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Report on the First International Conference "Focusing With Children"
Sabine Boss - Netherlands


In October 1998 the first 5-days conference with the topic "Focusing with Children" took place in Salgótarján in Hungary. This conference was initiated and organized by Marta Stapert, (certifying focus trainer, coordinator for middle and eastern Europe, children’s psychotherapist), Ynse Stapert, (senior lecturer in management studies, family psychotherapist, senior focus trainer), Eszter Kováts, (psychologist, Gordon trainer, supervisor and focus trainer) and the NKK, the education center of the Hungarian Ministry of Social Insurance, whose efforts were rewarded with a well-attended, smooth running conference. It attracted altogether 75 participants from 13 countries - U.S.A., Ukraine, Romania, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Iceland, Great Britain, Switzerland, Israel, Canada, and Czech Republic.

The plan was that a number of study groups would be organized which would be held throughout the duration of the conference, and that the participants could choose, in advance, one of these groups in which to work. The various subjects covered were working individually with children, (c.q in child- psychotherapy), focusing with classes in school, and focusing with one’s own children (for parents and guardians). The communication languages in these groups were German/Hungarian or English/Hungarian, with interpreters.

In addition to the main study groups there were also groups for self-reflection, where everyone could respond in his own language to the impressions made by the conference, and where there was the chance to focus individually.

The program consisted, in the morning and again in the afternoon, of a general meeting (plenum) followed by a gathering of the individual study groups, then in the evening the groups for self-reflection would meet. It was a full and satisfying program, with a well-balanced content of work and relaxation. This latter being catered for by the inclusion of dance periods, and also a stimulating visit to the characteristic wine town of Eger.

The working procedure of the conference was based on the hypnosis-process model in the interpersonal interaction, as the most important ingredient in the basic attitude of the guardian, extracted from Gendlin’s book "Focusing and Psychotherapy". This theme was presented during the first plenum by Ynse Stapert, and it would run like a guiding thread through the conference.

To illustrate this, Jackie, an eight year old girl who we should meet later in Gloria Bruinix’ video tape says "I have a lot of things I think I don’t know, but I know"

Two interaction models were compared: the diagnosis- instructions or regulations model, and the hypothesis-process model. The former  represents the classical way of learning, from "outside to inside", and is aimed at a pre-determined target or "product"- one knows "it". This gives little room for choice, no inner commitment, and no opportunity to take risks. With the hypothesis-process model, however, learning takes place from "inside to outside"; it is the result of interaction and not of product- or target- aiming. It provides mutual protection, collective responsibility with nothing to come between you and the other but to hold free space between the two. It allows a union to be created with the other person, who is in continuous motion, whose process does not stand still, so that he is not as I think he is at this moment, but is different, by definition. There is no merging of personalities in the interaction, but two separate people are maintained.

With this hypothesis-process model as a guiding principle we started working in the study groups. I found it a very special experience when I discovered that our group (but I think it would be possible with any group or team) had a communal "felt-sense" and went through a complete group-focus procedure. The members of the group formed the parts of the "felt-sense". I think it was remarkable how Marta Stapert, by following the principles of the hypothesis-process model, and not being "target" minded, gave space and consideration to all the participants and their "felt-senses", whilst at the same time, she was able to lead the focus process for the group "felt sense", which was represented by the individuals. For me the group "felt sense" was perceptible as "something" or "it’ which was mobile in the center of our circle.

We worked by means of a collectively produced program, much of it playing either exchange or fictional roles and amongst others the following points of interest evolved from our study group:

Even if a child, over a long period of time, wishes to carry out the same activity, for example each week for a year wanting to play sport during therapy sessions, then communicate exclusively what the child himself gives. There will come a point when the child will change from the inside.

Working via a doll - what is the doll feeling? (With "I feel nothing" children)

Having no fear for aggression, just is there simply as a companion.

Do not be target minded it’s the process that counts.

As a therapist you may have targets, but formulate them as hypotheses.

A somewhat laconic attitude: humor.

"Don’t push the river"

When can you start with focusing interventions?

Here I would like to give a short description of the plenums.

Ynse Stapert’s plenum followed a task set by Marta to carry out role playing in three-ways, in which we imagined a certain situation between a parent and a child. On one occasion the parent had to become very authoritarian, on another the parent adopted a "laissez faire" style, and a third was in a focusing attitude. This was to experience how the feeling is in the three forms of approach, for both parent and child: is it possible for both to come out of such a situation with contentment?

Zack Boukydis, an American psychologist, who was in at the birth of Children’s Corner, led two plenums, the first of which concerned working with the inner child. The very early experiences of a newborn can have far-reaching effects on his later life. In order to communicate with our inner child, we were asked to think of our favorite animal, to experience it’s "felt sense" and then to picture it. We all did this at the same time in the circle where we sat, and found that the animals could interact with each other. Next there was focusing in pairs to the theme: how would I have wished to be treated in my childhood? It is possible to focus directly on experiences, situations and events, which occurred in childhood. Frequent focusing on our childhood clears the way to an open relationship with our own children.

