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Published in Watson, J.C., Goldman, R.N & Warner, M.S.  Client-centered and Experiential Psychotherapy in the 21st Century: Advances in Theory, Research and Practice (2002).  Ross-on-Wye: PCCS Books.


Focusing on focusing:  the practice and the philosophy

Campbell Purton

Centre for Counselling Studies, University of East Anglia, Norwich, England.


In this paper I explore some philosophical issues in the background of focusing, and then make some suggestions about how the philosophy has implications for some current discussions about the practice of focusing. In particular I think that what I have to say about the philosophy has something to contribute to (a) the question of how important it is to emphasise the distinctiveness of the felt sense as contrasted with other kinds of experiencing, (b) the question of the importance of clearing a space and (c) the issue of whether it is helpful in focusing to speak in terms of ‘parts’ of a person.

The intricacy

As I understand it, what is central to the theory of focusing is the relation between

experiencing and symbolic forms, such as words, images and gestures. Our

experiencing is rich and intricate beyond anything that our symbols can render, but it

is also very specific, in the sense that only certain specific symbolic formations will

render it.  I will use the word ‘render’ here to convey the central relationship or

process with which focusing works. This word - like all words -  has itself a richness

and intricacy of the sort which interests us. The word ‘render’ has uses which include

causing to become as when something renders us helpless. Then there is the sense of

translation (rendering something into English). There is the sense of performing a version of a play, or a piece of music.  And, seemingly very different, there is the rendering of a wall with a coat of plaster.


The use of the word ‘render’ is itself an example of what Gendlin calls the intricacy of our language and of our experiencing. The different uses of the word ‘render’ pull out different aspects of the relationship between experiencing and its symbolisation. Thus our symbols can be seen as rendering our experience first in the sense that they cause our experience to become more explicit, more focused, and more communicable. Then there is a sense in which they translate our private experiencing into a public language. Our symbols present a version of our experiencing, rather as a particular performance of a play presents that play (there could be other versions). And then they are a presentation of our complex bumpy experiencing to public view, as the rendering of a wall presents a smooth, finished appearance to the wall.  As Wittgenstein noted, words do not work in a simple representational or conceptual way. It is not that there is a single sort of process in the world to which we attach the label ‘rendering’, and that this sort of process goes on wherever the word ‘rendering’ applies. Wittgenstein’s (1963, I, 66) famous remark about how we should approach how words work was ‘Don’t think, but look!’ And when we look at different examples of renderings, what we find is not something single and simple, but that which Gendlin calls the ‘intricacy’. In therapy it is the same: someone is angry, but the term ‘anger’ can conceal the intricacy of that particular person’s situation in all its specificity.  There is an anger of hurt, an anger of indignation, an anger of revenge…, but each of these has its possible subdivisions, which in the end can only be rendered by telling the stories of the situations involved.


Symbols, then, render the intricacy of our experiencing, and they do this in several different ways.  Gendlin (1962/1997) discussed this in his first book Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning. For example, there is the rendering of what we are experiencing by phrases such as ‘that feeling’ or ‘all that business’. In this case there is minimum conceptual content. The words are working in a purely referential way. Then there is the rendering of experience by familiar words already in the language as when we say ‘This funny feeling is actually resentment, you know’. Different again is the rendering through metaphor: “The feeling is....hmmm... it is the feeling that my life has become an empty box’.


The felt sense

The rendering of experience in symbols requires attention to the experiencing. We have to stay with the feel of ‘all that’, we have to sense it as a whole. Then we can refer to ‘all that thing’, or to the feeling that comes to be experienced as resentment, or the feeling that gets rendered as an empty box.  These feelings of something are what Gendlin initially called the ‘direct referent’, and later the ‘felt sense’. They are what we refer to or sense in ourselves when we give some sustained attention to our experiencing of a situation. Such direct referents or felt senses are not usually already there when we turn our attention to our experiencing. It is rather that they form in the context in which we are trying to render the experiencing. The felt sense is right at the interface between the experiencing and the symbol, and it has to form or emerge from that interface.

