A Short Guide for the Focusing 'Coach'
This chapter was mainly written for professionals or those who intend to be so, of the wide domain of services to the souls and bodies of people. It is specially intended for those among them, who would like to become professional or semi-professional trainers in the General Sensate Focusing Technique. However, if you are a new or even an experienced focuser, a reader who has exercised steps and tactics of the previous chapter or only a curious reader, you can still profit from the reading of this chapter.
Though focusing training can be done by following this book alone, the company of a more experienced focuser or a professional one can help considerably. Their contribution is most valuable for one on his first steps to acquire the strange habits of attending systematically to the felt sensations of the body.
When the coach is himself a novice to the technique but is experienced in one of the care-giving vocations, he can still help a lot. The contributions he can provide in the first stages of training, and later, to advancement in the implementation of the new knowledge are many. Even if the other person himself is a novice to focusing, he can put to good use his general knowledge and experience in guiding, counseling, training etc. If the new coach is experienced in treating the emotional system of clients - physically or mentally - it would be easier for him and his trainees if he combined the old and the new knowledge.
The focusing technique does not render psychology obsolete, nor does it make professional psychologists and other professionals dealing with the emotional system redundant. There are many conventional professions, non-conventional ones (especially of the "alternative methods and treatments") and others where their professionalism is in doubt, which influence the trashy programs of the other, even if they do not know that they are doing so, or how they do it. Each has its own approach, techniques and purposes, and each has its own belief, theory, rationale and rationalizations in which their truth value is not a precondition to partial successes.
There is still good use to be made of the professional knowledge and experience of all of these, even when a focuser can do things for himself or help others as a layman. The help of these experts can be carried out even when the professional's knowledge and practice are not up-to-date. The more orthodox professional and the less orthodox practitioner of the "alternative" treatments could both do their things better if they would only integrate the focusing approach and tactics with their older practice.
In this chapter, we will explain the most important ways in which the new focuser may be helped by others. Before introducing the guidelines and recommendations to the "pure focusing coach" (who does not have to be a professional or semi-professional) here are the essential recommendations for the various specialists.
I. General recommendations for professionals
- Do not try to sell to others a commodity you have never tried yourself. If the focusing approach or part of its technique appeals to you, try them first on yourself (with or without a coach). It is easier to teach someone something you know, even if the knowledge is slight. Even if you believe - like us - that the best way to learn is by teaching, it is still better and easier to do this after having had some practical experience. Even the most naive trainee will discern if your knowledge is merely theoretical.
- Do not feel obliged to implement more than is convenient for you or more than your specific role allows, permits or requires. Even if it does not seem to you as appropriate to explain to your client the rationale of the focusing or to advise him to practice it as a whole, there are still many options available.
For instance, the reflexologist, the masseuse, the physiotherapist, the teacher of "gymnastics for health", and all those that are involved with the physical side or aspects of the body, can adhere to the old role, and only add some aspects of the focusing technique. For instance, one can content oneself with a suggestion given to the client to focus on specific bodily sensations of physical origin or on other related felt sensations, in specific instances, all through the sessions or even in between sessions. (Adhering to a level that parallels the practical side of the first few steps for the beginner, without any theoretical or other explanation.)
As a professional you can integrate the directives of focusing into your old role and techniques, keeping them relatively intact without the need of the client to be wise to it. One can start with the systematic suggestions of elements of the focusing technique to those one treats. Highest on the list for those who apply physical treatments is the suggestion to concentrate on the feelings and sensations aroused in the relevant muscles or organs, at various points, during their sessions.
This elementary level - with minor adaptations - is applicable to all the other professionals who deal with the mind. The psychiatrists, the psychologists, the social workers, various kinds of counselors, teachers, nurses, specialists of interpersonal relations... and all those who deal with shaping the "soul" of the individual. They could merely suggest to their clients (or patients) to pay close attention to their own felt sensations, aroused there and then during the session.
An additional suggestion may be added by both kinds of professionals to the first one, without changing their noncommittal level of implementation of the focusing technique. The professional could suggest to his clients that they pay attention to the same focused or hazy felt sensations, of muscles, of organs or of other locations, first experienced within the treatment, outside it too. He could suggest doing this in specific situations or whenever they are felt in life generally.
- The accumulated professional knowledge, of all those who apply these different kinds of treatment, guidance and therapy does not become obsolete over night, although parts of it may need to be overhauled urgently. At least part of it is worth integrating into the new technique as it is. Other important parts can be adapted without too much effort or change.
Those professionals who are willing, but not in a position to change the content of their sessions and their procedures overnight, can do it gradually. They would be able to see how, what, when, and while working with whom, to integrate the focusing tactics and strategies with the older techniques.
- A few professionals could implement the focusing technique and integrate it within their own professions in a roundabout way: though focusing is historically a late development of the trend for getting in touch with one's feelings and emotions, it does not have to be so for the new focusers. One could start by "arranging" for the client the experience of focusing on a substantial felt sensation till it dissolved and only later build on this.
The professionals who choose this approach, can start to coach a few trainees in focusing according to the schedule of chapter five, in a non formal context and fashion, and gradually integrate it into their professional knowledge. The introduction of focusing does not even have to be under the label of treatment for emotional problems.
It is usually easier to introduce the focusing technique as a procedure for reallocation of one's brain resources, for the upgrading and mending of the activation programs involved with the current felt sensations or other concrete daily problems. Just as the guiding of others in the building of a healthy diet, is not medical treatments, but preventive measures, so can be the training in the use of the General Sensate Focusing technique (and so one can present it).
- The best use a professional could make of his knowledge and insights when coaching a trainee is not by sharing them with the focuser. While the various tactics of the focusing technique are not yet integrated as habits into the life of a person, it is better that the bulk of the knowledge remain with the coach. It could be used by him - and for the best results - as a source of ideas or projects offered to the trainee or themes to be emphasized in the future.
