Process Relational Psychotherapy: Creatively Transforming Relationships

by Robert Brizee

Robert Brizee has recently retired from this practice of Counseling Psychology and Pastoral Counseling as well as from the United Methodist ministry. His most recent hook is Eight Paths to Forgiveness, Chalice Press, 1998. He is on the Steering Committee of Process and Faith. E-mail:

The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 151-167, Vol. 29, Number1, Spring-Summer, 2000. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


The author presents the disciplines of philosophy, theology, and psychology as he experiences counseling through the perspective of process thought.

I. An Image

I will present a simple and playful image which has been helpful in bridging the disciplines of philosophy, theology, and psychology. The image emerged in my professional office as I experienced counseling through the perspective of process thought. This essay describes the clinical implications of the image, suggests hypotheses growing from it, and compares it with several other systems of psychotherapy. While being imaginal, the intent is to conform as closely as possible to Alfred North Whitehead’s account of the actual entity, as developed in Process and Reality.

Good models exist for the creative work of taking a systematic theory and producing a practical and simple program. For example, Thomas Gordon translated the Rogerian system into Parent Effectiveness Training, and Isabel Briggs Myers constructed the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator from Jungian thought. In this same sense, I am seeking the relevance of process theology for the daily practice of counseling. To this end the image of "committee meetings" has proved fruitful.

II. Person as Committee Meetings

This image proposes that the human person is like committee meetings, a translation of the concept of "an occasion of experience" created by Alfred North Whitehead in his cosmology and enriched by many others, including John Cobb, Jr., Catherine Keller, and Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki. Here the focus is upon "human" experience, although the concept was created to describe all unitary entities. Such an image had to await the "event thinking" of the twentieth century in which matter is seen as convertible to energy. Committee meetings would not speak to those classical Greeks and early moderns who believed, without ever having seen one, that the basic unit of all reality is an atom. While for them the building block of reality was pure and simple, this new image implies the opposite, that the simplest is complex.

Consider an illustration. A person approaches a cafeteria line and is immediately confronted with the desserts, among them a piece of her favorite pie. In the moments of experience which follow, the committee meetings occur. The eager eater shouts with glee, the nutritionist groans with travail, the jogger begins to calculate the time required to run off the calories, the bookkeeper considers the amount of money in her purse, and the historian reviews what was eaten at breakfast and is proposed for dinner. Will the person create herself into a disciplined dieter or a spontaneous eater out of these particular committee meetings? While the outcome is difficult to predict, we can know for certain that the person will define herself in some way before she slides her tray to the main courses.

A committee meeting is a process in which there is a beginning, stages of development, and a conclusion. The process always ends in the creation of a person with particular qualities for that particular occasion. A committee meeting is composed always of members who are present bringing proposals for who to become next. Members are technically "objective data" representing what has been and is now felt by the person. In a particular moment the person may experience diverse proposals about responding to that single piece of pie. Diversity and complexity are the highlights. Thus, the human person is a process like a committee meeting which is made up of committee members who always come to some decision regarding the agenda before them which is who he or she will become.

The image is simple. It can be grasped by a client in minutes. The image is widely known. Few persons, especially those who participate in the university or the church, have never served on a committee. Rather, most know of the repertoire of feelings which may be generated by sitting in a circle with others. The imagination necessary is to visualize the committee meetings as being within. Remembering our own experiences with inner conflict and immobilization may allow for such a translation.

However, simplicity and familiarity are not the only criteria needed to evaluate an image. The traditional criteria of coherence, consistency, and relevance have likewise guided this imaginal birthing. Equally important is that the image is helpful in daily tasks, true to the cosmology from which it arises, and useful as a prompter of new methods and techniques. Its limitations are also of great import, knowing where the image does and does not apply.

The roots of the image need to be exposed, for its indebtedness to psychosynthesis and transactional analysis may be apparent. As those who first built bridges between process thought and psychotherapy, I rely on works by John Cobb and Gordon Jackson.

III. Committee Meetings as a Creative Process

We begin with the common sense notion that meetings do begin and end -- for many of us the latter is accompanied by a sigh of relief. Nonetheless, such a notion was a major breakthrough for Whitehead in his cosmology according to Lewis S. Ford. The new revelation was the "atomicity of time," that time comes in units, leaps, or jumps rather than as a continuous flow. Continual movement does occur, and the past is felt by and influences the present, but more like a frog jumping than a stream flowing.

For the human person it is assumed that each committee meeting begins with a possibility offered by God. This possibility blends and interacts with a number of other proposals from one’s past and the encircling world, with the outcome that the person becomes someone. The one certainty we may have in each meeting is that God will be present with what Cobb calls "directivity." The purpose of every meeting is to create oneself.

Creativity as used in this discussion is not meant to be that which only artists and musicians possess. Creating is an every-person process. It is split-second, ever-present, and most often quite routine. Some meetings, however, are astounding, for example, the experience of the early scientist, dozing by the fireplace, who saw forming into his consciousness the first "benzene ring," the basic structure of all organic compounds. An awesome committee meeting!

Most are ordinary and predictable, such as deciding to take the usual jar and containers out of the refrigerator for breakfast. Routine or astounding, this process is the basic unit of our lives and the unit around which counseling may be organized. The qualities of committee meetings within may be as varied as the actual committees we have attended, which exhibit harmonious agreement, friendly compromise, tense standoff, autocratic intimidation, utter stalemate, rubber-stamp, divided house, yelling match, or mob scene. Always a conclusion is reached, even if it is to do the "same old thing" or to "put off the decision" once again.

