Focusing to a Counselling Supervision Group
I share my project with the kind
permission of the three supervisees who participated. I will call them Robyn,
Julie and Rebecca. The project took place over one academic year at a college
counselling service which employs me as group supervisor. We met for two hours
every fortnight, apart from college holidays.
I suggested my idea to the group hoping
that members would find Focusing personally beneficial and that it would
enhance our explorations of their counselling work. My project is written as I
experienced it in the moment.
To begin with I focus upon whether to
take a structured or less formal approach.
The first would involve creating a
structure for bringing Focusing to the group and having some objective way of
measuring the results.
I close my eyes which helps me to be
more in touch with my inner experiencing. After a while I become
aware of sensations in my body which I associate with a structured
Something in my throat feels
restricted, sort of tight, I keep swallowing. I notice a pulsing pressure at
the back of my forehead, a type of dull pain, throbbing.
Another possibility is to include
Focusing within supervision as and when I sense that it will be helpful,
allowing a process to unfold. I could support Focusing with explanations,
discussion and written material. Rather than asking for feedback in a formal
manner such as questionnaires, I could ask supervisees for their responses as
we go along.
I get a sense of what this feels like
in my body.
I take deep, deep breaths, filling my
lungs with oxygen, a sense of openness, freedom.
The second way involves trusting my
intuition and my sense of what is helpful whilst also trusting that something
worthwhile will emerge. This feels more risky with a nervous excitement –
fluttering butterflies in my stomach.
I take into account the restriction
associated with working in a structured way and the freedom of trusting and
seeing what emerges. I acknowledge the butterflies and the sense of riskiness
associated with a lack of structure. I notice where my energy lies and decide
to take the second path.
Rogers’ words speak to the part of me
which enjoys a sense of freedom when I am able to trust myself and my own
resources. Rogers (1995)
Slowly I learned to trust the feelings,
the ideas, the purposes that continually emerge in me. It was not
an easy learning but a most valuable and continuing one. I found myself
becoming much freer, more real, more deeply understanding. (p. 39).
In the group we talk about the project
and discuss confidentiality. Each supervisee chooses a pseudonym for me to use
in my written work - Julie, Rebecca and Robyn.
On my journey home from the first
session I feel panicky, my breathing quickens and my chest tightens I keep
saying to myself ‘I don’t know what I’m doing’.
This is not my whole experience, a more
confident part of me is enjoying the adventure and not knowing makes it even
more fascinating. However right now I am merging with the panicky part, I am
feeling overwhelmed and seeing my project from its panicky perspective.
Being Self- in-Presence
I say to myself ‘I am sensing
something in me that is panicking’. This helps me to be in
relationship with the panicky part.The phrase ‘Something
in me’reminds me that there is also a confident part and that I can hear
the panicky one without becoming merged with it.
I acknowledge the panicky part,
it feels heard and relaxes. My breathing becomes more even as I calm down.
Being Self-in-Presence involves seeing
the whole picture and paying attention to whatever is going on within me, a
panicky part a confident part and so on. All parts are welcome, there is space
When I am Self-in-Presence, extending
attitudes of empathy, acceptance and gentle curiosity towards other people is a
When our Self is in a state of
Presence, we are capable of acting with flow, sensing the whole situation
(given the limits of what we can be aware of), connecting with here-and-now
experience, and interacting freely with our environment. We call thisSelf-in-Presence.
We start supervision sessions with a
I give supervisees a Lead In to help
them bring their awareness to their bodies and to be Self-in-Presence. At
the same time I am also leading myself in.
I invite supervisees to get a
sense of their whole body, before sensing into their outer body, arms, legs etc
and inwards to their throat, chest and stomach, noticing sensations in all
these areas, being aware of their breathing, whether it is fast, slow, deep or
shallow. We take time to see if something feels easy and flowing and then wait
Supervisees' Responses to Lead Ins
Supervisees’ responses following Lead
Ins suggest that they are experiencing what it is like to bring awareness to
their bodies and that achieving this is not always easy:
Julie describes ‘a lolling back
feeling’. Whilst she knows that she is sitting upright, she has a sense of
lying down which she finds quite strange, she associates this with feeling
Rebecca is aware of sensations in
various parts of her body and notices a difference in how the back and front of
her body feel. At the back there is tightness and tension which she associates
with some anxieties. The front of her body ‘feels fine’.
