This article presents ideas to stimulate your reflection on what we do as Focusing-oriented therapists. We (Salvador Moreno López and Serge Prengel) worked on this article together and decided to each express ourselves in our own style. So, the articles are not translations of each other, but the contents are essentially the same.
The therapist’s role
Let’s start with how we see the role of the therapist. In the medical model, the therapist provides treatment that cures a patient. In our view, being a therapist means accompanying clients as they go through an organic change process.
We are not just therapists; we are also human beings and Focusers. We know that being present for our clients cannot be achieved unless we are also present in our own experience, moment by moment.
What we mean by experience
Contemporary culture puts a high value on the notion of experience. However, this is often a canned experience, as in thinking about meals or vacations as Instagram moments.
As therapists who practice Focusing on ourselves, we know the difference between reporting on experience and experiencing life. So, when talking about experiential therapy, we understand what it feels like at the gut level.
It is a therapy that has the freshness and aliveness of moment-by-moment experience. Much of it is implicit rather than explicit, reflecting life’s implicit and complex nature.
A psychology of interaction
In Focusing, we do not think in terms of one-person psychology. We think in terms of interaction and situations.
There is a convergence between Focusing and contemporary neuroscience and its relational, process-oriented view of the mind and the nervous system—for instance, Dan Siegel’s concept of Interpersonal Neurobiology and Stephen Porges’ concept of co-regulation.
It isn’t easy to fully capture what happens in interaction with ordinary language, especially the notion that separating the person from the situation is impossible.
To do so, Serge uses the metaphor of Sunflower Mind.
The sun is in the sunflower
The sunflower moves with the sun. So, at any moment in the day, by simply observing where the flower is oriented, you would know where the sun is, even if you don’t see it.
You could say that the sun’s position is reflected in the orientation of the sunflower, but you would be missing something. The word “reflected” implies passivity.
The sunflower is not just a mirror of the sun’s position; it moves to follow it. It is even more so the case with us, as all kinds of bottom-up processes re-orient us, moment by moment, in a dance with the situations we are in.
A therapy of interaction
As we see life as interaction, it makes sense that we think of healing and change within the context of interaction. So, as therapists, we pay attention to the interaction: the client, ourselves, and the whole situation, i.e., what happens between the two of us and what happens in the system that includes both of us.
We think of therapy as a co-constructed situation in which the organic change process can unfold. This phrasing may feel a bit abstract, so let’s use a metaphor suggested by Salvador to describe how it feels.
In classical music, there are composers and performers. Music has first to be written before somebody can play it. In jazz improvisation, music emerges as a result of the interaction of the musicians, moment by moment. The process of improvisation is not intellectual or consciously driven. It develops from playing jazz and sensing what happens.
When we talk about Focusing-oriented therapy as being experiential, we refer to that very alive, interactive quality of moment-by-moment co-creation.
Both therapist and client are in process. It is a very alive process, an ongoing back-and-forth resonance. Sensing into the resonance is an integral part of the interaction, as it is in jazz improvisation. It is quite different from the more ponderous process of reporting and analyzing feelings.
The rhythm of the session
In a Focusing-oriented therapy session, the content is not just the words. There is an organic quality, a fluidity that makes it more like music, more implicit than explicit. The rhythm of the session is an integral part of the process: the slowing down, the pauses, and the resonance on the part of the client and the therapist.
Our work involves finding resonance with what our clients are experiencing. Resonance does not necessarily mean we have the same experiences as the client. We are not reflecting like a mirror or a recording device. We express ourselves as human beings (with the clear understanding that the therapist’s role is in service to the client).
The slowing down and the pauses facilitate attunement, not just to each other but also to what we are experiencing. Moment-by-moment sensing of our experience allows therapists and clients to adjust our actions and words. It all happens in the doing: felt sense and meaning arise as the flow of the session carries us.
Practicing life skills
This article describes the feel of a Focusing-oriented session. Another way to define FOT is to tell how we see the client’s progress.
Of course, as in any therapy, we pay attention to changes in their attitudes and behavior. But we also see therapy as a process in which clients learn experientially to have a more mindful, proactive experience of life as interaction. There is less reactivity, less rigidity, and more fluidity. It allows for the emergence of new possibilities arising from their experiencing.
It is an experimental process, but not the way one would consult scientific experiments, something that is more organic and fluid. What drives this growth process is the client’s increasing awareness and trust of their felt sense and increased ability to use it to orient in life. It’s like improving their ability to use a built-in compass.
Focusing-oriented therapy does not just deal with issues. It helps the client develop a skill: the practice of life informed by awareness, moment by moment.
We invite you to reflect on how this resonates with your practice and share what comes up for you.
Dr. Salvador Moreno López is a therapist, workshop leader, author of several books about Focusing, and the director of Focusing Mexico (focusingmexico.mx).
Serge Prengel is a therapist, co-founder of the Integrative Focusing Therapy training program, and explorer of Polyvagal Mindfulness (activeppause.com).
We worked on this article together and decided to each express ourselves in our own style. So, the articles are not translations of each other, but the contents are essentially the same. See Spanish article.