Process oriented psychology
Process Oriented Psychology, also called Process Work, is a depth psychology theory and set of techniques developed by Arnold Mindell and associated with transpersonal psychology, somatic psychology and post-Jungian psychology.  It is known for extending dream analysis to body experiences and for applying psychology to world issues including socioeconomic disparities, diversity issues, social conflict and leadership.
Origins and reception
Process oriented psychology was originated in the 1970s by Arnold Mindell, an American Jungian analyst then living in Switzerland.:107 It began as a development of Jungian psychology with the concept of a ‘dreambody’ that extended dream analysis to include work with people’s body symptoms and bodily experiences. Jungian analyst June Singer commented that Mindell’s work ‘expands the scope of Jung's psychology to include not only the psyche but also the body, relationships and the total environment.':40 Stanislav Grof has described Arnold Mindell as one of the ‘pioneers of transpersonal psychology.’:102
Process Work is recognised within the field of body psychotherapy and somatic psychology and known for an emphasis on movement and body feeling. Mindell was one of five people honored in 2012 with a Pioneer Award from the US Association of Body Psychotherapy. Following the publication of Mindell’s book Dreambody in 1982, it reportedly gained a ‘worldwide following in the field of holistic healing’ although remaining little known in 'traditional psychological circles.'
Process Work is described as an integrative and holistic approach to understanding a range of human behaviours. It is characterized as creative and improvisational: a ‘fluid, flexible, playful approach, using some basic principles to improvise effective approaches to whatever comes its way, even-handedly weaving together the personal, political, the bodily, the relational and the spiritual aspects of existence.’ It is considered to have similarities with Eugene Gendlin’s Focusing and is identified with a focus on the unknown aspects of experience:
- 'Process Work... seeks to encounter with the unknown and the irrational side of life.... [It] appreciates symptoms and disturbances of any sort, not as pathologies to be healed or transcended or somehow got rid of, but as expressions of the very thing we need for our further growth, happiness, or enlightenment.'
From its original ‘dreambody’ concept, Process Work developed a theory and ways of working with altered states of consciousness including near death and coma and experiences given psychiatric diagnoses. Mindell’s book on coma and palliative care inspired a UK theatre production performed in Edinburgh and London. Process Work and Arnold Mindell are also known for a theory and methods for working with conflict resolution and leadership issues, in groups and organisations.
Process oriented psychology has been associated with alternative spirituality movements. It is considered an example of a modern Western eclectic adaptation of shamanism and has been taught at the Findhorn community in north-east Scotland. Fred Alan Wolf cites Mindell’s ‘dreambody’ concept and the Institute of Noetic Sciences lists Mindell in their directory.
The theory of process oriented psychology centres around the idea of a ‘dreaming process’: a meaningful, connected pattern that can be observed and tracked through non-intentional signals (e.g. non-verbal communication, body symptoms, dreams, accidents, conflicts). It is claimed that becoming consciously aware of the ‘dreaming process’ may help to deal with disturbances including mental and physical distress, relationship troubles and social issues. The theory of a ‘dreaming process’ began with Arnold Mindell’s concept of the ‘dreambody,’ developed from Jungian dream analysis and the observation that dreams and body symptoms were meaningfully connected.:26-9 Mindell asserted that a therapist could work with body experiences to reveal the unconscious just as they could work with dreams.:107-108
Process Work's contention of a link between dreams and body symptoms is a viewpoint similar to shamanism, ‘mankind's oldest medicinal doctrine, where illness reflects one's spiritual condition.’:523 Mindell’s theory has also been compared to another Jungian, Meredith Sabini, who similarly recognises a symbolic relationship between dream images and physical symptoms, and values their role in bringing awareness of a person’s individuation process, the development of the Jungian Self:524 Shafton claims that Mindell, unlike Sabini, comes ‘perilously close’ to psychologising every illness; Shafton cautions that body symptoms are ambiguous and may be a product of stress or denial as much as a message for growth.:524 Shafton praises Mindell however for providing a method for working with body symptoms, using the technique of ‘amplification’ which involves intensifying the experience of a symptom or a dream and following its expression through the various ‘channels’ of perception until the meaning of the ‘dreambody’ is revealed to the client.:524-5
The idea of a ‘dreambody’ was generalised to the concept of a ‘dreaming process’: a potentially meaningful pattern within symptoms, dreams and other irrational or disturbing aspects of our experience.:65 Totton explains that for process oriented psychology, ‘dreaming’ refers to any ‘extra-conscious signals through which our process communicates itself.’:28 The signals of a ‘dreaming process’ go beyond nighttime dreams and body symptoms to include ‘daydreams, imagery and flickers of awareness that come and go.’:313 For Process Work, ‘dreaming’ can be defined as ‘the unconscious activity of the person, both when they are asleep and when they are awake.’:29 Shafton comments that Mindell, along with Walter Bonime, Fritz Perls, Strephon Williams, Jeremy Taylor and Eugene Gendlin, makes the assumption that ‘dreamlike symbolic processes occur in waking’ and accordingly applies dreamwork techniques to aspects of conscious experience.:335
