The world in here and out there:

Processwork Facilitation as Therapy and as Worldwork

Iona Fredenburgh and Leah Bijelić


This article offers perspectives from process oriented psychology or Processwork (Mindell, 2018) on working with issues in the current climate of ‘austerity’ where there is a widening gap between those who do and do not hold wealth and power. It offers ways to address the divisiveness and hopelessness present in our professional and personal lives. It describes some features of our social environment and the way they are expressed in individual psychology, resulting in complex dynamics of rank, power and privilege, and it upholds the value of bringing awareness to these and addressing them directly. The connection is made between what we marginalise in ourselves and what is marginalised socially and in the world. The paper introduces the concept of deep democracy– the inclusion of, and relationship between, all viewpoints and parts of a process.


As therapists and as individuals, we come into contact with a wide range of clients and lifestyles. Whether we work and live in relatively privileged or marginal contexts, we generally recognise and have experiences of the ways in which current collective issues impact on psychological well-being. Climate change and environmental pollution, the benefits and dangers of fast-paced changes in digital communication, war and migration, and many other global and local issues, may bring a variety of responses from our clients and ourselves; from activism and potential burn-out, to desensitising and numbing, and everything in between.

How can our therapeutic awareness support us to engage creatively with the diversity within ourselves and our clients, between us and in the wider world? What role can psychotherapy play in supporting sustainable relationships between polarised parts of ourselves and our society? What are some of the challenges we face as practitioners?

Process Oriented Psychology

Processwork (also known as process oriented psychology) is an awareness practice developed by Arnold Mindell and his colleagues. Its roots include systems theory, Jungian psychology, information theory, Taoism, Shamanism, and quantum physics (Mindell was a physicist before training as a Jungian analyst). Processwork is applied in many fields including psychotherapy, clinical supervision, community and organisational development, conflict work and post-war reconciliation, with people in coma, altered and extreme states of consciousness, and in the creative arts.

From a Processwork perspective the issues of the world are present in the therapy room – in ourselves as practitioners, in our clients, and in the interaction between us.  It is understood that through inner work – bringing awareness to our individual sensory experiences and unfolding them – our interventions can bring the depth of inclusivity and inter-relationship needed to facilitate outer conflicts and polarities.  This innerwork involves noticing what disturbs us, whatever we identify as ‘not me’ or ‘not-us’, inhabiting it, amplifying it, and discovering it’s essential quality. This offers a fluidity with polarisations, and the possibility of an ‘elder’ perspective which can warmly relate to the whole.

Inspired by these and other paradigms, some of the basic principles of Processwork can be briefly described as follows:

  • Following nature: life processes have self-organising attributes which tend towards wholeness. When we bring our awareness to the nature of this flow and work with the ‘edges’ that limit our identification (‘not me’ and ‘not us’) we discover a ‘wu-wei’ or ‘not-doing’ which allows us to align with that greater flow, rather than perceiving ourselves as solely responsible for ‘making change happen.’
  • Unfolding disturbance: we are disturbed by experiences which are outside our identification: over our ‘edges’. Bringing awareness to these and exploring our edges, can bring unexpected and creative evolution of processes. A body symptom experienced as a sharp pain, may be unfolded to discover a sharpness needed by someone attached only to the softly mothering aspect of their identity (this is not a substitute for medical attention). Someone troubled by a boss who is impervious to feedback, may discover an essence quality of self-assurance that is emergent in themselves but held back by their associated belief systems and history. These processes are not generic: each requires attention to unique and momentary signals, and an attitude of ‘beginner’s mind’ to discover unknown and unintentional material.
  • Unfolding: is more than enlarging our perspective with understanding and empathy. It includes shape-shifting– shifting our perspective to embody the disturbing quality, amplifying it, discovering its essence, engaging with our edges to that experience. Amplification derives from the idea of enantiodromia: that when a process is amplified to its fullest expression, it naturally evolves, like the cyclic dynamic expressed in yin and yang. Mindell ‘expanded upon the Jungian techniques of ‘amplification’ such as active imagination and dream interpretation, by adding methods for working directly with nonverbal, body-level experience. ‘(JC Audergon, 2005 citing Mindell, 1988, p. 118).
  • Sensory-based awareness: in addition to cognitive understanding, processwork brings awareness to channels of perception, and aims to accurately unfold unintentional signals in the channels in which they appear: mainly proprioception, movement, auditory, visual – and the composite channels of relationship and the world (a world channel signal might be a synchronous loud shout outside a room where someone is at an edge to find their voice).