For instance, when a professional of the physical treatments knows the relationship of a felt sensation encountered by the trainee to that of a complicated physical system, he could suggest he begins work on another part of that system, without bringing a detailed explanation. In the same way, when a psychologist thinks that the encountered felt sensation is related to the Oedipus complex, he could suggest to the trainee to focus on felt sensations aroused in him by the photograph of the relevant parent. Both can defer the detailed explanation for a later opportunity, if not rendered obsolete by later developments.
- When people encounter intentional focusing for the first time, they usually react with funny feelings, and even more so, when it is suggested that they participate. Usually, those mixed feelings arise from their more general trend to resist direct suggestions, and from the more specific trash-programs of our western culture which are prejudiced against the allocation of attention to the felt sensations of the body.
There are two main approaches that may be taken to overcome this obstacle: The first one involves teaching focusing as one would for trainees of sensate focusing. The second, and more recommended one, is to start asking during treatment, in an offhand way or in a matter of fact fashion, what the client is feeling at that moment. When the answer does not include a verbal or other description of a felt sensation, one can ask him about the sensations of the body felt at the moment - those related and those that do not seem to be related to the feelings.
- In any context, the best opportunity to introduce the focusing technique is when the "candidate" complains about an unpleasant felt sensation he is experiencing at that time. With a bit of luck, the question of "where does it feel the worst?" and the suggestion to "try to concentrate on it for a while, before you give me a detailed description of it" will cause him to have a short focusing, and bring about a certain relief or a shift of the original felt sensation elsewhere or even its termination.
It is better not to leave the astonished client to digest his experience alone. A short explanation will soften his embarrassment and contain his wonder. After a few successful encounters with focusing, if he is not overwhelmed by too many and too early explanations, the introduction of focusing as a technique or tactic, and the continuation of its use, will be a lot easier.
Whether within formal or informal situations, it is always better to ask "where do you feel?" rather than "what do you feel?" or the worst "why wouldn't you focus on it?". The direct suggestion or advice of "focus on it" is best restricted to situations where a specific felt sensation is the subject of conversation between the coach and the trainee, or when it is related to a problem contemplated in a focusing session. Otherwise, a blunt directive of this kind is bound to arouse resistance, even if rapport has already been established.
II. The main body of the guide to the focusing "coach"
People who wish to begin learning the focusing technique and contact you will be at different levels of knowledge, as well as having very different ideas about the help they require. Misunderstandings about the roles you are willing to fill are better dealt with in the first session. Following are typical situations and problems, and the recommended ways to treat them:
- The new trainee may know another focuser from whom he has heard various details about the focusing technique, or have got a text describing it - perhaps he has even tried it before.
The best thing to do is to question him about the knowledge he already has, and about his previous focusing experience. You can then assess what is the most suitable approach to this specific trainee, and where to begin his training.
- The new trainee got your phone number from somebody or from a publication, but does not know anything more about the technique than the rudimentary facts, i.e. that it differs from conventional psychotherapy and that it is a mainly nonverbal treatment for problems.
The best approach is to start with a short explanation about the activation programs (of the brain). About those that execute our decisions to initiate physical activities, like walking, scratching an itch or working with tools; and about the mental ones that do our thinking for us, like those that multiply four by three.
Then, explain the basic role of the natural biofeedback processes as a "manager" of all our bodily and mental activities, and the function of the felt sensations as regulators of attention. Compare "their request for attention" to the toddler who pulls his mother's apron to get her attention. The last point in the introduction is the explanation of the relationship between the focusing on a felt sensation, and the mending, updating and upgrading of the various activation programs related to it.
- The person who calls knows nothing about the technique, but has heard that you can help him: it is worth telling him even on the phone that you are teaching the focusing technique, and not practicing any of the conventional psychotherapies; that you are pleased he has called but he better think (for a moment or a while) if he is open to unconventional ways.
It is still not uncommon for people who are not well acquainted with the "miracles" happening to focusers, to lack a sufficiently open a mind for the focusing technique. It is better to tell them beforehand what to expect in order to save many misunderstandings and disappointments. Thanks to a proper explanation given in time, even those who do not guess what they had bargained for, can get over the surprise and embarrassment and become diligent focusers.
- And there are of course those who always know better, even among those who know a good deal about focusing. Most of these are people with a long experience as patients of psychotherapists. They will try to place you in the role of conventional therapist, so that they may be able to take the role of the patient. The best remedy is to tell the trainee that you feel things are developing towards this kind of relation. Then, if you are not a trained (or licensed) psychotherapist, the best way out of this trap is to tell the trainee that you are not one, and return to the focusing schedule.
If you are still an active therapist or have retired from practice, you will have to explain and even stress the reason you are seeing him as a trainee and not as a patient. You will also have to make the frustration of his urges more gradual, and to be strong enough not to yield to his regressive wishes.
The first introductory words and sentences can be crucial for the novice focuser. The experience of a few successes - even small ones - in the first session will give the training a good start. These successes are also essential as they are examples of the "homework" required between the first and second meetings. The actual transactions of the first session, which are a unique combination of explanations and exercises, are made by you in real time, to suit yourself and the general personality of the new trainee and his resources.
This can easily be done according to the actual dialog, even if you know nothing about him beforehand. However, it is better if you can find out a few things about the new trainee before you receive him. Remember! prejudice is better than ignorance!!! It is usually easier to mend than to create from scratch.
The following suggestions will be arranged according to the various steps of chapter 5., headed "do it yourself, now!" The coach can recite their main directives and the explanations of each or discuss them in his own words. He can adhere to their order and content or do his own variations and digressions. However, he would do better to deliver their content in accordance with the development of the specific session with the specific trainee.
The first step of the first stage (chapter 5 section II)
After the first few introductory sentences, the time is now ripe for the first focusing. The aim of this step is to introduce gradually the habit of allocating a prolonged and concentrated attention to the spontaneous mild or weak felt sensations. The usual question is: "where do you feel now?".