The ‘dreaming process’ is believed to have a meaningful, purposeful direction of change, reflecting the influence of Taoism and Jungian psychology.:27-8 The dreaming process can be understood as the Jungian unconscious ‘seeking integration, and … creating opportunities for the individual to grow in conscious awareness.’:29
An important conceptual distinction for process oriented psychology is between the ‘primary’ (intended) and the ‘secondary’ (unintended) aspects of a given behaviour or experience:
- people at any given moment experienc[e] a ‘primary process’- aspects of our experience with which we identify - and a 'secondary process' - aspects with which we find it hard to identify and which are trying insistently to enter our awareness.:108
For an individual, the primary or intended aspects of communication and behaviour will be shaped by conscious norms and values, while secondary processes will include disturbing, challenging or irrational experiences that are further from awareness and often overtly marginalised.:29 Process Work aims to integrate secondary processes into a person's primary, conscious awareness to reduce the disturbance and access its potential for meaning and growth.:30
Process Work theory includes a framework of experiential ‘channels’ through which the dreaming process is expressed; these channels include the visual, auditory, movement (kinaesthetic) and body feeling (proprioceptive) channels.:108:14 Like Gestalt therapy, Process Work tracks a person's experience as it shifts between different channels.:525 Process Work is particularly known for using the channels of body awareness, movement and physical contact to explore psychological issues.:9 The concept of a purposeful ‘dreaming process’ expressing itself through multiple ‘channels’ of experience is the theoretical basis for Process Work's ‘far-reaching and flexible approach, which uses essentially the same capacious toolbox to work with everything from bodily symptoms to couple relationships to political conflicts.’:108
The theory and contentions of process oriented psychology have been described as an alternative to the mainstream of conventional, allopathic psychology.:1-14 Process Work proposes that disturbing feelings, symptoms and behaviours be interpreted as 'an underlying urge toward health, wholeness, and diversity rather than pathology.':8 The theory suggests understanding the meaning of symptoms and disturbances rather than only focusing on modifying or eliminating them.:8
Applications and research
Process oriented psychology has been applied in a range of contexts including individual therapy and working with groups and organisations.
There are published studies of the clinical application of Process Work to group therapy with people experiencing mental illness and to the care of elders with dementia. It is one of eleven psychotherapeutic modalities participating in a Swiss longitudinal effectiveness study completed in 2012. A case study has described the application of process oriented psychology to the treatment of a woman with symptoms including major depression and an eating disorder, concluding that the method can be effective in the resolution of psychosomatic problems.
There has been controversy in the history of process oriented psychology in the US state of Oregon. In 1990, a Eugene newspaper, the Register-Guard, reported that a planning permit application for the coastal town of Yachats by the founder, Arnold Mindell, was met with initial apprehension and fears of ‘another Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh,’ although these concerns were subsequently allayed. The Register-Guard reported contacting the head of the Oregon Psychological Association who confirmed that Mindell was an internationally recognised author and speaker.:4A
In 2001, a Portland newspaper, the Willamette Week, reported that the local school for process oriented psychology, the Process Work Center of Portland (now known as the Process Work Institute) was being investigated by the Oregon Office of Degree Authorization (ODA) due to a complaint about educational ethics. The ODA website shows that the Process Work Institute continues to be authorised as a degree offering institution.
The controversy raised by the Willamette Week (WW) in 2001 included reports that process oriented psychology was little known in Oregon psychiatric and psychological circles; it was described by one clinical psychologist as ‘a very out-there offshoot.’ The WW commented that process oriented psychology ‘sits squarely outside the academy’ and noted that Arnold Mindell was not licensed by the Oregon Board of Psychologist Examiners, although it also reported that Mindell had multiple higher degree qualifications including Analyst (1970, Diploma in Jungian Psychology) from the C. G Jung Institute in Switzerland, where he also taught, before beginning his own school in 1980 for process oriented psychology.
Criticisms of process oriented psychology include that the ‘dreambody’ concept and techniques are too subjective and overly positive. Mindell's (1993) book, Leader as Martial Artist, is critiqued as a use of Eastern belief systems to justify capitalist business practice. It has been claimed that Process Work as a therapy is hard to define and has similarities with ‘faith healing,’ raising hopes about the healing of physical illness (though it is reported that Mindell explicitly discourages this idea). Process oriented psychology has been identified as a method having 'a mystical or supernaturalistic application, theory, significance, or pedigree.'
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