Clients can find world channel phenomena emerging spontaneously from their experience and can with or without the help of a therapist, unfold the events in this channel. This theory does not prescribe how to act in the world or how to be politically correct or even socially aware. Rather, the theory and method allow unexpected and individual behavior to emerge from a client’s signals, dreams and fantasies. By caring for and unfolding individual experiences in the world channel we learn more about our specific roles and contributions to global history.(Mindell, A.1996)

  • Double signals: a term referring to the simultaneous transmission of intentional and unintentional signals; I smile hello but lean slightly back, wanting to be friendly and marginalising my desire to be left alone just now. We tend to react to unintentional signals without necessarily realising what disturbs us, and often respond to them as if they are intentional. Misunderstandings and confusing miscommunications can easily escalate. Awareness can clarify and de-escalate the entanglement.
  • Edges: ‘Edges, or belief systems, stem from personal, family, cultural, social and religious norms and values. These define how we identify, and what we marginalise….The edge structures our communication in double signals.’ (J. C. Audergon, 2005, pp. 161—3).
  • Dimensions: Processwork distinguishes between consensus reality(experiences with a high degree of consensual agreement: “this is a chair” or “my hand is shaking”), dreaming experiences which are subjective and fluid (“I feel afraid, I perceive you as threatening, you remind me of a figure in my history”; at another moment I myself may become threatening), and essence, experiencing the perspective of the unified field, beyond the polarisations – the whole that is more than the sum of the parts, enabling an ‘eldership’ that can support all sides and the interaction between them.
  • Deep democracy: all voices and all parts and dimensions of a process are needed for its evolution, and their relationship with each other is needed. Conflict facilitation, for example, needs to address feelings connected with historic experiences; an unaddressed atmosphere of reluctant compliance in a meeting will undermine proposed outcomes. ‘Deep democracy brings democracy to life in the moment as a living reality. In deep democracy, everyone wins in the sense of gaining more meaningful relationships and more sustainable resolutions.(Mindell, 2008).
  • Rank dynamics: complex dynamics of power and influence need awareness. We will describe this in more detail below.
  • Fields and roles: field theory (Lewin,1946,1951) suggests things are patterned by the dynamic interaction of roles, which recruit us or ‘dream us up’ in ways that are both individually and collectively meaningful. Amy Mindell explains:

It describes a field-like atmosphere permeating and influencing all levels of experience, including relationships, group interaction, and the entire world. Field theory postulates that it is impossible to separate what is happening to you from what is happening to me; that my feelings and thoughts are an integral part of my interactions no matter what I am doing or where I am.
(Mindell, A,1996)

‘Ghost’ roles impact the field without anyone identifying with them, and inhabiting them with awareness can help the interaction evolve. If two people have a conflict in which each one identifies only with being hurt by the other, the ‘hurter’ role is uninhabited. When one or other can connect with the ‘hurter’ part of themselves, the interaction can evolve in different ways. The facilitator or therapist is part of the field, and experiences of transference and counter-transference can benefit from bringing awareness to the roles that are present. Roles that are part of the client’s material emerge in the moment.

Creative use of dreamed-up reactions depends on more than interpretation and self-disclosure; it requires dynamic participation in the total world of experience shared by therapist and client. This may be harder than it sounds.  Just coming out with your reactions, we have found, is not always the most useful strategy. Creative use of dreaming up requires the cultivation of dual awareness, more an art than a science.(Goodbread,1997, p.120).

  • Processes are holographic and appear in different levels: their signals emerge intrapsychically, in relationship and in the wider world, and addressing any of these levels supports awareness in the other levels.
  • Innerwork: bringing awareness to the momentary or ongoing way in which processes are present in ourselves as facilitators and therapists, allows us to notice where we ‘side’ with one part or another, where we are limited by an identification, where we have an affect which signals an important part of the process which needs attention, and enables us to access unintentional experiences and perspectives which may contribute just what is needed to the context.


Dynamics of rank and power

Lack of awareness of dynamics of privilege and power is considered, from a Processwork perspective, to be a key factor in perpetuating conflict. Becoming aware of rank and power dynamics, of what has centrality and what is marginalised, can have a transformative impact when facilitating conflicts. (See Dr. Robin DiAngelo (2015) on white centrality). Rank is relational, and can be both complex and fluid. It can impact on our physical and psychological wellbeing, on our ability to speak out and act, on the way we live and die.  Processwork identifies different kinds of rank, both ‘earned’ and unearned:

  • Social: in a given social context, rank is bestowed (whether we agree with it or not) by our skin colour and ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical and mental wellbeing, class, education and age, etc.
  • Psychological: psychological resilience in the face of great difficulty, which may come from personal history.
  • Spiritual: A deep and sustaining sense of spiritual connection, community belonging, or meaning and purpose in life.
  • Contextual: dynamic and shifting hierarchies of power in families, friendship networks, workplaces and societies.

