Focusing Transitions: Leading In and Coming Out

Focusing Transitions: Leading In and Coming Out

Chava Levy, LCSW

As I practiced with many partners, I was impressed with how much they knew from other modalities to deepen a lead-in and ease a coming out. So, that is why I chose transitions as my topic for a Focusing research project. I was curious as to what else people are using or doing in these areas. I also discovered that all of us are curious about this, too.

Below, are the combined answers to a questionnaire I sent out to 87 certified Focusing graduates from Ann’s list. Seven were no longer at those emails and another seven wrote to say they couldn’t help me as they didn’t use English in their sessions or required me to take their Focusing course to find out. Others answered that they just weren’t interested. That left 40 questionnaires to cull through for answers.

The questions are duplicated here and I compiled the answers, many of which I left in their own words as they were so inspiring. Any duplications from the Focusing Manual have been deleted as we all have that information. I thus wrote down new ideas.

What I learned from the project, in addition to many new ideas, was that there is a lot of flexibility and I gained permission to experiment with all these ideas.

Thank you everyone who completed them.


Do you always use the same lead-in? Mixed results, two thirds used different lead-ins.

What words/phrases do you use to deepen a lead-in, besides what we learned?

  • It’s not so much what I say as it is how I say it – I match the rhythm of my breath and speak quietly and slowly.
  • Just slow down to access their senses more.
  • To bring a wanted topic forward in the body, spend more time on the topic, repeat it in a couple of different ways, say more i.e. make suggestions, use more synonyms (sensing, noticing, attending, allowing) about noticing whatever comes from that.
  • “You might take a moment to connect to your breath.”
  • “Gently turning your attention to…”
  • “Lines smooth out on forehead; muscles around eyes may ease” –then it depends on the person –might do a bit more with belly (a place of safety/relaxation) or with spine flexible and supporting for example.
  • “So, you might take some time…” said slowly, it leads me in.
  • Asking them to feel the support of the floor, of the chair, etc., and whether it feels possible to settle into that support – and if they notice it is not possible, to notice and welcome that part of themselves that doesn’t feel supported or ask it can accept the support; (based on another process I’m studying.) I’ll ask them to have a sense of “inhabiting” or “living inside” various parts of their bodies, which seems very helpful.
  • “Take a moment, sense, allow, settling in, come home to your body, now, right now.”
  • “Take your time.”
  • “You might notice how your body lets you know you are alive right now.”
  • “Maybe you can sense small tingling of aliveness…”
  • “Maybe you could sense peaceful calm somewhere in you …Maybe you can come back here whenever you need to in your session.”
  • “You might want to sense how big of a calm place you need to hold what needs you to be with it.”

What else do you do to deepen a lead-in?

  • I watch what’s happening with the focuser – I’ll speed up, if that’s appropriate, or suggest that maybe they are already aware of something that wants their attention.
  • Sometimes I join the focuser, saying, “We could both center together to be with whatever comes in you. We might sense our feet…. legs… etc.”
  • Sensing each part of the body, the breath and then settling into the center area.
  • I will also draw their attention to sensations from the environment to help them come to the present moment: temperature of the air on their skin, experience sounds with their whole body, welcome smells with interested curiosity.
  • I have also learned to ask people to feel the support of the space around them…to the front, back, sides, above and below. And to allow that space to be sensed far out…beyond the walls of the room, to the horizon and beyond to the whole universe. To experience how that outer space supports the inner space. I’ve found that asking someone to experience space and the support of space to be very facilitative of Presence.
  • Also, sometimes I will ask my partner to register whether any tension they feel in one leg/arm/hand/foot is the same as the tension in the other side of their body.
  • I also sometimes ask them to feel how the inhale and exhale move their shoulders up and down.
  • I watch what’s happening with the Focuser—I’ll speed up if that’s appropriate or suggest that maybe they are already aware of something that wants their attention.
  • Through pauses, tone of voice and feeling it in my own body.
  • Also, the renewal of ‘going in’ and grounding, re-establishing presence during the session is established via the lead in and can sometimes become an important and renewing phase in a session
  • Slow down. Either wait longer between phrases or say more, depending on which the person needs.
  • Slow down, have them say hello to what is already here before moving inward.
  • Body scan.
  • Pausing longer to rest into support.
  • I may suggest the person connect to something inward that feels alive or flowing.
  • Reminding them that there is nothing that has to happen
  • Tone of voice, slow pace, silences, slow rhythm, calm voice, embodying myself
  • Lead myself in at the same time
  • Sense if you’re as comfortable as you’d like to be
  • I use a longer lead-in if the person asks or if I sense they will be able to turn within more effectively with a longer lead-in. For example, if they appear to be distracted or scattered or emotionally merged with an issue even before we start, then I use a longer lead-in. During a longer lead-in I refer to a larger variety of body parts than I do in a medium lead-in.
  • Regulate their nervous system with drums, waves, bird songs, wolf songs. The sounds of nature-not words.

