Focusing is a naturally occurring human process carefully observed and made teachable by philosopher and psychotherapist Eugene Gendlin. Through his work, Gendlin brought the concepts of Focusing to the attention of psychotherapists and developed a technique that can be successfully used in any kind of therapeutic situation, including peer-to-peer sessions.

Origins of the concept

During his 15 years of research, beginning in 1953 at the University of Chicago, Gendlin analyzed what made psychotherapy either successful or unsuccessful. He found that it is not the therapist's technique that determines the success of psychotherapy, but something the patient (usually referred to as the client) does during therapy sessions. Though this 'something' is an inner act, it is one which is consistently marked by an observable set of behaviors, so that it was possible for Gendlin to see in his research when this inner act was happening, and when it wasn't. Gendlin found that successful clients intuitively focused on a very subtle and vague internal bodily awareness, which he termed a "felt sense."

What is a "felt sense"?

Much of what a person knows has never been consciously thought and verbalized. Felt sense is the name Gendlin gave to the unclear preverbal sense of 'something', as that something is experienced in the body. It is not the same as an emotion. This bodily felt 'something' may be of a situation, or of something that is 'coming' like an idea or the line of a poem. It is not necessarily of something that will be expressed in words, for instance it might be the right line to draw next in completing a drawing. Crucial to the concept as defined by Gendlin, is that it is unclear and vague and is always more than any one expression from it. Hence, the felt sense is not the words that come from it. On the contrary, words that may express it can be tested against the felt sense. The felt sense will not resonate with a word or phrase that doesn't adequately 'say' it. Finally, a felt sense forms, and is always tangible. The focusing process makes a felt sense more tangible and easier to work with. .

And then what happens?

Gendlin observed successful clients turning their attention to this not-yet-articulated knowing. As a felt sense formed, there would be long pauses together with sounds like 'uh....' Once the client had accurately identified this felt sense, new words would come, framing new insights into the situation. The felt sense itself would shift a bit (the felt shift), and the client would find that s/he was able to move beyond the "stuck" place into new self-insights.

Learning and using the technique of Focusing

Gendlin laid out steps for the process he had observed, so that it could be taught to other clients who did not already know it. His six steps are detailed in the book Focusing.

Focusing is now practiced all over the world. Most practitioners of the skill find it easiest to Focus in the presence of a "listener" who has been trained in the kind of listening which best supports the Focusing process. Focusing and listening sessions take place in professional settings with focusing trainers, focusing-oriented therapists or coaches, and also informally between laypeople. A focusing session can last from approximately 30 minutes to an hour, on average — with the "focuser" being listened to, and his verbalized thoughts and feelings being reflected back, by the "listener."

The Focusing-oriented psychotherapist, among other things, attributes central importance to the client's capacity to be aware of his/her "felt sense," and the meaning behind the words or images s/he choose to represent the felt sense. The client's ability to sense into feelings and meanings which are not yet formed is also important. Additionally, the therapist pays attention to his/her own felt sense as a source of information and insight during the therapy process.

Gendlin the philosopher

Gendlin's training as a philosopher before he became a psychotherapist and researcher is relevant to the history of Focusing. His philosophical investigations, which concerned themselves with the nature of 'the implicit', made it easy for him to notice that there was something being attended to by successful clients which was not yet explicit. His philosophical work is referred to as 'The Philosophy of The Implicit', see His later philosophical work also builds on what he learned as a psychotherapist and researcher. The whole of Gendlin's philosophical work forms a framework for understanding what the felt sense 'is', and what makes Focusing possible. Most of his written works are now available online at the Gendlin Online Library

Other applications of focusing

Focusing happens in other domains besides therapy. Attention to the felt sense naturally takes place in all manner of processes where something new is being formed: for example in creative process, learning, thinking, and decision making. See Focusing Oriented Pyschotherapy, Gendlin, 2001.



  • E. T. Gendlin. Focusing Second edition, Bantam Books, 1982. ISBN 0-553-27833-9.
  • John J. Shea. Religious Experiencing: William James and Eugene Gendlin. Rowman and Littlefield, 1987. ISBN 0-8191-6136-5.
  • E. T. Gendlin. Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy: A Manual of the Experiential Method. Guilford Publications, 1996. ISBN 0-89862-479-7.
  • E. T. Gendlin. What happens when Wittgenstein asks “What happens when...?” The Philosophical Forum Volume XXVIII, No. 3, 1997.
  • E. T. Gendlin. A Process model Unpublished manuscript, 1997.
  • Ann Weiser Cornell. The Power of Focusing New Harbinger Publications, 1996.
  • Helene Brenner, I know I'm in there somewhere. Gotham Books; Reprint edition (May 2004)ISBN 1-59240-060-4

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