Stephen Joseph Ph.D.

What Doesn't Kill Us

A Probe of Post-Traumatic Growth and Focusing Attitude

New research on the power of paying inward bodily attention to one’s felt senses

Posted Oct 13, 2018

Understandably we may try to avoid our emotions when they are uncomfortable or upsetting. In the rush of everyday life, we might not take notice of what’s going on within ourselves. But actually, if we could learn to do this we may be able to use that inner emotional knowledge to steer the direction of our lives. It might even be that this is an important skill in helping people to overcome trauma and move forward.

That was the view of the pioneering psychotherapist Eugene Gendlin who developed an approach to helping people called focusing. Gendlin developed his approach by examining clients’ therapy recordings. He found that clients who were able to be open and listen to their bodily felt senses had better outcomes in therapy.

In our recent pilot study published in the journal Person-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapies we investigated whether people who scored higher on the ability to use focusing in their lives were more likely to experience posttraumatic growth.  Surprisingly, no other research had yet tested the association between posttraumatic growth and focusing. But if an association was found it would open up exciting new lines of investigation for researchers and clinicians.

Participants for our study were recruited online from several trauma informed groups. They completed two self-report questionnaires - the Posttraumatic Growth Inventory and the Focusing Manner Scale.

The Posttraumatic Growth Inventory is a widely used self-report questionnaire which asks people to report on how much they feel they have grown personally as a result of their difficult life experience, such as feeling that their relationships have been enhanced in some way, or that they have gained a new and valuable perspective on life and how to live it. 

The Focusing Manner Scale measures the degree to which one has focusing attitudes. These are understood as paying inward bodily attention to one’s felt senses, acknowledging them and having a friendly attitude toward them. For example, thinking about yourself, how much do you agree with the following three statements:           

  • When I face a difficulty, I know that if I take time and listen inwardly, I will get a sense of what to do or what needs to happen.
  • In everyday life, I turn to my feelings more than I consult my thoughts.
  • When choosing what to eat, I like to sense what is right for me at that time.

If you agree strongly with these three statements you are likely to score highly on the Focusing Manner Scale.

Previous research has reported that higher levels of focusing manners reduced the tendency for depression and were associated with enhanced self-efficacy, social skills and more internal locus of control.

As predicted we found that a statistically significant positive correlation was found between scores on the Focusing Manner Scale and scores on the Posttraumatic Growth Inventory.

The results suggest that people who are aware of their felt senses, accept and act on them, but who also are capable of finding a comfortable distance from them, find it easier to overcome and grow from traumatic situations.

Our research was a small pilot study but it was the first of its kind to investigate this question. Our results now open up new direction for therapists and researchers to explore how people might be helped to overcome traumatic events.  We hope that new research will seek to confirm and extend our finding that it is important for people to learn to trust their inner emotional experiences as a guide for knowing what is right for them.

Read the full article here.


Joseph, S. (2011). What doesn't kill us. The new psychology of posttraumatic growth.  Basic books: New York.