Focusing (experiential therapy) is a method of psychotherapy that involves being aware of one's feelings surrounding a particular issue and understanding the meaning behind words or images conveyed by those feelings. The focusing-oriented psychotherapist attributes a central importance to a person's capacity to be aware of the meaning behind his/her words or images, the ability to sense feelings and meanings that are not yet formed. In every situation, humans experience an emotion or feeling. Proponents of focusing claim that the entire human body reacts to that emotion.
Focusing is similar to other mind/body approaches in that it provokes a relaxation response. It is different from other relaxation techniques in that the person hopes to gain access to the personal meanings they carry in the body, which are usually inaccessible to conscious awareness. Despite theories of how focusing may work, focusing oriented or experiential therapy is purported to work with a level of human process that is still not well understood by all.
For the past 40 years, focusing has been employed to enhance psychotherapeutic success. In the 1960s, Professor Eugene Gendlin and Carl Rogers researched why psychotherapy was helpful to some but not others by studying hundreds of hours of taped therapy sessions. Success in psychotherapy depended upon the way in which people attended to and verbalized their inner experience. The term 'focusing' was used to describe the method of emotional healing based on attending to and verbalizing an inner experience and body sensation.
Focusing is now practiced by thousands of people all over the world and has been integrated into many cognitive therapies. There are several studies investigating the practice of focusing among schizophrenics, domestic crime prison inmates, neurotics, cancer patients, those with pain and those with Epstein-Barr virus; however, more research is needed to make any firm recommendations. Focusing is being integrated into nursing, along with active learning, as one of two methods of holistic communication. Focusing can also be used to think creatively, explore what one really feels about something, and make decisions that 'feel right'. Focusing can be done alone, with a guide, or with a therapist.
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