Focusing-Oriented Experiential Psychotherapy: How to Do It

By Hendricks, Marion N. | American Journal of Psychotherapy, July 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Focusing-Oriented Experiential Psychotherapy: How to Do It


Hendricks, Marion N., American Journal of Psychotherapy


Experiential Psychotherapy originated in Gendlin's Philosopy of the Implicit. Some of its main concepts are bodily felt sense, fresh emergence of words from the felt sense, and carrying forward the implicit with small steps of change. Presented in this paper are many specific examples of what a therapist may say to the client to encourage the bodily felt sense. Dealing with three obstacles to forming a felt sense, intellectual speculation, drowning in emotions, and self-attacking are discussed. The philosophical concepts in the focusing-oriented school of therapy enable therapists to relate any psychological theory to the client's ongoing experience, allowing therapists from any theoretical orientation to practice in a focusing-oriented way.

When Carl Rogers, the founder of client centered therapy, and philosopher Eugene Gendlin collaborated at the University of Chicago during the 1950s, the idea of "Experiencing" as a psychotherapeutic concept was introduced. Their work has influenced clinicians and theoreticians in many orientations, including cognitive therapy and relational approaches, and it is now widely understood that not only therapist intervention, but the client's process during therapy generates therapeutic change (for further references see Gendlin, 1996; Wiltschko, 1996; Leijssen, 1998; Friedman, 2000; Purton, 2004).

Successful clients pay attention to their experiences in a specific way. They pay attention to what is, at first, a vague yet persistent, bodily felt sense of some problem or situation. Clients pause, grope for words to get at this sense, and often create a metaphor to describe it. When they find words or an image that "gets it exactly", there is a felt relief and sense of meaning and movement. Success is correlated not with the content (original family, relationship with the therapist, past or present events), but with the manner in which the client discusses these contents, and the Experiencing Scale measures the manner of client experiencing. Subsequent studies (Hendricks, 2001) correlated a high manner of experiencing with successful outcome, physiological indices, and measures of ego strength.

The most important idea about Focusing-Oriented Therapy (FOT) is that the therapist relates to the client as a person "in there", knowing that a client is never reduced to (or exhaustively explained by) any theory, including FOT. The touchstone at every point is the client's felt experience, which stirs from inside and/or in response to the therapist. Because the therapist does not judge, the client is, therefore, safe to articulate his/her implicit intricacy. The words and symbols that arise directly from the client's body sense often surprise the client and therapist and are small steps, which carry forward the client's life. This way of working with the client is inherently kind and respectful. Clients are safer when the therapist is sensitive to the felt sense, regardless of the therapist's orientation.

In this paper, I am going to define several of the basic processes, with an example of each. But to understand FOT fully involves learning how to access your own felt sense reliably and to recognize when words, images, or gestures come from it. In our postgraduate training, we spend most of the first year helping the therapists find the process in themselves.

THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE IMPLICIT

Because Gendlin approached the field of therapy from a radically different, philosophical model, he articulated a different kind of process and theory. His model takes the ongoing flow of felt experiencing as basic. His concepts answer questions such as,

How can it be that the body sense is about a situation?

How do the next right steps form from the body sense?

How is it possible to hold a sense of a right direction without any explicit form for it, and why is it important to do that?

THE SITUATIONAL BODY

In the Western world, we think of bodies as separate, self-contained entities that stop at the skin. …

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