FAQFrequently Asked Questions

Answers to your most frequently asked questions about Process Oriented Psychology.

1. What Is Process Oriented Psychology?

Process Work was developed by Dr Arnold Mindell, a physicist and Jungian analyst then based in Zurich. In 1969 he realized that body experiences and symptoms mirror dreams and are meaningful expressions of the unconscious. He used the term `dreambody' to identify the numinous underlying process that expresses itself through both dreams and the body. Together with his colleagues and students, Arny Mindell has continued his pioneering research, discovering that the 'dream', the `living unconscious in its momentary expression', can always be found in every aspect of our lives.

Process workers work with the understanding that they are participants and co-creators as well as observers or facilitators of any process. They know that the whole process, the familiar parts and the unknown, the manifest and the non-manifest, can be found in the inner as well as in the outer situation. They use Process Work's philosophical and theoretical framework and rich assortment of methods for unfolding meaning, not as techniques, but as a practical means through which to connect with life, wholeness, themselves and others with greater awareness and creativity.

Precise observation of people's signals, together with a deep sensing of the atmosphere or `field', are used to create the most appropriate and useful method of working in a given situation. The unique structure of each process is accurately discovered and supported while carefully following the goals and needs of those involved. Accordingly, the work has many appearances. Allowing processes to unfold in their own way may at one moment call for movement and so look like dance. At other times, the work may look like verbal psychotherapy, family therapy, psychodrama, group work, a business meeting, a political discussion, art, or even a chat over a cup of tea. Process Work avoids interpretation and specific programmes.

Its method is to bring awareness to what is happening and this method is its only goal.

Process Oriented Psychology is a cross-disciplinary approach to individual and collective change. Also called Process Work, it offers a way of working with areas of life that are experienced as problematic or painful.  The contributing theories that are foundations of Process Oriented Psychology are Jungian psychology and aspects of Taoist understanding of change processes ie. that the potential patterns for change are within the experiences that disturb us. These may occur from dreams, physical symptoms, addictions, family and relationship problems, group conflicts and social tensions: all these experiences, even the most chaotic-seeming processes, when approached with curiosity and respect, reveal an inner order and coherence that can bring new information vital for our personal or collective growth.

2.      What is new about Process Oriented Psychology?

Even though Process work is a therapeutic paradigm based on a personal approach to change, it also has developed to include a new approach to working with large group processes called worldwork, a skill set important for coma work and extreme states of consciousness, relationship therapy, body symptoms and more recently using sentience as a means of harnessing the deep internal and world based processes.

"The central element behind all process work applications is the concept of nature, that the flow of even painful or difficult events such as illness, psychosis, or hate can become useful if we follow them exactly, compassionately, and with awareness."

Arnold Mindell: "THE LEADER AS MARTIAL ARTIST / Techniques and Strategies for Resolving Conflict and Creating Community"

"Process work expands individual therapy because it has an ethical belief in connecting individual work to political, environmental and group work"

Amy Mindell: "METASKILLS / The Spiritual Art of Therapy"

"This method assumes that the person is not simply lost to coma, but is going through potentially meaningful inner experiences, and that, after all possible medical emergencies and causes are cared for, we can communicate with the person through special methods."

Amy Mindell: "COMA - A HEALING JOURNEY / A Guide for Family, Friends, and Helpers."

3. What Are the Core ideas of Process Oriented Psychology?

Although Process Work has been applied both to therapeutic situations and to others, that are not generally considered therapeutic, such as conflict resolution, the core ideas of Process Work can be understood most clearly from a psychotherapeutic perspective.

Process Work emphasizes awareness – both the client’s and the therapist’s – rather than any specific set of interventions. The “process” in Process Work originally took its name from several sources.

"The term 'process' in process work refers to the shamanistic act of  journeying directly with the river. "... "The focus in process work and shamanism is not developing the ego further but rather upon developing awareness of change."

Arnold Mindell: "THE SHAMAN'S BODY / A New Shamanism for Transforming Health, Relationships, and the Community"

4. How is Process work based on Jung’s work?

Jung’s concept of the individuation process is also key in Process work. In very general terms, it is the name given to processes whereby the undifferentiated tends to become individual, or to those processes through which differentiated components tend toward becoming a more indivisible whole – the process by which a psychotherapeutic client integrates contents of the unconscious that are presented to him or her through modalities of dream, imagination, fantasy, trance, serendipity and synchronicity, etc.