How do you tell when to use the next phrase? Fairly even split between sensing, breaths, and clock.

  • I follow my suggestions while the focuser does, and give a bit more time than I need
  • Mainly, I just pay attention to what’s happening, how they’re responding, and I leaving what feels like enough time to follow the instruction.

Do you use the same sequence each time? Even split between the yeses and the noes.

  • Depends on the person –if someone has special sensitivity or no sensitivity in a certain area, or if they are very cerebral it will be different.
  • If I worked with them before, I ask if there’s something that particularly did or did not work for them from the last lead-in.
  • Also, a lead-in can really begin with the brief communication provided by the Focuser of the issue that is to be featured. There can be much feeling and connection established through this first communication that then continues on with the formal lead-in, so that the information given by the focuser is already linking to establishing of presence and inner and outer awareness.

Body Parts

  • Additions included: pelvic floor, lower body, spine
  • Avoid using “buttocks, butt, sitz bone.”
  • Replace with: “hips, seat, bottom, very bottom of torso”
  • Suggesting they rest into the support beneath and behind them
  • Use large body part collectively in a medium lead-in such as legs whereas in long lead-in name specific parts i.e. claves, knees, thighs
  • I only use names a child would and so leave out solar plexus and pelvis, etc.

Where do you start from?

  • Outer areas i.e. room, air then outer body to inner body
  • Feet to head unless asked not to (over 90%)
  • Awareness of the body

Variations in length of lead-in time Evenly split yes and no. No major differences minute-wise.

  • The longer the lead-in, the more help a person needs, the more body parts I’ll mention.
  • I’m watching the person so I can pretty much see where they’re “live” and what might be useful to suggest.

Minutes spent on lead-ins Most were 1-2 short, 2-3 medium, 3-5 long minutes long.

A few people did 5, 10, and 15-minute lead-ins

How do you tell? Sensing and using the clock were the most frequent answers

Where do you start from?

  • In terms of the body, usually from the feet up.
  • But often not starting with the body.
  • Starting with the sense of the room… the air… noises…. gravity…..

Do you use variations in time length for a lead-in? Yes

  • I like to really take the time to get them fully inhabiting their bodies, fully inside the safe space of the body so 15-minute lead-in is what I use.

How do you tell?   Clock and sensing were evenly split

Do you feel the lead-in yourself as you do it?   Overwhelming yeses

  • If I tell they are not feeling it, I go out of my way to feel, sense, embody the lead-in when I am saying it.

Coming Out

Do you always use the same/few coming out phrases? Most vary, a few keep it the same.

  • If someone pops out easily I will often say, “You can take some time here to be with what has happened….”
  • If they’re having trouble coming back they will need a couple of gentle nudges; otherwise not.
  • Put a hand on the heart or body and have the intention of being with it.
  • When working with trauma, be sure to note all body parts are there.

What phrases of your own do you use to ease coming out?

  • “Bringing with you… [something good from the session]” ….
  • “Sensing the space…. “
  • “Knowing that where you are right now is a safe place….”
  • “And feeling for yourself what is the right way to return….”
  • “These are relationships you plan to continue”
  • “Pausing to invite anything more about this your body needs to hear before you go now.”
  • “Just taking time.”
  • “See if anything more wants to come before we end.”
  • “You might imagine taking ___ into the day.”
  • Simply waiting.
  • If their process has been deep, the I might suggest that they, “Open your eyes downcast at first to take in the space outside, slowly opening your eyes with a soft gaze as you take in the room around you.”
  • “Check if there is something more that wants to be known about all of this.”
  • “Notice what you might like to remember or hold onto about this session.”
  • “Take time for saying goodbye and putting things away.”
  • “Feel when you are ready to offer the presence you offered to your inside, to the world around you by extension.”
  • Near the end of the lead-in, right before the invitation, I suggest they take their awareness inward to sense the inner body parts

How long do you leave for coming out? Most people answered what they asked for or 2-3 minutes. Longer if working with trauma, i.e. 15 minutes then.

