Here's a bit about the History of Focusing…

Focusing is a natural skill and has been with us since the beginning of time. Because of cultural tendencies over the past few centuries, most of us have lost touch with this skill and need retraining. The term “Focusing” came out of research Eugene Gendlin began in 1953 at the University of Chicago.  He did 15 yrs of research analyzing what made psychotherapy either successful or unsuccessful.  His conclusion was that it was not something the therapist did, rather something the clients did inside themselves during the session. He began to study the behavior and how to teach it. He wrote a little book called "Focusing" that you may have run into. It’s a wonderful book, a great place to start and what is known about Focusing has come a long way since then.

Gene Gendlin, along with his wife Mary, continued developing the concepts around Focusing their entire lives. Behind all of their work were some radical understandings. One was that Focusing was a natural skill, a human birth right. Although Gene wrote many incredible philosophical/ psychological/theoretical pieces on human experiencing, he kept his most important works unpublished so that they would be free, accessible to anyone who wanted to learn from them. Gene and Mary formed a nonprofit organization, now called The International Focusing Institute (TIFI), from which people from all around the world gathered to explore the concepts and experiences of developing these life enhancing body awareness skills. Mary Gendlin passed away in 2015. Click HERE for an 8 min video put together as a Memorial of her sharing about Gene and Focusing. Gene passed away on May 1, 2018. As part of the agreement he had with The International Focusing Institute, his important philosophical works are now in print. Thus, no longer free, however, now they will come to the attention of academia and much of the wider world. I believe this timing is incredibly ingenious. Gendlin’s work is quite revolutionary and there are already thousands of people around the world who are practicing these skills and expanding upon his work in their own unique way. These human birth right skills will be accessible to all those who want to learn them. And that’s the bottom line!

Inner Relationship Focusing

Fast forward to 2011 when I first read about Focusing in a Tricycle magazine and recognized it as the skill I wanted to teach.  I chose to train with Ann Weiser Cornell.  She first met Focusing in 1972 as a grad student in Linguistics at the University of Chicago.  Focusing was difficult for her to grasp and she spent weeks confused and unable to access anything she witnessed as a Focusing experience. Finally she broke through to a powerful understanding from her childhood. She was ecstatic! Over time, she became the first person to make a full time living as a Focusing Professional, guiding Focusing sessions and teaching classes.  I have found Ann’s method of teaching Focusing to be ingenious. I feel it grew from her own difficulties in learning the skill plus her background in linguistics plus a wonderful collaboration she developed with another Focusing Professional from England, Barbara McGavin.  Barbara and Ann have been Focusing partners for many years and together they bring a wide spectrum of Focusing experience to creating curriculum that works. They call their particular type of Focusing, Inner Relationship Focusing. There is an emphasis on developing our inner relationships and then taking the process outward from there.  There are other modes of Focusing one could study first – Wholebody Focusing and Thinking at the Edge are two I’ve looked at. Inner Relationship Focusing has assimilated really easily with my background.  I will continue learning all I can about various ways to make Focusing accessible to anyone who would want to learn it. So far, I have not found anything that is excluded by starting with Ann’s model of teaching.  Feel free to contact me if you’d like to talk more why there are various approaches.

What makes Focusing Unique

There are three aspects that set Focusing apart from any other method of inner awareness and personal growth.  They are the “felt sense”, a special quality of engaged, accepting inner attention and a radical philosophy of what facilitates change.

1. The “Felt Sense”

The Focusing process involves coming into the body and finding there a particular body sensation called a “felt sense”. A felt sense is an unclear, pre-verbal sense of ‘something’, an inner knowledge that has not yet been consciously thought, a body sensation that has a wholistic meaning. As one learns to stay with the felt sense, understanding deepens, new words and new insights about a situation become clear. There may also be a sense of felt movement—a “felt sense shift” we call it.  Here a person would begin to be able to move beyond a “stuck” place.  Fresh insights, and also sometimes indications of steps to take, now feel clear and easy to act on.

Felt sensing is not something that other methods teach. It is unique to the Focusing process.  I do believe there are environments that encourage felt sense formation. Like nature, music, body movement practices, friendships or other trusting relationships where we feel very safe.  In these situations, a felt sense may form and shifts may even happen. These situations tend to happen randomly in our lives however.  Taking time to learn and practice Focusing means you are taking a step toward empowering yourself to invite a felt sense about a particular situation in your life whenever you would like.

2. A Quality of Engaged, Accepting Inner Attention

In the Focusing process, after you are aware of the felt sense, you then bring to it a special quality of attention.  You might imagine bringing a quality of open, interested curiosity toward whatever might happen next. I like to teach about creating a welcoming space for everything that cares about this topic, like hosting a gathering. You, the you that is bigger than any challenge you might encounter in life, is there bringing this quality of engaged, accepting inner attention.  And you are taking time to just hang and really get to know whatever comes as a felt sense better.  It is the willingness to care, the really wanting to get to know it, that welcome space you create, that brings forth something new.

3. A Radical Philosophy of what Facilitates Change

This is huge. It really turns upside down what we’ve culturally been taught about change. Let’s say that there is something about you, or about a relationship, or about a situation, that you would like to change. In order to facilitate change, Focusing theory shows us that there must be a radical acceptance that everything is OK the way it is. There is no sense of trying to change anything.  There is no doing something to anything (no fixing, no saving, no setting it straight).  We accept that this felt sense is here, just as it is, right now and we are interested in how it is, really getting to know it. This turns around our usual expectations and ways of viewing the world.  This is what we mean by “wisdom of the body”. The felt sense knows what it needs to become next.

Like a gardener carefully tending seedlings with the light, soil and water they will need to emerge and grow, Focusers learn to provide the conditions and trust the process which allows our felt senses to change, evolve and circle ever closer toward the wholeness we can be. I often call this being our own Self-Mentor. 


The benefits of living life with these skills continues to expand as you utilize them. Here is a brief list taken from TIFI's website:


Once learned, Focusing can become a resource in all moments when you want to be in touch with your felt sense, with your intuition and with the wisdom that your body can give you. Focusing permits you to:

  • understand what you are truly feeling and wanting
  • surmount obstacles, make decisions and solve problems creatively
  • become more attentive and friendly to yourself and others
  • integrate body, mind and spirit
  • find relief from tension and chronic pain
  • be independent from external belief systems
  • deepen and make more effective the process of counseling and psychotherapy

If you'd like to read more and watch some demo videos, click HERE for the What is Focusing page on TIFI's website.