The most common problem is that the trainee answers a different question or he finds it hard to believe that you really want the answer to this question and not other information. Once you are over this stage, warn him that sometimes focusing on a felt sensation can increase its intensity for a while. Then tell him to focus for a few seconds on a felt sensation of his choice. Then, suggest to him to begin the first step of chapter 5.
There are a few common problems at this point, which you can, and have to, surmount before further steps can be taken:
The most discouraging problem, encountered frequently at the beginning, but also in later stages, is that the trainee says he does not feel anything at all, not even a tiny bit of sensation in his body. The most probable factors responsible for this - each by itself or in combination with the others are:
- The new trainee is a regular "leveler" or does not discern any sensation or a diffuse feeling because of the circumstances.
- The trainee does not have any intense sensation and does not believe that you really want him to focus on the mild sensation he has at the margin of awareness.
- The combination of the weakness of sensations, the habit of ignoring them and the difficulty encountered by the untrained while trying to focus on them, results in his saying "I cannot focus on any sensation".
- The trainee had not included in the reasons for his application a complaint about physical or emotional unpleasant feelings, nor were they the reasons for his contacting you, he does not suffer from one at the session, and finds it hard to grasp the relation between his "psychological problems" and his body.
With trainees of this kind, it takes a more intense sensation than the pressure of their bottom on the furniture to convince them that they always have, on the margin of awareness, a potential felt sensation. Usually many hesitate even to try to search in their body for a felt sensation. If the prolonged concentrated attention allocated to the bodily sensations, and the short journey through the body listed in the first step does not work, you have a problem.
The following means can be applied in various combinations in order to solve this problem. It is recommended that you try to introduce them during the first session even if the trainee does not have any problem, at that time, to attend to sensations:
- The easiest way to demonstrate a sensation is to ask the trainee to make a fist and then to relax it while attending to the sensations involved. Then direct his attention to sensations of the body related to his seat and combine it with the explanation about the incessant input of the sensorium of the body which is always there, even while one is not attending.
- "Opening the nape of the neck" is the second best remedy for this problem. So, ask the trainee to lean his head slightly backward, against a wall or any other suitable object. Afterwards, for a few minutes continue with the conversation and give the trainee a general explanation about the opening of the nape and its expected effects.
Then, ask the trainee again about any felt sensation he can discern. If even this is not enough, suggest he enlarge gradually the opening of the nape up to the maximum. In this position, no-one ever missed having at least a mild sensation of itching somewhere or uneasiness at the nape of the neck.
- Even at this preliminary stage, the recitation of self-provocations can be introduced. However, it is not recommended to use it without due explanation. At this early stage, the paradoxical approach embedded in the instruction to the trainee to say "I do not feel any sensation in my body" or any other mild sentence will surely bring him a felt sensation. But, it might also give him the feeling or suspicion that he is being manipulated by hypnotic suggestions.
Only if the mild ones like the above or "nothing bothers me" and "every thing is all right" bring only faint sensations that are difficult to focus on, try gradually to introduce more juicy ones.
In the explanations about this tactic it is worth dwelling on the decentralization of the subsystems of the brain and the emotional system.
Include the distinction between the "infantile" emotional system of the right half of the brain and the more "mature" verbal, analytical and logical subsystems of the left half. Even on the first use of the provocation, it is essential to stress the difference between the multi-repetition of a nasty declaration which harms a lot, and the one time recitation followed by a switch to focusing, that is like a "homeopathic" treatment.
A common problem at this stage (and with some trainees all through the training) is that the trainee complains that he did succeed in "getting in touch" with (focus on) a felt sensation, but then it disappeared, and no other felt sensation is present. You can treat it as a milder version of the previous problem with the same remedy.
The following problem is the opposite of the previous two. It happens sometimes, that the trainee is flooded with emotions, felt sensations or other bodily sensations, and says that he cannot settle on any one in particular or does not like to, because it is so unpleasant. Here the remedy is a bit harder to achieve. The trainee is at a loss. He cannot or will not concentrate his attention for more than a few seconds on any of them. The following can be suggested to him:
- Suggest various changes in his posture with the intention of "shutting the nape of the neck" - exactly opposite to those of opening it.
- A matter-of-fact suggestion to make a fist and concentrate on the tension there, will, after a short time, calm him enough and he will then regain his ability to concentrate.
- One of the two intense tactics of "trimming" the sensations to a suitable measure will most probably succeed where nothing else helps - rubbing of the palms of the hands against each other or the application of the vibrations of any small electric appliance (vibrators included).
The new trainee has a strong headache, tooth-ache, back ache or any other strong pain that "covers" all other potential felt sensations. This pain can be used for the focusing part of the training but usually does not supply a swift relief, significant changes in quality or a shift. Usually, "rubbing the palms of the hands" diminishes the strong pain and supplies both the proof that the new technique works, and the experience of actively changing the felt sensation within oneself. Nearly always a few repetitions of this act, brings about a decline in the stubborn felt sensation and more suitable alternatives emerge.
Very often, trainees complain during the first steps of the beginning session about various kinds of distractions. It also happens a lot with certain kinds of more advanced trainees (obsessive mostly). In nearly all cases, intruding thoughts are the cause for it. Whenever this disturbance occurs, suggest to the trainee to use the "semantic satiation" tactic of repeating a word or a syllable.
Though new trainees are usually too shy to talk about it, the new experience of attending to the felt sensations embarrasses them. The relatively swift decline which occurs in the sensation focused on, even aggravates the embarrassment.
Therefore, the first few times the trainee has this experiences, patiently go over the rationale again and again. Share with him your remembered feelings of "magic" at this stage of your training. Accompany him on the search for the location of the sensations of embarrassment to be used as focusing targets.
These, and the accumulation of experiences of shifts which occur while focusing on a felt sensation, helps the trainee to develop trust in you and in the new technique.
