Process oriented psychology was originated in the 1970s by Arnold Mindell, an American Jungian analyst then living in Switzerland. 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.'Stanislav Grof has described Arnold Mindell as one of the ‘pioneers of transpersonal psychology.’
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 characterized as creative and holistic: 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.
Applications and research
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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^Grof, S. (2010). The Consciousness Revolution. In V. V. Kozlov, V. V. Maykov, & V. F. Petrenko (Eds.), Consciousness Revolution: Transpersonal Discoveries That Are Changing the World. Materials of the17th International Transpersonal Conference. Moscow, 23–27 July 2010. (pp. 100–103). Moscow: Presidium of the International Academy of Psychological Sciences. Retrieved from http://ita2010.com/downloads/en/eng_17th_Conference_Theses.pdf (p.102)
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^Singer, J. (1995). Arny and Amy Mindell on Process Oriented Psychology (Interview). The San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal, 13(4), 25–40. (p. 40)
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^Fukao, A., Fujimi, Y., Okayama, S., Ushiroyama, T., Nakai, Y., & Hanaf’usa, T. (2007). The Case of Female Patient with Major Depression and Eating Disorder Treated Successfully by Process Oriented Psychology. In T. Tamada & H. Honjo (Eds.), Proceedings of The XV International Congress of the International Society of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynecology. Kyoto, Japan: Medimond. http://www.medimond.com/proceedings/moreinfo/20070513.htmISBN 978-88-7587-340-0