Some reflections from an interview conducted by Dawn Flynn

The Focuser’s Focus Vol.22, No.2, Summer Issue 2019

Some reflections from an interview conducted by Dawn Flynn

Sergio Lala (TIFI coordinator, Chile)


Sergio Lala (right) & Mieko Osawa (left)
at Cambridge International Conference (2016)


I am Sergio Lara, a Chilean Psychologist. I was researching at the University of Chile and at the University of Desarrollo (round 17 years), where I was professor of Theory and System in Psychology and Experiential Psychotherapy, Focusing Oriented Psychotherapy. Wright now I am teaching focusing and Alba Emoting and some and some transpersonal psychology courses I have in private practice in Santiago of Chile, as a psychotherapist, I have a private practice where I attend  clients.

I know formal focusing from 1996 (non formal since 1987). I am certifying Coordinator since 2004. I am too Certifying in Alba emoting Method, which is a system and method of emotional activation with breathing, posture and facial expression. I use this method in an experiential version, Alba Emoting Focusing Oriented, so in a experiential process way.

In Concepción city, souther Santiago, when I teached at the University of Desarrollo I have leaded researches with focusing and “Alba emoting”. We begun with cancer and some catastrophic disease for improving the quality of life; with very good results. We have done many experiences of research with children, adolescents, adults, nurses, teachers,etc.

2003 I founded an Integral Development Education Institute (I.F.D.I.), where It begins a program for the certifying Focusing and a program for certifying Alba Emoting.

I have been participating in ILC for 4 years.


What events in my life led me to Focusing?

When I was child I loved to be in silence. I loved to feel nature, to touch it, to smell it. I always had a contemplative soul.  As a teenager I did contemplative exercises. For example, I would go to the country or to the sea and I would experience the feel of those places. During this time (very young), I also formed a community with others and we would do exercises to be in touch with the soul and the body.

Then I went to medical school and spent 2 years there before I had a crisis. I saw these people in the medical system had egos so big that I wondered to myself, what is this? So I left there and I entered a monastery for 6 years.

While I was there I had a very strong experience.

All of us were there in the monastery in silence. We didn’t talk, we didn’t watch the news, didn’t listen to a radio. It was a very special time. I discovered things I had never known- how the grass grows, how the birds sing. I learned the necessity of humor and optimism. There I had a conversation every week with another monk. He never pushed me to think something or to say something. He was only my companion. It was my only deep conversation for the week. In this way I learned Focusing but without the name, only the experience.

While living in the monastery I learned to be in touch with my body, my felt sense, to recognize what I felt.  Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t escape my experience. I could not go see a film or have a beer.  I could only pray and meditate.  That was a very strong experience in my life.

I learned: Companion, truth, kindness, ‘felt sensing’, pay attention to the body, empathy and self-empathy, radical acceptance,…

Then I had another crisis and left the monastery. I knew I wanted to study psychology. This was difficult time for me but I did get my degree in psychology, and after my PhD (research: “what happens to the therapist in the meantime that ends with one client and waits for another”.

Meeting Gene Gendlin…

In 2000 I attended the psychotherapy conference in Aneheim, CA.  There were more than 6,000 psychotherapists. I saw that Gene Gendlin would be there.  I only attended Gene’s presentations during the entire conference. I told Gene about my paper on Alba Emoting and asked if I could talk to him about it.  He said yes.  We walked as we talked for 40 minutes.  We were so engaged in our conversation that we found ourselves in the kitchen in the hotel.   We left to go outside and he said to me, “I ready your paper and it’s interesting. Oft we have the question: how can we lower the emotional intensity so that it is appropriate to focusing? Because that can be a problem. So Gene was very Interested in this ‘Step out’ to come in a neutral state – He said, can you show me? –  So I taught him the exercise. And he said it was very interesting. After that, Gene then introduced me to Neil Friedman who taught me more Focusing.  At this time Gene said he wanted to have a Focusing Coordinator in Chile and would I do it? I agreed. Finally I was n 2004 certified as coordinator of TIFI.

Meeting Mary Hendricks- Gendlin…

After coming to New York and studying Focusing with Janet Klein and Mary McQuire (Interactive Focusing), I had the opportunity to speak several times with Mary Hendricks-Gendlin, at the time the director of Focusing Institute.  She was very kind. My experience with her was that, when she would listen to me she would always, always, always deeply listen to me.  As I would speak she would say: “Wait, I want to make sure I understand what you are saying.”  –She would pause, take in what I had just said, reflect – Then say “ok, please continue”. Always When I saw her in another times, for example, when we eated together, walked together, visited places together, she was always like this. So I understood that Focusing is a way of life, where the pause makes a great difference. In another hand, that means that too be like this as a psychotherapist is a nice way to be because you give more than advice, you transmit love and attention to life.

Mary had made companion to me in this issue of Alba Emoting and she said:“Ah so what you want to do is Alba Emoting Focusing Oriented». That helped me enormously to clarify my way of working, which is in a line of the process model, from an experiential paradigm. Alba Emoting by itself could be a very cold, behaviorism technique.  But when incorporated with the body shifts of Focusing, and process model something different and interesting happens.

How do you integrate Alba Emoting with Focusing? 

In 2002 I began working with Alba Emoting and Focusing in parallel and together.  I call it Experiential Alba Emoting.  And I’ve taken the name Mary provided, Alba Emoting Focusing Oriented.

I began to present it in workshops in the International Focusing Conferences, this way of Experiential Alba Emoting, Focusing and the way of Focusing and in sacred movements. Then I started to develop these three slopes or sources.


