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Pillars of Strength 8/8: Focusing

Psychotherapist Julia Samuel MBE has spent 25 years working with bereaved families. Over the last eight weeks, the author of Grief Works has been sharing her concept of the ‘pillars of strength’, which we can use to help clients grieve and rebuild their lives. In her final blog of the series, Samuel introduces the eighth pillar – focusing.


In the busyness of our minds, often ruminating on what we cannot change, our frustration builds up in us and we may feel like we are going to explode. For grief sits in the body. Clients often talk about it as “a knot”, or “a block” in their throat, or their stomach. Sometimes it feels like their arms, or their legs, or their heads feel very heavy. Often there are no words for these bodily sensations – focusing is a way of finding those words.

As hard as it may be to persuade ourselves to slow down through mindfulness or relaxation, the research is unequivocal: “engaging in even short bursts of daily mindfulness can help you live a more stress-free lifestyle, combat anxiety and depression, focus your mind and improve productivity, and even ward off some common physical ailments” (Jon Kabat-Zinn, Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment-and Your Life, 2012).

‘Focusing’ is the technique, from Eugene Gendlin, that helps me open up and release that bodily intelligence in clients. They can also do it by themselves. Often it leads to further visualisations and healing experiences that the conscious mind does not allow. There are many stories in my book, Grief Works, of someone stuck in their grief being able to access a different perception of themselves through visualisation.

How focussing works

When I work with clients, I suggest they move their attention internally, becoming aware of a vague sensation in their body, breathing into, ‘focusing’ on this ‘felt sense’. It gives them information that is not in conscious awareness.

Ask your client to do the following:

Close their eyes

Breathe deeply and slowly. In through the nose, and out through the mouth, three times.

Move their attention internally.

Move their attention around their body until they find the place where there is most sensation.

Breathe into the place.

Find a word that describes that place – does it have a shape, a colour, is it hard, is it soft?

If the image could speak, what would it say?

Then follow where the images takes them.

There are many sources to release the chatter of our busy brain and access the inner peace and wisdom that is within each of us. For some people it is a practice of regular mindfulness, where we pay attention to the sensations in our body in the present moment, not looking back or forward. The most popular App for that is HeadSpace.

You can encourage your client to develop a relaxation exercise that works for them, such as yoga. I recommend Adriene on YouTube, or joining a Yoga class, or their own practice. The important thing is to stop and breath, try and quieten their mind, and follow their breath as they breathe in light and energy and breathe out their stress. Research shows that a regular practice of Yoga or dance are two of the most helpful things we can do to help with trauma.

Find out more about Julia’s work and writing at Grief Works


Julia Samuel

Julia Samuel MBE, Msc, MBACP (Snr Accredited) UKCP Registered Psychotherapist was Psychotherapist for Paediatrics at St Mary’s Hospital Paddington, the post she established in 1992, where her role for 25 years involved seeing families who have children or babies who die, and where she trained and supported the staff.

In 1994 she worked to help launch and establish The Child Bereavement Charity, and as the Founder Patron was involved and continues to be involved in many aspects of the charities work, having a key role in fundraising, strategy and training. In 2016, Julia was awarded an MBE in recognition of her services to bereaved children, and in 2017 Middlesex University awarded her an Honorary Doctorate. In 2017 Julia published Grief Works, which was a bestseller in the UK and has been published in 17 countries. She also has a private practice where she sees families and individuals for many different issues.

Roles: Chairman Birthright (Wellbeing) (1992-5); Founder Patron the Child Bereavement Charity 1994+; Trustee Child Bereavement Charity 2008+; Tutor Metanoia Institute 1997-2008; Governor of British Association of Counselling  and Psychotherapy (2001-2004); Vice President British Association Counselling and Psychotherapy Nov 2013+.

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