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Focusing: the body psychotherapy of Eugene Gendlin

Focusing: the body psychotherapy of Eugene Gendlin

April 29, 2024

Body psychotherapies appeared in the middle of the last century as a reaction to the hegemony of behaviorism, psychoanalysis and humanism, which left aside physical sensations, a fundamental element of human experience.

The tool called "Focusing", developed by Eugene Gendlin , is one of the most well-known corporal psychotherapies, together with the characteroanalytic vegetoterapia of Wilhelm Reich and the bioenergetic analysis of Alexander Lowen.

  • Related article: "The corporal psychotherapies of Reich, Lowen and Gendlin"

Biography of Eugene Gendlin

Eugene Gendlin was born in Vienna in 1926; its original name was "Eugen Gendelin", although later Anglo-Saxonized. His family emigrated to the United States when he was little to escape the persecution of the Nazis.

After obtaining a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Chicago in 1958, he taught at this university between 1964 and 1995. Existentialism and phenomenology were the two currents on which he focused. Even though did not obtain degrees in Psychology , Gendlin became an expert in the subject throughout his training.

During his studies at the University of Chicago, Gendlin met Carl Rogers, founder of client-centered therapy and one of the drivers of the humanist paradigm in psychology. While Gendlin had Carl Rogers as a teacher , the influence of these authors on the other was reciprocal.

In addition to writing various books containing his therapeutic proposals, for which he was recognized by the American Psychological Association in 1970, 2000 and 2001, Gendlin was founder and editor of the journal Psychotherapy: Theory Research and Practice. He died on May 1, 2017, at 90 years old.

In the 1950s and 1960s Gendlin developed his most relevant contribution to psychotherapy: Focusing , a tool with which he intended to help clients connect with their bodily experiences. This non-verbal technique is part of the group of therapies known as "corporal psychotherapies".

  • Maybe you are interested: "History of Psychology: authors and main theories"

Body psychotherapies

Throughout the twentieth century appeared various therapies that called for greater attention to physical sensations, which had been left aside by clinical psychology. In particular, the predominance of psychoanalysis and behaviorism had meant that mental content and observable behavior were treated almost exclusively.

For the theorists of body therapy, among which Wilhelm Reich, Alexander Lowen and Gendlin himself, human identity focuses on the body , which constitutes its base and its nucleus. From our body experiences we build the personality and perceive the world around us.

Although in recent years corporal psychotherapies have recovered their validity due to the greater focus of clinical psychology on the sensory aspect of human experience, these interventions continue to be seen as unscientific by a significant part of the psychological community.

  • Related article: "Types of psychological therapies"

Focusing and the "felt sense"

During his collaboration with Carl Rogers, Gendlin began to theorize about the existence of a type of experience that he called "felt sensation" ("Felt sense"). Specifically, he found that the maintenance of improvements in patients was related to the fact that they could access a global body sensation around the problem that made them go to therapy.

For Gendlin, the feelings felt they relate to the body consciousness of the life process on a certain moment. According to this author, all people can access these general sensations about the satisfaction of our body with the current conditions of our lives, although it is easier to do it with training.

For this purpose he developed Focusing, the therapeutic method that would be the core of his career . Although its initial objective was to apply it to the clinical intervention to improve the results of the therapy, research in this regard showed that it could be useful in other contexts; over time this made Focusing a popular tool.

The 6 steps of Focusing

In his book "Focusing," published in 1978, Gendlin described 6 steps to access a felt emotion and use it for the reduction of psychological symptoms and personal development.

1. Clear a space

First of all you have to relax and pay attention to the internal body experience . Then you have to ask yourself "How is my life going? What is the most important thing for me at this moment? "And detect the sensations that appear, letting the answers flow. If feelings of concern appear, an emotional distance should be maintained.

2. Identify a felt sensation

The next step is to select one of the vital problems that have arisen with the previous exercise; however, we must not "enter" it, but continue to maintain the distance. The objective at this moment is to notice the global feeling, still indeterminate, that arises from the multiple individual sensations that will appear.

3. Handle the felt sensation

At this point the goal becomes find a "handle", that is, a word, phrase or image that represents the felt felt as a whole. This handle must accurately qualify the felt sensation.

4. Resonate

"Resonating" consists of alternating the focus of attention between the handle that we have chosen and the sensed sensation in order to verify if the former truly represents the second. If either of these two elements changes spontaneously, we must allow them to do so until the fit between them is perfect.

5. Ask questions

Next you will have to ask yourself a question: what is it that gives this quality (the handle) to my problem as a whole (the felt sensation)? Let the answers flow; you will notice that the one you are looking for appears when you notice a change in your physical experience , possibly a feeling of liberation.

6. Receive the sensations

Once these new sensations appear, Gendlin advises maintaining receptivity and paying attention to them for a few moments. Continue to do this with the physical and psychological experiences that arise later.

FOT - ** Felt Sense, Body, Situation with Gene Gendlin (April 2024).

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