Dead End Therapy

You understand your problem perfectly. You know when it happens, how it happens, and you can have a pretty good stab at why it’s happening. You even, theoretically, know what needs to change, for it to stop happening. But all this knowledge is absolutely useless to you when the problem arises. Nothing changes.

You understand your problem perfectly. You know when it happens, how it happens, and you can have a pretty good stab at why it’s happening. You even, theoretically, know what needs to change, for it to stop happening. But all this knowledge is absolutely useless to you when the problem arises. Nothing changes.

Your counsellor is accepting, understanding, and helps you understand yourself better. They must be doing a good job. You are working as hard as you can, too. Why is nothing happening?

This is a frustrating situation that I have experienced both in the client’s and the counsellor’s chair. It is tempting to blame the counsellor or yourself for not being “good enough.” What’s missing?

This question is one that the U.S. therapist and philosopher Gene Gendlin set out to answer in his research in the 1950s. He came up with the answer that the clients he studied who did actually experience positive change, in contrast to those who did not, used an internal way of checking, against a kind of sense inside their body, whether something was accurate or not. When they, or the counsellor, came up with an idea, or a feeling, they checked it against their direct experience. “Am I really angry? Yes, I am!” Once they made direct contact with the feeling or thought, they usually sensed something else, something more. “And also a bit…sad”. As though acknowledgement of exactly what is there in our experience makes a little bit of space for the next thing, the thing that otherwise would have been crowded out. There is space for discovery, change. We can feel ourselves moving forward, we feel relief, fresh air, a surge of energy, “That’s it! God — I didn’t realise!”

Gendlin discovered, or invented, steps, which he called ‘focusing’ — to help us find that bodily sense which responds. (See our list of focusing resources included as part of our larger list of web resources.) They are well worth getting to know for when we find ourselves stuck in our lives, in counselling, in our creativity, not as another technique to succeed or fail at, but as a kind of map of a subtle, shifting territory which is easily overlooked, both in hectic everyday life and in the intense concentration on thoughts and/or feelings which comes about during therapy. Focusing steps are the map and not the territory.

And as we all have our own different territories, we can, of course, make our own maps.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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