Life Experiences Biography : Dr. Kathy McGuire, Director, Creative Edge Focusing™

Creating At The Edge, The Creative Edge, and Intuitive Focusing

I received the Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology in 1975, doing my dissertation under Eugene Gendlin, creator of the basic self-help skill, Focusing (Focusing, Bantam, 1981). According to Gendlin’s philosophy of creativity and change, the truly-new can only come from what I call The Creative Edge – in Gendlin’s terminology, the “felt sense,” the murky, unclear, intuitively- or bodily-sensed “feel” of “the whole issue”, from which truly creative insights, non-linear thinking, and win/win decisions come.

Gendlin’s Focusing technique is a methodical process for sitting with The Creative Edge until new, creative solutions arise. It can be used by an individual for creative problem-solving, artistic expression, personal and spiritual growth. It can also be applied in interpersonal relationships and task-oriented groups for conflict resolution and win-win decision-making. And as part of a peer-counseling exchange, it can be used to build supportive community.

I am using the term Intuitive Focusing for my application of Gendlin’s approach. I am directing attention to the experience most people can recognize as an “intuition,” a gut feeling without words, as one “doorway” into the Focusing process.  I am placing special emphasis upon the use of Focusing for the creation of innovative ideas out of such “intuitions” and, especially, the creation of innovative solutions out of interpersonal or group-level conflict.

I am naming my organization Creative Edge Focusing ™, emphasizing always that the truly-new can only come from The Creative Edge cultural de creatividad, the “intuitive feel” of innovative ideas and next steps for creative solutions.

Building Supportive Community

Early in my graduate school career at University of Chicago, in response to protests of the Vietnam War and catalyzed by the Kent State Massacre of protecting students, we graduate students gathered, with Gendlin as our mentor, to find our own unique response to the political climate. We decided to start a crisis-hotline and to invite callers to a weekly meeting were we taught two basic skills, Carl Rogers’empathic Listening and Gendlin’s experiential Focusing, in an egalitarian, peer-counseling model. This was the first Changes Group.

It was here that I fell in love with the concept of supportive community. The exchange of Listening/Focusing turns in a self-help group actually creates human bonding, as opposed to alienation, and love instead of divisive hatred.  It is perhaps the strongest, yet simplest, weapon we have for building a better, more peaceful and harmonious world.

Over the next 30 years, whenever I moved to a new location, I started a Changes group as my way of finding a supportive community for myself.  I attended a Changes group once a week for most of those thirty years and developed life-long friendships.  My manual, Building Supportive Community: Mutual Self-Help Through Peer Counseling (retitled in 2007 as Focusing In Community, available as Focusing en Comunidad inSpanish translation) tells people how they can start their own Changes Listening/Focusing Support Group, out of which will grow their supportive community.

Collaborative Thinking, Win/Win Decision Making, and Shared Leadership

In the early 1970’s, when feminism was on the rise in the USA, I joined a number of feminist task-oriented groups, working together on some worthy project.  Much to my shock and horror and personal fear, I saw that, in many of these groups, the process was as brutal, aggressive, and competitive as what I had been experiencing in the more male-dominated “radical” groups of the time (and shocking enough to find it there as well, among the people who thought they were going to change the world in a positive way!).

At the same time, in the Chicago Changes Listening/Focusing group, at the task-oriented business meetings, there was a different, kinder decision-making process going on. So, I chose “decision-making in task-oriented groups” as my dissertation topic and began by analyzing audiotapes of the two different kinds of groups, trying to dissect out the difference in process.
In 1981, I participated in one feminist group which split leadership into several different “tasks” and rotated these tasks from meeting to meeting, equalizing power and also encouraging everyone to take responsibility for running meetings. I incorporated this shared leadership method into my Collaborative Edge Focusing Decision Making method, which is as useful to hierarchical business organizations, non-profit groups, and professional organizations as  to more collaborative, “consensual,” egalitarian communities needing an efficient and creative way to make decisions.

