The Felt Sense, a True Story

As I walk along the street all is as it should be. The soft blue sky spreads out peacefully above me, the early morning sun shines warmly on my back. The street is quiet, apart from a myriad of birds chirping back and forth among themselves. I walk slowly taking it all in and sighing with contentment.

Feeling relaxed and dreamy I continue at a leisurely pace, noticing the brightness, and that the brightness has a certain quality to it, a promise of good things to come. I am peaceful and optimistic.

The early morning silence is broken by a few birds still calling out to each other. I delight in being a part of this tranquil scene. At the same time I am vaguely aware of some slight discomfort.

Perhaps it is to do with the brightness, there is a sort of stillness to it, and an intensity that feels a little unsettling. Then I notice again, how pleasant it is to stroll along with the sun’s soothing heat gently warming my back.

I realise that if I look ahead towards the brightness I get a funny, uncomfortable feeling in my stomach. A nervous, fluttery, edginess that becomes a rather sharp ache.

There is something about the perfect brightness, a kind of atmosphere, something unreal. The word ‘artificial’ comes to me, it seems to resonate. I stay with the word and what emerges next is both an image, and a feeling of shadows lurking behind the brightness.

Quite uneasy now, I calm myself by breathing in the comforting smell of heat on paving stones.

I shiver. There are still a few birds chattering reassuringly and I try telling myself that all is as it should be. However my body knows better. It is fully alert.

What was that noise….that faint rustling? I walk a little faster….not too fast….its probably a bird….my ears are straining, searching for the faintest sound.

The hairs on the back of my neck are literally standing on end….and then I hear footsteps behind me….I’m almost running now…. a hand clasps my shoulder….Something crude is whispered in my ear.

I scream and scream
‘Okay, okay’ he hisses.
Then I run in one direction and he runs in the other.


I remember this incident vividly, even though it happened some years ago. I can see now how my vague sense of discomfort developed into a definite awareness of danger.

Eugene Gendlin discovered Focusing, he devised the term ‘felt sense’ to describe an unclear, intricate ‘bodily awareness’. (p.10)

Focusing is a process of deepening my connection with this bodily sense. It is a process that might occur naturally and it can also be learned.

I can focus alone or with a Companion. To begin with I am just trying to get a feel of something faint and delicate. Slowly and gently I build up my connection with it by describing and acknowledging everything that I notice.
Because the felt sense is very fragile I need to be sensitive. If I am impatient and try to hurry things along it will disappear.

 Gradually the felt sense becomes stronger and more fully formed. Meanings contained within it can emerge, deepening self-awareness and personal insights.

*Focusing (2003) Eugene Gendlin

A Counsellor’s Perspective

I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

These two lines speak to me of the relationship between client and counsellor. How vulnerable a person can feel when talking openly about them self, and how essential it is to respond with respect and sensitivity.

Dreams have a delicacy about them, they are real in our hearts and yet they have not happened yet. Our dreams for the future are not always fully formed in our mind and they might change. It is important that I do not try to shape yours by imposing my own agenda and ideas about what is best for you. Equally I do not want to tamper with your memories or their significance for you.

It is my intention to provide an open space, by this I mean an opportunity to move at your own pace and in your own direction. For example instead of encouraging you to explore your childhood or to concentrate upon one topic at a time I prefer to go with your flow.

Interrupting you and trying to take you off in a different direction is too tricky. If I urge you to go down a particular path, then I risk sending you off course or to areas that you are not yet ready to navigate. You are in the unique position of knowing what is going on from the inside, so I’ll take your lead. Perhaps you see an obvious route or you might only know your next step as you are taking it.

I hope that you will feel supported. It seems to me that support can include various qualities – acceptance of you just as you are, nurturing, holding, comfort, containment, encouragement and validation. There are times when support is what we need in order to move forward in our lives and in our deeper explorations of self.

At the same time, too much support can stifle development. It can become crushing rather than liberating. When I pay attention, by listening both to you and to my own intuition, I find that I have a better chance of providing support that includes space for growth.

 Sometimes people tell me that their concerns are small compared with the suffering of others. My own opinion is that suffering is not a matter of comparison. It is what it is for each of us. At the same time I understand that for some people, looking at themselves and their situation in a wider context can put things into perspective and that this can be useful.

 You are the person who has come to see me and I am interested in whatever it is that brings you to therapy. This might include particular issues, your distress, a wish to explore and gain insights, a sense of something quite vague that needs your attention, decisions, hopes, dreams, and more...

Therapy is not always an easy option, looking at ourselves and our lives can take some courage. It seems to me that if I can understand how things are from your point of view, then I will have a better idea of what hurts and what matters to you. This will help me to tread softly.

Being sensitive towards you and your concerns is important if I am to become a person who you can trust. Considering trustworthiness further, I would say that it is to do with genuineness. For me this is about being as honest as I can in every aspect of our relationship. From explaining and keeping confidentiality to being genuinely myself, a person who you can get to know and with whom you can feel a connection. This for me is in contrast to putting up a professional barrier.

Having an awareness of my feelings and emotions allows me to be authentic and sincere in my relationship with you. When I am in touch with the sadness that you are feeling I hope to communicate my empathy, so that you know I am with you.

I am concerned with recognizing anything that gets in the way while I am counselling you. Perhaps a situation in my own life, maybe a desire to point you in the ‘right’ direction that would do more harm than good. Whilst I can identify certain areas that need my attention there are others that I am unaware of.

I find that Focusing helps me to notice subtle experiencing that can be easily missed. A slight fluttering in my stomach can hold a wealth of information. When I pause and begin describing the feeling it becomes more solid. There is space for different facets of my experiencing to emerge – memories…emotions…understandings… unspoken feelings …something happening between us when you spread your dreams under my feet…more…

He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven by William Butler Yeats

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.