All this is not specifically related to therapy. This rendering of experience into new symbolic forms is needed and present in any area of life outside of formal argumentation in disciplines such as logic and mathematics. In science it has long been apparent that there is no purely logical process of deriving new theories either from the old ones, or from the results of observation and experiment. This has led some philosophers of science to deny that there is any procedure for creating new and better theories. It is held by such thinkers that the invention or discovery of scientific theories must be a matter of sheer inspiration or conjecture; the logic of scientific discovery is to be found solely in the procedures for testing the conjectures (Popper 1959). However this account hardly seems to square with the historical facts. It is true that scientists don’t deduce their theories from the experimental data, but nor do they just dream them up out of the blue.  A scientist typically wrestles with his data and with the current theories, trying to see how the two can be reconciled. He becomes aware of places where something is wrong, where something doesn’t fit. He holds on to this sense of the problem, coming back to it again and again. It is out of this staying with the problem that a new way of looking at it may emerge, a way that subtly takes account of all the ins and outs of the situation which the scientist has been wrestling with. (This is true, incidentally, not only of scientific discovery but also of discovery in such fields as logic and mathematics (Hadamard, 1954). The same does not apply when we are working with axiomatised formal systems, but as my philosophy of science tutor Heinz Post used to say, ‘An axiomatised theory is a dead theory’).

The general theory of the rendering of experience into symbols applies not only in scientific and mathematical discovery, but in any creative field. Because this is so it has been possible to apply the ideas of focusing to, for example, creative writing (Perl, 1994) and painting (Goldfarb 1992). Gendlin himself has developed a version of focusing (called ‘Thinking at the Edge’) which works with thought rather than feeling, and which can be applied in any area where one needs to develop new concepts. But this does not exhaust the areas of application for focusing. The writing of a poem, the composing of a piece of music, the expression of feeling in dance and song, these all typically involve the focusing process of staying with a vague yet precise feel of something and then finding ways to bring it forth, to render it in symbolic form. Indeed, apart from the routine practicalities of human life, almost everything which goes on in human culture - art, ritual, music, storytelling - has at its heart the rendering of experience in symbols.  I am inclined to think that the essence of focusing lies close to the essence of what it is to be human; but this is no surprise if we think of the human world as characteristically a symbolic world. I will return to this point about what characterises the human world shortly, but first need to say something about another aspect of focusing which is prominent in its therapeutic application.


‘Clearing a space’ and ‘disidentification’

In Gendlin’s (1981) classical account of therapeutic focusing there is a stage which comes before the seeking for the felt sense. This is called ‘clearing a space’ or ‘putting things down’. In later writings, Gendlin (1984) has said that this preliminary practice is itself very therapeutic, and that without it the rest of the focusing procedure is unlikely to work well. But this practice of ‘putting things down’ does not seem to be necessary in the non-therapeutic applications of focusing. In the nine steps of the ‘ Thinking at the Edge’ procedure there is nothing that corresponds with ‘putting things down’, and it is hard to see any parallel for this process in other forms of creative activity. ‘Putting things down’ is distinctive of therapeutic focusing.

To see why this is so we need to look at what is involved in the notion of ‘putting down’. Clearly it is a metaphorical phrase, and one that can sometimes lead to trouble. When it is suggested to a focuser that they might like to put something down, they may feel that this is wrong for them. They may want instead to hold, or relate to, or say hello to the ‘ something’.  Some focusing teachers use the terminology of ‘disidentifying’ here. To put a feeling down is to disidentify from it. I don’t think that this is quite right, but I will use the term for the moment since it is a familiar one.  The use of imagery is often helpful in disidentifying: one can visualise ‘all that awful business’ as being over on the other side of the room, or across the river, or however far away it needs to be for the focuser to feel relaxed about it. But as Gendlin (1984) emphasises, this visualisation is not itself the disidentifying. If when the awful business is pictured as being on the other side of the river there is no shift in one’s bodily feeling, then disidentification has not taken place.

But what exactly is ‘ disidentification’ ? It may help first to ask what we are disidentifying from. There has been some discussion recently about this. Ann Weiser Cornell (1995) writes of getting a distance from the felt sense; Elfie Hinterkopf (1998) challenges this, saying that what we get a distance from is the problem or situation with which we are working. But neither of these ways of putting it seems quite right to me.  It can hardly be the felt sense we step back from, since the felt sense is what is connecting us with the problem or situation: the felt sense is the sense of that whole thing. But what does it mean to ‘get a distance from a problem’? And why don’t we need to do this in the non-therapeutic applications of focusing?

