What is Inner Relationship Focusing anyway?

On this page, you’ll find a bunch of helpful information about Inner Relationship Focusing.

We know “Inner Relationship Focusing” is a mouthful, so you’ll frequently see it referred to on our website as Focusing or IRF.

So, to answer the question, Focusing is a body-oriented process of self-awareness and emotional healing.

It’s as simple as noticing how you feel–and then having a conversation with your feelings in which you do most of the listening.

What is Inner Relationship Focusing anyway?

On this page, you’ll find a bunch of helpful information about Inner Relationship Focusing. We know “Inner Relationship Focusing” is a mouthful, so you’ll frequently see it referred to on our site as Focusing or IRF.

So, put simply, Focusing is a body-oriented process of self-awareness and emotional healing. It’s as simple as noticing how you feel–and then having a conversation with your feelings in which you do most of the listening.

Focusing starts with the experience of feeling something in your body that’s about what is going on in your life.

When you feel jittery in your stomach as you stand up to speak, or when you feel tightness in your chest as you anticipate making a crucial phone call, you are experiencing what we call a “felt sense” – a body sensation that is meaningful.

If you’re like most of us, you try to get rid of those uncomfortable feelings. What probably doesn’t occur to you, unless you know Focusing, is to listen to the feeling and let it speak to you.

When you let the feeling speak to you, you’re allowing yourself to be open to the depth and richness of your whole self. And when you listen to the feeling, it’s much more likely to relax, release, and let you go on with what you’re doing in a clear and centered way.

It’s easier to understand Focusing by actually experiencing it. Here are a couple videos to help.

Watch Ann Weiser Cornell do Focusing

Try a Guided Exercise

Where Did Focusing Come From?

Focusing was discovered in the late 1950s when Professor Eugene Gendlin of the University of Chicago researched the question: “Why is psychotherapy helpful for some people, but not others?”

Gendlin and his colleagues studied recordings of hundreds of therapy sessions and made a fascinating and important discovery: successful therapy clients were able to do something more than worry about the future or react to the past. They could pause and pay attention to what was happening in the present moment, in their bodies, in response to the problem at hand. Sometimes in ways that words could not easily convey. Gendlin called this a “felt sense,” and developed the method he called “Focusing” so that anyone could learn this profound way of experiencing breakthroughs in whatever has been holding them back.

Focusing allows you to get past what has been making you stuck, using the body-mind’s inherent ability to heal and live forward into new possibilities. Inner Relationship Focusing is a further development of Focusing created over many years of work by Ann Weiser Cornell and Barbara McGavin.

Frequently Asked Questions

Click on the question to reveal the answer.

Focusing has a very wide range of uses, from enhancing your creativity to improving your thinking ability. Focusing can enhance and deepen every part of your life. The uses of Focusing that we specialize in include:

  • releasing blocks to action
  • making clear decisions
  • knowing what you really feel and want
  • getting in touch with your life purpose
  • healing emotional trauma
  • transforming inner critics
  • nurturing a sense of self worth
  • being fully present as yourself

Although Focusing can be done inwardly, sitting quietly, with eyes closed, it is not a form of meditation. Focusing is an engaged process of self-exploration that involves the deliberate inviting of felt senses. Because Focusing is more than simple awareness of body sensations, it is not the same as “mindfulness,” although it shares elements of acceptance and being in the present moment.

The Focusing process is based on a radical philosophy of change: that there is no need to do anything to what you are feeling in order to experience transformation. Instead, when we understand that feelings are in process, we realize that acknowledgement and Presence are what is needed for natural change. Click here to download an article about this.

Yes! Focusing has been linked in over 50 research studies with positive outcomes in therapy.

Typical reported outcomes from Focusing include greater emotional regulation, more satisfying relationships, and increased self acceptance.

Inner Relationship Focusing (IRF) and Internal Family Systems (IFS) share many attitudes and are quite compatible. The differences are more a matter of emphasis and the specifics of how we work.

IFS and IRF share an emphasis on empowering the client while viewing the client’s issues in a nonpathologizing way. Clients are assumed to have the resources they need for healing and transformative change. There is a strong similarity between the IFS concept of Self and the IRF concept of Self-in-Presence… and that is not a coincidence, because we were influenced by Schwartz’s work at a later stage of the development of Self-in-Presence.

Both approaches are oriented toward healing trauma and are appropriate for deep and transformational inner work.

Here are some of the differences that we are aware of:

Both IFS and IRF can be used for self-help and can form a part of psychotherapy. But as a matter of emphasis, Inner Relationship Focusing is more often taught as a self-help skill, and has a culture of Focusing partnership so people can do Focusing without a professional. Internal Family Systems is more often taught to professionals to use with clients.

At the heart of Focusing is the felt sense, a bodily sense of something that is not yet clear. Although IFS sometimes includes body feelings, they are not emphasized, and even if body feelings come, they are not related to and explored as they are in Focusing.

What the practitioner actually says to facilitate the process in the person is quite different between the two approaches. There is almost no overlap in the actual language used in facilitating. For example, the IFS practitioner often asks questions. The Focusing practitioner uses guided prompts which are not questions. The IFS practitioner may ask Parts to step aside. In Focusing, Parts are not asked to change in any way.

