6. Focusing Communities -- Focusing Groups/Teams With The Addition of Interpersonal Focusing and Collaborative Edge Focusing Decision Making

  1. Focusing – Individualmente, con un Entrenador de Borde Creativo o con un Terapeuta de Focusing Experiencial.
  2. Turnos Iguales de Intercambio de Escucha/Focusing
  3. Focusing Interpersonal – Usar Escucha/ Focusing Para Facilitar la Resolución de Conflictos
  4. Grupos y Equipos de Focusing – Registrarse, Luego Dividirse en Parejas y Tríadas
  5. Reuniones de Toma de Decisiones
  6. Communidades de Focusing
  7. Organizaciones de Borde Creativo

Within my definition, a community is a group of people held together within some boundary, whether by choice or by situation, which precludes their leaving easily.

At the best, they will become bonded in mutual care and capable of coordinated, collaborative action for the common good.  They must be able to resolve or at least learn to tolerate their interpersonal differences, and they must have a method for group decision making.

Most any work place fits my definition of a community. Although we don’t like to say it out loud, we do want our employees to love their jobs, to care about and support each other, to want to come to work. So, what I say about Focusing Communities below, as they include working through interpersonal conflict, making decisions collaboratively, and working toward a common goal, applies to work places as well.

A Focusing Community is a Focusing Group/Team which also adds Interpersonal Focusing for conflict resolution and Collaborative Edge Focusing Decision Making to the exchange of Listening/Focusing turns as peers.

The original Changes group in Chicago in the 1970’s was such a community. Often comprising as many as sixty people, the community met each Sunday night as a Focusing Group, with the explicit purpose of exchanging Listening/Focusing peer counseling turns.

However, the community also ran a hotline and received some funding. This necessitated decision making meetings about staffing, purpose, what sources of funding were acceptable, degree of consensus vs. hierarchy, etc. We also invited anyone who called on the hotline to come to our Sunday evening meeting and learn the Listening/Focusing skills. So we were incorporating some severely mental ill and ex-cons and suicidal people into our group, giving them the skills to become Listeners as well as Focusers.

Many of the community members lived, worked, or organized collaborative projects with each other, such as Food Coops, Photography Collectives, Shared Cars, and the like. And, especially given the open-relationship, “free love” norms of the 1970’s, there were lots of opportunities for interpersonal conflicts. It was the community norm to work through these conflicts using Interpersonal Focusing.

This Listening/Focusing Community thrived for almost ten years. It was never blown apart by conflict. Many difficult issues were worked through successfully. Many people were supported in many ways, from staying out of prisons and mental hospitals to completing PhD dissertations or books to finding spouses and raising children.  This original Changes Group has spawned a continuation of Changes Groups throughout the world. As original members have moved away, they have started their own

I have started five additional Changes Communities, one each time I have moved. In each, I have taught everyone Listening and Focusing skills to use in the equal exchange of peer counseling turns. Each community has had from eight to fifteen long-term members, meeting once a week; each has been my supportive community and led to life-long friendships. Each has lasted throughout my stay, from two to ten years. Half have continued on after I moved. None was ever blown apart by conflict. However, when I have been in different contexts with some of the same people, but without the listening/focusing norms for Interpersonal Focusing and Collaborative Edge Focusing Decision Making in place, we have been blown apart by conflict. It is the norms, more than the individuals, which provide the protected space in the community.

Here are two case examples of a conflict worked out in a Listening/Focusing Community:

Case Study One:

Out in the larger community, one of our members, a helping professional, was accused of causing distress to a client. It is not the client but others who heard what he did who are complaining. He is called to a meeting of the larger community of counselors who confront him and insist that he must have counseling to work out his own issues.

Even though a lot of the people at this meeting have a lot of counseling skills, he does not feel that he is given a fair hearing at this meeting. Mainly, he is kept silent while the others interpret his behavior and tell him what he has to do. And, the actual client is not there to share her experience, so he doesn’t know what she really experienced. He believes, from his experience of the session, that she had a healing experience.

Some members of this larger community are also in our Listening/Focusing Community along with this accused person. So, we decide to use our Interpersonal Focusing skills to try to work out this situation in a more fair way.

First, we do a short Group Focusing, everyone taking some quiet time to “sense into” their “intuitive feel” about “this whole thing about the client…” Then, each person gets a short, five-to-ten minute turn to say what they think/feel about the whole thing. We rotate the job of Third Person Listening Facilitator.

Someone speaks who is enraged at the counselor. She has heard what the others in the larger community have said and feels he definitely has issues to work on. Another group member uses Focused Listening to respond to her.

Then another person speaks, saying that that first person only has second-hand information. It bothers her that the first person has bought into the accusations without hearing directly either from the counselor or the client. Another group member uses Focused Listening to respond to her for her five minutes.

Another person says that she has had many sessions with this counselor and has found them very helpful.

So we continue, each person having a turn to be the Focuser and to receive Focused Listening as we all try to sort through and articulate our feelings. Every person hears new information or new ways of looking at it which begins to budge his or her initial, heavily-polarized response.

By the end of the meeting, we come up with a plan that satisfies everyone: The counselor will have a number of Focusing Sessions with a Focused Listener to help him thoroughly explore whether and whatever issues he might have. A person who knows the client and feels comfortable talking with her will try to get more first-hand information and also communicate to her that the counselor is looking at his side. The group also comes to an understanding that the counselor has a theoretical underpinning for the work that he does which, although it may seem to stretch the acceptable approaches for some, has actually been extremely healing for many people.

Case Study Two:

In a group living and raising children communally, the decision had been made that adding children to the community would be a group decision. A decision making meeting had been called to decide how the next child would come into the group. A dispute arose between people who wanted to become pregnant and people who wanted the next child to be adopted. 

Debate on such a highly charged issue became heated, argument going back and forth. There were theoretical arguments for adopting, in terms of not adding to the population explosion, as well as personal ones.

Finally, someone called for Interpersonal Focusing between two of the most diametrically-opposed participants. Each of the two would be invited to use the Intuitive Focusing skill to pay attention to the Creative Edge, the “intuitive feel,” of the issue for her, while a neutral third person would act as the Focused Listener for each person in turn. The Interpersonal Focusing turns would allow each person in the conflict to go more deeply into the vulnerable wants and needs behind the polarized, “intellectual” arguments.

A young woman, in a couple who wanted to become pregnant and bear a child to be raised by the community, went first. She found words for how she and her partner had already been waiting for several cycles of this yearly shared decision making, how they wanted to bear a child, were more than ready to take this step. The Listening Facilitator reflected as she explored the “intuitive feel” of the issue for her.

The other woman, an older, single woman, went next, using Intuitive Focusing to pay attention to the Creative Edge, the “intuitive feel,” for her. The Listening Facilitator reflected her words and invited her to go deeper using Focusing Invitations.

Eventually, this woman was able to articulate that she was old, she was not going to bear a child, but she wanted to be intimately involved in raising a child. It was her feeling that, if the next child was adopted, she, and other non-parents, might be able to feel particularly bonded to this child, equal as child-raisers in a way not possible when there were birth parents in the community – regardless of their “philosophy” of equality in child-rearing.

After the Interpersonal Focusing turns allowed this deeper level of vulnerable wants and needs to be exposed, group discussion continued, but in a problem solving rather than argumentative mode. Eventually, the younger couple agreed to wait one more year (but only one!) so that the older woman, and other non-parents, could have the experience of raising an adopted child, and the community could contribute its share to constraining the population explosion.




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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.