I think the answer to the second question is that in the non-therapeutic applications the problem-situation is not our situation; we are not tangled up in it. Because it is not our situation we already have a distance from it: it is just a situation which we happen to be trying to render more effectively in symbols. When Einstein in developing his general relativity theory was struggling with all that business about light and gravity, trying to render what he could sense in mathematical form, he was himself involved only as the one who questions, probes, listens, senses. But when we focus on a personal difficulty that which we focus on is also us. The situation is not just a situation, it is our situation.  In focusing on a personal issue we are not just refining our consciousness of something, but refining our consciousness of ourself.  Focusing on a personal problem involves not just consciousness but self-consciousness.  To be able to look at ourself we need to take up a position in respect to ourself which is analogous to the position which other people take in relation to us.  Other people can look at our personal situation in just the way in which Einstein looked at light and gravity. But we can’t do this if we are immersed in the situation.  When we are immersed in or overwhelmed by a problem, we are living it, expressing it in our behaviour and our speech.  Often when someone says I’m angry’  these words constitute angry behaviour as much as shouting or stomping around. We are behaving here, not reflecting on our behaviour. In the case of other people we can’t live or express their anger, we can only be aware of it, note it, respond to it, reflect on it.  So if we imagine ourself as another person faced with our anger we necessarily move ourself into a position of being aware of the anger rather than behaving it.

This, I suggest, is what disidentification amounts to.  We imaginatively look at ourselves in our situation as if we were looking at it from another person’s point of view.  This sort of move can of course be helpful in therapy generally - ‘Suppose it were someone else in this situation. What would you think they should do?’ Such a move gives us a perspective on ourself, and this metaphor of a perspective goes with the metaphor of a space in which we have that perspective, and a position in that space from which we can see ourself.

What we are doing when we ‘put something at a distance’ is imaginatively stepping back from ourself, and seeing ourself as though from outside, from the sort of distance a kind friend might see us. We are not stepping back from the problem exactly (I am not sure how to understand that), but from ourself. We are in a sense imagining the personal problem to be over there, but a personal problem can’t exist without the person who has the problem, so really we are imaging ourself, as being over there. This incidentally leads to a variation on the putting down imagery which I have been trying out myself: Having identified each problem-situation which is currently active in us, we picture a little theatre in which that situation being played out. There we are, in that situation, having those relationships with those people.  Nearby is another little theatre where our next problem is being played. Let’s see what is going on there... .and so on. However the imagery is not our main concern here. What we are interested in is an account of disidentification itself, irrespective of how it is imaged.

I have been saying that in disidentifying we look at ourself as if from the point of view of another person. I now want to elaborate on this and link it with my earlier suggestion that there is something about focusing which is close to the heart of what it is to be human.


Two levels of desire and aversion

In an important philosophical paper Harry Frankfurt (1971) distinguishes between two different kinds of desires or aversions which we may have[1]. The first kind includes all those things which we happen to like or dislike. We all have as it were a profile of our preferences, the sorts of things we go for and the sorts of things we don’t go for. This also seems to be true of many animals. However in the case of human beings there is a second level to our desires and aversions, in which we have preferences about which desires and aversions it is good to have. For example, someone may be frightened of spiders but want not to be. Or we can want to eat lots of chocolate but also wish we didn’t have that desire. Phobias and addictions are only the extreme ends of a spectrum whose middle range includes all those situations where we find ourselves wanting things we really would prefer not to want, or avoiding things which we really don’t want to be avoiding.  In short, we often want to be a bit different from the way we are. Because of this second level of desires and aversions human beings are open to two different kinds of conflict. The first kind is a conflict which takes place between two desires on the first level, for example the conflict between wanting to go swimming and wanting to lie in the sun. Such conflicts are usually resolvable without very much reflection. We do what we most want to do, though reflection may help us to get both the things we want: if I lie in the sun now I can still go swimming later, whereas if I go swimming now it will be too cool to lie in the sun later, so I’d better lie in the sun now. The second sort of conflict is not between two first-level desires but between a first-level and a second-level desire. For example, I’m always wanting just to lie around these days, but I wish I wasn’t like that. I want to be the sort of person I used to be, who was active and creative. This sort of conflict has a different kind of structure from the first. The ideal solution here is not to have it both ways. The ideal solution is that the first-level desire should fade out so that I no longer want just to lie around. Similarly, the person who is afraid of spiders wants to be free of that fear, and the addict wants not to have the cravings which they do have.

On the first level our desires and aversions are just what they are, and what we do will be the resultant of the various forces which are acting. The natural image here is that of homeostasis, where the interplay of the different forces results in an overall maintained state of the organism. Where we think of the organism as conscious we can think of the balance as one of maximising pleasure or minimising pain, but the general organic principle involved does not require there to be consciousness.