Share with him your feelings of "absurdity" which arise from the almost too speedy success of the focusing technique in changing the quality of the felt sensation focused on, and in solving the relevant problems.
(Even after thirty years of successfully focusing on headaches, seven years of training others in the new technique and three years of intensively experiencing focusing on a plethora of felt sensations - I still have, from time to time, a queer felt sensation of magic - especially when I am both responsible for and witness to dramatic shifts and changes in felt sensations that occur to new trainees.)
One of the most basic rules for training others in the art of focusing is the provision of a suitable sitting position for the trainee. It is almost mandatory to have him sitting with a good support so that it will take only a slight movement to recline his head comfortably. It is recommended that the coach have the same kind of sitting facility so he may provide the trainee with a model to emulate and a common base for the emerging feelings of a focusing fraternity. Doing this will also make it easier for you to be with him in this position, and talk about the discomfort embedded in it.
While the trainee is focusing, it is recommended that you pay attention to his nonverbal communications - facial expressions and others. It is also worth asking him where his target is, so that you be able to parallel his focusing. Explain to him that he can opt not to divulge it, but it will help you to be with him if you can focus on the same place. This will establish the procedure of repeatedly asking the trainee where he is focusing.
Whenever the trainee is focusing on a target silently, for more than half a minute, ask him what is going on there with regard to the various parameters of the sensation on which he is focusing. This will diminish the danger of the trainee digressing and becoming absorbed in reveries - or the opposite - entering too early and too deeply into very problematic emotional contents.
The following steps (the second to fifth)
These are crucial steps. They are taken mainly to ensure the new trainee having a prolonged focusing on a felt sensation, and experiencing the first success of a shift in the quality and intensity of a felt sensation - during focusing and as a result of it. This and the ones that follow are the real base for the building of the new focusing habit.
The instructions in these steps are mostly given to the trainee parallel to his focusing efforts. They are supposed to enhance his concentration powers and direct them to the chosen point. During these steps many of the trainees are going to have their first deliberate prolonged focusing on a felt sensation - something which has probably never happened before in their life without being forced to do so by an acute physical pain. Though these steps are relatively short (to evade boredom), the majority of the trainees will have a few successful shifts of felt sensations while doing them.
If the shifts happen too fast and for too trivial felt sensations, suggest that the trainee lean his head back (on the available support) in order to recover the lost felt sensations. If the shift in the experience is significant (with regard to the surprise or alleviation of suffering resulting from it), stress to the trainee that what he has just experienced is the core of the focusing technique. Stress again and again that the nature of the trash-programs is such, that there is no simple relation between the suffering or disturbance they cause, and the focusing effort needed in order to update, improve or mend them.
This may be a most suitable point to stress the difference between the effort of the structured focusing on the felt sensations originating from trash-programs (in order to mend them), and the various trends of Yoga and Meditation which strive to clear all contents of the awareness in order to achieve Nirvana.
This step sums up the first session of the focusing training. In this step, the trainee who has not experienced a shift of the felt sensation or at least a significant weakening of it during previous steps, is supposed to feel one now. If he did not experience a shift during previous steps, it is crucial to supply him with one at this step "at all costs".
In order to make this step effective, while giving him the instructions of this section, be sure he is focusing all the time on one felt sensation or another. To ensure it and to make it less difficult for him, ask him often where he is focusing. If not even one sensation is available for his focusing, suggest that he opens the nape of the neck. If no significant shift and no positive change has happened to any of the felt sensations of the trainee, try to achieve it by one of the following "means justified by the end".
There are a few tactics available, when tackling a stubborn felt sensation, and only very seldom does one of these sensations defy all tactics*:
*The new technique is "nearly omnipotent". Whenever you meet an obstacle keep this fact in mind. "Opening the nape of the neck" and other tactics presented in previous chapters always succeed in forcing the reluctant supra-programs to bring a sensation which is worth focusing on to the center of awareness. So it is with rubbing the hands or other tactics a focuser can use in order to dispel an intense and stubborn sensation. There are, indeed, a few means to overcome all other obstacles - including the ones which already mentioned (or better ones you can invent yourself). However, keep in mind that it is not always worth overcoming an obstacle. Many times it might be wiser to go around it or defer the encounter to a more suitable opportunity.
- Ask the trainee to increase his concentration on the felt sensation and to describe in great detail what it is.
- Suggest he use the light touch of his palms against each other to enhance his concentration.
- If the target sensation is not in a place too inconvenient to touch, ask him to put a finger on the region of the felt sensation.
- Suggest that he find in the vicinity of the felt sense a muscle which he can grasp, pinch, or squeeze to increase temporarily the felt sensation.
- If the sensation is very stubborn, which is frequently so with those that are chronic or semi-chronic, and if the nearly impossible occurs, and none of the previous tactics help even after a few minutes have passed, continue with the repeated and enlarged explanation about the natural biofeedback processes that are working on the problem. Tell the trainee that, sometimes, the focusing on a felt sensation till it changes involves a thorough overhaul of the relevant programs, the completion of which takes a prolonged period of time.
Point to the fact that the mending mechanisms continue to work on a problem on the margin of the awareness even after one ceases to pay full attention to it. Add the reassurance that the efforts dedicated to the mending of a program has an accumulative affect and one is not bound to solve a problem in one trial only. Then, without committing yourself too much, tell him that after a few trials in that same session he may overcome it. Then suggest to him to focus on another felt sensation.
After the preliminary preparations for retreat are completed, it is worth checking if the dominant sensation is really covering all other ones or whether weaker ones are also available. Even if there are other alternative sensations and even if the focusing on them brings about substantial results, it is still most important to encounter frequently the stubborn one previously abandoned in a tactical retreat. As long as the session continues, return from time to time to check on the stubborn felt sensation. In most cases, even the most stubborn ones yield in the end.
