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‘Focusing’ by Gendlin

Here are some thoughts on the book ‘Focusing’ by Gendlin.

For ages and ages there has been a debate about change and therapy. It runs roughly along these lines. I will present the extreme sides to make it clearer.

Side A. Cause/effect is a scam. The past is a red herring. All problems, all change is in the now. There is no ‘root cause’ and looking for it simply brings pain and anguish. It’s like trying to fix a broken bone by chasing after the attacker. Proponents of this position are CBT, REBT, NLP, Behaviorism, Solution Focused Therapy (also look into the philosopher Karl Popper).

Side B. If you don’t get the root, you’ll just have symptom removal and the issue will either come back or pop up elsewhere. It’s like putting a bandaid on a broken bone. In this camp lie the Freudians, Regression Hypnotists (the ones who think it’s ‘real’), The Inner Child People.

Now obviously the sides are more nuanced. But the debate falls roughly along those lines.

Now many people find that position B is more intuitive. We are used to cause effect in our lives (or at leas the illusion of it) and when we have a problem we can’t get rid of, we can tend to feel that it has a deep ‘root’ and ’cause’ and if we get to that, it will all be solved.

Many people who use CBT feel that although they don’t feel anxiety any more, it’s almost like they are covering over a deeper problem. That it’s a ‘fake’ ‘temporary’ fix. The CBT therapist will say that those thoughts are just thoughts and you can CBT them away as well!

At the same time the people in side A have a very good point. And that is, how can you prove it? How do you know that you need to get to the root? How do you know that all regression isn’t simply suggestion and metaphor?

In addition, Freud was woefully ineffective while CBT and it’s sister therapies have been verified to work quite well in randomized trials. While that doesn’t disprove Side B, it certainly doesn’t help them.

Gendlin is the first person I have found that bridges the gap. He talks about a knowing that we have that isn’t word thoughts. That isn’t logical, liner, and simple. He talks about the ‘felt sense’.

Imagine going on a trip. You’re on the plane, and you feel something bothering you. You know you forgot something, but you can’t remember what! Now, even thought you know that you can’t do anything about it, it still eats at you and gnaws at you.

And then you remember. AHA! You forgot the pocketwatch Uncle Jack asked you to bring to his brother. Now even though you can’t do anything, you feel a relief. A tangible ‘letting go’.

When your mind flags something as ‘important’ and it’s not addressed, it goes into the background felt sense as this uneasy feeling. The more critical the thing that you haven’t addressed, the more uneasy the feeling.

Now in the trip example, even if you never remember what it was, after a while you’ll stop thinking about it. It won’t quite bother you anymore (CBT). But it’s a very different solution than getting at what was bothering you. One takes time, is gradual, and doesn’t feel like a solution (the forgetting one). The other feels like AHA!.

What regression people and Freud try to do is get at the felt sense. Get to the hidden stuff to get that release. The CBT people say to just feel better and forget that.

Gendlin beautifully describes how that root is experienced in the moment in the therapy room. And so now, instead of Freud and regression being mere ideas, you have a tangible something to point at. The body sense.

He makes explicit what people have been trying to talk about for a long long long time.

To me, Gendlin is the synthesis between the two approaches. It’s something I have been looking for for a long long time. He gave me that AHA.

Get the book. Read it. Do the exercises. It will open you up.

Joe

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