It works quite well. We’re very experienced in teaching classes online, and we’ve developed a lot of methods to help you feel comfortable and connected. Many people actually prefer online classes because you don’t have to travel, you can connect from the comfort of your home, and you can take notes or lie down without disturbing anyone.

Focusing is not self-hypnosis. Hypnosis involves suggestion, and in Focusing, no type of suggestion is involved. Although people who are Focusing may feel quite relaxed, they are not in a trance. The Focusing process is one of listening to what comes in the body, rather than suggesting or telling the body anything.

We recommend starting with our live, online program, Your Path to Lasting Change. You’ll learn the Focusing process for yourself and you’ll also get to experience the benefits of Focusing partnership. Plus, after completing this course, you’ll be eligible for our advanced trainings, including our Certification program and Ann Weiser Cornell and Barbara McGavin’s groundbreaking Untangling® work.

If taking a longer course doesn’t work for you or you have budget constraints, our on-demand course, SHIFT, is a great option. It can get you started immediately on using Focusing in your life. (However, it doesn’t meet the prerequisites for our advanced trainings).

When you have an individual Focusing session, you will be guided through the Focusing process. The most important purpose of the session is for you to actually experience what Focusing feels like. You are also welcome to ask questions about how you can apply Focusing after the session.

We’re pleased that more and more life coaches are incorporating Focusing in their work with clients.

However, you’ll probably find that Focusing sessions are different from life coaching in most of the following ways:

You will not be asked questions.

Your Focusing guide will not help you set goals or remind you of your goals. (If you want to use your sessions to set goals, you are of course welcome to do so, but that would be initiated by you).

There is no homework or assigned work between sessions

We are happy that more and more therapists are incorporating Focusing in their sessions with clients. (Therapists: learn more about how to do this.)

However, receiving guided sessions from a Focusing professional isn’t the same as therapy. Here are some of the ways you might find it different from many kinds of therapy:

  • You will not be asked to disclose details or history about the issues you’re working on
  • You will not be diagnosed, analyzed, or given advice about your life situations
  • You are the sole decider of whether and when to have more sessions, and whether and when to stop having sessions
  • The emphasis is on your relationship with yourself

Would You Like to Move Forward?

Take the Inner Relationship Focusing Training Program

Focusing can be hard to learn on your own. Ann was one of many who benefited from the help of Focusing teachers, groups, and partners. Her experience led her to create Your Path to Lasting Change, our Inner Relationship Focusing Training Program. It’s the most efficient and effective way to teach you how to use Focusing in every situation where you need it.

Find out when our next class starts and get on your way to learning Focusing!

Ann Weiser Cornell

Schedule a Session

In a one-to-one session, you are guided through the Focusing process. We take you through it with respectful and compassionate suggestions. You can expect to feel deeply understood, with your concerns and your goals at the center of the work.

It’s possible that just one session can bring relief and insight. We offer sessions at 2 price points, from free (with a trainee) to $225 (with Ann Weiser Cornell).

Explore Our Library

You can find an extensive collection of articles, videos, and free e-courses in our library.

You can also take a deep dive into an expansive collection of Ann’s Focusing Tips. There are over 800 of them that talk about how to bring Focusing skills into daily challenges. We have free e-courses covering topics like working with an inner critic, getting started with the Focusing process, and using Focusing in your therapy practice.

How Focusing Has Helped Others

The World of Focusing

The Focusing process was developed by award-winning psychologist and philosopher Eugene Gendlin out of research into successful psychotherapy and his philosophy of the implicit. His best-selling book, Focusing was first published in 1978. Since then, Focusing has spread all around the world as a process used to enhance people’s lives in countless ways.

Ann Weiser Cornell was one of Gendlin’s early students, starting in 1972. After teaching with him for a number of years, she began developing her own approach to teaching Focusing, calling it “Inner Relationship Focusing.” After she was joined in that process by Barbara McGavin, she and Barbara also developed “Treasure Maps to the Soul,” an application of IR Focusing to life’s most difficult issues.

Ann and Barbara have trained many people worldwide as practitioners of Inner Relationship Focusing. Here is a Directory where you can find a teacher near you.

One of the most striking applications of IR Focusing is how it is being taught in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Dr. Pat Omidian and her students, supported by Nina Joy Lawrence, in a community-health model.

The primary resources for Focusers all over the world is the International Focusing Institute, the nonprofit organization founded by Eugene Gendlin. It is presently based in New York and the Executive Director is Catherine Torpey. The Institute operates a website with a bookstore, archives of articles and research about Focusing, a directory of Focusing teachers and therapists, and certification of Focusing Trainers and Coordinators. Joining as a member connects you with the heart of the Focusing world! The International Focusing Institute, 15 N. Mill St., Nyack, NY 10960, USA  1 (845) 480-5111 info@focusing.org https://focusing.org.

The International Focusing Conference is put on every year, usually in May, by local groups of Focusing people. To find out when and where the next Focusing Conferences are, see www.focusing.org/conference.html.

The Institute for Bio-Spiritual Research was started by two Jesuit priests, Peter A. Campbell and Edwin M. McMahon. They too have a worldwide network of people applying Focusing to daily life, families, schools, and especially spirituality. www.biospiritual.org

Have more questions about Focusing?

We’re happy to answer any questions you might still have. Fill out the form to send us an email and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible. Our office hours are Monday – Thursday, 10am – 4pm Pacific time.