than the technique; the child may interrupt the process if and when it chooses.

2. The purpose is to be with the bodily felt feeling and to approach this strategically; the illustration of the problem (e.g. with materials like drawing, clay, etcetera) should not dominate.

3. The result must be felt as good by the child. Neagu starts the session by making a list of complaints, than the child chooses one of them on which to work. What is important here is that the child learns to listen to the inner felt sense in the body; that the child is not afraid of it and that he values his feelings.

Susan Lutgendorf (1988) has set out her experiences with focusing in her article “Focusing with children”. Her intention was to teach children to receive visual images from their bodily feelings, and to teach them how to set these aside in order to make space to reduce tension and to solve problems. She has positive experiences and encourages others to continue developing focusing with children.

 

Focusing and play therapy.

George Neagu has adapted focusing to use with play therapy with children. He says that it is a new and important method to obtain changes in working results. He also suggests that there must be a good deal more research carried out into its effects and how it can be best used with children.

Heintz (1991) describes in his article “Eine Untersuchtung zur Veränderung des “experiencing” his own practical experiences. He concludes that it is possible to carry out relaxation exercises with children, and that “making space”(the list of problems) is of value to them.

Contacting inner feelings could be described by the children (Selbsterleben; experiencing) and there was a noticeable growth in perception, differentiation and description.

Children developed a trust in their internal experiences.

The researcher makes no statement over an eventual change in personality development, and in this area he wants to carry out more research. This also applies to changes in the manner in which the client handles his problem. The effectiveness of using focusing in therapy must also be further researched. The writer defines focusing and draws connections with phenomenology, humanist psychology and existentialism. He describes the criticism over the experiential theory and feels Gendlin’s theory wouldn’t be considered to have scientific responsibility; “experiencing “ is too vague and there are undefined limits. The impressions that the clients give in symbolic form could be influenced and the boundaries of focusing may not be clear (when does it begin, when does it end). The fact that Gendlin gives examples on fear directed content, whereby his therapeutical interventions would not be theoretically explicable could lead to a problem in working with children. In theory determining a specific direction, a diagnosis and research into psychological disruptions are all missing and follow up research is also missing. Heintz however is enthusiastic about the manner in which the children work out their inner experiences and he emphasises the necessity of further investigation.

Gloria Bruinix (1993) says in a very personal way in her article: “The hard part is me, learning to focus with children” that she doesn’t ask children what to do. She shows them how something feels for her and then let the child say how it is for her/him. Because a child can be confronted with contrary, mixed, messages it is important to acknowledge the whole of the problem; how does all of this feel.

She finds it important to teach children that they can be nice towards what they feel, and to teach them subsequently to listen to this and if they whish it to put this into words and to learn to listen to what they need.

She indicates that she teaches children that she cannot change the situation but that the children can do this themselves by experiencing how they really feel about a situation and to listen to this feeling. The key to change is to stay with the feeling in the body.

This is also the case with destructive behaviour, when there will be also a feeling in the body which wants to be listened to. By giving attention to this “something about the destructive” in the body, it gets the chance to speak for itself and therefore will feel lighter.

In focusing it is not possible to make mistakes and what children do and experience is therefore right.

Fragments of an interview with Marta Stapert, child psychotherapist and focus trainer:

To give an illustration of practical possibilities with focusing I will use Marta’s story. She stimulated me and she has inspired me to research this subject. I want to bring focusing further into my work as a teacher of special education and into Marta’s courses.

By applying focusing in my work I gathered practical experience.

Why do you use focusing in play therapy?

With focusing you can reach a deeper dimension. A child is experiencing his inner processes more and deeper. If you concentrate your attention to be with the child process and reflect this to him, the child can get clarity on the matter. To offer the child the possibility of making a connection to the bodily sense of the feeling of the problem, you help the child to make an exploratory journey within himself.

Is there then a real change, an experienced one?

A child will experience change by a change in its bodily feeling of a situation, a happening or an experience. It is also important that a child is taught that he can listen to what his body has to tell him so that he is enriched with this knowledge for his entire life.