Robyn - It allows me to arrive
properly. This is the first time I’ve been silent and really noticed what is
going on within me.
Rebecca – I’m noticing the
tiredness, really feeling the tiredness.
Julie – It’s very hard to be in
touch with my body – I’m not used to it.
Congruence and Focusing
From my Person-centred therapy
approach, congruence has been described as genuineness, sincerity
and being real. When counsellors are aware of what they are experiencing it is
easier to respond to clients honestly and to share anything which seems to be
of therapeutic benefit. Thoughts and feelings which are not
considered helpful, or which need to be processed before they are disclosed to
clients can be put aside and explored in personal counselling and in
supervision as necessary.
There is consistency between what
counsellors are experiencing and their responses to clients. Ideally
counsellors experience unconditional positive regard (warm acceptance and respect,
without judging or criticising the client) and empathy (understanding from the
client’s perspective) and they communicate these attitudes to the client.
Facilitating supervisees in developing
congruence is an important aspect of supervision since congruence enables
counsellors to be trustworthy, authentic and more fully engaged in their
relationships with clients.
In my view Focusing can enhance
congruence since it is a process of paying attention to one’s inner
experiencing thereby increasing self-awareness. The process is gentle and
patient. It begins with the Focuser bringing awareness to their body, often but
not necessarily with a Lead Inand getting a sense of any bodily
sensations. At first there may be a felt sense of something
that is difficult to grasp.
Eugene Gendlin (2005) coined
the term ‘felt sense’ which is a vague, unformed feeling. Examples of a felt
sense are waking up with indistinct and elusive feelings about a dream. Another
example is having a vague feeling that you have forgotten something.
Focusing is a process of getting a
whole body sense of something that is not yet fully formed. The Focuser
listens with empathy, acceptance and compassion so that it is safe for
sensations to become clearer and for more to emerge.
A supervisee Focuses with her Felt
Rebecca has a vague sense of ‘something
is going on’ in a client relationship. I suggest that she might like to just
sit with it for a bit, noticing what comes as she keeps it company. Rebecca
becomes aware of an all over tiredness and feeling sick. We acknowledge these
sensations and wait.
Rebecca continues describing the felt
sense. ‘It feels like a dance with me trying to catch my client and her
slipping away’. I reflect what Rebecca has said and she is quiet for a while.
Then she remembers dropping off to sleep for a few moments after the session.
She continues ‘It felt like I was chasing my client and there was a voice
saying ‘I want to counsel my client and she’s not letting me’. Rebecca
identifies this as a ‘child’s voice’, a part of her which is coming into her
relationship with the client. She acknowledges this part.
Rebecca could continue by saying
‘hello’ to this part, keeping it company and giving it some time. She notes
that there is more for her to explore here and that this is something that she
wants to return to. As the Focuser Rebecca is in charge, so in terms of her
personal material we stop there, turning our attention towards the client’s
Providing the group with more
information about Focusing
Afterwards I ask Rebecca about how
Focusing on this issue has been for her ‘was that Focusing?’ she asks
surprised. So far supervisees have experienced Focusing without the distraction
of explanations which might take them to a more intellectual place. Rebecca’s
remark indicates to me that it is time to explain more. I send an email to
supervisees explaining about Lead Ins and Self-in-Presence, telling them that
they are welcome to ask about or to discuss anything of interest during the
In the next session we discuss creating
a space through being Self-in-Presence. Rebecca wonders whether being self-in
presence lessens the intensity of an experience, reducing the depth of
explorations. Julie and Robyn feel that spaciousness prevents them from
becoming overwhelmed by an experience, making it safer to explore at a deep
Throughout the year I provide
information based upon supervisee’s questions, group discussions and my sense
of what is helpful. I explain that there is no obligation to read the
information and that I am also ready to discuss anything of interest.
As we approach the end of term I invite
supervisees to give me feedback, welcoming both written and verbal comments.