Focusing and Sacred Movements…

In this workshops, I combine sacred movements like this, (bends head to breast) or this (crosses hands over chest), or for example (hands open by ears). I combined these movements with songs, psalms, mantras, and chants. I provide an explanation to participants that these movements are in all the cultures of the world. I take these movements from many cultures, Jewish, Sufis, Buddhist, Christian, Catholic. Within these movements of the body, the hands, the eyes, something very deep is happening. Afterward we go inside, and we get in touch with felt sense, sometimes we paint mandalas and we do Focusing. People have very interesting experiences of spirituality (without creeds or dogmas).

Focusing Oriented Psychotherapy…

We have Focusing Oriented Therapy (FOT) and Focusing Oriented Psychotherapy (FOP). What is difference?  My task is to teach both but to distinguish the two. Many people do therapy in different ways, but therapist who are psychologists have legal responsibility in societies, this implies that they must respond to what happens in the space of psychotherapy. In this space, objectives are set and certain changes proposed in common agreement are expected (between Therapist and Client). In my opinion who make FOP has to know about the development of the human being, systems, psychopathology and some clinical topics. So, I teach this and experiential psychotherapy. In the last 6 years I began to offer online courses in addition to teaching at the university. I also have started to teach this in Spain, in Portugal, Germany and South America. I’m teaching Focusing Level 1,2,3, and 4. I am also teaching too transpersonal psychology. Now I am working with Focusing, FOP, and Focusing and Spirituality.

How does your training and experiences influence your understanding of how human beings transform themselves and their relationships?

For me it is a very deep experience to share as a companion another’s life. It’s not doctrine, to help them to be in touch with life, with soul, with spirituality. For me, spirituality through Focusing is how to be in touch with life.

On a trip to Spain I was in Barcelona and I stayed with a hermit. From the age of 19 to 40 years old he lived alone in the Pyrenees mountains. He invited me to go where he lived.  He was very sweet, very warm.  He invited me for lunch, and he said to me “You can speak, you can be in silence, or you can ask, or do nothing.”  (Laughing) I love that!  For me this is part of the essence of focusing!

He shared something that a old woman said to him (before she passed away): “Live life because death will come when it has to arrive”. For me this sentence is very important because it shows me that what we live, anxiety, fear, death-it comes when it must but we can’t live thinking about that, but … we must live life!


Something that I would like to develop and spread is the spirituality of Focusing. Many people are hungry and thirsty for spirituality of something deep.  It cannot be a doctrine or a dogma or religion.  Focusing gives an open door to go to the soul with the body without pushing something on someone.  For me this is very important. 


What do you enjoy about being on the International Leadership Council?

For me it was a privilege to be elected as an ILC member. It’s a very good group. It’s a very good challenge and hard task to listen to all people and to be in a Focusing way in the spirit of Gene Gendlin.

All people can say something. We don’t believe in leaders that say, “This is the way”. This is because the spirit can talk from anywhere from any person at any time. This is very similar to Focusing in that the group is like a body, felt sensing what is happening.

 This is the way that Gene and Mary wanted the institute to improve, to be clear and in touch with the body of the community, not to push or to impose something that is “right” or “the best”. When we are in touch with conflicts or problems or the dark part of the body it is ok, it’s our body. It’s important to not be afraid of the darkness from a conflict or from the people in the group that are not so easy going, for example. No, because the darkness is part of the body too.

Gene and Mary wondered, how can the institute go forward in the best way. Later, as a group from the institute, we would meet to decide how the institute was to go forward. It was my destiny to be in these meetings, especially in Seattle where we decided how to go forward. It was a very difficult time for all but necessary to growth.

We recognized a problem -that the board consisted in this time only of members from the United States.  This was not international. As we need an international community, The proposal arose: it began to build a group called the International Leadership Council. (With the time the board has others participants who are not from USA).

The International Leadership Council improved mechanisms for how to go forward with people’s questions, problems, tasks, etc.  We changed the name of the institute to The International Focusing Institute.  Also, we propose things to discuss, not decide, we only propose. We have someone from all over the world, from Europe, from South America, etc.  This group provides a service.  We don’t represent any community. We are people from the community working toward the task of feeling the spirit of the community.   It’s a group elected to work in this way: to do a free service to the community.

For me, there are two words that for me are very important and I fight for these two words: Pluralism and Diversity: Something I have seen many times in our community is that people are very good people, very nice people but we have tendencies toward ethnocentrism. Sometimes one believes that all the world is English (for example). Diversity and pluralism is the capacity to be open to the human being, to recognize that we all don’t see the same, we don’t make the same decisions, we don’t have the same ways. Pluralism and diversity is to consider the soul of the cultures, of the countries, of the groups and of the minorities too. Gene Gendlin felt it was important to not only making decisions for the majority.  It is necessary to consider the minorities.  When we don’t do that we lose the spirit.


Growing forward… a story to tell

I have a magnolia tree in my garden that I’ve had for 7 years.  Recently we had the heaviest snowfall in 40 years. One of the branches broke with the snow. I thought to myself, “Oh my gosh, this tree hasn’t given flowers for 7 years and now it will be a short tree forever and never produce flowers.” The gardener told me calmly and resolutely: “You know, the tree is probably looking for how to grow.  One of the other branches will grow up. We have to wait because the tree is looking for the direction of growth (or life)” I said to myself, “Ah! This is my master.” (laughing). And sure enough, last spring the tree grew the first flower; beautiful, white, big and smelling so beautiful.

Gene Gendlin said Focusing always goes in the direction of life. When we are stuck in something, we must wait for the process of life because life has its own way to grow.  It’s the same with the magnolia.  We may say, “Oh my gosh, this person is terrible”, or “I hate this meeting because we discuss and discuss and discuss and end with nothing”.  But, the process is so.  It’s important to remember this. “The life always brings more life” (Gendlin).