Do you use a one or two-stage coming out? Answers were evenly divided between yes and no with some,

“Whatever they ask for.”

Same phrases used to come out? Answers were equally divided between yes and no.

Length depends on how deeply they are “in.”

Same sequence used?

  • I always establish them in a good bodily feeling before they come out and have them take a lot of time experiencing any good feeling that has come on its own during the session.
  • With a new person I keep it the same so it is predictable. I use a standard lead-in and coming-out when guiding someone new.


Do you do something special if someone has trouble coming out?

  • Have them feel their hands, feet.
  • Remind them of the time
  • Suggest bookmarking what has come.
  • Invite them to pause, stay silent until they talk
  • More common is they pop out too fast and I remind them to give that time as these are relationships they want to continue.
  • Offer time and space, ask them to check-in.
  • If they are suffering – then extra kindness and extra empathic reflections of what is happened for them, and extra encouraging observations about how well they’ve done (if that’s appropriate in the moment).
  • If they’re staying in really deep and not coming out, then saying, “It seems you’re very deep” will bring them to the kind of self-awareness that then helps them emerge.
  • Tell them it’s okay to take their time.
  • Speak a little louder.
  • Repeat myself.
  • As a therapist, I know it is very important to guide the person back to being present and not identified with something before walking out the door. So, I take extra time if I sense the session has touched on trauma and deep vulnerability. Sometimes I ask something like, “Notice if this part needs or wants something before saying goodbye.”
  • I will review what has come and make sure each part has a chance to be respectfully attended to. I watch people carefully to notice if they are still with something. When they come out, I continue to check to make sure they are fully back. I do back and forth until they are back.
  • I shift their attention from the inner space to outer areas of the body then to connect to the sense of support of the chair they are resting on.
  • If there has been a shift, I suggest they savor it during coming out.
  • I suggest they find a place to complete for now. I ask then what they think they can do to transition back to every day life and then we talk about their ideas a bit. This helps advance their coming out and engages an outer point of view that still respects their process and empowers them, minimizing reliance on me.
  • Many ways of sending the support of the environment, noticing safe, calm places inside or imagined, and including myself in the spoken suggestions, so the person feels accompanied
  • .I’ve never had anyone who had trouble coming out (maybe because my coming-outs tend to be slow?)
  • Let them notice what is happening now and acknowledge it.
  • Suggest they move, stretch, stomp feet.
  • Have them notice 5 red things, then 5 yellow things, then 5 blue things in the room. If that is not enough, notice 4 new red/yellow/blue things. You can then note 3 of each color and so on until they are back.

Do you prefer using the same lead-ins/coming out to provide predictability/security vs. varying them to provide interest/attention?   Most varied theirs, some prefer to use the same for security feelings.

What variations do you employ most?

  • There are so many ways to do each – except that each coming-out has them taking time to receive a good bodily feeling. One variation on the leading in is that I often have them receive a good bodily feeling at that point, but not always.
  • Rhythm.
  • Inside or opposite.

Other comments/suggestions/questions

Always be authentic. That means keeping things fresh, not leaning on what always works. This will get you into trouble. Every Focusing moment and each person is unique. And each one in a unique moment. You have to be a malleable force in Focusing, not a Focusing robot. In order to learn, this is perfect but we must be individuals and be unique, authentic individuals. What worked 30 seconds ago might not work now. The person in front of you is changing by the millisecond. Stay open, be fresh.

I like to use the shape of the lead-in developed by David Rome described in his book, “Your Body Knows the Answer.” He uses “GAP” which has three phases: Grounded, Aware, and Presence. This is noticing the support of the floor and chair, being aware of the sounds around you and those coming through the computer/phone. Noticing sounds really helps deepen the lead-in. Then I suggest the bring “friendly attention” to themselves and only mention a few body parts. David suggests putting a gentle hand on the chest to show one’s friendly attention to oneself.

With trauma, use a 15-minute coming out. Ask if anything you’ve been with wants to be placed in a natural nest, river and check on it often. Have visual representation of the parts of trauma so the person can touch it during the session. It can be even a color and they can wear even a few strings of that color on their wrist during the day to connect and help build an inner relationship. Ask, “How can I be with you (part) during the day?”

Read Ann’s “Distancing Focuser” article for more information.

Read the project by Ann-Marie La Fortune on Ann’s website.

David Bertateli has good information about trauma release exercises.

Music and movement, especially the drum, are the most powerful lead-ins.