This article was taken from Interactive Focusing Therapy by Janet Klein, Psy.D. . Please see the resources at "Order Materials: if you wish to place an order for this book.
Interactive Focusing arose from my own Focusing-based partnership practice because . . . Focusing, and especially Focusing in pairs or partnership, had the quality of an interaction but came with the injunction that it wasn't to be an interaction. In the early 1980s, when I was learning Focusing, we were told partnerships or exchanges were to be treated as and to remain transactions . . . a complete and separate transaction for each party.
During the late 1980s, I was looking for some way to connect deeply and meaningfully with others. I was looking for an interaction. I treasured Focusing as that thing which allowed my deeper or unknown or confused parts to come into focus. Through Focusing I was touching into my core in a way I hadnÕt previously known . . . through the inner experiencing of it. That I would join the two, Focusing and my desire to connect in a deep and authentic way with another person, just seemed a matter of time.
Some time after developing and practicing the Interactive Process, it occurred to me that Interactive Focusing had the essentials of a therapy mode . . . partly because it is obvious and partly because I took my doctorate in clinical psychology, so that is one of the lenses through which I look.
Gendlin has described the use of Focusing in therapy in his book Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy (The Guilford Press, 1996), so if this were just a rehash of his work, it would be superfluous. It isn't. What makes it different and unique? It reaps the rewards of the interaction.
About the model-
Interactive Focusing makes room for empathy in a way heretofore not explored, both through the experience-by-experience healing listening and the empathic moment. Healing listening is bodysense-to-bodysense communication. The empathic moment is the "golden moment" of the interaction, the moment of concentrated, deepened empathy during which the entire relationship often shifts.
The model includes a relationship check which I call an anomaly in relationships -- the feared and simultaneously desired checking in with one another to see where you are in the relationship with each other and with yourself in this new moment after having shared yourself so deeply.
It is a model of balance. It is non-authoritarian and non-hierarchical. It empowers the client to give the therapist/listener guidance in the form of feedback (Focuser-as-teacher) about the level and accuracy of empathic listening. This seminal feature brings the pair into empathic alignment . . . from the client's side. Common sense tells us that it is only the client who can help the therapist to be an empathic listener for this particular client . . . as only this client knows when she feels empathically heard. She is her own best expert.
This feedback offers relief for the therapist/listener . . . who is relieved of the ever present feeling in many therapists that they need to be "perfect listeners." The therapist attempts this with only her intuition as a guide, an often imperfect guide . . . or by using an "accepted" but possibly wooden listening technique developed within a certain orientation. In this new way, however, the listening process becomes a partnership: mutual, balanced and fresh in each new moment.
Healing relationships- Because Interactive Focusing is used in relationship building, it serves this function in therapy, also. It is rare if not unique to find a therapy that is used as the therapeutic mode and that is also an "in real life" way of being. By this I mean the therapist uses the elements of Interactive Focusing in the therapy with the client, and as the client imbibes it, she then takes it outside the therapy hour to use it in her everyday life.
In the chapter titled "Relationship in Therapy," I discuss how to build a healthy therapeutic relationship during the therapy process using Interactive Focusing, and it is this healthy relationship that can serve as the model for life outside of therapy. In the chapter titled "Unilateral Interactive Focusing," I show how a client who has learned Interactive Focusing during her therapy takes it out into her world to process a difficult situation with her daughter. Her daughter doesn't have any knowledge of Interactive Focusing. Again, in "The Single-Wing in Therapy," as the client is listened to empathically in therapy, she learns to listen empathically to others.
One of the most enjoyable chapters to write was "What I Value About You." It helps turn the spotlight on the necessity of processing the positive in relationships and that this canÕt be ignored on the way to deepening intimacy. "Interactive Focusing Therapy with a 'Deaf and Mute' Couple" also uses the example of processing the positive. I spend two chapters on processing the positive because I feel it is so important but so often overlooked or disregarded by the therapist.
About the book-
In this book, I describe the basics of Interactive Focusing Therapy. I have constructed dialogues which I use to present what this therapy would look like with individuals, couples, families and groups. I show how to establish a sound and healthy therapeutic relationship. I introduce a new form of supervision, one that allows the therapist to find her own right way of becoming and being a therapist. I pay attention to how the client will take Interactive Focusing into her world outside of therapy.
In "Supervision in Therapy," I show how Interactive Focusing Therapy fits into other forms of therapy, allaying the fear that the therapist has to learn a whole new way of therapy to replace what she is already doing. Rather, this can become an important, synergistic addition.
I have asked some therapists who practice Interactive Focusing Therapy to join me in presenting their actual cases. I found these to be unique and valuable additions, each in their own way.