- If half the session has passed and no significant change has occurred in the stubborn felt sensation, it is time for the sixth and decisive tactic:
- Suggest the trainee use the intensive rubbing of the palms against each other* while focusing on the stubborn felt sensation.
*The application of this tactic is usually restricted to emergency situations. It is recommended for use in combination with the focusing on the felt sensation even when its causes are "purely" physical or physiological. Even if the direct contributors to its initial emergence are only physiological, this does not last so for more than a few seconds as various trash-programs join the arena. The additional focusing resources will help to bring relief of the unpleasant sensation and one and the same time improve the trash- programs involves.
- Postpone the explanations of this act for about a quarter to half a minute so the trainee will experience a complete surprise.
- Explain to the trainee how this flooding of the subsystem, which creates and analyzes the sensations, affect it.
Postponing the explanations has two purposes: first, to provide him with a surprising success which will surely boost his morale lowered as a result of the previous unsuccessful encounters with the sensation. Second, to prevent a suspicion by both trainee and coach, that the alleviation of the suffering was the result of a hypnotic suggestion.
Even if the coach is proficient in the use of hypnosis it is better to refrain from using it at this stage. The experience of self-control and self-management are vital for the building of the group of supra-programs which constitute the trainee's habit of using the general sensate focusing technique. At this stage, the use of short cuts is bound to lengthen the distance to the target or even prevent its attainment.
As the said sensation starts to fade, it is worth recommending the trainee to use this tactic whenever the felt sensations are extremely unpleasant or when he wishes to change the felt sensation available for focusing. It is worth taking into consideration and stressing to the trainee that the contribution of the palm rubbing to the amendment of programs is scant, as it merely floods the relevant subsystems with surplus input. However, it is useful as a methodological aid and as a means of quickly changing the emotional climate if one wishes to do so.
When one uses this tactic against unbearable felt sensations which are also stubborn, it sometimes takes a few repetitions with short pauses of a minute or two between them. Till now, none of the reluctant felt sensations, or any other sensation of a "pure" physiological origin, have succeeded in defying this weapon. It always achieves an alleviation in the felt sensation of the moment, even if it is only a partial and fleeting one.
Usually, in the first session, it is better to stay within the confines of the six steps for the beginner. Even with trainees who have preliminary experience with focusing, expediting the training does not pay. The first session starts the building of mutual trust and partnership between coach and trainee.
Therefore, it is better not to go too far before consolidating them. For the same reason it is recommended to look at the end of this session for a convenient "preliminary contract" for these relations. In the same mood it is important to discuss the gap between the trainee's expectations of the first session and what really occurred.
The end of the session is the best time for discussing "democratically" the possible "homework" the trainee can do before the second session. At the end of the session, it is recommended to tell the trainee that if he does his part, which is focusing between sessions on 15% to 30% of the potential felt sensations entering the center of his awareness, he is going to have a significant break through.
It is recommended to tell him (again) at the end of this and the next few sessions about the firm connection between this kind of focusing, and the three promised occurrences of a breakthrough i.e. those of the first, second and third months.
It is also recommended giving the trainee a printout (or photocopy) of chapter five of this book. Suggest he read and practice the relevant parts whenever not engaged in other activities. Though most of the trainees do not comply with this suggestion, it is still worth trying as it serves both those who comply and those who do not.
The resistance to complying, the discussion about it in the following sessions and the leniency of the coach will contribute their share to the establishment of a relationship in which the trainee is an autonomous agent. The assurance you will give the "truant" trainee, on the second session, that not complying was not a "major crime" will contribute to the democratization of the coach-trainee relations.
The following sessions
At the beginning of each session, it is recommended to start by the trainee's listing of his felt sensations of the moment. Then suggest he briefly focuses on one or a few of them in a row, till a shift occurs. Then comes the vital part of reviewing the "homework" done between sessions.
It has been found that with many trainees, both the spontaneous talkers and those who do not talk much, a review of those focusing and the main felt sensations occurring since the previous session is the best tactic.
This habit provides the unstructured procedure of the focusing session with a rudimentary structure to fall back on when needed. The coach can draw from the narration of the trainee ideas for future homework and projects, provocations and other recycling tactics for use both in the session and out of it, various tactics and even a strategy.
Sometimes, the coach may rely on his or the trainee's free associations arising from the content of the narration, to decide on focusing targets. They can even rely on psychological knowledge and creativity as a means to this end.
And as usual, some of the trainees tend to get into a power struggle with the coach about the schedule of work during the session. Others, may be very excited and anxious to share the experiences or problems of the week, immediately at the beginning of the session. As with other cases of breach of schedule, compromises are preferred. Go along with the trainee, but make short interruptions, breaks and pauses in his narration with suggestions to focus briefly on the most important felt sensations or provocations suggested by you.
While reviewing the felt sensations and the focusing on them, trainees talk about various topics. The best a coach (who is not integrating focusing with psychotherapy) can do with them is to use them as targets for focusing. The trainee may be advised to focus on the felt sensation of the moment of the narration - the one that was aroused during the talk, or to try to focus on the original ones (of the episodes mentioned) - revived by one of the various available tactics for "recycling" felt sensations of past experiences.
When trainee narrations take up a high portion of the session, it is often wise to go along with them rather than fight this tendency. In these cases it is wise to introduce the allegory about the yacht which cruises on a lake full of fish for pleasure. The narration is like the cruising yacht, which drags a fishing net often hauled on board full of fish. The haulings are the interruptions suggested by the coach at key points of the narration, in order to focus on the concurrent felt sensations.
As the focusing session deals with contents which are not part of the usual daily rapport, it is highly recommended to show the trainee that he is understood. It is also important to assure him time and again that all felt sensations are legitimate topics as all of them are legitimate targets for focusing.
Frequently, especially when training is prolonged, feelings that are not of a "pure" trainee-coach relations emerge. Sometimes, even at the beginning of training intense feelings are aroused. In all of them, the worst tactic is to delve into them or dwell on them. Even if no acting out of yours or the trainee stems from it, trash-programs related to other people and relations will surely emerge into active functioning and hinder the training. The best way of dealing with the irrelevant feelings is to focus on felt sensations of each of them until they fade.
