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What is Process Oriented Psychology or Process Work?

pop Process Oriented Psychology (Process Psychology) or Process Work, as it is known, develops awareness and unfolds and follows what is happening. This applies to whether you are working with depression, anxiety, relationship problems, conflict resolution, addictions, bereavement etc. Process Work has grown beyond the traditional therapeutic models and also works with conflict resolution with groups, institutions and communities, addressing social and multi-cultural issues and international conflict; It has also been widely involved in organisational development in business, educational work with children in schools and applying the values of process work to creativity and the arts, (theatre, music, the creative arts, writing etc) dealing with environmental crises and exploring the needs for a new spirituality. Worldwork is where the principles of Process Work are applied to large and small group meetings addressing a wide variety of human concerns at a community and international level.

Process Work Theory

  • Process is the flow of experience and how the experience changes via the flow of information signals in different channels.
  • The Primary Process is the experiences you identify with, and are familiar with and accepted by you. Eg. I am a calm person.
  • The Secondary Process disturbs your focus and identity and is marginalized as “other”. eg. You say, ‘ I am not an angry person. That is not me.’

Your ‘primary process’, who you think you are, or what you are identified with, will convince you that anything ‘outside of that’ is a problem to be solved. In Process Work, we think that what we are aware of, or conscious of, is only the tip of the iceberg. There is ‘the unknown’, our ‘dreaming process’ trying to come more into awareness and in between the primary and the ‘secondary’ process, the thing further away from our awareness, there stand ‘the edge’. The edge is the boundary at the edge of your identity. Eg. If you become angry, it disturbs you, as your identity is that you are calm. In Process work, one example may be that you may realise that the anger has some strength and power that you need in your life somewhere. Therefore the anger, which initially looks like a problem, when processed, transforms into giving you a stronger voice, when needed, or may be gives someone a direction of getting more involved with social justice issues that they feel are important, or helps you really talk about what your needs are. The edge stops us from ‘taking the next step’, doing what we need to do next.

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Signals are discrete pieces of information that can be identified and followed. A double signal is used to define a signal that can appear in any channel but does not go along with the primary content of one’s intended message. Eg. I speak quite softly so my signal is quiet, but I am wearing a bright red T shirt. Or I am talking to you but I am looking at whoever comes into the room. We all double signal most of the time, so don’t give yourself a hard time if you catch yourself double signalling. Be curious, unfold the double signal. It’s all just information to help you with your awareness. By unfolding double signals, we bring awareness to the secondary processes that are happening through the communication that we are not aware of, eg, in conflicts, accusations, use of third parties. The double signals often disturb the primary process.


Channels are how we perceive through our senses. Notice what channel the signal is in eg. feeling, movement, auditory, visual, world, relationship.

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Feedback is not only given by what people say. Notice non verbal feedback, posture, body language, spaces between words, silences tone of voice, rhythm of speaking, volume of voice, physical distance, movement, what different parts of the body doing? Mood, atmospheres. Moods can be identified by eg. hopelessness, depression, excitement etc. Is the feedback congruent? Do all the parts of the person agree with what they are saying? How is the person responding to what you are saying. Positive and negative feedback: Someone says, ‘I don’t like that,’ but they laugh. The laugher is actually positive feedback.


The edge is what separates the primary process (what we identify as) from the secondary process (the identity further away from our awareness, which we do not identify with). The edge often stops us from doing what we need to do. An edge is often a limitation in awareness, for the boundary of your own identity and are found at the limits of the primary process. Your primary identity feels challenged, lost, confused and often fearful or excited, when faced with or negotiating an edge. The process over the edge is often difficult to accept. Edges are also communication barriers: When someone speaks but is unable to complete what she or he is saying due to personal reasons or because of actual or felt group restrictions. It can be helpful to find out why it is hard to speak. The purpose of identifying edges are not necessarily to go over them, although we may, but to discover as much as we can about them and to identify all the figures at the edge − called edge work. If we hurtle over edges without finding out this information, we often suffer from a backlash from a figure at the edge which has not been processed.

Ways of recognizing edges in yourself and others.

  • Nervousness, excitement, changing the subject, getting fearful or scared, laughing, spacing out, hesitating.
  • Someone says, ‘oh, I couldn’t possibly do that.’ Or physical symptoms.
  • Boredom, sleepiness, chaos, tension
  • Switching channels
  • Feeling stuck or not being able to follow what is happening
  • Patterns recycle over and over again
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These are strong emotional moments, sometimes when edges are around. When hot spots are not focused on, they can be the source of future escalations. Therefore, it is helpful to notice hot spots, to slow down, and go deeper into the feelings and to the deep essence behind them. Hot spots can be the doorway to deepening the process.

Consensus Reality

This is what is agreed upon by the majority of people as true. It is what is regarded as ‘normal’ and accepted by most people. Anything outside of this, is regarded as ‘fringe’ or at the edges of society. However what is often marginalized, over time, becomes the ‘norm’.

Dreaming Level

This is not just night time dreams, but includes waking dreaming, emerging processes, imagination, potential that hasn’t manifested yet on a consensus reality level, yet can be experienced. This level includes high and low dreaming, mood work and trance states. The high dream is the best that things can be. It is your highest hopes and aspirations. When we are in a high dream, we often cannot see the signals of a low dream happening. The low dream is the worst things can be and our greatest fears and doubts.

Sentient Level

The sentient essence is the deepest level, the almost wordless eternal quality, which is beyond duality.

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