About Focusing Oriented Relational Psychotherapy
What is it that people are reaching for when they call us, perhaps after months or years of deliberation, sometimes with a number crumpled in a pocket almost forgotten until that daring call? What are they seeking when they summon all their courage to ring the bell of a stranger, taking the chance to entrust us with their struggles, thwarted aspirations, stifling confusion, irresolvable conflict, worry and perhaps shame - to invest themselves in something called “THERAPEUTIC CHANGE?”
What is this relationship, this process, that promises to meaningfully engage hope in as little as one or two hours a week? When that call comes and the doorbell rings, what do we as therapists have to offer? How do we take the risk of holding these tendrils of potential new direction and this elusive promise of “therapeutic change?”
As focusing-oriented relational psychotherapists, we put our hopes in two interwoven processes: new relational experience and connecting to and speaking from implicit knowing. These two processes work together. They are like two sides of the same priceless coin.
On the one side, the therapy relationship is a central change agent – a partnership in which we therapists become full participants in an interactional dance of “becoming.” We see ourselves and our clients not as encapsulated separate beings that need “solving” or “fixing,” but as mysteriously complex, open-ended, always becoming selves poised on the brink of possible steps of new development. The therapist and patient find and become a new living, and out of this “new us,” new self experience emerges.
On the other side of the coin, we look to the deep implicit river of life that runs under and through individual experience with its own directionality and meanings that propel the process forward. Our hope resides in our ability to recognize this undercurrent and to help our clients tap into its resources – to find where it is damned-up or diverted – and follow its natural flow. We have and are so much more than can be grasped by our conscious awareness. The ability to touch into and trust the implicit dimension, to lift it out through language and to harness its resources is what we call focusing.
FORP is a New York City based learning and teaching association committed to the development of an in-depth and versatile model of psychotherapy. It springs from a cross-fertilization of Eugene Gendlin’s philosophy of the implicit with contemporary relational psychoanalysis. This enlivening and deepening approach provides a generative home base into which a wide variety of modalities can be integrated.
What is Focusing-Oriented Relational Psychotherapy?
Focusing is a process of sensing into what is palpably felt but not yet worded or thought – the intricate quality of what is implicitly known but unarticulated. It entails a shift of attention from linear narrative and what one has already packaged in formed ideas, to the unclear fuzzy edge of thinking/feeling. This shift of attention, commonly associated with “going inside” requires and also facilitates an attitude of expectant, accepting inquiry. We might ask ourselves, “What am I really so upset about? Is ‘upset’ the right word for this bit of experience? What is in it?” Sometimes something immediately answers, “It isn’t the usual upset, but a feeling of ‘missing.’” This word “missing” may have a shadow image or memory - a “more” that would then be pursued. “Focusing” can be loosely described as a dialogue between implicit and explicit dimensions of experience. It is a dialogue with one’s palpable non-conscious self, each step of which carries the process forward opening out to small steps of change.
The term “focusing” is used both to describe a moment of touching into implicit experience, perhaps in psychotherapy, and also to describe a process or practice done usually in partnerships of spending time dwelling with this edge of awareness and asking into what is just then arising over the horizon line of consciousness. This accessing process is used for thinking projects and theory building as well as personal life development.
Relational psychotherapy emphasizes the centrality of relatedness in human life. Relating is not something that we do at times and don’t do at other times, but is an inherent dimension of humanness. Although the psychotherapist and the patient are unique individuals, they are not two separate “isolated minds” (Stolorow) but an ongoing relational system.
Relational psychotherapists, therefore, cultivate a moment to moment awareness of the implicit as well as explicit relational needs, strivings, fears and struggles of the client and of the partnership. We listen and respond to the interactional dance of therapy picking up on its nuances - the awkward pause which seems to cry out for something, the particular tone in which the client asks the therapist “but how are you?” the clutch in the therapist’s stomach when the client asks a question that feels a little too intimate for comfort.
We as therapists sense much more than can be articulated about the infinitely complex interactional moment. Becoming sensitive to what is barely communicated, perhaps enacted, enables us to ask into (sometimes overtly and sometimes silently to ourselves) the specific kind of connectedness that is being called for or avoided (or perhaps both). Many of the struggles and problems we wrestle with in psychotherapy and in life can be thought of as “stuck interactions” (Gendlin). A quite particular needed relational dance, a different kind of connectedness than has been available, holds the possibility of developing an expanded more resilient, more delineated and vital self experience. Out of a new “us” new self-experience can emerge.
FOCUSING-ORIENTED RELATIONAL PSYCHOTHERAPY
Focusing-oriented relational therapists are guided by the understanding that vital life-giving connection to our own implicit self-experience and nourishing relatedness to others is inseparable. The FORP project entails studying and teaching the facilitation of new experience through the interwoven processes of working with therapeutic relatedness and with the ongoing emergence and evolution of the individual.
The Process of Focusing
The process of focusing entails touching into the implicit intricacy of body knowing that is alive within us beneath the surface. It is a palpable felt sense that we can access.
know we have found this implicit knowing when it brings an experience of
release, a “ring of truth.” It comes with fresh language, image and metaphor.
The focusing process seems paradoxical as it simultaneously produces a feeling
of discovery and of creation.
Focusing has a sense of directionality, a forward movement. It moves our lives forward by helping us to process obstacles to change and listen to a wise and authentic part of ourselves. It brings both subtle and transformative steps of growth. For me, focusing offers a lifetime path – a practice, in addition to my meditation practice, as part of my ongoing spiritual and psychological journey.
by Eli Dickson