& The Felt Sense
In studying neuroscience, we learn that whole body knowing is first felt and sensed in the right hemisphere of the brain as implicit awareness. As the body feels, our experiencing connects with the left hemisphere to help us give language and emotion to what is sensed in the body. This is a felt sense.
When speaking to clients, it could sound like “I’m so heartbroken it feels like a ton of bricks on my chest” or “It’s like I’m waist-deep in snow.” Clients may become quiet, may grapple for words, may stutter and misspeak, and may gesture toward the middle of their body.
Felt senses are experienced in a bodily way and is an emergent process that may take quite some time for a client to fully express verbally. Felt sense take time to form, a pausing, inviting, and allowing it to emerge. When we ask inside “How was that for me?” and pause in this way, we do not discover what was already there, but rather we allow something implicit to begin to come into focus explicitly which allows it to now function in a new way.
Because neuroscience is the scientific study of the nervous system, understanding felt sense as it relates to the neuroscience of our bodies can help us gain greater understanding of why and how we feel our emotions as physical reactions in our bodies. This, in turn, can help therapists explain the importance of understanding felt sense as it relates to trauma because our memories and emotions are so connected to feelings in our bodies.
Focusing is the term used in therapeutic settings to foster the use of our felt sense. Essentially, focusing involves paying attention to our felt sense, and learning how to work with what it has to say. Our body knows more about situations than we are explicitly aware of. For example, our body picks up more about another person than we consciously know. A familiar term for this is “gut reaction” and, when using focusing to help us tap into our felt senses, our gut reactions become sharper and more precise.
Because our mental health and feelings in our bodies are so intrinsically connected, it is extremely important to foster and refine how we experience and understand them so we can improve ourselves and understand the world around us.