Putting It All Together with Process Work
The central principle behind psychology focuses on individuals and their personal lives. It is about me or you, and if we expand our lens, it is about our families also. This important central focus, however, covers about half of what psychology needs to cover. The missing half is not personal to me or you but what we carry psychologically due to our extended multi-generational family system, the groups we are part of, the history of these groups, and the countries they come from. Working in both of these realms together gives us the potential for more inner development and freedom. Psychology has been built on the idea of personal change and taking responsibility for one’s life, with the exception of severe psychological problems, which are seen as genetic or biochemical.
The central principle behind most peacemaking and facilitation is to work with the problems of the present moment, to make some kind of peace treaty and write it up. We, those of us who are therapists, facilitators, and peacemakers, don’t address the hidden presence history often plays. As a result, the various sides don’t understand that their conflict isn’t just their conflict, but history repeating itself. Many of us feel the way the Earth holds the trauma and ghosts of history. If these Earth spots are not processed or cleared, history repeats itself again and again. This year in Warsaw, a few weeks after I taught there, 60,000 white supremacists marched with slogans calling for a new Holocaust. The lessons and the energy of the last Holocaust have not been processed fully, so now here it comes again.
Despite my awareness of the repetitive cycles of history, I was still shocked to see—so in my face—humanity go back to this kind of hatred. We see this in the United States, as racism again rears its head with neo-Nazis and racists of all kinds stepping forward. A recent Republican candidate from Alabama, who was almost elected senator, commented that the last time America was really great was during the days of slavery. This is unprocessed racism that first led to slavery, resurfacing its ugly head. To a large degree, the future of humanity depends on our developing and implementing tools to break the repetitive cycle of unprocessed history.
For the last 40 years or so, I have trained in Process-Oriented Psychology. One major shift from more traditionally based, individually focused psychologies is the belief that we are neither just individuals suffering from our internal psychology, nor are we just groups of people or countries suffering from external present-centered problems. We are both. Often inner work, psychological work, and spiritual development are split off from world change and social action. However, in Process Work, we put this all together. Process Work identifies many channels of experience, such as the visual, auditory, proprioceptive or feeling channel, and the kinesthetic or movement channel. These channels add up, or couple into the relationship channel, the spirit channel, and the world channel. Within the world channel are all our experiences out in the world and how they impact our inner life. From a Process Work standpoint, sustainable personal change doesn’t happen without changing the world, and sustainable world change doesn’t happen without the individual’s inner work to change his or her feelings.
Process Work, as it is called, addresses individual issues, family issues, and world issues as part of individual therapy. However, it also addresses social and world and historical issues through group work methods. The two main tools for this are open forums and group process. We call these methods the Worldwork part of Process Work, this unity of personal work, inner work, and outer world change.
Social issues that exist within the field affect individual psychology. We share a field; an atmosphere we can sense we are all part of. The field is full of roles being played by individuals, couples, families, organizations, businesses, or cities. In families, some common examples of roles might be the parent or the child, the healthy or the sick one, the good child, and the addict. There are also hidden roles—those felt and gossiped about but not represented or identified with. For example, in a hardworking family there may be a lazy uncle to always gossip about. This is a ghost role, something that exists in the family but is not identified with. When he is mentioned, the energy of that uncle is present in the family even if the uncle isn’t physically present. Other common ghost roles are: the addict, the killer, the child, the elder, or even abuse, death, and love.
One of the most impactful ghosts upon a family or group is history. I am Jewish. In many Jewish families, the Holocaust is never mentioned. Yet history is present always in the field. It is a ghost role but somehow still present. It is important to emphasize the importance of family ghost work here.
The issue for me is also personal. In my family, we knew part of our family had lots of people directly impacted by the Holocaust and the other side had almost no one. I decided to form the Healing History project, to give people the space to process their history throughout Europe, Israel, and Palestine, and then the rest of the world. Again, just as we personally struggle to be present if our awareness is tied up in the past, the same is true for groups and nations. In conflict resolution, we can’t be present in an open compassionate way to the other side—no matter how many compassionate skills or meditative techniques we teach—until we first have compassion for ourselves and what our ancestors went through. How can anyone heal if there has been a collective decision made to stop listening and to push history aside? Let’s process our past. Let’s journey together to heal history.
Excerpt from “Healing History Breaking the Cycle of Personal and Historical Trauma” by Dr. Gary Reiss.
Dr. Gary Reiss holds an LCSW, Ph.D., and is a certified trainer in Process-Oriented Psychology. Reiss has a private practice in Eugene and Portland, OR, and teaches Process-Oriented Psychology worldwide. His specialties include family therapy, sex therapy, trauma work, healing history, working with coma patients, Worldwork in hot spots in the world, organizational development, and integrating Process work with different spiritual traditions. He is the director of the nonprofit, The International Peace Group. He has published 13 books, including “The Dance of Sex”; “Dreaming Money: Families that Dream Together,” and “Love, Power, and Wisdom.” His newest book is “Healing History Breaking the Cycle of Personal and Historical Trauma,” and his two most recently published workbooks are “Healing History Training Manual” and Process-Oriented Organizational Facilitation Training Manual.”