Gestalt/Experiential Training of Maine

What is Focusing?

GeneIn the 1950s, at Carl Rogers’ counseling center at the University of Chicago, researchers were trying to figure out why some people did very well in therapy, and others less well. They listened to thousands of hours of recorded counseling sessions trying to find the factors that might be making a difference. They tested and discarded many, many hypotheses in their search.

Gene Gendlin and others began to notice that certain clients were readily able to make contact with their inward, bodily-felt experience, while others were not. Those clients who, during therapy, would slow down, grow quiet, perhaps close their eyes, and really try to hone in on how their experience feels to them — and then stay with that experience — tended to do much better. These were clients who could and did gradually unfold and make explicit their emotionally-tinged, meaning-laden, physically felt experience in relation to whatever it was they were talking about.

Gendlin eventually named this activity “focusing,” and he called the thing being focused on the “felt-sense.” Gendlin made clear that he did not “invent” the felt sense or focusing, but simply gave names to observed human experience and activity.

The felt sense is often ignored or missed because it’s usually unclear or “murky” when we first become aware of it. Gendlin observed that by paying attention to the felt sense in a welcoming, gentle, respectful and sustained way (i.e., with the “focusing attitude”), we can experience a “felt shift”: a sense of relief, and often a sense of direction. In this way, we “carry forward” our experience, rather than staying stuck.

Given the therapeutic advantage of knowing how to focus, it seemed to the research team that it would be useful to be able to teach non-focusers to engage with themselves in this way. Formal Focusing, as developed by Gendlin, is a six-step, structured procedure for assisting people to locate and make use of their felt sense.

Once you learn focusing, it’s something you can do alone or with a partner, as part of therapy or totally separate from therapy. Many people experience it as a great “discovery” that is terrifically life-enhancing.

Along the way, Gendlin also created an approach to therapy he called “Focusing-Oriented Therapy.” This makes use of what we know about focusing, but does not involve the formal teaching of the six steps. While the client will learn focusing in bits and pieces during the course of a therapy, the therapist makes use of his or her own felt-sense during all sessions.

If you’re interested to learn more about focusing, there’s no better resource than, the website of the The Focusing Institute.

Gene Gendlin Memorial Service

Eugene_GendlinGene Gendlin (1926-2017), one of the true giants of Experiential Therapy, passed away on May 1st of this year. If you are interested, there is going to be a public memorial service for him in NYC on Saturday, August 12th. The event will also be live streamed on youtube if you are unable to attend in person.

Gendlin was studying philosophy (in particular, phenomenology) at the University of Chicago at that same time that Carl Rogers had his counseling research center there. Rogers and his colleagues, Gendlin realized, were doing a kind of applied phenomenology with their clients. Gendlin became part of their group, and Rogers and Gendlin came to deeply influence each other.

Gendlin completed his PhD., taught philosophy for decades, and considered himself primarily a philosopher. But he also trained as a therapist with Rogers’ group, and was an important player in the research and development of Person-Centered Therapy.

I’ll say a little more about Gendlin in my next post.

My Current Favorite EFT Book

Two years ago, Dr. Ladislav Timulak, a Slovak-born, Irish psychologist, produced an excellent explication of Emotion-Focused Therapy called Transforming Emotional Pain in Psychotherapy: An Emotion-Focused ApproachIt draws on the most recent EFT theory, and clearly describes the emotional territory traversed during a successful EFT therapy.

TEPIn EFT theory, each folk category of emotion (anger, joy, sadness, fear, etc.) can, in principle, function variously as a primary adaptive, primary maladaptive, secondary reactive, or instrumental emotion. Anyone trained in EFT will tell you this.

In practice, though, we psychotherapists don’t really see all of these theoretical possibilities in our offices. The common forms of core emotional pain — and the sequences of emotional processing that most elegantly facilitate their transformation — are not quite so infinite.

Dr. Timulak, building on the work of Dr. Antonio Pascual-Leone and Dr. Les Greenberg, clears the brush for us, and provides us with clear clinical maps for recognizing and resolving the basic types of core emotional pain with which our clients present.

Irv Yalom once observed that most (nonfiction) books are just bloated essays. I agree, and I’ve always appreciated a well-written, solid book of 150 pages that gets to the point without too much redundancy. I’m happy to report that Transforming Emotional Pain is just such a book.

Highly recommended!

What Happened to Gestalt Therapy?