The feedback falls into four areas:
Relating Focusing to other approaches Julie
and Rebecca both find that there is something familiar about Focusing because
of its association for them with other approaches. Julie says ‘I really
like the Lead In, it is a similar experience to mindfulness’. Rebecca
writes I can only think of it in relation to the rest of my training
both in Reichian body work and Gestalt and there seems to be elements of both
Lead Ins All
three supervisees find Lead Ins helpful. Robyn says ‘brought me
somewhere and I could explore a bit more deeply’. Julie says’ helps
me to be more calm, it allows the chattering to make its way out’. Rebecca
writes‘the exercises we have done in which we become aware of our body and
of any feeling located there I have found grounding’.
Connecting with their bodies Robyn
says ‘I’m aware of what I’m not feeling, like I’m looking for
something’. Julie says ‘I struggle to connect to an actual feeling’. Rebecca
writes I have found it easier to locate some feelings in my body than
others - anxiety stands out for me as something I feel in a very physical way.
Sometimes if I can't locate any feeling I go into my head and worry about it
and then I can guarantee I won't find anything!’
Balance in bringing Focusing to
Supervision Supervisees would all like more
Focusing. Robyn talks about wanting more and also wanting to make
sure that there is sufficient time for client work. She feels that she is
‘missing’ in not having more Focusing. Rebecca finds that Focusing facilitates
supervisory enquiry. Julie says ‘I would like a bit more when talking
about clients, exploring what I am feeling now’. Rebecca agrees and says ‘but
don’t we do that anyway?’
My own process
Frequently there is a part of me that
is unsure. Does each person feel heard and supported? Are they benefitting? Is
this the best use of their supervision time? Nervously this part hangs back,
wary of imposing my project on others, bearing in mind that the position of
supervisor holds a degree of power and authority. So I say ‘hello’ to this part
with its doubts and its hesitancy. I listen to what it is wanting and not
wanting with acceptance and interested curiosity.
At the same time there is another part
which has a more vibrant energy. I notice it wanting to push forward and I
sense into a tight frustration deep in my chest. I acknowledge this part,
making space for it too.
My supervisor and I both focus upon
bringing more Focusing to the supervision group. There is a strong sensation in
my arms, they want to stretch out as widely as possible and I am aware of an
energy and excitement around embracing Focusing more fully within the group. My
supervisor talks about ‘integration’ and we reflect upon integrating Focusing
in a more complete and flowing way.
The Second Term
During the first term a structure has
emerged. Following a lead in we share and reflect. Then we divide
the remaining time between supervisees to explore their supervisory issues.
Focusing is brought in as relevant. We then say our goodbyes.
Now I ask supervisees if they would
like to try something different and less structured. With their agreement we
have a lead in and then stay open to going wherever this takes us. I focus too,
inviting supervisees to respond to myself and to each other. After the lead in
there is a long silence. Within myself I notice an anxious part ‘what if nothing
happens?’ and a trusting part ‘something always happens’.
Eventually we are Focusing and
responding to each other. I sense into the pain at the back of my head and the
tension which I am experiencing. I share this with the group. There are some
reflections from supervisees and then Julie expresses her concern for me having
to supervise with a headache. I am moved by Julie’s caring and I also feel well
enough to supervise. After explaining this we reflect upon self-disclosure with
clients. Robyn mentions not disclosing hot flushes, there is laughter as we
note physical matters which we experience and rarely share with clients.
Julie is seeing a client with an issue
that she has herself. When her client asked her a direct question she
considered it appropriate to be honest and open, we consider this as a group.
Julie then explores her anxiety about becoming overwhelmed by her emotions
associated with this issue. I ask if she would like to get a sense of the
anxiety in her body and she focuses for a while, noticing the sensations in her
chest and whole body and keeping company with what is there. We move on when
Julie is ready.
Rebecca explores her experiencing of a
client who is working with a sexual issue, she notes her sense of his
genuineness and this leads into a discussion about working with male clients
who have sexual issues and our sense of safety as women counsellors.
During the session we also discuss a
workshop about mistakes in counselling, Focusing articles and counsellor
Accreditation. We go with the flow, there is laughter and tears, we move in and
out of Focusing. An exploration of client work moves into a supervisee’s
anxieties about being a ‘crap counsellor’.
