What is Process Oriented Psychology?
Updated: Mar 1, 2020
One of the main approaches I use in my practice at EdgeWise Illuminating Counselling and Psychotherapy is Process Oriented Psychology (POP), also known as Process Work. What is POP all about?
Many articles and videos about POP make it seem very complex and obscure. The thing is, POP is intensely practical. Every POP session is connected to your everyday life, and the benefit comes from grounding insights into action. This might be a creative solution to a problem, or a new perspective you didn't have access to before.
So why is POP so hard to explain in simple terms? Perhaps it's because POP is rooted in ancient spiritual traditions and the work of pioneering psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and all-round mystic Carl Jung. Also, with POP you are invited to get in touch with a deeper level of reality -- the essence of things. And when you get to the essence, there are no words that can capture it. That being said, here is an article about POP that does a pretty good job of laying it all out.
One of the best things about this approach is the way it works with awareness. It helps you see life from a different perspective, and find the lightness and magic in even the most mundane aspects of existence (such as noticing a parallel universe in a cup of tea).
Perhaps the best way to explain POP is to share a short story about an experience I had while studying POP.
The Zen pterodactyl: Ancient wisdom wears a suit
I was four days in to a five-day study intensive, and feeling pretty 'tired and wired'. While working with a study partner in a POP exercise, I became aware of a shape I had been making with my hand. My study partner asked me about it, and I remarked that it reminded me of a pterodactyl's head. We had some fun making pterodactyl sounds, while I opened a closed my hand as if it was a beak.
At one point, in my mind's eye I saw a pterodactyl wearing a suit and hanging around the watercooler at work. Abruptly, right in the middle of a conversation with its co-workers, the pterodactyl announced it was hungry and left. I laughed -- not only at the absurdity of the image, but also with slight horror at the pterodactyl's behaviour. Leaving in the middle of a conversation with colleagues was certainly not anything I would do! The idea was shocking, but also compelling, so we explored it further.
When we stripped away the judgement and got to the essence of what this daydream was trying to tell me, I realised that a longstanding theme of ignoring my own basic needs, worrying about everyone else and over-stuffing my schedule was coming up again. I was able to acknowledge how exhausted I was. I noticed how overwhelmed I felt about returning to work with a full load of assignments and not much fuel left in my energy tank. When my study partner asked me what I had learned, I said that I noticed how the pterodactyl kept it simple, was attuned to its body and lived in the moment: When it was hungry, it ate, when it was tired it slept, and it didn't feel bad about putting itself first. This gave me the reminder I needed to start looking after myself properly, and probably prevented me from burning out during a very busy year.
A few months after what came to be known as 'the pterodactyl experience', I stumbled across the Zen Buddhist story Eat When You Are Hungry and was struck by the similarities in the message. To this day, when I find myself getting into that familiar state of exhaustion and overstimulation, I remind myself to be more like the Zen pterodactyl, whose wisdom echoes through the ages.