During the first few sessions and even during the advanced stages of the training, the best contribution for morale and diligence in focusing is derived from success. Therefore, it is best to divide the efforts of the coach equally, between the search for new focusing targets (topics and tactics) for the trainee, and the emphasis on the success already achieved.
The tempo of introducing the technique
The first few weeks are dedicated mainly to overcoming the most urgent problems of the trainee. During this period, introduce him to the tactics most needed for this task. If he is reading the text of chapter five, point out to him the sections most relevant at that time.
After the trainee starts to overcome the most stressing problems and the most distressing felt sensations, it is time to look at the more advanced targets to be reached by focusing. The specific targets chosen will dictate the selection of the tactics and techniques from the book (and experience) as well as the order of their introduction.
Usually, during the first two months, the trainee is supposed to experience the use of all the tactics and to have a project or two that goes beyond the alleviation of unpleasant felt sensations. In the following months, the projects selected and the tactics to try in overcoming them represent team work - and they had best be "the most democratic" possible.
In addition to my prejudice against authoritative relations, there are also pragmatic reasons for this recommendation. The coach may suggest projects and even try "to sell them to the trainee". However "the last word" should remain with the trainee, as he is the only one who is in direct unconscious touch with his activation programs and stored memories. Consequently, only he can receive their warnings and recommendations regarding the time to tackle the various problems.
Only by taking these as a dominant part of the considerations about the appropriateness of the decisions, can one refrain from gross mistakes and from arousing the "resistance" of the trainee.
Even if the trainee makes many incorrect decisions while managing his daily focusing programme, too much pressure on him "may win a few battles, but will lose the war". The feeling of being his own master and the only one responsible for his focusing programme is very good for his morale and enthusiasm.
The mutual agreement that the proficiency of the coach and his somewhat more objective point of reference, are only some of the factors to be considered, circumvent most of the "transference" problems so common in psychotherapy. The mutual agreement that the gut feelings of the trainee should decide what, when, for how long, and if at all, to focus on any target or project contributes immensely to the emotional climate in which the focusing training functions.
Only in such an atmosphere will the trainee allocate the maximal share of possible resources to his focusing and his growth.
If the atmosphere of good teamwork is preserved, the coach can motivate, persuade, or coax the trainee to focus on some of the targets which he regards as essential and the trainee initially is reluctant to tackle.
Remember, the coach is only there to help the trainee to learn quickly and more easily the steps of the "do it yourself" manual. You should only supply him with an external point of view and a temporary second mind, to be used while he is contemplating the best ways open to him (for focusing purposes).
Though the trainee will tend to treat you as a parent figure, it is better to evade this. The best you can do for him is to play the role of a fellow traveler and a coach.
Whenever you ask the trainee to think or focus or make experimentations, use the minor suggesting tone, that is as far as possible away from an authoritative tone. Make your suggestions as open to refusal as possible. This way, you minimize the dangers of both excessive compliance and exhausting "resistance".
Beware of suggestions that make the trainee too compliant - he may lose his enthusiasm and diminish his vital selectivity in taking your advice. Remember, you are only a temporary guest in the trainee's life and soul - not his partner or a permanent tenant.
Do not forget to focus on your own felt sensations - the ongoing ones and those which emerge as a result of the developments during sessions and between them, especially those related to trainees. This will diminish the effects of "counter-transference" and other trash-programs which may hinder the focusing training and your general emotional climate.
Hints and tips
Remember to review sporadically the tactics used by the trainee and the problems he is tackling. Often, one gets into the habit of using a restricted number of tactics applied to restricted areas of his life. Though it might be wise to do this during certain periods and in a crisis, the patterns should be broken each time the circumstances change - and this happens very often.
As part of the effort to change the opinion of the trainee about the felt sensations of the body, stress that their nature is first and foremost a kind of notice from the emotional subsystem to the awareness, and their quality as pleasant or unpleasant is only secondary. Thus, suggest to him that it is better to prolong the focusing on each of the felt sensations for the longest duration possible and curtail only those that are not needed at the time of their occurrence.
Even experienced trainees tend to disregard the fact that the main contribution of the focusing is their intensification of the updating, mending and upgrading of the programs involved. From this point of view, the prolongation of a felt sensation contributes more than the hastening of its fading.
Company facilitates attention allocation. Stress this to the trainee who skips sessions. Stress this also to the one who complains about the insufficient effort made by him between sessions and the "shallowness" of his focusing while doing homework.
Stress the difference between the focusing on the felt sensation while being in a strong emotional state, and the expression of it or acting impulsively because of that felt sensation. It is important to communicate frequently the notion that everything qualifies for internal focusing, even if it is inappropriate to act upon it, or to share it with others.
It is essential to show the trainee that he can learn to make the distinction between the various components of the emotional processes i.e. to sever the automatic ties and connections between the experiential component of emotion (including that of the tendency to act), and the behavioral or expressive components.
If needed, dedicate considerable effort to pondering this topic and the recycling of related felt sensations. This is especially important for the levelers who exclude too many emotions, sensations and contents related to them from their awareness - lest they lose control and act upon them. It is also essential for the sharpeners who are often flooded by certain emotions and tend to act impulsively on their behalf. It is most important for those who oscillate between these two modes.
At every opportunity, convey the confidence that any felt sensation one can focus on is always a blessing, as it is a chance to update and mend the trashy programs that aroused it. Whenever a trainee describes an intense unpleasant feeling that has defied his focusing attempts, convey your sympathy. Assure him that the gains derived from focusing are as high as the price paid in focusing effort - independent of the alleviation in the felt sensation (derived most of the time as a token reward for the diligent focuser). Then remind him that the best results are those derived from focusing on moderate felt sensations.