Julie says ‘the whole session
was down to the way it started’.......more free flowing’ Rebecca
speaks of the session being ‘more open, more organic’. Next time
she would like me to check whether any one has client work which they still
need to bring half an hour before the end. Robyn says ‘there was less
content which is ok really because for me supervision should be more to look at
what’s going on for me about the client’ and ‘next time I’d like to try again’.
We continue in this less structured and
more integrated way, no longer dividing the time between supervisees, just
going with the flow.
I explain and demonstrate:
Presence language for example ‘I’m
sensing’ can take us more into the body and the word ‘something’ which does not
label or limit what we find.
Supporting the focuser with reflections
by repeating what is said almost exactly or in essence.
Occasionally making suggestions to
help the focuser stay in presence with whatever is presenting itself, to deepen
contact with it and to find symbols that describe
I explain about the four stages of a
Focusing session: Coming In; Making Contactwith
something; Deepening Contact ; Coming Out (Cornell
&McGavin 2004, pp. 149-150)
Focusing is becoming more integrated
within our supervisory explorations
Robyn says ‘hello’ to an angry part and
then notices a part that is ashamed of the anger. She senses into the angry
part and associates it with a pain in her side. I suggest putting a gentle hand
there. Now she is aware of ‘just allowing the anger to be free, to be
angry without feeling guilty’
Julie is aware of something ‘floating
around’ she notices tension in her feet and her head bending. She does not know
what this is about. I suggest keeping it company with interested curiosity and
we wait. As she continues focusing Julie recognises a racial issue
which she fears might get in the way of forming a relationship with her client.
We explore this issue together as a group.
We discuss supervisee’s dilemmas about
which clients to bring to supervision. I suggest taking some time to get a
sense of each client in their bodies and seeing what happens. Afterwards Robyn
says ‘I bring the person who I find the hardest to make contact with’. Rebecca
compares one client to a bird with its mouth open ‘feed me, feed me,
I’ll take anything’. Julie pictures a certain client in a boat,
paddling away and coming back.
As the term draws to a close I sense an
easiness and fluidity in our sessions. I step back a little to give supervisees
more space and responsibility. As part of this we agree that supervisees will
take responsibility for stating their needs, hoping that this will help us in
managing our time.
The Third Term
This is our last term together. I am
aware of the term having a certain feel to it and focus alone to get a deeper
sense of this.
At first all I am aware of is ‘there’s
something about this term’ so I sit quietly, holding a space for something to
surface. Eventually I notice a knotted sensation in my stomach. I picture a
rope around my stomach being pulled at both ends and experience a tightening. I
gently put my hand there which releases the tension a little. As I continue
focusing I am in touch with my anxiety around ‘how can we fit everything
A Defending Partial Self
We need to include end of year reviews
in addition to our usual supervision. I suggest to the group that we work out
the timing together. Then I write out a plan by myself.
I am sensing an impatient energy in my
whole body and I am finding it difficult to sit still. Something in me really
wants to get things sorted. I am very vaguely aware of some
discomfort around what I am doing, but this does not stop me.
Cornell & Mc Gavin (2008) Identify
three inner processes which they call partial selves. At various times in our
lives we are unable to deal with a situation internally and a stoppage occurs. Although
the initial causes of the stoppage may now be forgotten, partial selves are
still seeking inner resolution. Very basically:
Controlling Partial Selves are
anxious they are trying to prevent something or perhaps everything from going
wrong. They may try to control us by criticising or coaxing.
Compromised Partial Selves can
feel young, wounded, vulnerable, afraid, useless and worthless. They may be
aware of having missed out on something essential such as parental love. There
is often a yearning to replace or to find what they have lost.
Defending Partial Selves are
impulsive and react quickly without considering the consequences of their
actions, when they experience some threat to the Self. For example binge eating
might be a way of saving the Self from the pain of a Compromised Partial Self.
I am scribbling away when I notice that
the room has become silent. Gradually I realise that I have been ‘hijacked’ by
a Defending Partial-Self. As a result I have launched into action, organising
our time by myself instead of working collaboratively with supervisees. Furthermore
I have become so intent upon making time for reviews that I have forgotten
about their value for supervisees and supervisor.
