‘Sticky Lips’ – An Example of Process Oriented Bodywork

A principle of Process Oriented practice is that following our natural process with awareness can unfold new meaning and understanding. This idea comes from Taoism, alchemy, and the concept of individuation in Jungian therapy. ‘Following the flow of process … involves going with what is happening in a given moment, rather than resisting it. This … means that when an obstacle or difficulty arises, we face it in order to find out what changes are meant for us in that challenge’ (Diamond and Jones 2004). Cultivating awareness of the lesser known parts and processes in our nature (secondary process) alongside those with which we identify more readily (primary process) so that we develop a dual awareness of both realities, which reduces the possibility of self-sabotage and ambivalent communication (double signals) and brings greater congruence and fluidity. The way in which a person’s process unfolds will be unique to each client, each therapist, and each session.

The following scenario demonstrates three Process-oriented methods from therapeutic work with a client: unfolding a process using amplification, identifying and responding to client feedback, and working with the edge between primary and secondary processes. The session process is described in past tense, my reflection and analysis in present tense, and my client’s communication signals and feedback are in italics. 

The process

We began seated on the floor, facing one another about a metre apart. I asked my client, ‘What would you like to work on?’ Because the client is psychologically literate and a student of Process work, I am confident of her ability to find and choose a body symptom (secondary signal) to work on. With a different client, I may offer more guidance, for example by asking them to identify a disturbance, pain or body problem, and/or by helping him/her to choose something to work on. 

My client chose to work on a feeling in her mouth which she described as ‘claggy, dry lips’. She licked her lips and ‘made a face’ of distaste, then said it felt unpleasant. She opened and close her mouth and then made a similar movement with her hands, opening and closing them. I asked her to go more into the feeling and notice what it feels like (amplification in the proprioceptive channel), suggesting that she close her eyes, which she did. Closing the eyes shuts out distractions and helps a person to be more aware of or amplify internal sensations, feelings and emotions. She said that she wanted to turn away from the unpleasant feeling in her mouth. She turned her head quickly to the right, twisting her neck. She put her hand on the right side of her neck, saying that it hurt. Then she looked at me, confused, and said that she was uncertain whether to follow the turning away movement or the pain in her neck.

I was momentarily confused too, and unsure what to do. Then I realise that these two ‘abrupt channel changes’ (from proprioception to movement and back), the new physical symptom, and her indecision—together with my own confusion—probably signal the presence of an edge (Diamond and Spark-Jones 2004, pp. 127-129).

I said, ‘I think this is an edge.’ Here I identify edge behaviour and check it out with my client. She responded positively to this suggestion, verbally agreeing with me and looking relieved, but still a bit unsure.I described and demonstrated the 3 different symptoms/behaviours: the dry, claggy mouth followed by the ‘opening/closing’ movement; the sudden turning away; and the pain in her neck followed by the hand movement; showing her how each of them was different. Here I reflect the process by describing and showing my client (by doing the movements myself) how each of these symptoms and behaviours has a different kind of rhythm or energy. ‘Sudden channel changes with incongruent patterns and contents’ signify ‘energetic changes’ that characterise edge behaviour (Diamond and Spark-Jones 2004, p. 129). It may not matter which of these the client chooses to work on, it but it is important for her to identify that they are different, because the goal of process work is awareness, which ‘implies developing one’s ability to pick up and deal with signals coming from all the channels’ (Mindell 1989, p. 24). 

Here the client responded that she understood the difference between these signals. I do not remember whether she verbally confirmed this or whether I simply noted her expression and posture. Note to self for future reference: it is useful to be clearly aware of the client’s communication channel and the precise sensory grounded information she is communicating.

I asked, ‘Is it okay if we work on the dry mouth?’ I suggest returning to the original feeling because I have a strong sense that this is where the ‘juice’ is. It is also my client’s original choice and is where the edge behaviour has arisen.

My client nodded and said, ‘Yes’. This is congruent feedback, where her verbal and nonverbal signals are aligned.

I asked, ‘Do you want work with the feeling or the movement?’ While this feeling seems to evoke movement, it is important in the moment to differentiate these two channels and to consciously choose one to amplify. (If this is not done, the process may cycle between channels rather than unfolding into awareness.) It is also important, from both Process-oriented and general counselling perspectives, that the client has power in the therapeutic process, and is able to make choices which she feels are right for her. The client chose to go within and explore the feeling. 

