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To Get The Best Out Of Therapy You Need To Be In Touch With Your Feelings

are you in touch with your feelings?


To Get The Best Out Of Therapy You Need To Be In Touch With Your Feelings

Are you in touch with your feelings? People who  are more in touch with their feelings get more out of therapy. Here’s Why:

Focusing As a Gentle Way to Be with Ourselves

During the 1960’s, the psychologist and philosopher Eugene Gendlin(link is external) asked a simple question: why do some people make progress in psychotherapy, while others don’t — and what is happening inside those clients who are benefiting from therapy?

After analyzing hundreds of taped therapy sessions, Gendlin and his team discovered that they could accurately predict after one or two sessions whether or not therapy would be successful. Surprisingly, positive outcomes were not linked to the orientation of the therapist, but rather to what these clients were doing within themselves.

The key finding was that successful clients were attending to their inner world in a particular kind of way. They were slowing down their speech and quietly searching for words or images that resonated with an inner “felt sense” of their life concerns. In short, these naturally gifted clients were “Focusing(link is external).” As feelings and “felt meanings” came into clearer focus, these clients experienced new openings, insights, or a “felt shift” in how they were holding life concerns.

As explained in Dancing with Fire(link is external):

“Focusing is a path of self-inquiry that welcomes nuanced experiences that we often overlook. We gently bring awareness into our bodies, which is where feelings and sensations reside. We allow and befriend whatever we are experiencing in a way that permits the stuck places to loosen … moving us toward greater peace, freedom, and wisdom.”

Attending to Our Body

Those clients who were progressing were not in their heads analyzing their problems or seeking solutions. They were engaged in a deeper, bodily-felt inquiry into with what they were experiencing inside. They grappled with vague, unclear feelings and sensations until something emerged that made sense to them. This often led to a shift in how they were experiencing troubling issues, as well as forward movement in their lives.

Gendlin emphasizes that he did not invent Focusing, he merely observed it in people who had positive outcomes in therapy. He crafted teachable steps so that others could learn this natural way of being with oneself. As with any creative process, other Focusing practitioners have revised these steps or taken the process in other directions.

An Example

Tom was angry because his partner wasn’t spending enough time with him. As I invited him to allow space for his anger, he noticed a tight sensation in his chest and jumpiness in his abdomen. As he gently attended to this unclear feeling without trying to fix it, something subtle emerged. He began to notice a sad, lonely feeling. The word “disconnected” came to him, which conveyed the felt sense of how this situation was living inside him.

Tom was easily prone to anger, but he was uncomfortable with deeper, more vulnerable feelings. As our sessions progressed, he slowly became more accepting of his sadness and loneliness. As he courageously contacted and conveyed these tender feelings to his partner, he experienced her softening and being more receptive to him. Befriending his more tender feelings, a field was created in which she felt safer to move toward him, which is what he was wanting.

Applications of Focusing 

Focusing Oriented Therapy (link is external)(FOT) is one application of Focusing. In addition, since Focusing taps into a core creative process(link is external), it is also being used in areas as diverse as healing(link is external), creative writing(link is external)spirituality(link is external)art therapy(link is external) and movement(link is external). Focusing also has may parallels with the practice of mindfulness(link is external) — attending to whatever we’re experiencing inside from moment to moment.

Psychologist John Gottman’s(link is external) research has discovered some key factors that lead to divorce. When criticism, contempt, stonewalling, and defensiveness are common features of our partnerships (the 4 Horsemen(link is external) of the Apocalypse), there is often a slippery slope toward disconnection and separation.

Focusing creates a space where we can gently befriend the feelings that underlie these 4 Horsemen. Rather than be critical or contemptuous, we can uncover more nuanced fears, hurts, and vulnerabilities, as Tom did in the above example. As he befriended his own deeper feelings, his partner felt more emotionally connected with him..

Gendlin never copyrighted the terms “Focusing” or “felt sense” because he generously wanted these to be freely available. Terms such as “felt sense” have found their way into other therapeutic approaches. For example, Somatic Experiencing(link is external), developed by Peter Levine, invites people to attend to their felt sense as one important part of the process of healing from trauma. He cites Gendlin in his excellent book, Waking the Tiger(link is external). Gendlin has emphasized that Focusing works well in combination with other approaches.

There are many books(link is external) available about Focusing. It is best learned through a therapist who uses Focusing or a workshop from a certified Focusing practitioner(link is external).

Please consider liking my Facebook(link is external) page and click on “get notifications”(under “Likes”) to receive future posts. If you like this article, you might enjoy my latest book, Dancing with Fire.

John Amodeo, Ph.D., MFT, is author of the award-winning book about relationships as a spiritual path, Dancing with Fire(link is external): A Mindful Way to Loving Relationships(link is external). His other books include The Authentic Heart (link is external)and Love & Betrayal(link is external). He has been a licensed marriage and family therapist for 35 years in the San Francisco Bay area and has conducted workshops internationally on relationships and couples therapy.

[John Amodeo]

John Amodeo, PhD, MFT (#MFC14453), is the author of Dancing with Fire: A Mindful Way to Loving Relationships (Quest Books), which received the Spirituality and Practice Award as one of the best spiritual books of 2013. His other books include The Authentic Heart: An Eightfold Path to Midlife Love (John Wiley & Sons) andLove & Betrayal (Ballantine Books). He holds graduate degrees in both Clinical and Transpersonal Psychology and has been a licensed marriage and family therapist for over thirty years, with offices in San Francisco, San Rafael, and the Sebastopol area. A former writer and contributing editor for Yoga Journal for ten years, he has conducted workshops nationally and internationally on love, intimacy, and couples therapy, and has been featured on national television and radio programs that include CNN, CNBC, Donahue, and New Dimensions Radio. He has been interviewed or written for publications that include The Chicago Tribune, Cosmopolitan Magazine, The Dallas Morning News, The San Jose Mercury News, The Rocky Mountain News and The Toronto Sun. He has led workshops at centers such as Esalen Institute, The Omega Institute, and The New York Open Center, and is an adjunct faculty member of Meridian University. He has trained in Somatic Experiencing, developed by Dr. Peter Levine for dealing with trauma and is a Certified Focusing Trainer. He has had training in Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples with Dr. Sue Johnson, and has co-authored a chapter with her in her edited book, The Emotionally Focused Casebook: New Directions in Treating Couples (2011). To learn more about Focusing-Oriented Therapy, please visit: To learn more about Focusing, please visit:

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