The personal vs the organic

The conceptualisation of human beings in terms of the organic principle runs through much psychotherapeutic thought; versions of it are clearly there in the theories of Freud, of Jung, of Rogers.  But it is equally clear that the organic pattern leaves out just what is most characteristic of human beings. As human beings we don’t simply act on our strongest desire or fear, or take the homeostatic resultant of all the forces that are acting on us. We also reflect on and make efforts to modify our desires and fears.  For a human being desires and fears are not simple ‘givens’: they are open to assessment, to evaluation. Some of them we wish to cultivate, others we wish to weed out. I think that Nietzsche says somewhere that the human soul is like a garden. To create a garden the gardener has to take into consideration the natural propensities of various plants, the lie of the land, the climatic conditions and so on. Creating a garden cannot be a forced, mechanical business. You can’t grow just anything anywhere. The organic aspect is crucial. But the gardener does not just let things grow as they will - that would produce something, but it would not create a garden. It would not create anything. Creation requires familiarity with the natural forms and forces at play in a situation, but also a vision that will transform the situation. Creativity brings something new to the forms that are already there, so that these forms themselves are changed. A garden is not just a re-arrangement of what was already there; even with the introduction of no new plants it is a different kind of entity from the purely organic system which preceded it.

What makes the garden different from a merely organic system is the vision of the gardener. If we apply this to human life in general we see that what makes us different from the animals is our capacity to reflect on our desires and aversions and to make efforts to transform them in the light of what we see as good or valuable. Yet something still needs to be said about how this distinction between us and the animals, between the personal and the organic, comes about. How is it that there can exist such a fundamental distinction, when from another point of view we are simply highly complex animals?

I believe that the answer to this lies in the way in which human beings come into the world. Studies of infant development in the last twenty years or so strongly suggest that the infant’s world is an interpersonal world from the start. The infant responds primarily not to its physical surroundings as such but to its mother or caregiver. The human infant is adapted to a life of interpersonal relationships, and its developing awareness of its physical environment is mediated through the more basic interpersonal context. For example, an infant at around one year of age encounters something which is unusual and potentially frightening. Rather than simply withdrawing or becoming upset the infant glances at his or her mother as if checking on mother’s response to the situation. If the mother smiles encouragingly the infant proceeds to investigate the unusual thing, but if mother looks alarmed or discouraging the infant withdraws or becomes upset (Stern, 1985). A natural way of describing this situation is that the infant is not sure about what he or she is experiencing.  Is this something frightening or not? Whether the thing is frightening is not settled simply through the infant’s own bodily experiencing. Whether it is frightening or not depends on what has been called a ‘social reference’, a reference to how it is for someone else.  It goes without saying that whether the thing is frightening does not depend only on how mother sees the situation; the infant’s own bodily reactions equally come into the picture. The point is that whether this thing is frightening is something that is, as it were, negotiated between infant and mother. It seems plausible that the infant is wired up to respond to the world in this sort of way; other people come into the infant’s world not as one sort of entity among all the others but as part of the framework of the infant’s experiencing. Well before language develops, the child’s world is a shared world, with input to experience both from his or her own body and from significant others. Once language does develop, the point applies with even more force: whether a situation is one to which the English word ‘frightening’ applies is clearly not something which the child can settle simply through consulting its own experience.

The interpersonal nature of human experiencing makes that experiencing something very different from the experiencing of a non-social animal. (I leave aside the question of borderline cases amongst social animals. Dogs, for instance, sometimes seem to stand very close to the borderline. Unlike cats, dogs will sometimes look to their owner as if to see how to take a situation). A non-social animal simply has the experiences it has, whether perceptual or emotional. The animal simply sees something red, or is afraid, for example. But for a human being there are always, as it were, questions around one’s experiencing. For instance, I’m experiencing commiseration with you over your misfortune, yet is that quite right? Isn’t there a touch of glee in this? I seem to be feeling anxious, but is it really what you’d call anxiety? Isn’t it actually a sort of excitement?  Even with something as seemingly clear-cut as colour perception the same querying can arise: I really like these magenta curtains, but I may start having doubts about their colour when someone else says firmly that they are not magenta but mauve.  Such situations can be unsettling, but I think that our response should not be to say that in the end I have to go by my own subjective experiencing. For I am trying to see how things are, and the human form of experiencing is such that other people always have some input into how things are.

