I have just completed my two-year training with Charlotte Howarth to become a Focusing-oriented
Therapist (FoT) and trainer. I visited Charlotte on my trip to New York this February as the programme has taken place in online groups. Last month I happened to be in Vienna for the Person-centred and Experiential Psychotherapy world conference and took the opportunity to visit Eugene Gendlin’s high school in the suburbs of Vienna where he studied until fleeing for New York from the advancing power of the Nazis.
Being able to locate Gendlin as an Austrian Jew educated in Vienna, the home of Sigmund Freud and many other therapists is interesting in explaining his interest in psychotherapy. In fact, he was a philosopher interested in change and the human condition and so was drawn towards the revolutionary work of Carl Rogers in Chicago. He helped Roger’s conduct research into why some people benefited from psychotherapy while others didn’t, and they found that it was possible to predict who would benefit from the first session. Gendlin developed the idea of the ‘felt sense’ used by most contemporary somatic therapies and giving modern language to ancient cultural practices. Gendlin concluded that people who spontaneously used their felt sense by asking themselves whether or not something was true and developing insights from their holistic experience have a more successful time in therapy, that is they were more likely to achieve ‘shifts’ in stuck ways of feeling and being. Gendlin found he could teach people to be more in-tune with their ‘felt sense’ and therefore prepare them for therapy. Some people learn to Focus as a distinct skill while some Focusing-oriented Therapists ask questions and give reflections in ways likely to encourage clients to ask inwards and wait for their body to reply rather than simply stay in the endless narrative in which they are stuck.
Focusing can be applied to many contexts including helping people who are stuck with their problems; making difficult life decisions, with troubling dreams or with creative blocks to people learning to live with trauma. It is of use when the cause of the stuckness and black is unknown because this way of working does not rely on being able and willing to talk about events, for instance, if it is early childhood trauma, there is amnesia or a cultural taboo about talking instead the client can be encouraged to bring a curious attitude to the unknown and work at a safe distance and speed towards a very individual integration. As the felt shift comes from the body the resolution is not simply a temporary, cognitive fixing but a substantial ‘carrying forward’ from one event to the next.
I included this image not simply to connect Eugene’s departure from Vienna as a child to the present rise of the far right in Europe and the lasting scar of the people who were removed from Europe because of totalitarianism but because the focus on the incompleteness fits well with Focusing for me. There is nothing static about this artwork, the names and gap as well as the backdrop change as you move around it, it has no ending and no final resolution, and yet art speaks to us with immediacy because it always has a gap into which we can create a fresh interpretation arising from each moment.