How is Psychotherapy Different than Just Talking?

By Dr. Mark Bakal

Certified Focusing Oriented Therapist


People come to Psychotherapy to discuss their concerns/issues in the hopes of having some kind of change in their lives.  It is understandable that someone may think that simply talking about one’s problems may be quite helpful.   Furthermore, it is often helpful to vent to someone who has no preconceived agenda about your situation.  However, it is my opinion that what really works in Psychotherapy is finding a way to connect the logical side of one’s brain with the emotional side of the brain.


Why does it seem like I can’t solve my issues with clear logical thinking?

Most of one’s problems in living cannot be resolved easily through straight logic.  We know this because many of us have tried to tell our story in a logical manner to ourselves or to others and found that we are just going around in circles.   For example, if someone is struggling with social anxiety, they usually know in their logical mind that nothing terrible is going to happen to them when they get into social situations. As a matter of fact, they tend to feel worse when they realize that their struggle is not logical, as they are likely to criticize themselves for not being able to resolve such a “simple and logical situation”.  So now we have two problems; 1) We have the troubling anxiety, and 2) The nasty self criticism about not being able to fix “such a simple” issue.  People often find themselves feeling anxious and depressed about not being able to solve their anxiety.


How do we connect the logical side of our brain with the emotional side of our brain?

There are a number of therapeutic approaches that help one get in touch with their   “not logical” side or “emotional side” of the brain.  The first step in most of these approaches is to simply allow oneself to know “it is OK to not be logical”.  Clients often will say, “I know what I am supposed to do, but I just can’t get myself to do it.”   That is when we can tell our clients, “I can see that your logical side knows what to do, but it isn’t the logical side that is in charge.”  One approach that I like to use is called “Focusing Oriented Psychotherapy” or FOT.  FOT is a therapeutic approach that came from a self help method known as Focusing.  Once someone learns how to do Focusing, they can use it as a type of self healing that is much like meditation. It is a wonderful way to connect the logical and emotional parts of the brain.  

 

What is Focusing and how did they discover it?

 

Focusing was developed out of Psychotherapy research. The research involved wanting to know what makes certain people do well in therapy while others do not.  The researchers found that it was not the method, theory, or even the type of problem that determined what made Psychotherapy effective.  They found that Psychotherapy was effective because of the way a client was already behaving within themselves in the session.  In other words, the clients who were successful in therapy were naturally able to tune into their mind and body in a manner that helped their problems shift.  They were able to access the emotional part of their brain by using Focusing and then were able to connect the logical and emotional parts of their brain.  The problem with this finding was that not everyone naturally can tune into their body in this manner and thus they would be stuck in the cycle of trying to find a logical solution to an illogical problem.  Focusing was developed to teach people exactly how to accomplish tuning into one’s emotional part of the brain in a manner that creates change.

 

Focusing involves two key parts:  The bodily felt sense, and Focusing attitudes.  The bodily felt sense is a certain type of experience in the body that can be felt but not easily described in words.  An example of a felt sense might include a “fluttery feeling” in one’s stomach or a “jumpiness in my head”.   By tuning into the bodily felt sense, people are able to experience their problems in a way that helps them move and change more quickly.  The Focusing attitude is a way of being with the felt sense that is completely accepting of whatever comes.   One may think of the Focusing attitude as an attitude of total acceptance like one would have with their child.  In other words, once one has identified and experienced the felt sense, it is important to be patient and self accepting; much like one would do when meditating.  Of course this is the opposite of what a person would do when they are stuck in self criticism.

 

Focusing can be taught in a number of ways, but it’s best to learn Focusing from a professional who has been trained to teach this method.  It is a process that can be taught in 1-2 sessions.  It can also be learned by reading the books that are included in the bibliography or visiting the Focusing Institute’s website at www.focusing.org. In addition, there is an article on Focusing in the Archives section of the PGA website at www.personalgrowthassoc.com.

 

What should I do with this information?

 

My hope is this article will help clients understand several ideas about Psychotherapy:

 

1)      It is definitely a good thing to talk to someone who has no preconceived agenda about one’s life situation.

2)      It is completely normal if you find that talking about your problems in a logical manner is not enough to make these problems change.

3)      Explore with your therapist just what helps you get in contact with the emotional part of your brain. There are many ways that someone can get connected to the emotional part of their brain. Doing this can accelerate and deepen any form of Psychotherapy.

4)      Try and be open to learning self help methods that assist people in connecting to the emotional part of the brain, as there are several methods including; relaxation techniques, yoga, meditation, focusing, etc.

 

Bibliography

 

Gendlin, Eugene T. (1981).  Focusing.  New York:  Bantam.

 

Weiser Cornell, Ann, (1996).  The Power of Focusing:  A Practical Guide to

            Emotional Self Healing.  New York:  New Harbinger Publications.