If we take an inventory of our different ranks, we discover how they intersect. If I have relatively high or low rank in several different ways, they have a combined impact.

‘Many years ago, I began to use the term intersectionality to deal with the fact that many of our social justice problems like racism and sexism are often overlapping, creating multiple levels of social injustice.’ (Kimberlé Crenshaw, 2016)

Our awareness can give us the ability to recognise and facilitate areas of both higher and lower rank, to recognise when unconscious rank is affecting the relationship. Unconsciousness about high rank can entangle us in guilt, paralysis, trying to be good, being defensive or patronising. See Kendall (2013, Ch 3 & 4) for an exposition of ‘the implicit and explicit advantages and privileges that often go unnoticed’by those of us with white rank, and Ryde (2009, pp. 83—108) on the importance, for therapists, of addressing ‘uncomfortable feelings such as guilt or shame’.

On the other hand, over-identification with victimhood when we have less rank, may stop us seeing the power that we do have, including the self-empowerment that comes from our psychological and spiritual rank. If we don’t notice when we feel put down, we may internalise a punitive self-critic, or enact unconscious revenge.  Identifying only with our low rank, considering ourselves beneath others, may result in us expressing our high rank in unconscious ways. We give ‘double signals’: our behaviour is incongruent, expressing both our identification with low rank and our unconscious high rank. This tends to be disturbing or irritating to other people:  the double signal may not be registered consciously but the other person may nevertheless experience the incongruence.

Having high rank and using it without awareness can lead to abuse and provocation.

Under stress, attack or great pressure, the force of low rank clouds our ability to stay mindful of our high-ranking role. On April 20, 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling platform exploded, claiming eleven lives and spewing over two hundred million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, it caused massive environmental, economic and social destruction. Speaking shortly after the event, Tony Hayward, then-CEO of British Petroleum – the company responsible for the tragedy – caused uproar when he said that while the event disrupted the lives of residents near the Gulf, it was also taking a toll on his personal life. “I’d like my life back”, he said, putting his discomfort on par with others, including those who had lost their lives or loved ones in the explosion. Hayward fell prey to the low-rank feelings right at the moment when he should have been most mindful of his high-ranking role. How could he have avoided this blunder? How can we stay mindful of high rank when the force of low rank is so great?
(Diamond, 2016, p. 59).

Diamond describes the importance of the therapist’s awareness of their rank in relation to the client, given the multiple levels of dependency which can characterise the relationship:

‘Using your rank to facilitate another’s learning and growth… often involves a kind of intimacy. Therapist and client, coach and trainee, advisor and advisee, student and teacher – all engage in a powerful partnership of personal transformation, which involves more than the simple transmission of information and skills… This is such a tricky area, one that requires so much self-awareness on the part of the practitioner, that it is no wonder these professions are subject to ethics codes, which are strongly enforced.’
(Diamond, 2016, pp.187—188).

The world in us

Our rank as therapists increases the impact on the client of any unconscious bias or privilege we may have, and may make it difficult for the client to draw attention to that bias.  Our ‘edges’ to certain experiences and identifications, pattern the therapeutic relationship. ‘Everybody has edges’ argues Joe Goodbread, ‘no matter how long you’ve been in therapy or meditated.’ (Goodbread,1997, p.119).

Strong edges touch on collective issues of great importance, not only for the individuals involved in them but for society as a whole. As members of society, we therapists, too, share the same strong edges with our clients…We may be … reticent to examine in ourselves that which we disavow, be it our own homosexuality, bizarre behaviour, unbridled aggression, or extreme states of consciousness.” (ibid, p118)

Our inner awareness, our presence in the world and our interaction with our clients are inextricably entwined.  For example, if I have a client who identifies as non-binary gender, and I, identifying as male or female, struggle to remember to use their preferred pronoun e.g. ‘they’ rather than ‘he’ or ‘she’,  my inner work can support my awareness not only of my personal process around this (e.g. what I marginalise in myself when I see the world in binary gender terms)  but also awareness of the rank and privilege dynamics of gender in the wider world.  A non-binary identity is a marginalised identity. If I perpetuate this marginalisation in the consulting room, I perpetuate the dynamics of rank in the world.   One response may be to try not to do that – to try to remember the pronoun.  However,curiosity about my own process including my feelings, attitudes, history and associations, learning the meaning of ‘non binary’ in my inner world, is more fruitful and more sustainable. It supports the relationship in the room, supports fuller contact with myself and takes one step in militating against marginalisation of that identity.   Naming the dynamic in the room also allows us to relate to this process – a process that is happening in the wider field, in society – it brings an opportunity for dialogue between different perspectives and to surface the feelings and beliefs related to those perspectives.