We got into this discussion of the difference between human and animal experiencing, through asking what is involved in disidentification. What we can say now is that the capacity for disidentification is rooted in what it is to be a person. A person is precisely that sort of being which can look at itself as if from outside.  People have this capacity because the human form of experiencing necessarily involves the bringing of alternative perspectives. For a person, how anything is, is how it might be for an ‘us’; there is no simple ‘how it is just for me’ which is unconnected with how others might see it. The human world in general is a world in which there are alternative perspectives. This is manifest most basically in the way in which we see objects from perspectives or points of view in a three dimensional space. My perspective is only one possible perspective, and it can sometimes be demolished by my realisation of how the same object looks from other perspectives.  From my perspective this is a pool of water, but I have to let go of this perspective when you, who are close up to it, report that there is no water there. Then I have to change how I see it from ‘pool’ to ‘mirage’.

But this general capacity to see things from different perspectives gets a new twist when we realise that it applies not just to the way things are, and the way other people are, but also to the way we are ourself. Just as it is not simply ‘given’ that this is a pool of water, so it is not simply given that I am, say, feeling guilty. Rather, I may come to see, it is shame or embarrassment that I feel (Purton, in press). To come to see this I need to stand back and look at the whole situation, at my feelings certainly, but also at how other people are seeing it, the whole context, the alternative views that are possible. I need to get a sense of that whole business, and then to render that felt sense in symbolic form.

This completes my philosophical discussion.  I want now to consider briefly its implications for practice.


Implications for practice

(a) The importance of the felt sense.

One implication is that the notion of the felt sense is central to focusing, where ‘felt sense’ means that vague yet precise sense of ‘all that’ from which steps of symbolic change arise. For this reason I think that Ann Weiser Cornell’s (1996) way of introducing the felt sense can be misleading. She writes (p.29):

take time to notice how you are feeling in your body. You might notice sensations, emotions, or a kind of overall mood or atmosphere.….There’s no need to be to particular about what you are looking for; you’re interested in anything that feels like something .….what you notice might be unclear, slight, subtle or vague, or it might be very strong and definite. Sense anything: an emotion like ‘sad’ or ‘scared’, a sensation like ‘tight’ or ‘jittery’, an image like ‘a knot’ or ‘a rock’ - anything at all.  Don’t worry about whether what you are feeling is a felt sense. Just keep on sensing... ..Each felt sense is unique.

Her reason for introducing the felt sense in this way is that clients may otherwise ignore the feelings they do have in a search for the elusive felt sense. (Cornell 1998).  This is no doubt true, but it does not justify blurring the distinction between the felt sense and other experiences. All kinds of experiences may lead into a felt sense, but until the felt sense is experienced the change steps of the focusing process cannot occur.


(b) The importance of clearing a space.

A second area of discussion amongst focusing teachers centres around the question of the importance of clearing a space or putting things down. Gendlin himself has increasingly emphasised the importance of this in therapeutic focusing. He writes:

“Focusing is divided into six specific ‘movements’. In a difficult situation it was natural to attempt only the very first one, which we always considered merely preliminary, called ‘clearing a space’; it is now far more than preliminary. This preliminary movement already had become important in its own right a few years ago, when we found, over and over again, that it very often leads to a very large space which is often experienced with a spiritual quality.  Next we learned... that focusing can be taught successfully in a weekend... if about one third of the time available is spent just learning this first movement exactly” (1984, p. 266).

Ann Weiser Cornell (1996, p.65) at first sight seems to play down the importance of clearing a space. She does not refer to it at all in her basic focusing instructions. It only appears about two-thirds of the way through her book, in the ‘troubleshooting’ section, where it is presented as a useful procedure in the following kind of situation: “There may be many things that want your attention today. It is as if you have walked into a room and everyone is shouting for your attention. If it feels like chaos when you bring your awareness into your body you may want to do a Focusing process called ‘clearing a space”’.

However, in her version of focusing there is something else which in effect plays the role of clearing a space, i.e. the procedure of  ‘saying hello’. That is, instead of putting a problem down somewhere one says hello to it. This sounds very different, but the difference is mainly in the imagery. From a philosophical point of view the two procedures come to the same thing. ‘Saying hello’ is a picturesque way of acknowledging the problem, of saying ‘that’s there’. What is important is the acknowledging, the awareness of that whole thing, which one can only have from a disidentified position.  But I suspect that ‘saying hello’ can easily lead away from rather than towards a felt sense. ‘Saying hello’ tends to fix the form of that to which we are saying hello. It becomes a part of us, an inner entity which can be dialogued with, and we then move away from focusing and into those varieties of therapy which work with parts or subpersonalities. These procedures are valuable, but they are not focusing.