5. How does Process work understand individual experience/awareness?

In process work, experience is found to be of two kinds: that with which the client identifies, and that which is experienced as “other” or alien to the client. Experiences with which the client identifies are called “primary process”, to emphasize their place in the foreground of awareness. Experiences which the client marginalizes as “other” are called “secondary process”, to emphasize their place in the background of awareness. Furthermore, when a client is encouraged to embrace or identify with a secondary process experience, he or she is generally reluctant or even unable to do so, as though a boundary separates the primary from the secondary processes. This boundary is called the “edge”. It is, quite literally, the edge of the person’s identity.

Edges may be categorized according to the source of the particular identity that they define:

  • Personal: Someone who has an edge to his or her intelligence may project high intelligence onto others while seeing themselves as stupid or ignorant. Such an edge may have its origins in the person’s early experience with family or school.
  • Family: A family system may have a prejudice or rule against a particular type of experience, which the individual family member must violate in order to embrace that experience. For instance, a family that identifies itself as peaceful or friendly may punish or marginalize aggressive or competitive behavior of a particular member. That person may develop an edge to his or her own more aggressive, competitive tendencies, projecting this on others and being disturbed by them.
  • Social: Gender, religious, ethnic or other social groups frequently have behavioural and experiential norms that may make it difficult for members to express contrasting experiences. For instance, a man who comes from a culture that emphasizes roughness and insensitivity as desired masculine traits may be severely troubled by his own gentle, sensitive tendencies. He may project these experiences on other men, who he views as “weak” or perhaps homosexual. This is one of the mechanisms that drive homophobia.
  • Human: There is a certain range of experience that is commonly thought to be “human nature”, while those experiences that fall outside this range are “inhuman”, “animal” or perhaps “other worldly”. Those individuals with tendencies toward strongly altered states of consciousness and spiritual experience often have an edge to these experiences, thinking them to be inhuman. This view is also supported by social consensus reality. Such experiences may give rise to extreme states of consciousness,  that are then treated by psychiatric means.

6. Why the term ‘secondary process’?

Process Work seeks to identify the client’s primary and secondary processes, as well as the edges that separate them. It then facilitates the enrichment of the client’s identity by amplifying and unfolding the secondary process experiences until they make sense – on both a cognitive and somatic level – and become part of the client’s experiential world. The access of the personal feeling, thought and behaviours held by the secondary process allows for a greater and at times more appropriate ways of being in their internal and external world.

"Only the total process is really healing. Following a client in process oriented psychology means not only following the part which the client identifies with in the moment, but following the total process, that is, with both primary and secondary signals (the part which the client does not identify with in the moment)"


7.  What happens in a Process therapy session?

Most Process work trained Diploma graduates conduct individual session similar to other counselling traditions. Within this session, the various channels of communication that a client uses to express and describe their issue or concern is promoted to best represent the nature of the issue or concern. Whether this is via  the inner senses, a feeling, thoughts, relational or world based sense, the session will involve the support to evolve the innate capacity a client has, to understand and address new ways of interacting with their issue.

Process Work is used as a method of psychotherapy, both in private practice and within systems, for personal growth and for working with life crises; as a means of meditation on one's own process; for working with symptoms and illness; with people in altered and extreme states of consciousness related to psychiatric diagnoses, as well as extreme states such as comatose or near death states; with relationship and family interactions.

As the field of Process Work grows, it moves beyond the parameters of traditional psychotherapy, extending its work into such areas as conflict resolution with groups, institutions and communities, addressing social issues and ethnic and national conflict; organisational development in business; educational work with children in schools; creativity and the arts, (theatre, music, visual/tactile arts, writing); the environment and spirituality. Its orientation towards research, to practical and direct application and to becoming widely accessible to people world-wide place Process Work beyond the usual definitions of psychology

"Processwork is descriptive, rather then prescriptive; by being accurate enough in her (processworker's) observations of the client's psychological, behaviourally manifest processes, she can connect the client with the incipient changes which are trying to take place and which, since they're usually blocked, tend to cause the client trouble."

Joseph Goodbread: "THE DREAMBODY TOOLKIT / A Practical Introduction to the Philosophy, Goals and Practice of Process-Oriented Psychology"

8. Is Worldwork therapy for large groups

As worldwork develops, it is taking psychology beyond personal work into the areas of social consciousness and revolution. Further, it takes politics beyond mundane problems to creating community, the most sacred and perennial interest of human beings. Worldwork combines ecology's interest in the environment, psychology's focus on the individual and social theory's comprehension of historical change."

Arnold Mindell: "SITTING IN THE FIRE / Large Group Transformation Using Conflict and Diversity"

"What shall we do with our aggression if we forbid it in our personal life? If we repress it goes into the body. Since our world sanctifies national conflict, much of our aggression finally overflows into our interest, fascination and investment in war. Without our being aware of it, our anger gets channeled into national conflict, which is not close to home. War becomes a way for us to have our anger at a distance, impersonally."