It may be challenging to engage with aspects of ourselves that we have disavowed due to trauma, fear or lack of welcome in our families and social networks.  There is an additional challenge when trying to recognise and engage with aspects that are marginalised by a whole culture.  Where values and beliefs are shared by those around us, it can be difficult to recognise them as beliefs – they look like facts.   We may recognise our cultural values and norms most when we engage cross-culturally.

Therapeutic skills in the world

Writing in 1996, Amy Mindell asserts that

…psychotherapy has traditionally been oriented toward White individuals of European descent who have the luxury and privilege of studying and thinking about themselves. This explains why psychotherapy has for the most part not been sought after by people of other colors and cultures. A therapy that is able to work with world channel experiences (as well as dealing with small and large group social issues) may be more open to all types of people, especially those whose social lives are more pressing and immediate than the lives of people seeking traditional forms of inner work. This orientation may contribute to narrowing the gap between psychotherapy as we know it today, spiritual practices, social work, and politics.
(Mindell, A.1996)

Our training and orientation as therapists, has a value beyond the therapy room and our close interactions.  The wider world, communities and organisations of all kinds, are in need of facilitators whose skills, we would argueinclude those developed in our training, experience and expertise as psychotherapists. We identify some of these as follows:

  • tolerating the tension of conflictual material and exploring it rather than trying to fix an outcome
  • engaging with feelings and the impact of history rather than excluding these from professional interactions
  • developing skills to work with trauma
  • bringing awareness to the complex dynamics of rank, power and privilege as they play out between us, rather than trying only to correct or ignore them
  • unpacking the intransigence of polarised ‘us’ and ‘them’ perspectives, to discover both what we have in common, and how our diversity is needed for a deeply democratic and sustainable society.

Psychological dynamics and social division

We live in a time when large numbers of people feel hopeless or anxious about the future and impotent to affect our world, while others are increasingly motivated to take action  – for example, the young people in the US rising up against the gun lobby. In an intensified polarisation, we can notice the extent to which we are targets for people with power to activate our fear, and persuade large numbers of us to go along with what they want.  They appeal to our wish for justice, power, community, security and a sense of belonging, and may be especially effective in addressing social groups that experience marginalisation.

The America First movement and the growth in popularity of far-right parties across Europe may be seen to reflect a sense of alienation, insecurity and a turning inward – a prioritising of ‘people like us’ and rejection of ‘others’.In her book War Hotel: Psychological Dynamics in Violent Conflicts, Arlene Audergon describes and illustrates the process whereby,

…when we feel insecure, we look to outer leadership and authority for guidance and protection, and put our judgement in the hands of experts who we believe can weigh things up better than we can… the problem is not that we naturally seek leadership … the problem lies in our tendency to give over to authority without knowing it and without debate. The emotional and psychological factors that influence our judgement as to where we place ‘authority’ are largely unconscious’(bold ours).
(Audergon, A. 2005, p.71).

Dehumanising and scapegoating

In a context of increasing social polarisation, there is a social role which encourages us to project our aggression and other unwanted impulses on to groups with less social power – to dehumanise and scapegoat minorities.   In the period preceding the holocaust, Nazi propaganda portrayed Jews as an infestation of rats. In Rwanda, RTLM, a radio station with a significant role in the Rwandan genocide of 1994, began its genocide broadcasting with reference to Tutsis as cockroaches that must be exterminated.  This was part of a move to normalise mass murder.

In the UK in 2018, the term ‘Islamic terrorist’ used so commonly in the media, equates Islam with terrorism.  This feeds any conscious or unconscious tendency to identify our non-Islamic selves as ‘good’ whilst projecting ‘the bad’ outside of ourselves. While we remain unconscious of the ‘bad’ within, we are susceptible to manipulation – we can be more easily incited to vilify and scapegoat marginalised groups within our communities (Audergon 2005, pp. 44-70).  Many of us become overwhelmed, and step back. But when we allow ourselves to become desensitised to aggression and violence, or even to the smallest signals of marginalisation, and we remain uninvolved and indifferent, we contribute to it. If we can notice that we are losing sensitivity and choose instead to reflect, engage and respond, we contribute to a humanising process.  Our personal response, in our hearts and in our communities, to oppression and human-rights violations and our refusal to toughen up or let it pass, contributes to the safety of all of us.
(Audergon 2005 p.102).