A plenum led jointly by Zack Boukydis and Marta Stapert had as subject "Birth Experiences and their Influence". As introduction I recounted how I had focused with my newborn daughter on her birth experiences. After first having asked her agreement to put into words what she could have experienced, I then tried, sympathetically, to describe what her experiences could have been, how it was for me, and why some things went as they went. She could have felt alone and deserted; that it was oppressive and frightening for her. When, while it was pleasant and safe in the womb, suddenly, she had to leave. My daughter regarded me, very alert, all the time, and when she had had enough she simply turned aside and went to sleep. On the first occasion, I spoke to her several times in this manner during the night, always in a focusing attitude. It appears that if you press on a certain spot under the foot, just past the heel, and if this results in a release of tension, exemplified by crying or obvious tension, it could indicate the presence of a birth experience, which has not yet been worked out. I repeated this exercise, carefully, after each focus session, and although, in the beginning she cried, this gradually diminished until, eventually, there was no more tension when I pressed. She is a very contented child, with whom I will always be able to focus, just as I do with my other children.

Then Zack told us about his work with parents and babies, with incubator babies, babies from addicted parents, and sick babies. He leads the parents in focusing, and treats the babies with the energy in his hands, his intention being to improve the relationship between the parents and child. He lets the parents see that a premature, very small baby is also a personality, and that he is able to do many things; for example he can console himself by sucking his fist, an action which, incidentally, also helps to increase the oxygen intake of the child. A baby can tell us how he or she feels. Zack shows the parents that a young baby will turn away when he or she has had enough, but that this does not mean that they are turning away from their parents.

Marta talked about the influence birth-experiences can have on people. If a person has experienced a laborious birth, for example, it is possible that, as a newborn baby they have taken a long-lasting emotional decision, which affects their life into adulthood. It could give rise to such feelings as "all efforts lead to nothing", or that "nobody loves me", and that ‘they always leave me alone" Often those decisions seem to contain "always" or "never". If these experiences have not been worked out directly after birth it is possible to do so later, even as an adult of advanced years. For this purpose focusing has proved to be an important tool to identify the experience, and to help with the working-out process.

After this we received the task to focus in pairs, and to put ourselves into a baby (our inner baby) who is experiencing a slight pain. The partner had to practice reacting to this in an empathic manner.

Another precious moment in the conference occurred during a plenum when videotape was shown recording three focus sessions of Gloria Bruinix with the young girl Jackie. It was impressive to see how fast the process moved, how quickly a serious problem for Jackie was heard, and what positive effect this had on her. It was enlightening to see and to hear with how much care Gloria worked with Jackie, putting her process questions to the child, giving her freedom to look forward in a that direction, and thus the possibility to develop. Gloria worked informally with Jackie, but handling the get together in a focusing manner, including giving the child chance to draw. In this way the meeting received shape, and Jackie had the opportunity to look at it, to make a connection with it, and to absorb it. The speed at which it all happened was so great that, for some delegates, it was almost unbelievable. An accompanying letter from Gloria explained that the care with which she had worked with Jackie had ensured that any vulnerable areas in the chill make-up were not damaged. All the questions, which were submitted to the child, were open-ended; "does this feel good for you"? "How would it feel for you if you take a look inside yourself"? "How is this all for you?", or " is there anything else"?. Gloria emphasizes the importance of a focusing style cleansing in yourself as adult, in order not to stand in the child’s way, and to be in a position to listen openly.

Marta Stapert led a plenum based on drawing and focusing with children. She works as a children’s psychotherapist in a school for special education, and has introduced focusing there by, first, schooling the staff. This plenum gave an idea of the possibilities of focusing and drawing either with a group of children in school or with the children individually. The child is told that the quality of the drawing is not important because he or she knows itself what the significance is, but it is vital that the focus leader makes a clear agreement with each child ensuring the privacy of his or her drawing. When the drawings are completed each child is asked if they would like to talk about their picture, but this must be offered openly as an invitation and must not be seen as an obligation. When this exercise was put into practice, we first of all listened to some music, and were then invited to draw and/or color the felt sense evoked by the music. Marta then told the fairy tale of "Little Red Riding Hood’ and on each turn of the story we had the opportunity to draw or color the felt sense which we were then experiencing. The next task was to identify something "difficult" within us and to express this also on paper after which we had time to reflect and to feel whether there was some inner change, and, of course to draw or color this as well. We didn’t get as far as the drawing of our own body with all the points marked on where we feel uncomfortable; this would have been a form of spring cleaning, of making space, but we were able to join up in pairs in order to exchange the drawings, and to discuss them.

It had proved to be a most successful conference, providing much inspiration, many new ideas, plans, and myriad contacts with like-minded people from all over the world. I am convinced that it has contributed enormously to the international spread of interest in focusing with children. The surroundings, and the care and hospitality which we enjoyed in Hungary left nothing to be desired: it was very professional, but above all, most heart-warming, and the thanks of all the participants were due to those responsible for the organization. I am sure I speak for many participants when I say that I look forward with anticipation to the next International Conference "Focusing With Children" in Hungary in the autumn of the year 2000.


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