Asking: The Fifth Step of Focusing

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Once we have a clear sense of a whole problem there inside our bodies, the time comes to ask it: alright, I hear you, now what is it that you really have to tell me? Where do we go from here?

This is the fifth of a series of posts on the six step process of Focusing, discovered by psychotherapist and philosopher Gene Gendlin. The steps are a guideline or ‘way in’ for those who are not familiar with the natural process of focusing (the steps were extrapolated from experience, and not the other way around).

In the previous posts, I introduced the first four steps:

I’ll run through them briefly again. Firstly we put pressing issues and thoughts aside for a while, leaving a space, like clearing the desk before settling to work. Secondly we choose one of those pressing issues and allow an indefinable, murky kind of “felt sense” of it to arise. Thirdly we find a word which captures the defining quality of that sense — a word that seems to fit just right. This word is like calling the felt sense by name — we have a way of bringing it back if it wanders off. Fourthly we go back and forth between the felt sense and the word, checking whether it really is, for example, ‘rough’ and not more ‘bristly’.

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Once we have resonated back and forth a few times, making slight adjustments, we finally find a word which sits just right and we know what it is we sense inside us. It’s a feeling of ‘all that’, of the whole situation, the whole problem. It contains a vast multiplicity of all the different factors that influence that situation inside us and outside us, too many to hold in the mind all at once, too many to feel all at once, yet the body is able to hold them in this complex way.

So to find a place to touch on, which opens up a sense of release, a shift forward in our stuckness, we ask the felt sense “just what is it about you that is so bristly?”

If an easy, interpretative answer comes up like “well I’m irritated by her, of course!”, we let that go by and wait for something else to come from a deeper place. An answer comes from the whole organism — like sleep comes, or tears — you can’t force it. Sometimes there seems to be no answer at all, in which case you can try another question. This is often a place where the process seems to become difficult — after just allowing something to arise and reacting to it, you have in a sense to swap positions and become an active questioner. The presence of a focusing partner can be extra helpful here, as the interactive element that they bring can help you somehow in the interaction with what is arising inside.

But you can try another question by yourself. It could be something like “what would you like to bring?” or, one I that personally find usually opens the problem right up — “what do you need?”.

I sometimes find that expectations also get in the way of asking. I want a really good answer, an earth shattering one, one which will transform every aspect of my life. I also have my own ideas on what that answer should be!

The process of letting those expectations and desires and interpretations and attempts to control my experience go by is difficult, but very refreshing when it occurs. There is something childlike, undefended, about standing, just before myself, and asking my own experience — who are you? What have you come to bring?

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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