Clarkson (2006) used the term ‘Bystander’to describe someone who does not become involved when someone else needs help. She investigated the meaning of bystanding behaviour in ordinary life as well as in psychotherapeutic practice….

It is about helping and not helping, giving and getting help, and some ways of thinking and acting in our increasingly complex moral world. Bystanding is seen as a major way in which people disempower themselves and others. It works at the juncture of the individual and the collective, the person and the group, the citizen and the state, the patient and the psychotherapist.
(Clarkson, 2006 back cover)

Society and Individuals as ‘city shadows’

What are the indicators of social wellbeing in the UK in 2018?   In terms of mental health, there is evidence of increasing distress – as levels of self harm and suicide among young people increases, as does use of anti-depressants and deaths from street drugs in the UK[1](Guardian unlimited, 2018).  In the period 2013–2017 there were also record levels of suicide among students, most of whom are aged under 25 years(Institute for Public Policy Research, 2017).  ‘It appears that how people cope with mental health problems is getting worse as the number of people who self-harm or have suicidal thoughts is increasing’ (Mind, 2018).

Arnold Mindell writes about the way in which the most vulnerable or susceptible among us, express facets of the collective’s unaddressed psychic life.  Just as when a family is distressed, that distress may be channelled through one individual – the identified patient – Mindell describes ‘the identified patient of the community’ who ‘channels its repressed and unrealised psychology. This shadow is like the city’s dream, portraying its neglected gods, the hopelessness it will not admit, its withdrawal from superficial communication, its suicidal tendencies, mania, addictions, murderous rage and hypersensitivity.’ (Mindell, 1991, p.162).

The field and deep democracy

The field is ‘patterned’ by the tension between … essential roles such as tyranny and democracy, the persecutor and victim, the leader and follower… each part of the field… is required…and everyone is needed to represent the known as well as the unknown and unpopular roles in the field.  (Mindell,1989, p.140).

In groups, organisations and communities, we are inevitably organised by the field as a whole.  As Mindell says

Groups … put you into altered states of consciousness, make you feel things you did not want to, remind you of your fear, hatred, anger, ambition, pride, humiliation or greed. Groups can be terrifying. … these altered states are not just problems but solutions as well. My suggestion is not to marginalise these problems because they are uncomfortable. Become lucid and conscious, embrace the problem, go down into it, get deeper, and explore the states and people who flirt with you, get to the sentient essence, and help everything transform.(Mindell, 2000, p.191)

This expresses the concept of deep democracy, which as a methodology, surfaces voices that are central and those that are marginal and explores the relationship between them to bring awareness to the whole. This applies whether the system being explored is a country, a community, a family, a team or an individual.

Awareness of the ‘field’ is different from knowledge of the parts of a system… The character of the field does not depend on stable and fixed parts, but on temporary roles and timespirits that flow within and outside the immediate boundaries of the system. Its important to respect the roles and see the hierarchies which exist, but the deeper dynamics of the group can be accessed only through the field, the feelings which bind and separate us (Mindell, A. 1995, p. 43).

Worldwork: psychotherapeutic skills in service of community dialogue

Processwork has developed, and continues to develop, ways of working with world issues, whether they appear in the internalised oppression of a client, relationship dynamics or larger organisational, group and community contexts.

In large multinational and multicultural gatherings, worldwork creates arenas where people can train in and practice engaging with diverse perspectives, attitudes and feelings, in order to discover inclusive and creative ways forward. When a group is in conflict, we know that holding the tension, and framing different feelings and perspectives, is more fruitful than simply looking for outcomes.  We help a group to slow down at the point of disturbance – the ‘hot spot’ – and explore aspects that are driving conflict or distress and which can get ignored if people rush to avoid the discomfort at those points.  This means paying attention to the history and feelings behind behaviour in the present interaction – aspects that are often overlooked in community or organisational interactions.  This is deep democracy in group work – we attend not only to aspects that are rational or more concrete – consensus reality– but also to non rational experiences e.g. feelings, fears, beliefs, and projections – dreaming experiences– and to aspects that unify all of us –sentient experiences.

