A Brief History of Process Oriented Psychology

Process Work was founded by Arnold Mindell, then a Jungian analyst, in the late 1970s. It has its origin in Mindell’s observation that nighttime dreams both mirrored and were mirrored in his clients’ somatic experiences, particularly physical symptoms. He generalized the term “dreaming” to include any aspect of experience that, while possibly differing from consensus views of reality, was coherent with a person’s dreams, fantasies, and somatic experience, as well as the unintentional but meaningful signals that form the background to interpersonal relationships.

Mindell’s training in physics encouraged him to view the unconscious mind phenomenologically as well as symbolically, leading him to apply information theory (Information theory is a branch of applied mathematics and electrical engineering involving the quantification of information. Historically, information theory was developed to find fundamental limits on compressing and reliably communicating data”)concepts to the observation of his clients’ behavior. In this light, the concept of the ‘unconscious’ expanded to include a whole range of unintentional verbal and non-verbal signals, on the one hand, and of perceptions, beliefs and ideas with which the individual does not identify, on the other.

In order to help his clients integrate these forms of unconscious material, Mindell expanded upon the Jungian techniques of “amplification” (Amplification is to amplify physical symptoms based on psychological factors such as anxiety or depression: “somatosensory amplification refers to the tendency to experience somatic sensation as intense, noxious, and disturbing. What may be a minor ‘twinge’ or mild ‘soreness’ to the stoic, is a severe, consuming pain to the amplifier.)such as active imagination and dream interpretation, by adding methods for working directly with nonverbal, body-level experience. Building upon patterns of awareness found in sources ranging from Taoism, Vajrayana and shamanism through modern physics, Mindell developed a framework for encouraging clients to identify with unconscious experience through a process he called ‘unfolding’. This unfolding process is a deconstruction of the client’s named experiences that relies not only on verbal material and imagery but also on movement, deep somatic experience, interpersonal relationship, and social context.

In the early 1980s together with his process work colleagues, Mindell began to apply the conceptual framework he had been using with individuals, couples and families, to facilitation of conflict resolution in large groups taking stock of group dynamics. He coined the term “Worldwork” to describe this new discipline. In the late 1990s Mindell turned once again to his earlier interest in physics and began to explore a framework for understanding the common root of human experience that gives rise to psychology, on the one hand, and quantum and relativistic physics on the other.

Process Oriented Psychology is a comprehensive theory, method and orientation to working with individuals, relationships, organizations and communities, developed by Drs. Arnold and Amy Mindell and colleagues.

Process Work was originally applied to working with individuals, including dream and body work, and working with altered and extreme states. It was sometimes considered a daughter of Jungian Psychology. Later as it was discovered how ‘the dreaming field’ structured communication and systems dynamics, this work was applied to working with relationships and families, and eventually to large groups, organizations and settings dealing with social and political issues, conflict resolution , violence prevention and community building

The ideas and methods of Process Oriented Psychology have strong links with indigenous teachings and modern physics. The methods support awareness of an underlying creative field that shapes us and first catches our awareness in sentient or subtle feelings, in signals and impulses, unintended communication, dreams, altered states, symptoms, and in the tensions, conflicts and creativity within organizations and communities. The principle of Deep Democracy observes that direction, resolution or transformation takes place within both individuals and communities, when all points of view, emotions, and dimensions of experience can interact with awareness. The work currently has very exciting applications in the realms of psychotherapy, body-mind, working with coma, mental health, organizational development, multi-cultural community building, conflict resolution and the arts