Focusing: 5 Ways to Find a Felt-Sense

By Arlene Kahn Therapy • October 13th, 2009

Focusing is a term given to our ability to turn our attention inward, to notice how we experience a life situation, a problem, a difficulty with a relationship or even a point of stuck creativity.   We are gathering a “felt-sense” of a situation, a form of somatic experiencing.

Felt-sensing is different than “getting in touch with feelings,” or “thoughts,” and it is not strictly meditation, yet it includes all of those ways of experiencing too. It is essentially a body/mind therapy.  It addresses the whole of our experience, our body and our mind.

Learning to find a felt-sense in a situation that is conflictual, confusing or even joyful, can be extremely helpful in knowing how to handle it.  It means being able to penetrate, or go into a feeling to find a sense of the whole of it.  When able to do that, often there’s a body shift, a kind of awakening of awareness to something you didn’t see before about the situation or about yourself.  It feels like a fresh insight and can provide direction.

I’d like to share the steps to finding a felt-sense.  These are adapted from Eugene Gendlin in his book “Focusing.”    Here are 5 ways to find a “felt-sense.”

1. Get comfortable, sitting up in a comfortable chair is best, hands loose, feet on the floor.  The first step is to slow down.  Breathe.  Notice what’s there, in your body– what feelings, thoughts,  anxiety or sadness and ask yourself, “What kind of experience is happening in my body, right now?”  Then wait.

2.   The second step is to get into a place of empathy with yourself, about the difficulty or the struggle going on.  Above all, be non-judgemental.  Create an inner space that is kind, gentle, safe.  Without self empathy, nothing can change.

3.  If nothing seems to come, look for the vague,  murky feelings somewhere in the middle of your body.  You may be unclear, or at a kind of vague edge of something.  Breathe.  Stay there.  Wait.  Welcome the effort for something to come.

4.  Allow a word, a symbol, a phrase or image to emerge.    Whatever it is, give it your interest.  Be curious about it.  Stay with it, like a companion. ” Hello, image.   Welcome.”  Do you have a sense of the whole of it?

As if you thought of a person you know, and felt into the thoughts about him or her, the feelings, the things you know already, even a smell or texture related to him or her and then if you brought all this together, what is one word or image that might represent the whole of that person just now?

For example:  I am thinking of my dog:  his quirks, the feelings of annoyance when he grabs my pillows off the couch, my pleasure when he greets me with joy, his large size, his reddish color, soft fur, how relaxed I feel when I sit with him.  An image emerges of him standing before me, head cocked, looking at me and the word that comes to mind that represents the whole of him is “friend.”   Yet, it surprises me because he follows my husband everywhere and I usually think of him as my husband’s dog.  But my felt-sense tells me  that he is “my friend,”  very much my dog too.   There’s a newness and freshness in that for me.

5.  See if the felt-sense goes with the imagery or word.  Is there a resonance?  Can you sense a change or a shift in your body?  Whatever comes,  if it’s fresh, new, not the same things you’ve been telling yourself, it’s likely to have a quality of truth.  Give it time.

If you’ve been able to go through this process, perhaps you’ve  discovered something new inside.  If it was harder than you thought, take one step at a time until you feel ready to go on.  This doesn’t have to be done at one time or even in one day.    For further practice, read Focusing by Eugene Gendlin.  For additional information visit the focusing website:

Focusing  is form of experiential psychotherapy.  Unlike other approaches, it includes the whole of a person’s body/mind  experience.  If you tried following these steps, I’d be interested in your experience and your comments.


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