The following example comes from the Worldwork 2008 conference,’ Doorways to Diversity, Seeking a Home in the World; Processing conflicts around borders and boundaries in culturally diverse societies’ which took place in the Royal National Hotel in the centre of London in April 2008.

It was an extraordinary, diverse, dynamic and transforming experience. Some 420 people gathered from 38 countries and nations. This large and diverse group created an exciting and creative atmosphere through which issues related to racism, colonialism, genocide, war, violence, trauma, gender, sexual orientation, economics, language, hope and hopelessness were worked on deeply. As well as processing the issues around our diverse personal and collective histories and present time, we also learned and practiced cutting edge methods of Worldwork facilitation including the principle and practice of ‘deep democracy’.

…There were also plenty of opportunities for engaging and networking with others as well as to observe, and take time for reflection and integration of the learning and experience. There was awareness for many of the participants on how we contribute to the polarisation of conflicts, and how we can contribute to conflict resolution and make a difference in our communities.

…There were opportunities for each participant to have one to one meetings with a Worldwork staff member, for the purpose of exploring personal reactions and learning, and to explore how to specifically apply the learning in one’s own organizational and community context. All participants also had access to a member of the ‘heart team’ who were Worldwork staff members on hand to provide emotional support throughout the conference.
(IAPOP, 2018).

Mindell was among 70 facilitating staff members from around the world. The format of the conference included large group gatherings, theory and ‘hot topic’ sessions with presentations and discussions, daily facilitated small groups which enabled people to go more deeply into the large group themes and practice skills together, and ‘fishbowl’ style interactions. Among the many themes,

There were multi cultural sub groups who took the opportunity to work deeply together, including people from Greek and Turkish backgrounds working on long-standing conflicts; South Africans and Australians working on the pain of the past and present, as well as extraordinary hope for the future. There was a powerful group of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered people working on issues of love, internalized and external oppression. On one of the days the group worked intensely on collective trauma through the channels of movement, sound and theatre(ibid).

Worldworld facilitation methods are also used in community meetings and forums.  The following are examples from Croatia, Rwanda, and the UK.

Croatia and the Balkans

Just after the war in the Balkans, in 1996, Arlene Audergon and Lane Arye facilitated a forum for the first time in Osijek, coordinated by the International Rescue Committee.  Udruga Mi, an NGO in Croatia, formed and developed close links with organisations throughout Croatia.  Audergon and Arye worked in close cooperation with Udruga Mi and UNHCR. We facilitated forums twice a year supported by the UNHCR, Open Society, OTI, OSCE, the Threshold Foundation and Norwegian, Danish, British, Dutch, and Belgian embassies

Each four day forum had approximately 80 people, from all sides of the war, and with their own war experience and trauma. Participants were from local NGOs local authorities, and international organisations, from a wide range of professions and activities all dealing with painful and volatile issues in their communities. In the forums these groups worked together on the conflicts and issues they met in the field. The forums were deeply emotional.  Many hundreds of people attended these forums, and were touched in ways that impacted them personally and in their contributions and leadership in community.
(CFOR 2018a).

Milan Bijelić writes about his personal experience as a Croatian and a trainee process worker, participating in the first of a series of forums called ‘Building of sustainable community in the aftermath of war’ in Croatia in 1998:

 “A Croatian woman commented that when the Serb refugees return to Croatia, they should not walk around with their heads held high; they should walk with their heads down. I, and many others in the group understood her to mean that Serbs should be deferential.  In that moment, people in the group reacted in different ways.  They were commenting to one another, some were reacting, some were smiling from discomfort, someone started coughing, and others were talking with their neighbours in the circle.  The facilitators … asked the group to slow down… a Serb said that he would like to talk to the woman … with the help of facilitators, because he “did not agree with what she said and hoped that she meant something else.”  He indicated that he hoped that they would eventually understand one another.”

Bijelić wondered why the group would stay with the discomfort and give attention to this expression of ethnic intolerance which could result in a very heated situation. He describes his experience when the hot spot was facilitated:

 “I experienced every question and response in my body. I had many physical symptoms – sweating, constrictions, and butterflies in my stomach.  I also questioned their attitudes.  I met my own hopelessness.  I was experiencing the ‘field’ in my body and everything that was facilitated between the two of them had an impact on me.  They achieved a temporary resolution by meeting one another as human beings, despite their different views about the recent violent conflict, and were supported to express something that had been so potent in the field but had, as yet, been unexpressed.  I felt the relief in my body.  I felt relieved not just by the temporary resolution but by the full expression of their views and their experiences as everything was carefully unfolded.  The sense of relief that I felt also came from the facilitators’ attitudes, as they were able to welcome the views and descriptions of the experiences of both the man and woman in the middle. All parts were welcomed, expression of different views and perspectives were welcomed.”
(Milan Bijelić, personal communication, April 2016).


