Focusing Oriented Art Therapy

Focusing-Oriented Art Therapy FOAT® was formed as a modality by Dr. Laury Rappaport, a Psychotherapist, Art Therapist, and Expressive Arts Therapist. This modality is derived from the original “Focusing” which was developed by an American philosopher named Eugene T. Gendlin during the 1950s-1960s who studied under the psychotherapist Carl Rogers who developed the Person-Centered approach for therapy. In Gendlin’s studies with Rogers, it was reported that Gendlin’s philosophies about healing influenced Rogers.

Gendlin gave the name “felt sense” to this intuitive body-feel for unresolved issues. The word “felt sense” is used a lot in Focusing, this term helps to anchor and connect to the body in what we are feeling something in a broad sense: sensations, feelings, images, or other; that which does not yet have words.

He believed that focusing was a skill that people could be taught in order to heal, work out conflict, become more in tune with themselves, and more. He taught the skill of “Focusing” as tuning inside to our body with a friendly attitude, gently inquiring while staying non-judgmental, curious, welcoming to what is presented or experienced in which is called “the felt sense”. The Focusing Facilitator helps the Focuser in a very person-centered way: where the Focuser feels as if they are not alone, like they have someone right by their side, with unconditional positive regard and compassion. The Focusing Facilitator guides the Focuser in what could be compared to a guided meditation. A few that are common are Safe Place, Working on an Issue, Source of Power/Strength, or Clearing a Space. These carry some structure to the Focusing based on the client’s needs and goals.

I met Dr. Laury Rappaport during my graduate studies at Notre Dame de Namur University located in the San Francisco Bay Area, CA, in the year 2012. Laury was a professor there and upon connecting with her, I began to learn more about Eastern Philosophies and Spirituality which was very fascinating to me! Laury came from the mindfulness world, and I began to learn more from her about mindfulness and meditation. I also started to study her modality of Focusing-Oriented Art Therapy which she talked about and taught at my university. I resonated with it at that time in my life and saw the power of it. I began to assist Laury at some of her workshops in exchange to continue learning from her and upon completion of the FOAT® Practitioner Certification, I did some FOAT® coaching for Laury for others in the process of learning.

FOAT® is derived from Focusing, yet it is all about adding Expressive Arts with Laury’s approach. Laury was connected to Natalie Rogers (daughter of Carl Rogers), a Person-centered Expressive Arts Therapist during her career and the Expressive Art Therapy world. Expressive Arts Therapy is a strong focus in Laury’s work as well as Art Therapy. I like how FOAT® includes all the arts available to us for expression and not just Art Therapy. It includes sound, movement, image/art, words, phrases. Upon Focusing using Laury’s approach, the Focuser is invited to express the “felt sense” through these expressive art options. This can be very helpful to have a fuller range of expression available. Laury describes her modality as a self-empowering method that teaches how to access and trust your own inner knowing, access your creativity, and hear concrete steps that lead in the direction of growth and change. It is a practice leading to self-growth, authenticity, healing, and transformation.

FOAT® begins with bringing mindful awareness into the body with an attitude of gentle curiosity and “friendliness” toward the inner experience. As we keep attention on the bodily felt sense, often a word, phrase, image, gesture, or sound comes that matches the felt sense. In Focusing, this is called the “handle” or symbol (see Gendlin, 1981, Focusing).

After studying this modality/approach in-depth and practicing it on myself and with peers and in the Focusing community, as well as in therapy work with clients, I noticed that it is important first to start with basic mindfulness which to me, is the basis of Focusing. A friendly attitude toward our human experience, internal state, or our experience of the world around us. From this foundation, I believe Focusing can be a wonderful tool, and because we work from a strong foundation of mindfulness, my clients can easily adapt this tool and use it in their day-to-day lives as well as with my help if needed. I think Focusing should foster a sense of self-mastery and strengthen a friendship within that is unbreakable

Another technique I found of such value in my studies with Laury is called: “compassionate active listening” which I use all the time in my work as a clinician and is a core component of Focusing work.