Some field work-
Now let me tell you what I have unearthed in some field work I am doing which has given me a great conviction about the need for Interactive Focusing and Interactive Focusing Therapy. I wanted to test an assumption I made that couples who have been in relationship for some time would have developed their own way of processing their differences. To set it in context, I am looking closely at conflict healing, a phrase I purposely choose over conflict resolution. Ironically . . . it is at the point of conflict that couples might come into closest empathic alignment and caring . . . a mature kind of love. The field work takes the form of interviews which simply asks each member of the couple to get back the experience of a recent argument, and to speak from the experience itself to tell me what happened. I interviewed each partner separately.
I am interviewing these couples trying to find exactly what processes they have naturally developed over their years together to move through their conflicts or differences. None of the couples I interviewed had developed a way of processing conflicts that led to a healing and more intimate relationship. In fact, as I interviewed the couples, I wondered what made their arguments seem like war. One woman shared with me that during an argument her husband would pause and thoughtfully say to her, "You know, I'm not your enemy." What makes it feel like that, though?
We grow up with relationship "war language." We refer to our boundaries as borders which need to be secured. We say we need to defend ourselves. We have introduced "conflict resolution" theory into couples counseling. The concepts of winning and being right are ingrained. A friend told me she heard a man famous for developing a well known self-help model say, "we would kill to be right."
In my interviews I have unearthed the following. Couples react to conflict as generals react to war: "What can I do to win?" As you can imagine, this creates enemies rather than allies; and when someone experiences the thrill of victory, someone else must experience the sting of defeat. Let me share with you what went on between the couples I interviewed:
Generally, I have found that the immediate goal of each partner is different. Because the goal is different, it felt to me like the couples I interviewed were in the same ballpark but playing two different games. For example, let me tell you about the first couple I interviewed. Ron is very rational. He wanted an explanation . . . why is this happening, why is she behaving in such a way or holding such an opinion. And maybe with this there is a not so secret desire to persuade her to "just see things the way I do . . . and do things the way I see." Annette is more intuitive. She wanted the hurt to go away and wanted to get to an apology . . . preferably from her spouse; however, she would be willing to apologize herself if she could just discover an acceptable reason why . . . and any reason would do to get over the present threat. Then things would be back to normal, and they could go to bed feeling they are okay with one another "like any civilized couple should."
Lenny and Claire had the confusing and circular dynamic where he felt "discounted" and she felt "unheard" when they argued. To counteract her feeling unheard, Claire became more intense and explosive. As her agitation increased, she became even more vocal but attacking and destructive at the same time. To counteract his feelings of depreciation or being attacked and destroyed, Lenny maximized himself by minimizing her . . . thus indeed leading her to feel minimized . . . unheard if not invisible.
Mike and Emily confounded each other by silence and volubility. He was quiet. She was vocal. Mike defended himself, his core self, from Emily behind a wall of silence or apparent Gandhi-like, non-violent resistance if not protest. At the same time Mike was defending himself against himself with his silence. He was afraid that he would say something "he might regret" in the heat of the argument. Then he would see himself as the unacceptable aggressor . . . no longer "mister nice-guy." Emily said she thought their children saw them as "bad cop, good cop." She was angry about being labeled the "bad cop" and called Mike passive-aggressive. He did a lot of "bad" things, but he did it quietly, and they were more subtle.
Emily defended herself through copious words and well-crafted explanations, demanding that things be her "right" way, but she wound up feeling angry and shut-out by Mike's silent resistance and occasional lack of conforming to her "rightness." She injured herself, simultaneously, with a critic attack that left her feeling guilty about taking away Mike's freedom to be who and what he wanted to be . . . saddling herself with feelings of guilt as well as feeling like his wicked jailer. Emily said that the worst part was when she started disliking herself for it. Though they had been married for nearly forty years and had been through countless arguments, they both worried that the other would finally leave as the result of one of these arguments.
Another couple told me that they rarely argued. The wife explained it by saying that "you tend to unify when you have a common enemy." Sadly and unfortunately, it was their children who had become their common enemy . . . so the value of unity at this price is certainly dubious. This last couple gave me the quirky idea that if couples could make the argument the enemy instead of each other, maybe they would, indeed, find a way of uniting and healing.
In the interviews, I was struck by the fact that at the point of conflict, the couples generally treated the relationship in terms of "me" rather than "we." This led to the coupleÕs pulling apart rather than pulling together. So, if you can imagine a two-person shell in crew and each person is stroking separately instead of in unison, this would give you the image of a typical process, or lack thereof, in which the couples I observed engaged.