Arlene and Jean-Claude Audergon write:

In post-conflict zones, community wide trauma can easily fuel fresh rounds of violence. Our experience applying ‘worldwork’ methods in post-conflict zones is that with facilitation, communities have a profound capacity and resilience to be able to meet, and process history together, so as to not fall victim to repeating rounds of violence, but rather to find shared pathways forward for recovery and violence prevention.
(CFOR 2018b)

Through their worldwork organisation CFOR, the Audergons are currently implementing a three-year programme in Rwanda

together with Innocent Musore of GER Global Initiatives for the Environment and Reconciliation in Rwanda, and in cooperation with the NURC, National Unity and Reconciliation Commission. The programme supports the ongoing work of reconciliation, violence prevention and community recovery, in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide.

Innocent made contact with Arlene and Jean-Claude (Audergon), with a dream of making a contribution to his country and the Great Lakes region – asking if we might work with him to bring CFOR’s programme of post-conflict recovery and violence prevention to Rwanda, and potentially to Burundi and the DRC. Innocent then came to the UK to take part in our Intensive course.

The programme is now underway in Kigali. Participants include perpetrators and victims of violence, community members as well as those working within organisations to support recovery – all dealing with their own personal experience, the legacy of the genocide and the current needs of communities. Forum participants include youth and elders, local authorities, government and community groups.
(CFOR 2018b).

A one-hour film produced by the Audergons shows some of the interactions between survivors and perpetrators of the genocide during one of the forums (CFOR 2018c). We consider it to be a deeply moving testament to the courage, love and capacity of people traumatised by their history, to heal their relationships when the conditions for that healing are present.


Here in the UK, forums facilitating relationships between groups of people in conflict have also taken place and continue to take place in different areas and communities. For example, In Brighton, a series of forums were held around the theme ‘The Middle East in Us’, and in Sheffield a group of processworkers has facilitated four forums over the last two years, as part of Sheffield’s Festival of Debate, beginning with one focusing on ‘Sheffield divided’ immediately following the Brexit referendum when Sheffield voted 52% leave, 48% remain.  We hope that these and other community-building initiatives will continue to contribute to community dialogues that de-escalate some of the polarisations and divides which increase in times of austerity and insecurity, and that more people will access facilitation trainings that help develop skill and expertise.


In this article, we have described a few ways in which three aspects of our practice can inform one another: inner work; psychotherapeutic work; and facilitation of groups and communities.  Inner work helps us understand who we are as individuals, in relationship, and in society. Work with clients is served by our inner work and by our engagement in the wider world as both of these help us to develop awareness of dynamics of power and privilege, awareness of how people experience their social context, and help us to develop skills in working with conflict – including inner conflict, conflict between two people, and conflict between opposing views in a group.

In the collective arena, ‘deep democracy’ differs from ‘majority rule’ and requires something different of us. Arnold Mindell recognises that

what leads us is not one idea or the other. Our tensions, emotions and long-standing conflicts lead us. What leads us is the atmosphere between us and the underlying field that not only pulls and pushes us, but joins us ultimately to one another. What leads us is the voice, the idea, just on the outskirts of our awareness, that has not yet been heard. What leads us is the interplay between old and new, between that which dominates and that which is marginalised. History leads us. We need leaders who can facilitate this encounter, who welcome diversity, conflict and the feelings and dimension of our experience.
(Mindell, 1993, pp. 148–160)

The therapeutic capacity to hold complexity and value it, is one of the skills needed in order to facilitate this encounter.

We have explored the central importance of the innerwork of the practitioner (as therapist, supervisor, facilitator), understanding that we are frequently ‘activated’ by the issues of the world around us, and that instead of putting this to one side or trying to correct it, we bring greater resolution and resilience to ourselves, our clients and our world by entering into it and engaging with the dynamic between its different parts, and including that innerwork as relevant and legitimate in supporting the client’s process.