How do you use the focusing process?

Usually I start with “making space”. When a child shows or describes a feeling I ask how the body experiences this all; e.g. when a child cries I ask: “how does this feel inside?” the child is offered the possibility to draw or paint the quality of the bodily feeling. The attention the bodily feeling will experience is often enough to bring about a change and by giving attention to the felt change the child can loosen up on the problem which is concerning him. Hence his behaviour will change.

How does this affect to children of 12 - 14 years old?

Drama play is used much less with this age and focusing seems to be a good approach to work with problems; e.g. a boy having incontinent problems was asked: “what does this feeling in your bladder have to tell you?” answers: “it is afraid”.

You often get more insight and information about the child’s problem with focusing.

How do you deal with children who don’t want to focus?

It is also on this matter highly important to have an accepting attitude. When a child resists working in this way he is given all the space possible to leave this alone and to do what he wishes to do. Because I like the child to experience his resisting attitude I use the focusing sentence: “there is something in you that does not want this yet”. I will be empathic here as well, honour the protest of the children and not push them into something they do not want. There are children who dare not; often they live with fear.

When do you feel you can use focusing, relating this to the confidential relationship?

Very early in the therapy I start with the first steps of focusing, because children get accustomed to a certain manner of approach. After the first sessions it is very difficult to build in something new because of the established pattern. When you start immediately with questions like: “there is something in you that is feeling …angry…defensive…afraid” and follow this up with...”where can you feel this?”…then they soon feel at home with this. A child soon feels being understood by these inner directed questions and this is building a trustworthy relationship. When children do not react to a question on where they feel something I call this sometimes a “blank peace of paper”. I may ask then: “what would be put on your paper when you ask inside what is needed there?”

Do children know what they want themselves?

It is important to let them choose for themselves and to make clear that they know best what they want and can do.

Children do have this self-control, they know what is good for them and what is true, and it is often just covered up. It is our task to help them to discover this and teach them to trust it.

End of interview.

 

PERSONAL REFLECTIONS

Experience shows that when one becomes enthusiastic about something there is little room for criticism. Yet it is a good thing to make the limitations of focusing clear as well as the possibilities it brings to children:

Focusing in the play therapy.

Children who come to play therapy usually have little trust/confidence in their world; they do not feel safe and that’s why it is important to build up a trustworthy relationship with them. Predictable behaviour of the therapist is an important quality - they have to clear lines for action; be able to trust certain structures in time, space and secrecy.

Laura Rice (1974) emphasises/nominates evocative interventions which are necessary in this process, maintaining actuality and self-disclosure. By this she means being aware of the meaning of a question coming from the child and the answer to this. Rice emphasises the importance of respecting the child and his own responsibility. The basic attitude is characterised by “don’t direct” and be open to everything that comes.

When the trust in the relationship has grown other intervention techniques come in, like focusing (paying attention to a feeling mode), differentiating, integrating.

In order to stimulate a deepening of the process Gendlin’s focusing could well play a role here:

At the beginning of a session

After a concentration exercise the child brings his awareness to the inner experience inside himself whereby one must carefully watch whether the child enjoys doing this or not. When this is not the case it is best to stop and the therapist might then suggest that the child starts playing immediately. If the child is successful in bringing his attention inside, then this experience could be put down in drawing, with clay etc., thereby taking into account the resistance the child has towards certain materials. When there is a need in the child to put words to the process, this can be done afterwards. In conclusion the therapist asks the child to bring his attention toward the inside world again and notice whether he can experience now the more spacefull, relaxed feeling inside his body. He now can see the feeling in a different light. It is good to emphasise that paying attention to the body is fruitful so that the child is stimulated to have another experience like this next time. All of this can be exercised so more depth comes into experiencing bodily sensations. In a later stage it will be important to learn the meanings of the felt sense.

This process can provide “relief” or ”make space”.