She closed her eyes, and opened and closed her mouth a few times, and then said that it felt like ‘glue’. She made a gesture with her finger as if sealing her lips closed, and repeated it. I said quietly, ‘Sticky—closing your lips.’ I reflect her word and gesture verbally to verify their meaning, at the same time using my voice as an instrument by speaking softly and using proprioceptive/movement language (Diamond and Spark-Jones 2004, p. 69.) She nodded, and then became quiet and still.

I stayed quiet, too, allowing her space and time to go deeper into the feeling. I do not know what my client is experiencing, but I know that she needs to explore the feeling of being still and going within. The dry mouth feeling was a signal that pointed the way to this state of inner seclusion and quietness. I also know that she has very recently realised that, as she is a busy professional and parent, she needs to protect herself from the demands of other people and take time for herself. This self-caring tendency to go within and not respond to outside demands is a secondary process which she wants to bring more into her awareness. According to Diamond and Spark-Jones (2004), when someone ‘experiences something unknown from the viewpoint of her everyday self’, working with this edge ‘involves helping the everyday mind to open up and make room for the disavowed experience’ (pp. 130-131). I was quiet, letting her experience being with herself, feeling her feelings, and not needing to interact with me. From time to time I murmured gentle encouraging noises and phrases like ‘You don’t have to speak’ and ‘That’s right … take your time.’ I think of this as ‘blank access’ encouragement, using sounds and non-directive phrases, or phrases that describe or verify what the client is already doing and/or feeling. A metaskill of edgework that is relevant here is ‘dreaming together over the edge’ or ‘directly amplify[ing] the secondary process’, an intervention in which ‘the facilitator joins the client’, in this case in a dreamy, inner-directed altered state (Diamond and Spark-Jones, 2004, p. 130, p. 138). In retrospect, I note that my client’s process is also a relationship process and that her relationship with me in this session mirrors that. In the earlier process, the therapist encouraged the ‘protector figure’ to assert, express and amplify itself, and discover its strength. Now I reflect and join the client’s altered state and quiet, inward energy, giving her space to unfold this secondary process. 

The client spent some time in silence with her eyes closed. Her body relaxed, her breathing slowed, and her expression became peaceful. She seemed to be enjoying the peace and quiet of her inner space. After a while, she said in a dreamy voice, ‘I don’t want to come out. I wish I could stay in here forever.’ This utterance verifies my feeling that she wants to keep focussing internally. I sense that a different part of her is speaking than her normal everyday identity, because her voice is slow, soft, and dreamy.

 I asked softly, ‘Who is speaking?’ The facilitator’s voice can support or inhibit clients’ experiences of altered states. ‘A low, quiet, resonant tone tends to help people go more deeply into an altered state’ (Diamond and Spark-Jones 2004, p. 116).

She replied, ‘It’s the part of me who just wants to be. Doesn’t have to say anything or do anything. I feel it here.’ She pressed the centre of her chest. She sat in silence for a few more moments. I sat with her in the silence.

She said, ‘I can hear some critics now. They’re telling me this is selfish.’ She has identified some critical voices, but her voice is still calm and slow. The critics do not seem to be disturbing her much. I feel slightly alarmed by the arrival of the critics, but it seems more important to stay with the experience and process of the part ‘who just wants to be’, rather than to engage with them. 

I said quietly, ‘Well, just ignore them for now.’ I felt rather daring saying this, as if it were my — and my client’s — ‘duty’ to deal with the critical voices. It seems we share a primary process identification as someone who feels responsible for everyone around her.

My client smiled, her eyes still closed. Here, the smile gives me positive feedback that my spontaneous intervention is right; my client wants to stay with the ‘just being’ part of herself. Her smile seems to signify some delight in defying the critics. On reflection, I realise that the critics are identified with the world ‘out there’, the people and demands that my client sometimes needs to protect herself from. I said, ‘Stay there a little longer. Take your time. Come out when you’re ready.’ She smiled some more, and stayed inside, eyes closed. After a while, she opened her eyes slowly. She looked refreshed, with a happy expression and sparkling eyes.

The integration conversation

While awareness is a process goal of Process work, integration is the behavioural goal of ‘discovering and then incorporating new aspects of ourselves into our lives’ (Mindell 2006, p. 139). 

I asked, ‘Who is that part you discovered?’

My client answered softly, ‘She’s the part of me that I want to look after. Just the part of me that isn’t anything to anyone.’ This very private part is precious to her. It belongs to no-one else. We sit in silence. There is no more to be said.


Diamond, Julie and Spark-Jones, Lee (2004) A Path Made by Walking: Process Work in Practice, Lao Tse Press, Portland.

Mindell, Arnold (1989) River’s Way: The Process Science of the Dreambody, Penguin, Harmondsworth (first published by Routledge, 1985).

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