Central to decision-making in such groups is the concept of “Creating At The Edge cultura de creatividad. ” My Collaborative Edge Focusing Decision Making method, by  forbidding aggressive interruption, slows down the thinking process so that participants can use Intuitive Focusing to access The Creative Edge, the intuitive “felt sense” of the whole situation and possible creative solutions. It is my experience that:

  • Decisions reached are of higher quality in terms of creativity and inclusiveness.
  • Having actively collaborated in forming decisions, instead of having them imposed from above, participants also have a greater “ownership” of decisions, so are more motivated to carry them out.
  • And, as a bonus, there is a greater sense of “comradery” or “community” generated between participants, a willingness and excitement about working together, a greater “buy in” in organizations.

Educating for ADHD: Individual Differences, Prejudice and Stereotyping

My career in Focusing took a 12-year diversion when my adopted son began school and was immediately diagnosed as having Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The clash between his inborn personality style and traditional school led me into a years-long battle for his rights, and the rights to an equal education for all children who are called ADHD.

Many of these children, to the degree they are not interested in reading and writing but in “hands on” learning, are doomed to fail in school, certainly by fourth grade, if not before, and destined to become lower class workers, if not juvenile delinquents. Many teachers simply think these children are lazy, stupid, not trying. This is such an example of the horrible effects of prejudice and stereotyping that my battle there stands as an example of the battle against prejudice and stereotyping anywhere, one major goal of Focusing in Community. My working-manuscript growing out of this battle, which calls for community-wide intervention across pediatricians, parents,  schools, and juvenile courts,  is called “Don’t Fight Them, Join Them: A Community-Wide Approach to ADHD, School Failure, and Juvenile Delinquency (PDF file).”

The battle against the prejudice of around 50% of the teachers we encountered (50% were wonderfully supportive and creative in dealing with ADHD) also led me to extensive study of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Keirsey Temperament Sorter. These two simple personality style “tests” place the emphasis upon our “differing gifts,” showing the positive contribution of every different personality style. They helped me understand the different kinds of teachers and to explain my son’s learning style to them. Both have been widely used in business to create maximally creative and effective teams.

The divergence in personality styles is so great that, even with excellent empathic listening skills, we still have the tendency to believe that people with opposite styles are crazy and bad, “too emotional” or “too coldly logical,” “rigid” or “too disorganized,” “talking all the time” or “too weirdly internal,” “too unrealistic” vs. “too boring.”  So, you will find several measures of “individual differences” in our Free Resources area as another basic key to overturning our tendencies to “villify” the other.

Creative Edge Organizations and The “One Small Thing” Method For Empowering Organizations

Along the route as a school-mom and board member of non-profit organizations, I created collaborative fund-raising efforts which led me to articulate my “One Small Thing” method for Empowering OrganizationsBy finding a task in which every member can participate, ownership and motivation are built from the bottom up, with an army of “ants” working together to accomplish the larger tasks or mission of the organization. Empowering organizations works hand in hand with Collaborative Edge Focusing Decision Making and the shared leadership “How To’s for Groups” to form Creative Edge Organizations.

Experiential Focusing Therapy

After receiving my Ph.D. in 1975, I continued in private practice as a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist for over 20 years before my retirement in 1997. I ended up specializing in clients recovering from physical, emotional, and sexual abuse in childhood, as well as in grief-work. I also enjoyed working with couples, helping them to recover the “love” which had initially brought them together. I presented workshops training other therapists in the USA and in Europe.

From this work, I created my manual, The Experiential Dimension in Therapy (1984). The manual shows how Focusing Invitations can be incorporated into the flow of verbal therapy. Using complete transcripts from two hour-long therapy sessions, one with a highly intellectualized client and one with a highly emotional client, I give a running commentary on my use of Empathic Reflection and Experiential Focusing interventions to deepen client experiencing and thus lasting change.

The transcripts also include statement-by-statement ratings of the clients’ depth of experiencing by Marjorie Klein and Phillipa Matthieu-Coughlin, creators of The Experiencing Scale. Increases and decreases in Experiencing Level show whether and how my interventions are successful. A chapter analyzes the clinical and research usefulness of The Experiencing Scale as a measure of successful change in therapy.

In 1996, Gendlin published his opus, Focusing-Oriented Therapy: A Manual of the Experiential Method (Guilford Press), defining Focusing-Oriented Therapy as a specific approach . His book shows how client Focusing forms the crux of successful psychotherapy, deepening work within every other theoretical perspective. Making the therapy process “experiential” through client Focusing facilitates actual, deep, and lasting change in personality structures across theoretical orientations.

