DRMacIver's Notebook

(Partial) Book Review: Focusing by Eugene T Gendlin

(Partial) Book Review: Focusing by Eugene T Gendlin

Let me tell you a thing that happened recently, as a series of events:

  1. Someone I casually knew from the internet told me that I should read a book to solve the problems with my life.
  2. I read the intro of the book and went “Wow this book is culty. I have been invited to join a literal cult.”
  3. I read the rest of the book and went “Hmm yes the author is actually a very reasonable person and is making some good points.”
  4. I went to a friend and said “I’ve just read a great book and I want you to read it, here let me buy you a copy.”

Is this how it starts? Am I in a cult now?

I don’t think I’m in a cult now.

This book is quite good. The introduction is terrible and goes full on woo “Your western science can’t explain this!!!”, to a degree where I almost put the book down and probably wouldn’t have except that it’s really short and TBH I really need something in this space, but it then settles down into being a slightly breathless self-helpy take that is well within the the Overton window of normal body oriented psychotherapy, and is a fairly lucid presentation of what appears to be very good advice.

A lot of why I sent a copy to my friend Alex is because she actually studies this stuff and wanted a second opinion on how much I should trust the book’s advice - either she’d tell me it was complete rubbish, which if true would be useful information, or it would be highly relevant to her interests, so win-win either way. In conversation we discovered that Meg-John Barker’s Staying with Feelings Zine actually recommends this approach, which also gave me a reasonable amount of faith that it’s probably reasonable. Meg-John Barker is great.

Anyway, all of this came later. The process of reading the book was much more straightforward. It took me about three hours, and provoked a remarkably strong emotional reaction which is a bit too personal for me to talk about here. I’m still processing this, and I need to reread and study the book a bit more before I feel like I’ve fully understood it or “done it properly”, but I think if I get nothing out of it other than the one partial insight I got from reading it, that’s three hours and £7 well spent.

The book is basically an instruction manual for Focusing’s Six Steps, which are a reflective technique for understanding your own emotions. The core feature of Focusing is that you stop trying to either ignore or analyze your emotions, and step over and let the other biocomputer that is an integral part of your existence, your body, have a chance to point out some useful things you’ve been ignoring.

At least as importantly as explaining the six steps, it also contains a remarkably detailed set of debugging instructions for when you struggle to follow the core instructions.

I need to reread the book, and I need to think more about this, but I will definitely be doing that. Until I’ve done that I’d say any recommendation I can make for it is distinctly qualified, but for now I weakly recommend reading this book, and expect that on further reflection the strength of that recommendation will increase.