Why call Focusing “Felt Sensing”?

I, Vera R. Fryd Lyngmo, am officially (by The International Focusing Institute) a Focusing Teacher/Trainer, and I am teaching (my own version of) Gendlin’s Focusing, that he discovered in his research into what leads to change (in a therapeutic setting) in the 1950’s.

Attempts at explaining Focusing to people

Over the years, while mentioning and trying to talk about “Focusing” to friends, colleagues, family etc., I have found that people tend to stop at the word, and get the idea that it is about becoming “focused”.  Comments I would get were something like: “Oh, I really need to get more focused at work! Can you teach me that?”

That (among other things, maybe) has sometimes made it hard for me to explain what Focusing actually is.

As part of what emerged in their research, that people (clients) seemed to attend to a kind of a place that is more “down there”, as Gendlin sometimes used to say, Gendlin coined the word “Felt Sense” in addition to calling the process “Focusing”. The concept “Felt Sense” was meant to distinguish this particular, unclear, murky, vague and unformed experience from the more unit-like “thoughts”, or “feelings”, and make this seemingly mysterious  ….. more graspable. (Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy, 1996).

Calling it Felt Sensing instead

I don’t know if that is then almost self-explanatory, but since this Felt Sense we are attending to, is more of a vague, unformed, unclear, “messy” (see photo), “in-the-fog”, kind of thing, I found that calling it “Felt Sensing” gives me a different starting point for trying to explain this practice/method/tool/philosophy/way of living.

One reason why that becomes easier for me is also that the word(s) itself (themselves), “Felt Sensing”, is something that doesn’t already have a given meaning in the language. Then the expression itself sounds weirdly foggy and non-graspable, almost as if it reflects the un-graspableness of this process that we’re still not used to seeing as a “thing” yet. At least not in Western culture.

Another thing that is sometimes confusing, and maybe a whole discussion by itself, is all the different kinds of inner referents one might encounter “going downstairs”, like feelings, emotions, thoughts etc. And then the Felt Sense becomes a kind of particular thing that this “quest” is all about. But it might be just as rewarding and life-changing to spend time with feelings and thoughts, or places that are feeling or thinking, in a Felt Sensing kind of way, I find. So I might even say that I am Felt Sensing my feelings or thoughts, i.e. approaching them from a less “I-already-know- wha- this-is” kind of way…

Therefore, I decided to sometimes call this process “Felt Sensing” instead of, or in addition to, Focusing.

Why “With-Sensing” instead of “Listening”?

As a following thing, seeing as Focusing is most often done and taught in Focusing partnership, that is dividing one’s time in two and exchange Focusing and Listening, I felt I needed a different word for “Listening” also.

In Norwegian one can put the word “with” in front of things in the same way that one can put “self-” at the beginning of a lot of words in English, even though it might not be grammatically “correct” always. Being compassionate is in Norwegian to be “With-feeling” (medfølelse), being a fellow human being is being a “With-human” (medmenneske), etc.

What is listening, then?

Because I find that the word “listening” is a very common word that might mean “listen-to-get-the-other-person’s-thing-out-of-the-way-so-I-can-make-my-point”, or “listen-to-analyse”, or “listen-to-give-advice”, etc., and because I find the listening that we’re doing in Focusing different, I also decided to call that particular way of listening “With-Sensing” (Medsensing in Norwegian) instead. Let me try to say more about that:

Listening from thoughts or from sensing?

We often learn/teach that listening in Focusing (and in certain counselling traditions, by the way) means to “repeat” or “reflect” what the person said, maybe slightly different than how they said it, which is also a practice found in many counselling and psychotherapy practices. I find that for me, while I was learning Focusing, that way of learning or doing it made this big expectation on my “creativity” to come up with a different way of:

  • phrasing
  • ordering the words
  • cleverly understanding what was “actually” being said
  • plus more

, which in itself isn’t bad at all, if it feels natural and doesn’t leave me feeling alone.

I did feel quite “alone over here”, while the Focuser was some “closed-eyed-strange-entity-over-there” (I am exaggerating a bit to make my point, of course), which I didn’t find helpful, neither as a listener, nor as the Focuser when it was my turn.

“Sensing-with” instead of “thinking” or mainly “listening”

Seeing as the “Felt Senser” in Felt Sensing (or Focuser in Focusing) is the person with the direct contact to whatever is there, the “listener” is not necessarily considered wiser or smarter, or as “the one who sees things clearer because they are coming from outside and are less entangled”, which is often the tradition in psychology, counselling, coaching etc. Therefore, the listener or With-Senser, has a bit of a different role in this reciprocal partnership.

In Felt Sensing, then, when you “listen” to the other person, I find that letting  the person’s words “land” in my own body and then letting my own body get it’s own, less clear “sense of” what is being said, makes a bit of a different experience. I can then have the goal of getting a sense together with the person I’m listening to, and then almost let my body speak back, if it decides to, is more helpful. More helpful than what?

More helpful than being completely “detached” and supposedly “neutral”, to “mechanically repeat” (also exaggerating a little, of course) what the person says. I find that this is often the confusion of the new listener i Focusing courses, and in counselling as well, in my experience. It can hence be said that I find it more helpful than having to use my “thinking level” as I listen to this person that themselves is on a “Felt Sensing level”. 

Hence I’ve come to think that it would then make sense that I am also “sensing” rather than “thinking” 🙂 And therefore I decided to call this way of listening With-Sensing.

So, with those two expressions: Felt Sensing, and With-Sensing, I’m doing my best to help with increasing people’s Felt Sense Literacy, as The International Focusing Institute calls it., and I decided to call my training “Felt Sensing and With-Sensing”-training as well 🙂

I do hope this inspires your way of sensing and “thinking” about Focusing as well!

Post last updated november 2020

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