Interact Journal Integrative Ideas for the Process-Oriented Psychotherapist

Categories Supervision Dialogs

On which process to attend to

When doing process work, which process do I attend to?

Well, let’s name some of the processes going on right now, here in this room:

questioning, answering, wondering, thinking, caring, learning, telling, drinking, scratching, laughing

Hundreds of processes are going on at any one time. Some processes are noticed by utilizing a metaphorical electron microscope. Other processes can be seen only with the naked eye. Still other processes need distance or a mental telescope to notice them.

There is no correct process to attend to. You might start by asking yourself, “What is happening right here, right now?” Either allow a picture to form in your mind or think of an action-verb in the present tense, i.e. an “ing” word. That’s the process to start with. Then invite, notice, reflect, enact, wonder, share, guess, question, interpret, or intervene in anyway your professional experience guides you. Trust yourself. Let go of any investment that the process you picked is the important process. Focus instead on the client’s response to your intervention. This response is the new here-and-now process. Now work with this new process in some way.

For example, a client is speaking about a friend, tapping his fingers and looking around the room.

You: (picking the first process you are aware of) Keep tapping your fingers and put some words to the motion.

He: (sighs deeply and stops talking).

You: (abandoning your previous invitation and focusing on the current processes). Do that again. Sigh. Yes, like that. What are the words that go with the sigh?

(or) What else needs to stop, besides talking?

Sometimes I can’t tell the difference between the process and the content.

I liken the word “content” (as opposed to content) to the word, “McGuffin.” McGuffin is sometimes used in script-writing to describe the thing in the drama that all the characters in the story passionately care about, but about which mostly no one in the audience cares at all. For example, the characters are focused on getting the money or the prize, (the content) while the audience mostly cares about the relationships between the characters (the process). Content is similar to a McGuffin in that it both attracts us and distracts us from what is unfolding around and underneath it. Content is usually the thing that’s being talked about. Process is usually the answer to, “What’s happening?” or “What’s happening right now, here, in this room?”

One thing you might do is tell yourself not to bother with either one, but instead, to “work with the client’s response.” That way, you can say or do pretty much anything in session, then attend-to and work-with the person’s reaction.

Beginning psychotherapists often say they get confused and can’t enact the process. I usually reply, “No problem. Enact the content.” For example, if your client says, “My friend and I argue a lot,” you can skip wondering if he is a) telling the truth, b) trying to impress you, c) describing the problem, d) obscuring the problem, e) . . . whatever. Instead, you might say,

“Okay, I’ll be you and you be your friend. Show me what happens.”

By dramatizing (enacting) the content, the process will make itself clear as you fiddle with the enactment. Keep in mind there is no best response to work with. There is no perfect intervention to use. One pretty good guide is: If nothing else comes to mind, find a way to direct the client’s attention back towards himself in the moment.

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