There was, however, one seemingly shared goal. But even this turned out to be only an illusion of cooperation. In a relationship where the couple still cared about one another, the overarching goal appeared to be to remove the thorn in the side or stop the pain they were experiencing. They typically chose a less healthy way of bringing this about . . . which turned the argument into a more or less virulent debate and again introduced the principle of winning at all costs.
This is how the virulent debate tactic goes: Winning will allow one party to arrive at internal consonance . . . that is . . . I got things to be the way I needed them to be in order to feel okay inside myself in the relationship. The winner perceives that the external dissonance or what has come between them dissolves when she feels okay. The winner also assumes that since the event has been decided by a win, the losing party will accept the defeat and this will remove his internal discord.
When win/lose is actually lose/lose . . . unless- What you have probably already guessed is that in a win/lose situation, neither party truly arrives at a sense of peace . . . or neither party wins and, in the end, both lose. One such lose/lose scenario is:
Jean and Andy are engaged in bantering over the issue of what to buy at the grocery store. In mock seriousness Jean says, "I donÕt want you to even come into the store with me. You always buy things that just sit on the shelf or rot in the fridge." Andy teases her saying, "I'll just get a couple of things." Although it starts as banter, it soon becomes a serious argument.
Andy realizes he has gone too far with his sarcasm . . . crossed a line, and Jean is now really hurt and angry with him. At this point he is starting to feel himself descend into his black hole of depression and angst about himself and what he's done. He also realizes that he is about to lose the argument, and he has never been able to tolerate defeat without feeling destroyed. To get rid of that black hole feeling he flippantly says, "Just kidding. Can't you take a joke?"
Andy feels better, but Jean feels worse. A critic voice comes in to tell her she is overbearing, always harping at Andy . . . and so on. It has hit an old and very sore nerve in Jean about being minimized, not being heard for who she is, not being taken seriously. With her extreme frustration of not being heard comes anger and resentment. She withdraws to lick her wounds into the silence of her defensive shell, and Andy exits the room feeling better about himself but vaguely sensing that a growing distance is being created between them. Neither is aware of what is really happening inside of themselves as well as between them. But they are aware that things arenÕt going well . . . and they may need help.
It is probably true that during the heat of battle, it is very difficult if not impossible to switch to a higher level of processing. This is where Jean and Andy were, initially. However, the argument may go in stages. In the first stage Jean and Andy turned to the kind of warfare they had been practicing for most of their life together . . . their ancient and established patterns or habits of offense and defense that well predated their marriage. If, however, there is another kind of process to turn to as the argument ages and cools, Jean and Andy may be able to process the conflict in a healing way. What I talk about in this book is the healing way in relationship.
Incidentally, Jean and Andy were in therapy and learning how to process their differences using Interactive Focusing. The outcome was that, after things cooled down, they began a process that revealed to Andy his destructive behaviors which were evoked by the fear of the black hole. He realized that he saved himself but threw Jean to the wolves. This was so contrary to how he pictured himself, an honorable and decent human being. He was appalled and learned to recognize when this started to happen so he could do something about it.
What came into focus for Jean was her hurt, her vulnerability and her typical reaction, the withdrawing behaviors which shut out all possibility of reconciliation. She defended herself by walling herself off, but she also walled Andy out. She didn't want to do that, but, out of habit, she did it involuntarily, without any conscious awareness.
Together, with this new awareness, they worked out a way to process their problems and build a closer relationship. Before, they had been trapped in a pattern that headed toward a wider and wider separation. Now, it wasn't the classic fairy tale "and they lived happily ever after," but they worked hard at the marriage. They processed the problems as they arose . . . and arise they did. But they have developed an intimacy neither of them could have guessed at without a healing process.
Acknowledging two theorists who
have greatly influenced me-
Coming from the influence of Carl Rogers' client-centered therapy and Eugene Gendlin's experiential therapy, I had two things firmly in mind. In client-centered therapy it has long been held that healing is a self-directed process. The client is her own best expert. This observation was the particular brilliance of Rogers, the founder of client-centered psychology. This was a key point in moving away from the medical model of psychiatry which was quite hierarchical and talked in terms of the "expert" doctor curing the sick patient. Gendlin added the insight that each organism knows how it should have been for herself. We intuitively know this. Our bodies know this. As Gendlin indicates, this knowing comes into focus through the bodily felt sense.
As a therapist, I trust the client to direct the process and to know how it should have been for her. I am there to listen, to keep company and to hold a safe space for the client to find her own right way. I will listen empathically so she can feel heard, and so she can listen to herself empathically. I will be caring and accepting. This is what I believe helps the client become all that she can be . . . live the fullest life she can. For myself, I discovered the "how to" through Interactive Focusing.
Finally, I've attempted to address therapy in the full-round-