I call my particular approach to Focusing-Oriented Therapy, with its emphasis upon the importance of tears of self-compassion, Experiential Focusing Therapy. From my particular work with grieving and with the recovery and working through of memories of physical and sexual abuse in childhood, I have come to employ images such as The Inner Child (PDF file) to name the vulnerable “place” that Focusing upon present experiencing can make available to healing.  I place an emphasis upon clients finding and welcoming their tears of self-compassion for this vulnerable Inner Child as a step in a deep, healing process of unfolding. I have also specialized in Brief Focusing Therapy (PDF file).

Being Touched and Being Moved: The Spiritual Value of Tears

Throughout my 30-year career as a psychotherapist,  it  seemed undeniably true to me that, when people were actually changing at the deepest levels of their personalities, a high percentage of the time they had at least a sheen of tears in their eyes, if not deeper sobbing. So, I have written about the value of tears, the Gift in tears – the way in which that sheen of tears in our eyes, if Focused upon, leads us to our most profound beliefs and values. I call it Being Touched and Being Moved: The Spiritual Value of Tears’ (PDF file and see “following our tears” as a spiritual path.

When the sheen of tears I had seen as the marker of deep growth in individual therapy,  is shared by the Focuser in a peer –counseling Focusing Partnership, often as not, the Listener responds empathically with a reciprocal sheen of tears in his/her eyes. This, to me, is an archetypal moment of human bonding. Somehow, in these moments of shared tears, the energy boundary between the two people dissolves, just for an instant, and the two enter a sacred, shared space which Martin Buber called the “I-Thou” vs. “I-It” experience of the Other.

The Focusing Institute and Creative Edge Focusing

Initially, from the late 1960’s through around 1975, Eugene Gendlin and many of us graduate students at the University of Chicago collaborated in developing the Listening/Focusing model for supportive community. We worked as equals, creating new, and sometimes varying, methods for organization and decision making, within an organization called Changes International.

Around 1976-77, Gendlin went on to develop The Focusing Institute in New York, and myself and Zack Boukydis formed The Institute for Client-Centered/Experiential Processes, and then the Center for Supportive Community, in Boston. While Gendlin’s interest was in articulating the self-help application of Focusing as a technique that one could practice on one’s own, our interest was on the more interpersonal aspects of Focusing:

  • the Listening/Focusing Exchange as a method of building supportive community
  • Interpersonal Focusing for conflict resolution
  • Collaborative methods for decision making.

These differences are reflected in Gendlin’s (1981) self-help book, Focusing and my (1981) manual, Building Supportive Community: Mutual Self-Help Through Peer Counseling (now retitled Focusing In Community).

Latest creative aspects of Gendlin’s work, as reflected at The Focusing Institute website, www.focusing.org, are extensions of his philosophical work into The Philosophy of the Implicit, Post-Modernism, and The Process Model. Gendlin and his co-workers have also created a new application of Focusing, Thinking At The Edge (TAE).  Thinking At The Edge shows how to use the Focusing process to explicate one’s own unique “philosophy” or “theoretical contribution” out of one’s preverbal, bodily-felt “grasp” of this important “something.”

The Focusing Institute has also trained a network of Certified Focusing Professionals so that training in Focusing, and accompanying Listening skills, is available throughout the world and in many languages.

And, through The Focusing Institute, trainers have applied Focusing in a variety of innovative areas, such as Focusing-Oriented Therapy, Focusing and Children, Focusing Training for villagers in Afghanistan and the war-traumatized in Bosnia, Focusing Partnerships in prisons, and many more.

My own latest creative work is reflected in Creative Edge Focusing ™, the PRISMS/S Problem Solving Method, and Creative Edge Focusing Pyramid of Applied Methods. I am attempting to bring the benefits of both Focused Listening and Intuitive Focusing to wider and wider audiences, including parents, educators, physicians, but also to the corporate world.  Listening/Focusing skills, at the same time that they increase creativity, customer contact, conflict resolution, and win/win decision making at work, can easily be translated into gains in parenting and relationships at home. And, for me, this is a win/win situation! 

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These materials are offered purely as self-help skills. In providing them, Dr. McGuire is not engaged in rendering psychological, financial, legal, or other professional services. If expert assistance or counseling is needed, the services of a competent professional should be sought.