Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development

Inside Out: Focusing as a Therapeutic Modality

Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development

Inside Out: Focusing as a Therapeutic Modality

Article excerpt

The author explores Focusing (E. Gendlin, 1959, 1961, 1962, 1964, 1967, 1968, 1981, 1989, 1996, 2004) as a psychotherapeutic modality and presents background that led to the development of Focusing, its rationale and theoretical orientation, and supporting research. The author also provides a detailed and experiential illustration of the methodology. Finally, counselor implications, limitations, and areas of further research are discussed.


Focusing (Gendlin, 1981) turns therapy inside out--questioning the intent of therapy, the authority and purpose of the therapist, and the perception of "problems" themselves. Focusing is based on the experience of a person-and thus depathologizes conflict. Instead, it defines pathology as blocked process and thus offers a powerful method for accessing inner experiences of conflict and facilitating their movement toward change. As a therapeutic modality, Focusing helps to develop and make deliberate an underused potential. It enhances what all people do naturally--although mostly unconsciously or with varying degrees of awareness--that is, turn attention inside with the intent to understand and express what initially boggles or disturbs them. Through this practice, individuals can gain a sense of relief, along with internal sources of information that open up pathways toward tangible change and beneficial outcomes.

Focusing is a psychotherapeutic approach originated by Eugene Gendlin and his colleagues from the University of Chicago in the 1960s and 1970s. Focusing has since grown from a self-help technique to an established training program, offering individuals and therapists a broad-spectrum method to deepen experience and facilitate somatic shifts that enable emotional, cognitive, and behavioral changes. This article explores the development and rationale of Gendlin's (1959, 1961, 1962, 1964, 1967, 1968, 1981, 1989, 1996, 2004) Focusing. The article presents research demonstrating the usefulness of Focusing as a psychotherapeutic modality with a wide range of client populations and areas of concern. This article also takes the reader through detailed steps of application, providing an experiential explanation of the methodology as well as a discussion of the implications for counselors and areas for future research.


When a client changes, what is it that is really happening? Regardless of paradigm, technique, or therapeutic style, Gendlin found that the fundamental process of change lies within the client. Focusing-oriented experiential therapy grew out of Gendlin's collaboration with Carl Rogers, the founder of client-centered psychotherapy, and is historically rooted in the traditions of humanistic and experiential psychology (Bohart, 2003; Rogers, 1957, 1961). In the 1950s, Rogers identified unconditional positive regard, empathy, and congruence as therapeutic attitudes central to the process of change. Gendlin deepened and elaborated the approach of person-centered therapy by studying and measuring the qualities of client involvement indicative of movement and change.

Gendlin (1981, 1989) found that clients with successful therapeutic experiences show an increasing ability to refer to bodily felt experience, which could be detected early in the counseling process and which predicted outcome. Those clients without this ability did not necessarily learn on their own and had poorer outcome. Gendlin also found that not only is each person's experience unique but that the way of getting to that experience is just as important as what is found. He became interested in the intricacy of internal processes, discovering that people's experiences require "more specificity and precision than logic permits" (Gendlin, 1989, p. 406). In other words, Gendlin amplified what it means to be client centered. He proposed that therapeutic effectiveness improves with an increase in the ability to interact with "demandingly precise feedback" (Gendlin, 1989, p. …

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