Whenever the trainee introduces a new theme, whether by contemplation or by description of a felt sensation, emphasize these themes as new horizons awaiting his focusing.
When a trainee is stuck with a project that does not yield enough felt sensations needed for regular focusing, suggest he try the self-provoking approach, the G recycling section of chapter 5, part IV. The most prominent on the list are the verbal exclamations that describe the target topic - like: "I am afraid" or "I am afraid of ...." and the paradoxical negation-sayings.
Whenever one is "hunting" for a felt sensation related to a specific content, the negative sayings ("I am not...", I do not...", "I never...", etc. ) might be the best means. A single recitation of one of these, followed by a concentrated focusing is usually the fastest and most "elegant" way of "fishing" for the right felt sensation. (It seems that this is the best and funniest line for recruiting a felt sensation. When one recites these exclamations to oneself silently, it works even better than when doing it aloud.)
When, after the first few sessions, the trainee is Un-selective in his focusing on the ongoing stream of daily experiences, gently try to redirect him. Stress the different contributions of the various trashy emotional supra-programs. Try to point out those that are hindering him the most at the time. Show him that he can invite the appropriate felt sensations to aid him in tackling these specific trashy-programs. Explain to him how one wastes so much effort by Un-selective investment of effort.
When a trainee complains about indecisiveness, hesitations, ambivalence and difficulties in reaching a certain decision, demonstrate to him the work of "the inner guide". Show him that he can initiate a dialog with his unconsciousness and thus become "his own oracle". Show him that he can "ask" his unconscious for an opinion on various aspects of his life and potential acts and anticipated happenings, and then focus on the resulting felt sensations, created by the questions. Emphasize to him that this procedure is both an activation of the inner guide, and a means of recruiting felt sensations to be used through focusing to clear his path to a longed-for future.
This context is suitable for the advancement of the training of the focuser to treat the felt sensations as a general nonverbal communication from his mind to his awareness, and not only as a target for focusing.
While training in the "economical talking to oneself" technique of provocations, use positive and negative exclamations about the world, oneself and one's emotions. Stress the advantages of this procedure which needs less resources than other tactics, but do not fail to mention its deficiencies.
Be as flexible as you can! there is not any "one and only way to do the focusing" at any given moment or particular problem. So be an expert in letting the trainee decide for himself, during the training sessions with you as well as when you are not there. Thus the trainee will feel more competent and treat the focusing "homework" as his own. The better he feels during the sessions with you, the more he will remember what you have trained him to do, and the better will be his focusing during the week.
Do not forget to focus on your own felt sensations during coaching; prefer to focus on those related to what is going on in the session. Remember the mighty effect of a good model, on the learning processes of the "modeling" type. Exploit the positive effects of modeling to the utmost by sharing with the trainee your past and present experiences as a focuser, and be careful not to provide a bad example.
However, do not forget the difference between the role of a professional coach and an intimate friend. Mixing these roles is deleterious for the focusing training, for the morale of the trainee and for fair interpersonal relations. It is especially important to keep these two kinds of roles clearly separated when the trainee is an acquaintance, a friend, a relative, or one who is involved in an intimate relationship with you.
Beware of the over-psychologized trainee!! Many trainees have been patients of psychotherapists, or at least know a lot about it. They have preconceptions about their role as trainees and very often confuse it with that of patients in therapy. If you do not frustrate them too much or too rigidly, they will eventually yield and gradually accept their role of trainees.
Beware of "transference"! though it is usually a part of psychotherapy settings, it is not restricted to them. Working with a trainee is only another kind of interpersonal relationship. Thus mutual feelings develop. Trust and other basic emotions intensify. A certain measure of intimacy tends to develop. And the staunch adherence to the formal roles of trainee and coach is never kept.
Gradually, a tendency to involve in the training relations other patterns, supra-programs, and other activation programs may endanger the harmonious teamwork needed for the training to succeed. Therefore, beware of this and continuously gently but firmly push and pull the interaction toward the main roles and away from dangerous deviations.
It seems that the best way to deal with too strong transference is to let the trainee (and the coach) focus on the felt sensations involved, and restrict to the minimum the verbal treatment of that topic.
However, do not treat all personal references as expressions of "transference". Generally these are merely relevant information and natural interpersonal communication to be expected in any team work. Usually, "a matter of fact" response is the best reply to both kinds of communications. Thus, it satisfies a "simple" communication as well as neutralizing a "transferential" one. So, even if "transference" effects are suspected, there is usually no need to clear the point or to deal with it.
Many trainees wish to understand the roots and reasons for their emotional and behavioral problems. Many more feel uneasy from time to time when getting rid of problems they have never really understood. In order to discourage the new focuser from investing too much impotent effort in understanding the root of his trouble, certain steps have to be taken:
- It is better to explain to the trainee from the start, that all the problems he wish to deal with result from trash-programs.
- Explain to him the fact that the body (especially the brain and mind system) knows the problems involved and their roots, in a much better way than any verbal or other conscious thought can achieve.
- It is also recommended to advise him that the mending processes are of an entirely different nature than any verbal or other symbolic approach. Stress the fact that these processes are hard to explain and understand verbally, but dealt with much better and more easily nonverbally. Use for this explanation the detailed description of the natural biofeedback processes.
- Assure him that, at first, all the help the mending and updating programs and processes need and ask is to allocate to them more attentional resources through paying attention to the felt sensations, silently if possible.
- It is also a good policy to soothe the psychologically-oriented ones and other intellectuals, by telling them that during the advanced steps it will be different. Tell them that the higher thinking processes will be recruited later too, in the service of recycling stored feelings.
- Assure him that at a later phase, when the problems start to dissolve, or after they have been solved, it will be easier to understand them (or rather what they were).
- Convey to him your firm stand and belief that it is easier first to solve the problems and then try to understand them than vice versa.
