by Judith Morton Fraser, MFT

“I’ve started to notice how I make relentless judgments about people whom I don’t even know,” Phyllis said as she sat on the sofa in my office. “I want to slap the Gelson’s cashier for calling me sweetie. If the man upstairs doesn’t stop tap dancing on my ceiling during dinner, I’m going to scream. And, I want to take a giant fork lift and remove all those ‘crazy’ drivers on the freeway who are out to get me.”

Phyllis brushed her short black hair behind her ears. “It’s not like me to want to retaliate, but right now I feel like I’m looking for reasons to be angry to protect myself.” She shook her head, scrunched up her mouth, then glanced at the print of hearts on the opposite wall.

Phyllis (not her real name), a life coach, is usually compassionate and understanding with others – filled with heart like those in the wall print.

“Maybe this grouchiness happened after my dad died when I was a kid and has stayed buried until now.” Phyllis shivered and tightened the velvet blanket over her shoulders like a shield of protection. “Or, maybe it’s a reaction to being in pain. Before I was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago I was growly and irritable. I hurt all the time.”

Trying to find a reason for a stressful feeling is not unusual. Sometimes it can be helpful.

Phyllis looked up. Her eyes softened. “I know there’s a reason for it,” she said. “I just have to find the key.”

Phyllis let go of trying to figure out her problem and chose to do an in-depth, inner journey process I do based on Eugene Gendlin’s, FOCUSING. It’s a process that we had done before.



When we take time to listen to the body’s responses in a positive manner the body can give us valuable information. Eugene Gendlin calls this information an “aha” experience. It’s a felt sense. A release of blocked energy. A letting go of a fear no longer valued.

You can help your clients access this “aha” experience by guiding them into their body wisdom. First help them to relax by following their breath with awareness.

Step One, Intend. Have them state an intention. It can be a habit, behavior, or body sense. In Phyllis’s case it would be “I want to discover what this anger is all about.”

Step Two, Attend. Help them to focus on their body sensations between the throat and pelvis. Take time to let them breathe into it. Sometimes just making contact with the tension is enough. Phyllis felt a heavy lump on her back.

Step Three, Descend. Help them to describe the sensations: heavy or light, rough or smooth, black, white or other color, a shape might emerge as a heavy rock, a wall or door, or a memory.

The symbols that arise from the unconscious are protectors. They are there to block a traumatic event or painful memory from being revealed.

Help them to stay with what comes up. If it’s too difficult you can create a distance from the shape or simply take them back to their relaxed place and end the session. The journeyer must be emotionally strong enough for the protector to reveal more information.

Phyllis stayed with the lump on her back. It turned into a Gnome that wanted to protect her from others. As she listened to the Gnome she uncovered a past contract she had made with herself. As a battered woman, since divorced, she had bargained to never let anyone get too close to her. This revelation was an “aha” experience for her.

Step Four, Amend. Help them to be grateful for whatever came up. If they are new with this process of “listening to the body” then just taking time to relax and state an intention may be enough. If they are more advanced they may have progressed to a deep listening and experienced an “aha” moment. Whatever comes is okay. There is no judgement in Focusing. It is a process.

Phyllis thanked her Gnome. The Gnome had provided a protection that had been sorely needed for her to develop into the strong wise woman that she had become.

The steps I’ve listed are abbreviated for this article. Focusing is a process that continues to evolve. It is important that the Therapist Guide let go of trying to fix the client’s problem but lead them through self-discovery. This self-discovery is empowering. Some label it the 13th step in the 12 step program because it teaches individuals to “listen” to feelings in a positive manner thus providing the love and security that may have been missing in early development. It can be an addition to any number of therapeutic approaches.

For additional information please read: BIO-SPIRITUALITY by Peter A. Campbell, Ph.D. & Edwin M. McMahon, Ph.D., FOCUSING-ORIENTED PSYCHOTHERAPY by Eugene T. Gendlin, or The POWER of FOCUSING by Ann Weiser Cornell, Ph.D.

Judith Morton Fraser, M.A., M.F.T. is in private practice in the Hollywood Hills between Studio City and Hollywood. She specializes in relationships, life transitions and anxiety. Her work draws from: Focusing, Psychosyntheses, Family Systems, and other creative processes.

Phone therapy is available: 323-656-9800