Social and physical sciences continue to develop understandings of the way in which inter-relationship and inter-connectedness operate in both human and other-than-human spheres. In our therapeutic roles, our expertise addresses subjective experiences – feelings, dreams, trauma, impact of history – and this dimension of awareness and facilitation is needed in the public domain, beyond the therapy room. We therefore advocate for therapists to consider the possibility of developing and engaging our skills in community interactions, where, at this time, such facilitation is needed, and can help bring creative outcomes to the local and global issues we face.



Audergon, A. (2005a) The War Hotel: Psychological Dynamics in Violent Conflict.  London: Whurr.

Audergon, J. C. (2005) The Body in Processwork in Totton, T. (2005) New Dimensions in Body Psychotherapy, Maidenhead: OUP

CFOR (2018a) Croatia and the Balkans, 21 April 2018).

CFOR (2018b) Rwanda, 21 April 2018).

CFOR (2018c) Film Documentary of our Work in Rwanda, 21 April 2018).

Clarkson, P. (2006) The Bystander: an end to innocence in human relationships. London: Whurr.

Crenshaw, K. (2016) The Urgency of Intersectionality: TED Talks, (accessed on 21 April 2018).

Diamond, J. (2016) Power: A User’s Guide. NM, USA: Bellysong Press.

DiAngelo, R. (2015) Why it’s so hard to talk to white people about racism, HuffPost,30th April 2015 (updated 6 December 2017), (accessed 21 April 2018).

Goodbread, J. (1997) Radical Intercourse,: how dreams unite us in love, conflict and other inevitable relationships, Lao Tse Press: Portland.

Guardian unlimited (2018) Self harm among girls aged 13 to 16 increased by 68% in three years, UK study finds, 9 April 2018)).

International Association of Process Oriented Psychology (2018a) Doorways to Diversity, Seeking a home in the world: Processing Conflicts around Borders and Boundaries in Culturally Diverse Societies, 24—29 April 2008, London,

Institute for Public Policy Research (2017) Improving Student Mental Health in UK’s Universities,, (accessed 9 April 2018).

Kendall, F. E. (2013) Understanding White Privilege: Creating pathways to authentic relationships across race (2nd edition)Abdingdon-on-Thames:Routledge,

Lewin, K. (1951). Field theory in Social Science.New York: Harper.

Lewin, K. (2008) [1946]. Resolving social conflicts & Field theory in social science. Washington DC: American Psychological Association.

Mind (2018) Mental Health Facts and Statistics, 9 April 2018).

Mindell, A. (1988) The River’s Way: the Process Science of the Dreambody, London: Penguin.

Mindell, A.(1991) City Shadows.London: Arcana.

Mindell, A. (1993) The Shaman’s Body: A New Shamanism for Transforming Health, Relationships, and the Community, New York:HarperCollins.

Mindell, A. (1995) Sitting in the Fire: Large Group Transformation using Conflict and Diversity. Portland:Lao Tse Press.

Mindell, A. (2000) Dreaming While Awake: Techniques for 24-hour lucid Dreaming,Charlottesville: Hampton Roads.

Mindell, A.(2008) Bringing deep democracy to lifeinPsychotherapy and Politics.Chichester: Wiley.

Mindell, A. & A. (2018). Process Oriented Psychology, 21 April 2018).

Ryde, J. (2009) Being White in the Helping Professions: Developing effective intercultural awareness.London: Jessica Kingsley


Iona Fredenburghis Co-Director of ProcessworkUK, and a member of the teaching faculty. She practises as a psychotherapist, supervisor, trainer and facilitator. Her  longterm interests include the impact of marginalisation, and  extreme and altered states including dementia, addictions and psychosis. A deep orientation to nature sustains her perspective and practice. Contact

Leah Bijelićis a processwork psychotherapist, supervisor and community facilitator living and working in Sheffield.  She has a central interest in dynamics of power and privilege in society, in relationship and within ourselves.  She is currently exploring the influence of the field in academic researchers’ experience of vicarious trauma and burnout related to their topic of research. Contact

[1]The number of anti-depressants prescribed in England has doubled over the last decade (NHS prescribed record number of anti-depressants last year (Guardian online, 29 June 2017)  and the number of deaths related to use of street drugs is at its highest level since comparable records began (in 1993; see (Statistics on Drug Misuse, 2018, NHS Digital).    Between 2011-2014 there was a 68% increase in self harm among girls aged 13–16 (and no increase in boys of that age) the majority of whom live in deprived areas. Eighty three percent of those incidents were related to overdose. (Catherine Morgan et al. 2017).  Those who self harm are also at a vastly increased risk of unnatural death, of death from suicide, or of acute alcohol or drug poisoning.

You can download this full article as a PDF here.