(c)  The question of ‘parts’.

This leads to my third and last point. I think that my discussion has implications for the way in which some focusing teachers talk in terms of ‘parts’ - e.g. ‘You are noticing a part of you which is upset’.  Such talk of ‘parts’ is of course a very old way of conceptualising human personality. In Plato’s Republic the soul is divided into the desiring, spirited and rational parts; Freud has his ego, id and superego; Jung his complexes and archetypes; Transactional Analysis its Parent, Adult, Child. In the person-centred tradition such generalised talk of parts has been looked at with some suspicion (Mearns 1999) but there still seems room for ‘parts’ which are idiosyncratic to the individual person, e.g. ‘the bit of me that always gets upset when people shout’.  It seems to me that focusing-oriented psychotherapy can have no quarrel with any of these theories about human personality. The focusing philosophy doesn’t have any view of its own about the structure of personality; it is concerned rather with the process of change, which in therapeutic contexts means personality change. Focusing is primarily concerned not with the parts of the personality as we now experience them, but with the sensing of where our present conceptualisation of ourselves is stuck, or fails to carry our lives forward. From a focusing point of view there is nothing wrong with thinking of ourselves in terms of ‘ parts’; what would go against the whole focusing philosophy is the idea that these parts are ‘just there’, fixed in the sort of way that the parts of a machine are fixed elements in its structure.

For these reasons I think that talk of parts has only a limited usefulness. Why then make it central to focusing, as some focusing teachers do?  The obvious answer is that ‘parts talk’ links with talk of disidentification.  In focusing we want to distinguish between ‘I am angry’ and ‘There is anger there’.   ‘I am angry’ identifies us with the anger and prevents us from getting a proper look at it. To get a proper look we need to ‘stand back’ from the anger-making situation.  Now saying ‘part of me is angry’ can help in this standing back. ‘Part of me is angry’ is not a natural way of expressing anger - it moves us into a position of describing rather than expressing what is going on. But it is this distinction between expressing and describing which is important, and not the part/whole distinction. I can imagine someone who uses the parts terminology a lot coming to use it to express anger. They stomp around and say ‘Part of me is just so angry about this’. Here the angry part, rather than the whole person, is expressing itself, but the person is not standing back from their anger.  Conversely, one can stand back not just from a part of oneself but from one’s whole self. People do this when they say such things as ‘I’m really going to look at who I am, and what my life is all about, the whole thing’.

As I hinted earlier, I think that to speak of identifying with an emotion or attitude can be misleading. The situations to which we are applying this terminology are not really situations where we are identifying with something; rather, they are situations in which we are caught up in (ensnared by, entangled by…) something.  It is misleading to speak of ‘identifying’ here because the normal sense of identifying with something (such as a political cause) involves us in being active.  It is true that we may identify ourselves not only with external causes but with aspects of our own nature.  For example, one may have conflicting desires and finally align oneself or identify oneself with one of these rather than the other. That is what is involved in making decisions. Identifying with some aspect of oneself is something active; it amounts to incorporating that attitude into one’s self, making it something about which one can wholeheartedly say ‘This is me, this is something I value’.  It is quite different from being ‘caught up in’, ‘entangled in’ or ‘overwhelmed by’ something, which are the phrases I would prefer to use for the situations with which we are concerned.

Similarly, although I have used the terminology of ‘disidentification’ in earlier parts of this paper I don’t think the word is really appropriate. What has been called disidentification from one’s experiencing is better described simply in terms of being aware of one’s experiencing, or more metaphorically as ‘standing back’ from it.

Let me conclude by stating my belief that it important for focusing to keep in touch with its philosophical roots. Focusing is not just one therapeutic technique amongst others. It is not on a level with dream work or two-chair work, for example. It is rooted in a profound philosophical analysis of the relationship between experiencing and symbolisation, which in turn is central to our understanding of what it is to be a human being.  If focusing-oriented psychotherapy is to flourish there needs to be not only the refinement of practice but also a deepening understanding of what is involved in the process. The experience of working with focusing needs to be adequately symbolized; in short, we need to apply focusing to itself, to focus on focusing.


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[1] I have explored further implications of Frankfurt’s distinction elsewhere Purton (1998; 2000).



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