What is Process Oriented Therapy?

Do you long to express yourself more fully, to live life a little differently, to fulfil something you’ve only dreamed of? Perhaps you are facing a difficult challenge in your life, a creative block, or trying to find your way through loss or change. Wherever you are, the first step is becoming aware of your feelings, thoughts, and longings: not just intellectual understanding but a deep knowing in body, heart and soul. With curiosity and openness, our disturbances can become allies, showing us the way to greater awareness, freedom and flexibility.

This is all you need to know! But if you want to know more of the theory, read on…

A principle of Process Oriented theory and 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 reduces the possibility of self-sabotage and ambivalent communication (double signals) and allows greater congruence and mindfulness. This relates to the idea of working with the double in shamanism.

Unlike other modalities, Process Work does not theorise about or aim for ideal states of being, but recognises that everything is in flux. ‘Process work cannot be described in terms of events because its structure and evolution are created from changing signals, channels and amplification’ (Mindell, 1989). The boundary between our primary process and secondary process in any given moment is called an edge. We humans are naturally reluctant to go over an edge – that’s how we keep ourselves safe. ‘Edge behaviour’ can be distraction, boredom, sleepiness, a flaring up of body symptoms, confusion, emotional reactions, or other ways we block things from awareness. To follow a secondary process, we don’t force ourselves to go over an edge. Rather, we work close to the edge, noticing any marginalised signals that arise—subtle, intermittent, or less easily recognised and somehow disturbing. For example, I may present as assured and confident when speaking in a group, but a recurring nervous laugh undermines this persona.

Secondary signals can arise in any perceptive channel, the most common being visual (inner imagery or colours, visual memories of dreams or past experiences), proprioceptive (body feelings, temperature, pain), auditory (sounds, voices, music), kinaesthetic (spontaneous movement or the urge to move), relationship (inner dialogue, conflict, gossip or thoughts about a person or dream figure) and world (events in our everyday life or the wider world). Once a secondary signal is identified, we encourage its full expression by amplifying it in the channel in which it arises. For example, a fleeting image in our mind’s eye may be explored in greater detail, zoomed in upon to make it appear larger, drawn or painted; an internal sound may be vocalised or sounded as percussion; a movement may be made larger or with more of the body; an internal feeling may be focussed on in stillness to find out more about it, or a painful area pressed with the fingers to intensify the feeling. Relationship signals can be unfolded by acting them out in roleplay, imagining or writing a dialogue, or ‘becoming’ the other; and world channel signals can be explored in a similar way by ‘becoming’ the issue or exploring how this issue exists in ourselves.

Once a signal has been fully unfolded in its own channel, it will naturally switch to another channel. The aim in inner work or therapy is to give the secondary process energy the opportunity to express itself as fully as possible in all channels so that it enters our awareness and can be included and integrated in our sense of self and bring congruence to our way of being in the world.


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).