When the felt sensation is hard to focus on, when it is fussy or when the concentration powers of the trainee are too weak, try introducing the tactic of bringing the palms together gently. If you have already introduced this, persuade him to do it at that time without too many explanations.
However, on its first implementation, full explanations are needed, i.e. that this is a very old measure for the diversion of attentional resources to internal processes; that it was discovered by ancient cultures; that though it feels at first stupid or superstitious, it is worth the effort needed to overcome these feelings.
If "joining the palms" is insufficient when applied alone, the enlisting of the whole "triumvirate" of "joining the palms", "opening the nape of the neck" and the "parting the lips" always does the trick.
Feelings of "unbearable easiness of existence" have been experienced by many focusers. Usually it starts to happen during the third month of training, or even earlier. It occurs rather often till the trainee get used to the easiness of existence. It results from fast shifts achieved during focusing on felt sensations related to unpleasant feelings and sensations.
These uneasy feelings are especially strong when shifts occur to chronic or semi-chronic felt sensations. Even with longer and more arduous projects, the huge gains are out of all proportion when compared with the effort invested... These experiences and feelings tend to arouse the suspicion of many people, as the benefits derived from focusing, very often seem to be too good, too fast, too easy to achieve, to be true and permanent.
This is especially true for two kinds of trainees:
- Those who have never systematically tackled their emotional problems, who were used to being flooded by almost any strong feeling which rendered them each time helpless.
- Those who were in psychotherapy and had gained only a little for a huge investment.
For both it is very difficult to believe in one's experience of fast victories. It is even harder for this kind of new trainee to believe that those successes are his own doing. Thus, it is hard for him to get into the habit of focusing.
People who are used to being in touch with their emotions - and are proud of it - are sometimes the hardest to convince and to initiate into the focusing habit. They are used to attending for very short periods to their felt sensations, and then to switching to the verbal processing mode of thinking. Usually, after paying brief attention to their felt sensation, very quickly they start applying their higher cognitive processes in order to contemplate, analyze, reflect, etc. upon their problems.
It is often startling for them to understand that they are trying too hard and in the wrong direction. It is more startling for them to learn that all that is needed is to pay attention to the felt sensation rather than knock their head against the brick wall of the problem, i.e. let the semiautomatic and quasi-effortless processes of the subconscious do the job.
"The case of the hesitant focuser": the first experiences of focusing on the felt sensations and achieving the first few shifts (in their quality or location) are very easy to obtain. However, it is not so easy to get the trainees into the habit of focusing regularly. Only very few are really convinced that the focusing is "it" before they start training. A few more are true optimists or fast thinkers who, after the first few experiences of shift in the felt sensation and the problem involved (achieved during focusing), understand that they have hit the jackpot.
The majority are at first too skeptical to accept the results because it is against their deep conviction that suffering is a real and serious part of life. However, most of them are convinced and get into the habit of focusing in the course of the first few weeks, (or quit after one or two sessions).
Some people are very hard to convince and tax the coach's patience immensely. Usually, though they benefit from the training (sometimes even considerably), they go on with the training only half-heartily and keep on harassing the coach for a long time. Nevertheless, in most cases, their skepticism does not prevent them from having a weekly coaching session nor from focusing regularly between sessions. At the end of a prolonged ordeal, they do get into the habit of focusing whole-heartily, but only after weeks and months of internal conflicts and hesitation.
The case of the reluctant focuser: some trainees never really get to like focusing on their felt sensations or the setting of training. Even while using it, they do it only as if they are taking a bitter medicine. Upon the successful completion of the regular training sessions, they still have reservations about the technique and remain skeptical about its feasibility. Afterwards, they use the focusing technique only when in deep trouble, and even then, not every time.
The case of the reluctant skeptic: sometimes, the most skeptical apply, reluctantly, to be helped through this technique only as a remedy for intense suffering or a specific "symptom" he may have (such as blinding headaches). With these people it is usually hard for the coach to establish warm interpersonal relations or a feeling of teamwork or even good rapport.
The best way of treating them is to restrict the training of focusing to the subjectively felt sensation which is at the core of their trouble. Though not very often, some of them, after experiencing the first few shifts, and the alleviation of their suffering, become enthusiastic focusers. It does not really matter if they do it at first only because the alleviation of their specific suffering has convinced them, or they continue with it because they dread the return of the symptoms. They gained from your training what they really wanted in the first place, and who has the right to judge them as being wrong!?
There are people who do not take emotions seriously. For those who do not regard the emotional phenomena in general, and the felt sensations specifically, as highly important, there is an urgent need to do each act of focusing for a special reason. For them, the needed motivation is best drawn, not from the wish to escape or terminate each single unpleasant felt sensation, but from long-term targets of personal change or problem solving.
The focusing "game": besides the motivation supplied by the intense unpleasant sensations, the cessation of which is a great boon, the best factor to motivate people to focus is the satisfaction derived from the basic emotion of "playfulness". The tendency to playfulness is inherent in all of us (based on a basic emotion which regulates this activity) and can be recruited in the service of sensate focusing.
Though it seems astonishing at first, to serious people and to those who are in deep trouble, the playful approach to focusing on the felt sensations seems to be the most promising one. The ease of "calling for a felt sense" by imagery or self-talk, and the ease of achieving its shift by casual focusing (or rubbing the palms of the hands when sensations are too intense) is a never-ending source of amusement.
The first steps in the long focusing voyage are like those of the toddler. There is a lot of uneasiness, embarrassment, perplexity, and indecisiveness rather than the matter of fact resolution of the later stages. During this period, it is important to make the new focuser highly aware of the dramatic changes experienced during the focusing sessions. Thus, the habit becomes easier to acquire - morale and motivation gain from this too.
next: The Emotions
Staff, H. (2009, January 8). A Short Guide for the Focusing 'Coach', HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, May 30 from https://www.healthyplace.com/alternative-mental-health/sensate-focusing/short-guide-for-the-focusing-coach