Ah, that’s a great question. Beautiful Gestalt — so rich, so smart, so powerful, so charismatic. What happened? Where did you go? There’s no one answer to these questions, but this paper by Laura E. Wagner-Moore (2004), offers some ideas.

fritzFrederick Perls’ eccentric, unpredictable genius was both an asset and a liability with respect to the development and acceptance of Gestalt Therapy. His personal style delighted some, but repelled many who might otherwise have been interested in his theory. And the theory itself was never particularly systematic. In practice, it often seemed as though Perls was improvising in his work. (In fact, he was.) Though many gestalt therapists worked quite differently than Perls, none of this made Gestalt Therapy easy to empirically study and validate. And not long after Perls’ death, the field began to change.

Somewhere between the late 70s and the early 80s, CBT had become the go-to theory for psychologists to study, just as managed care companies began asking about the efficacy of the therapies for which they were paying. A theory that didn’t have some kind of peer-reviewed, scientific evidence-base became suspect. This was the case not only of Gestalt, but for basically all non-CBT therapies. Unlike all other psychological treatments up to that point, CBT was born in a lab, and was built ready-made to be studied. Without the support of researchers, many therapy traditions began to lose adherents, and went into decline.

Gestalt never went away, of course. There are gestalt institutes all over the world (though notice all the broken links on that list) and there are a small percentage of clinicians who identify primarily as gestalt therapists. It remains, in fact, a very powerful and effective way to work. Now, I say, “in fact,” but again, you need experimental research to prove that, and gestalt has yet to develop a robust research tradition. (Though the effort is afoot.) Certainly here in the States, in our political, “Therapy Wars” environment, I can’t imagine we’ll ever see a a major revival of pure gestalt therapy without researchers doing their part.

It may be, as some have suggested, that Gestalt Therapy will live on by integrating itself into other, evidence-based therapies (i.e., Emotion-Focused Therapy). Perhaps. But even for clinicians who adopt these more recent integrations, a knowledge of our roots brings depth, clarity, and a seriousness to the study of our craft.

Long live Gestalt!

Experiential Therapy Training Group 2017-2018

GETME is Proud to Announce the 2017-2018 Experiential Therapy Training Group:

Listening11This is a group to introduce clinicians to Person-Centered, Gestalt, and Focusing, giving a thorough grounding in the basics, up to an intermediate level. We will also begin the study of Emotion-Focused Therapy, which is an integration of these approaches. The training will consist of six units, each building on the last, exploring the basic theory and practice of experiential/humanistic and neo-humanistic therapies.

The group will meet approximately twice a month, from September until June. There will be readings assigned for each unit. Each meeting will last two hours, and will include didactic lecture, discussion, and experiential exercises. Members will then have the opportunity to bring the interventions back to their practices, and bring their questions back to the group. In this fashion, over the course of the year, members will gradually integrate the fundamentals of experiential therapy into their personal therapeutic repertoire.

A key element of the training is the experiential exercises, where participants will have the opportunity to observe, receive, perform, and discuss each of the interventions we study.

Topics include:

Experiential Tracking/Following, including:

  • Empathic Attunement
  • Contact & Awareness
  • Projections, Introjections, Retroflections, Deflections, and Confluence
  • Depth of Experiencing
  • Emotional Process Diagnosis

Experiential Exploration, Including:

  • Exploratory Questions
  • Evocative Reflections
  • Empathic Conjectures
  • Refocusing
  • Process Observations

Initial Process-Guiding Interventions, Including:

  • Process Suggestions
  • Clearing a Space
  • Experiential Search

Trainer: Tom Kubasik, LCPC

When: Every other Friday Morning, from 10-12, beginning Autumn 2017 (Wednesday mornings may also be an option, if that works better for participants.)

Where: 131 Spring Street, Portland, Maine


  • Fully Licensed: $40/meeting
  • Conditionally Licensed: $30/meeting
  • Graduate Students: $20/meeting

Certificate of Contact Hours available.

Minimum of 3, Maximum of 6 participants


For more information, call Tom Kubasik, LCPC: (207) 699-4979

Toronto 2018 Training Schedule

Les_GreenbergLast week, the York University Psychology Clinic (Toronto) released it’s Emotion-Focused Therapy training schedule for 2018. The schedule can be found here.

The good news is, Les Greenberg himself is still offering training. The bad news is — it’s in Toronto. I can teach you quite a bit about EFT, but if you want to get it from The Man himself, you’ve got to travel.

I appreciate that it’s very expensive to do these large trainings, especially when you include travel, food, lodging, and no possibility of seeing any clients in the evenings to offset the income loss from taking a week off.

It’s become a dream of mine to bring official EFT trainers to Portland, so we Maine therapists don’t have to travel so far to get these essential formation experiences. If you’d be interested in something like this, please let me know!

Be sure to sign up for our mailing list, and it wouldn’t hurt at all to email me specifically that you’d be interested in attending an EFT training here.