In the 1960s, Eugene Gendlin, a psychologist at the University of Chicago, set out to discover what made some types of therapy more effective than others. After looking into many methodologies, Gendlin eventually found that the most significant factor contributing to positive client outcomes wasn’t what the therapists were doing at all.

Instead, the most significant factor determining therapy outcomes was something the clients were doing.

The therapy clients who transformed their lives were the ones who were able to become aware of the hard-to-articulate sensations in their bodies and slowly give words to their internal experiences.[1]

Decades later, fMRI research showed that when we find a word that matches the emotion we feel, the amygdala—the fear center of the brain—decreases its activity.[2] When the amygdala is less active, stress decreases.

When we learn to reconnect with our bodies and give words to our feelings, it’s as though our bodies feel heard, which creates a sense of settling and relief.

You may have turned away from your body for so long that you’ve forgotten you ever had the ability to feel in the first place.

In an effort to protect yourself from the pain of personal or collective trauma, of course we turn away from our bodies. We each have our unique style of numbing pain. Mine has been overworking and paying more attention to others’s needs than to my own. Yours may be staying busy, taking pills or other drugs, drinking wine, eating cookies, playing endless games of solitaire, staying plugged into Facebook, overworking, overthinking, over-giving, overdoing, overplanning, having sex with strangers, getting caught up in other people’s problems, or meditating or using other spiritual practices to bypass your pain.

No matter how numb you might be right now, though, we can all learn to reconnect.

Eugene Gendlin’s research shows that although some people have an easier time connecting with their bodies, we were all born with the ability to understand what our bodies are telling us. With practice, we can all learn to reconnect. Each time we practice listening to and naming our sensations and emotions, we strengthen our ability to understand what we feel and choose our next steps accordingly.

Although they may have spent a lifetime ignoring their bodies, it usually doesn’t take my coaching clients long to reconnect with their bodies, and when they do, they’re often surprised by how much easier it is to make decisions that trust.

[1] To learn more about Focusing—the practice that Eugene Gendlin developed—I recommend reading The Power of Focusing, by Ann Weiser Cornell.

[2] University of California – Los Angeles. “Putting Feelings into Words Produces Therapeutic Effects In The Brain.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 June 2007. <>.


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