So I pause and check in with
supervisees about our arrangements. Later on in my own time I focus upon my
sense of each supervisee and their qualities, before preparing what I would
like to say to each person. Following group reviews I make a few amendments and
eventually we all provide written reports for the college.
Towards an Ending
I give supervisees information about
Focusing websites and we discuss Focusing regularly with a Focusing
partner. I invite supervisees to give Lead Ins to the group, providing
opportunities for practice and feedback. All are nervous and then
Julie finds the courage to try. Afterwards she responds to each person with
reflections. A few weeks later Rebecca leads us in, her soothing
tone of voice is appreciated by the group.
We continue Focusing upon supervisory
issues for example Robin focuses upon ‘something uncomfortable in my stomach’
relating this to a client with mental health issues. She gets a sense of the
responsibility that she is experiencing ‘to keep him afloat’ and her sense of
bearing this responsibility alone since the client will not see a doctor ‘It’s
only me’. As a group we consider the client’s needs, Robin’s
responsibilities as a counsellor and the pressure that she is experiencing.
Supervisees discuss and Focus upon
their uncertainties, wishes and plans for the future. Julie senses ‘something around my
head’. She becomes aware of ‘many areas of my life, all vying for attention’
and ‘all the chattering in my head’. In addition to considering Julie’s
situation we discuss that ‘body’ can refer to something outside of our physical
selves, such as auras.
Gradually all supervisees decide that
they are ready to leave the placement. There is sadness about leaving the
college and the ending of our group, as well as appreciation for the
counselling placement and the accepting environment that we have all created.
Robin speaks about how much she has
valued the group and being able to talk about anything that is important. She
writes ‘This year we did things differently. Our way of working felt more
organic. We were more experiential in our way of arriving to talk about our
client work. The group felt comfortable and supportive ‘ (review). She
says ‘I would like to introduce Focusing into my work’.
Julie talks about bringing Focusing to
a counselling peer group and says‘Focusing has really helped me to get in
touch with what’s going on. I am more in touch with the most important
Rebecca says ‘I’ve been most
aware of what Focusing has brought to this group. Touching base with myself has
helped me to be more available for others. I think that’s why we’ve had those
amazing discussions, reaching a deeper level.’
I began my project with the hope that supervisees
would find Focusing personally beneficial and that it would enhance our
explorations of their work.
Supervisees’ responses suggest that
Lead Ins helped them to relax, to pause and to become aware of their inner
I have found that Paula’s use of
Focusing this year in supervision has been very useful. The lead in at the
beginning of sessions has helped me to let go of other concerns and notice what
is happening in my body. I think that this has helped our sessions to be more
fluid and closer to the client’s core concerns.(Julie) (Review).
At times a supervisee Focused upon a
personal issue, something that was with them at the start of a session, or
something that might affect their work. For example one supervisee Focused upon
her sadness and anger relating to a friend’s illness.
My own sense is that Focusing increased
self awareness (congruence) and enabled a deeper level of exploration.
Supervisee’s comments support this:
I have found the supervision extremely
helpful and the sessions have often resulted in a deeper level of work with my
clients. (Rebecca) (Review).
It’s not enough to just talk about
clients. This puts me in touch with what’s going on for me and why counselling
sessions are going as they are (Robin) (Comment).
In addition to enhancing our
explorations of their work Focusing has had an effect upon supervisees’
practice. At various times each supervisee has spoken about bringing Focusing
to their therapeutic work.
This year I have also taken advantage
of my supervisor sharing her knowledge of Focusing with the group and I have
learnt to be more confident about using this with my clients as a way of
recognising the importance of body language and feelings located in the body.
Overall I am pleased with the effects
of Focusing upon our supervisory explorations and group process. I
find that my approach to supervising a group has become more open and less
structured and that my beliefs about the value of Focusing have strengthened.
I would like to thank Julie, Rebecca
and Robin for joining me in this project. I very much appreciate your
participation and feedback. I would also like to thank the
Counselling Service Managers for agreeing to my project and for giving me the
freedom to carry it out in my own way.
Cornell, AW &, McGavin, B,
(2004) The Focusing Students and Companion’s Manual, Part Two. Berkeley
CA: Calluna Press