A DESCRIPTION OF A FOCUSING SESSION

Excerpt from “Don’t Go It Alone: The Power of Focusing Partnerships”
by Lynn Preston and Dr. Joan Klagsbrun


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After exchanging a few pleasantries, Jack invited Liz to begin the Focusing process. “Take your time sensing into how you feel right now,” he said. Liz responded by closing her eyes and taking a few deep breaths. Before long, she noticed a distinct clutching sensation in the center of her stomach.

“It feels tense and tight,” she said, still keeping her eyes closed. “I’m so frustrated with my client Sherry, the one I’ve talked about before. Whenever I think about it, my belly feels like a crumpled newspaper.” She placed her hand on her stomach, rubbing it distractedly. “I can’t stand this feeling!”

After reflecting back to Liz the clutching sensation in her belly and how it felt like a crumpled newspaper, Jack asked simply, “Is there more?”

Liz was silent for a moment. Then she said, “I guess I’m starting to dread sessions with Sherry because of her chronic lament: My life is unbearable. Therapy isn’t working. Fifty minutes isn’t enough. Can’t you give me a few more minutes? I’m totally exasperated!” Liz exclaimed, surprising herself as the words formed. “Nothing I do is helpful! Everything I say seems to miss the mark.”

Slowly and softly, Jack repeated Liz’s words back to her. Then he said, “How about if you pause now and see if you can get a felt sense for the whole situation: Sherry’s blaming, your own experience of clutching, and the crumpled sensation in your belly that emerges in response?”

After a few moments, Liz took a long breath and nodded. “I keep trying too hard with her,” she said. “Trying to no avail. I always feel like I’m failing.”

Jack mirrored her. “Something in you feels it has to keep trying and trying, even though it doesn’t help,” he said. “You’re trying too hard with her.”

All at once, Liz sat up straight. “Oh, wow,” she murmured. “My younger sister! She has a lot of problems—with her kids, with her job—and she’s always asking me to help her fix things. But nothing I say or do is right. Nothing makes her happy. She always has a reason why something I suggest won’t work. All this trying leaves me drained and depleted, crumpled, like yesterday’s newspaper.”

Jack nodded. “So much of this is familiar, like with your sister,” he said. “So much trying, and then the depletion.”
Liz nodded, eyes closed.

“Maybe,” said Jack, “you could just be with that whole drained, depleted, crumpled sense. Kind of sit next to it and see what it might have to say to you.”

Liz paused for several moments, listening inwardly. Then it came to her. “It’s telling me to let go and accept what is,” she said softly. “I can’t save this client or my sister. My urgency about rescuing them gets in the way of being able to connect with either of them.” She took a deep, relaxed breath. “Something’s shifted,” she reported. “I feel lighter.” As she opened her eyes, she found herself chuckling softly with relief....

Honoring the Slow, the Still, the Silent
Looking back on the Focusing session between Liz and Jack, one might ask, “How does the process differ from what happens in ordinary conversation with a trusted friend?” One key difference is the priority placed on giving the Focuser full permission to discover, in real time, a piece of truth that she hasn’t yet fully understood—or possibly even known existed.

In ordinary conversation, we tend to report on our problems or our breakthroughs. In the Focusing partnership, we’re granted all the time we need to discover them freshly, right then and there. Also, in regular chats, there’s usually plenty of supportive side talk, even when one person is in the midst of telling his or her story. We say, “Wow, that must have been excruciating!” or “Great job! I can’t believe you were able to pull that off.” But in a Focusing partnership, the listener is fully devoted to the Focuser’s discovery of self without the intrusion of opinion, interpretation, cheerleading, problem-solving, or commentary of any sort, knowing that the most supportive thing he or she can do is reflect back to the Focuser what she’s just said, thereby allowing the Focuser’s own words to reverberate more deeply in her body and heart.

Additionally, in the encounter between Focusing partners, silence is viewed as vital to the process. Focusers do productive work when the listener is simply quiet, present, and attuned. In fact, as one Focusing teacher quipped, “Sometimes, the process is about as noisy and exciting as a blade of grass growing.” But the grass is growing, and the patient, unobtrusive, attentive presence of the listener is essential to allowing those nascent insights to push through the soil toward the sun.

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