Focusing as a spiritual tool for counsellors
This is adapted from an interview I gave recently with Amy McCormack for Thresholds, the quarterly professional journal of BACP Spirituality division. The emphasis of the journal is on Counselling with Spirit: for therapists with an interest in spirituality, belief or pastoral care.
How would you use Focusing as a spiritual tool?
Focusing naturally lends itself to supporting spiritual practice by developing the capacity for grounded aware presence and empathy for yourself and others.
I find when I am practicing meditation, for instance, I sense when there is a flow of energy, or if there is some kind of holding happening in the body. When I am being in nature, I have a sense of connection. When I am Focusing, I find that the more present I can be and the more grounded awareness I can bring to my Focusing, then the more my Focusing can flow. They are interconnected.
On a spiritual level, where do you think that ‘inner knowing’ comes from?
This is something that each person can enquire into. You can test it out; how do you know what you know? How do you know what is true for you? You might try to sense right now where your inner knowing comes from. If you find yourself saying that you don’t know, that is a great place to start your Focusing, and simply wait there with your question and see what happens. Keep your attention with the not-knowing. Inner knowing grows out of this place in you of not-knowing.
On a personal level, I go to my bodily felt experience. For instance, if I go for a walk in nature, I naturally feel a sense of calm, expansiveness and ease. I feel it and experience it. Likewise, in meditation. I know, because I am experiencing it. That is inner knowing.
How do you think the body comes to hold such insight?
In my view, the word ‘body’ is shorthand for ‘body-mind organism’. It contains the whole of your life experience, of who you are in your life situation. It’s about not differentiating the body from the mind, not separating them off.
When something feels heard, it can relax and settle. It is the same as in therapy. If something feels really heard as you talk about it, there is an easing there. It’s about being in relationship with your present experience and asking what is the quality of that relationship.
How might therapists introduce this technique into their practice?
It is not a technique that you use on your clients. It is about learning this for yourself and getting much more familiar with your own body and your own felt sense being called into the relational space. Then you can notice when the client is on the edge of something and become more alert and open to things that are not yet spoken. It is a specific way of listening that generates new steps of change in, what we would term in Focusing, a ‘life-forward’ direction. Although we cannot predict what those steps of change will be, we can provide the right conditions for spontaneous growth and change to happen. The most important thing is to really understand focusing for yourself, and then you can share it with your clients.
HOW TO GET STARTED WITH FOCUSING
Try this practice
Take a minute or two to become grounded in your body and present in your experience. Notice how you are feeling now. What is your subjective inner experience? Now notice what is your relationship to that experience. Can you be kind and accepting of whatever you are experiencing now?