During the session

The child expresses himself by words and/or bodily felt shifts (e.g. blushing). The therapist asks the child to turn his attention to the inside world and to feel where a feeling takes place/lives. It is the object here not only to let an emotion be experienced in a bodily way and become conscious of that, but also to express it, to symbolise, in order to disengage from the situation and be able to approach it in a different way. Then the child will not be overwhelmed by it anymore. E.g.: A child acts up because it is angry. The therapist says: “it is as if something in you (or the role he is playing) is angry and you want to show this, can you turn your attention to that place in your body where the anger is”.

Next the therapist will ask the child to express or to play act what else is in this place in him: “how does it feel in…” After having expressed it the therapist asks how the feel of it is now in that place. Here it is important that the child realises that he doesn’t have to be overwhelmed by an emotion or feeling and that he can always come back to that place in him to ask it what this has to tell him. The experience, that listening to a feeling in the body, can bring relief. Whatever the child shares is worthwhile, however he expresses it.

Naturally, in order to let this process be effective it has to be practised often and there must not be forgotten that every small change can be valuable.

At the end of the session

Here the object is to bring the experiences the child has had into his consciousness and to learn to get a grip on what these experiences have done for him. By experiencing feelings in a bodily way a child learns to trust his own abilities: something can give good or bad feelings, how did this happen and what can he do with it? An example of this could be: a child flutters about because he can not choose what he wants to do and plays with several materials in a short while. Directing his attention towards the felt sense he can then experience how he actually feels at that moment. It can become clear what this has to tell him when this feeling is linked with an image which matches it and in this way the child learns to deal with a feeling in a more conscious way: where does this restless feeling live, what does it have to tell and how can it be dealt with in a different way.

Children and their feelings.

A child is able to say or to show where it feels something from three or four years onward. Medical examination must show whether physical symptoms have a medical cause in order to disclose an illness. Feeling something is natural to children, often their worldly impressions are expressed in little pains or bodily sensations; e.g. when on the swing I have butterflies in my stomach, when I am cross my cheeks go red or when I have to speak in class my hands are trembling. Ones the relationship is trustworthy, children dare to express their feelings. Often a child is closer to his feelings than adults are. The adults have learned to put less trust in their feelings: grit your teeth, don’t be such a baby, don’t be a pain in the neck, hide sadness by keeping a stiff upperlip! This behaviour of being brave often receives more respect than being vulnerable. Often, harmed children who come for therapy have leaned not to trust their feelings. They cover up negative feelings and often show adapted behaviour or agitate by shouting over the top. Both styles of behaviour have no contact anymore with a deeper level of feeling. It is therefor important to teach the child how to make contact with his feelings again, where he is feeling this and to express any insecurity which he feels about it. The trust that the child develops on being able to recognise his bodily felt senses provides him with security.

The focusing process

Focusing is a way of teaching the child to be closer to himself and his feelings; it can bring an extra dimension in the therapeutical process.

It doesn’t have to be experienced as a thread because the child himself shows what he feels, where he feels it and which images fit this. He experiences the relief and the shifts in his body of a changed feeling and nothing is forced.

The directions given to the child in the first instance is given in a directive way: the therapist asking the child to do something. This does not come from within the child himself and, actually, this approach does not fit in the client centred idea. The therapist however, is very aware of non-verbal and verbal signals on how the child does experience the given directions, followed by repeatedly enquiring if the directed steps of the focusing process fit inside.

All that follows after this is non-directive, the child himself determining what he says or doesn’t say and how he behaves and reacts.

My experiences at school (for special education for children from 8 - 12 years old) show me that children find this attitude towards them in first instance somewhat strange. They have not learned to deal with themselves in this way and the structured school environment does not yet offer opportunities for this.

By bringing this attitude often enough into practise though, they can get used to it and they soon learn to accept it as normal.

In individual sessions I have with children it shows that focusing is intensifying a talk. It turns out to be an enriching experience for the child to become aware of what an event or a situation does to him and how this becomes a concrete experience.

After having studied the available literature and the practical experiences I had, I am convinced that focusing can be used therapeutically within play therapy with children.

The Netherlands, May 1996.