Self-Therapy Review in Person-Centered Quarterly

Person-Centered Quarterly Spring 2023 BOOK REVIEW

Self-Therapy: A Focusing Guide

Campbell Purton

Eurasia Publications (2022). ISBN: 978-618-5439-69-9

Engaging, enlightening and instructive, Campbell Purton's latest book is a self-help guide that also serves as a reliable general introduction to Focusing - a process described in the introduction as "giving sustained attention to our trouble in a way that leads to steps of change".

Having previously written books like Person-Centred Therapy: The Focusing- Orientated Approach (2004), and The Focusing-Orientated Counselling Primer (2007), Campbell Purton returns to the topic in his latest publication, Self-Therapy: A Focusing Guide. As the title suggests, the book is written very much with self-help in mind, with Focusing positioned as a viable and practical form of attending to one's problems, by and for oneself. To this end, the book is pitched squarely at the 'general reader', and Purton spells out what Focusing is, how to do it, and how to develop one's own process. He also goes into the theory and philosophy underlying the concept. At the same time, the qualities that make the book accessible to a general audience also mean that it can be read as an introduction to Focusing by trainees and existing practitioners keen to extend their range.

Bearing in mind the general audience for which Self Therapy is intended, the early sections of the book place the notion of self-therapy, and Focusing itself, into a broader context. This may be going over familiar ground for readers immersed in the world of counselling and psychotherapy, but I think Chapter 1 of the book alone makes a number of valid and significant points, as it accurately sketches the current state of therapeutic provision in the UK.

Purton begins by ranging widely, including a general discussion of why self-therapy might be a viable option for some. There is also some discussion of the current context for both the public and private provision of therapeutic services (including IAPT). This opening chapter then proceeds to a brief description of the Person-Centred approach to therapy, and of the position of Focusing within the modality. Along the way, there is naturally some discussion of the origins of Focusing, and of Eugene Gendlin's particular role.

Following on from such a thought-provoking start to the book, Chapters 2 to 4 of Self-Therapy largely contains the practical elements, presented here under the headings of "Focusing Basics", "The Focusing process" and "Elaborations and difficulties" respectively. In essence, they tell the reader what Focusing is and how to do it. Chapter 2 also introduces helpful case studies, which illustrate how Focusing can be practised and how it may help a variety of people working with their individual issues. I particularly liked the study called "Melinda and the shed", which shows how Focusing can be applied to an everyday situation. Beginning with the character of Melinda musing on - excuse the pun - a common or garden purchasing decision (the titular garden shed), the author shows how following the Focusing process can lead one into further levels of awareness and insight, and also to next steps.

These case studies helpfully illustrate the general point made at the end of the book: "Focusing actually works through our attending to the wider, as yet unformulated, context of our troubles". This practical tone serves to generally clarify and demystify Focusing, and also helps to differentiate Focusing from practices that may on the surface appear similar (like some mindfulness exercises, for example). The clarity of the writing in this book pays off particularly well in the opening chapters, immediately making the topic approachable and accessible to those for whom it is new and unfamiliar. Indeed, Chapter 3, on "The Focusing Process", makes the point that "the essentials of Focusing are not complicated". To prove this, the section closes with a concise summary and guide to the steps involved.

At the same time, a note of realism is struck throughout. As Purton writes in Chapter 2, while discussing one of the recommended steps involved, once one has established what to focus on, "this keeping of our attention on the problem as a whole, while allowing new details to emerge, requires serious concentration." What's helpful for the reader is how this section of the book goes on to describe what the process of concentration might look like, and how and where this effort may be helpfully channelled as one develops one's own Focusing process. This idea of keeping one's attention on a problem 'as a whole' is a helpful example, because it highlights how Focusing may come across (especially to those new to the subject) as being quite different to other, and more familiar, ways of working with our problems. Other readers' experiences may differ, but for me, attending to the whole problem (holding it solely in my mind, as it were, rather than, say, getting it all down on paper and then analysing it from there), involves a real change of personal approach.

Fortunately, there are passages in the book (like the section titled 'How Focusing works' found in Chapter 8) that discuss the concept from the broader theoretical and philosophical points of view, and so develop a deeper understanding which can help in getting to grips with the practice of Focusing. Later chapters of the book cover wider topics, such as using Focusing to explore our moods and the potential effects of strong emotions on the overall Focusing process. There is also a chapter on trauma, where the potential benefits of self-directed Focusing work are presented to the reader, but in a balanced way so as to strike a note of care, including discussion of when and why the reader may wish to seek more specialist therapeutic input in the context of personal trauma.

As mentioned at the start of this review, Self-Therapy is evidently written with the general reader in mind. I feel that it also has much to offer counsellors and psychotherapists. For practitioners who are new to Focusing and keen to explore, it serves as a clear and concise introduction to the theory and the practice, providing a structured approach to try it out for oneself. In summary, this book is highly recommended - both as a practical stand-alone guide to Focusing, and as a concise and accessible introduction that may lead to further reading and exploration.

Mark Williams
Book reviews editor