The theory goes that we do create ourselves in each moment. It can be assumed that most times it is same hymn, sixth verse. Technically, however, there are never any two committee meetings exactly alike, for with the completion of the last meeting there is one more routine, business-as-usual, creation pushing us from the past. This image is more Hebrew-Christian than Classical Greek, although the Greek notion is more popular today according to Delwin Brown. More people talk about their great need to find or discover themselves, assuming thereby that there is something already there to find. People rarely say that the task, as described here, is to create oneself. Rather than peel the onion down to the central core and, lo, there is one’s real being, the committee meeting image assumes creating one new out of many older.

Becoming is the watchword for every committee meeting. The focus is upon the possible, the might, the could be. The present is the making of something out of the older givens and the new proposal for that moment. There is a bubbling, incubating, ruminating, reflecting quality about each meeting. It is as though the meeting is a sculptor who will shape a new form out of the clay which is given and the invisible idea which is new.

Of course, more often we meet those clients who feel tapped and imprisoned, overwhelmed by impasse, knowing little of creating. It is, in fact, this image which may allow counselors to patiently listen to the routine events of a client’s life, trusting that somewhere in the shadows are possibilities waiting to he named so that they may influence newness. The crucial feature of the person as process is that it speaks directly to the probability of change. If one is a chain-smoker, shy, stupid, insensitive, or selfish, then that’s just it. That is who he or she is. It is light years away to speak to those persons in terms of having created themselves that way many times to date, but in this moment they have the choice to create themselves in a new way.

Freedom is the issue. In Where in the World is God?, I have developed this theme in regards to how persons talk about their own smoking. Is one a smoker or has one created oneself as a smoker 4,593,210 times? The manner in which reality is defined is crucial.

Thus far I have simply taken the centerpiece of Whitehead’s cosmology, the concrescing occasion of experience, and translated it into an easily understood image. Clearly the concept represents an assumption, yet the human behaviors which result from it seem amenable to empirical research, which will be addressed later.

IV. Committee Members as Relationships

Committee members are a necessary part of any real committee meeting. Likewise, the committee image entails such members. Technically they are "objective data" in Whitehead’s language, those facets of the past actual occasions positively prehended by the becoming occasion. In the image proposed here the committee members represent potentials and proposals from the past. It follows that at any meeting a number of proposals come together, much as ordinary meetings entertain various motions. A gathering occurs.

There must be at least four sources from which the members appear: data from one’s own body, one’s own past, the world, and God. These represent only the differing sources and allow for a vast multitude of members, or data, which are present in varying degrees of awareness. The string quartet may in some complex occasions become the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The image celebrates the complexity; variety, and mystery of each moment rather than presenting a neat and tidy diagram or a spreadsheet of orderly rows and columns.

The voices of committee members are frequently heard embedded in the language of clients: "Lazy" squares off with "drill instructor"; "Just do it" opposes "try and make me"; "romantic," "mother," and "grocery-checker" vie for energy; "escape" wrestles with "being responsible"; and "marriage vow" stands in judgment of "I want out." All these are of just one of the four above types, relationships with one’s past.

But one’s personal past is not the total picture. Clients have struggled with powerful influences from their bodies and the world, the unexpected new medical diagnosis, the loss of a job, the startling car accident, the outbreak of war, the persistent call to do something new and scary. All live within a vast network of relationships imbued with clamoring proposals, referred to by Keller as a web. We are made up of relationships with our immediate past. They are the content of the process already discussed. We are composed of our relationships with our significant others, children, parents, forebears, neighbors, colleagues, church, volunteer organizations, bodies, race, ethnicity, habits, memories, beliefs, pets, home, books, ideas, music, telephones, cars, bicycles, grass, trees, mountains, rivers, clouds, earth, and sky Whitehead tells us that everything that has ever happened in our past plays some role in shaping us. But obviously, the active members of each committee meeting are a small selection from the vast world of events. Nevertheless, new members may abruptly dominate the meeting, if a headache or a cloudburst takes precedence over an intended picnic.

V. Chairing the Meeting

It is also assumed that there is not a permanent chairperson of the committee, but rather that the chair develops in the process of any given meeting. The notion is that of a member who rises to the occasion and becomes the leader. In advance, it is not known who will lead in any particular moment. Whose voice will carry the day is, in fact, part of the process occurring. Relationships, then, come together and the meeting itself requires that something be created out of those relationships.

The lack of a permanent chair is disturbing to some theorists, but to identify an enduring chairperson is to say, after all is said and done, there is a permanent essence that underlies all else, rather than posit the primacy of person as creative process and ever-changing, flowing relationships. Both change and continuity can be found in this process. The decisions of past meetings so influence the becoming meeting that continuity is highly probable, yet there is room for the possibility of change, even radical transformation. Our task in clinical theory is to explain both continuity and change.

The nature of person is to have movement from a start to a completion. This movement is built into the reality of life itself. This assumption fits the facts better than that of a permanent chairperson. My telephone rings, hunger pangs emerge, or I remember a letter I promised to write. All these members have the potential to become the chairperson for the newly emerging meeting.

VI. God as Ever-present Committee Member

Not all members make every meeting. But God does. That is the first of two unique qualities of this particular member. The second is that God offers pure potential while all other members present the actual, which may at times also embody potential. In the meetings themselves other members clamor to be repeated. God offers possibilities which may be new and radical for a particular person. "Has been" meets "might be." In this sense a unique voice is always present in every meeting.

This image differs from the interventionist view of God’s activity in the world in which God appears at certain times in certain places. The American spiritual states, "When on others you are calling, do not pass me by" Being passed by is no danger with the committee image. God is a in high school vernacular, one who is highly social, and in theological language an absolute relator, interacting with all entities everywhere all the time. Obviously the image differs from those of the behavioral sciences whose methods do not allow for such a causal agent. In the image developed here, God’s activity is central and necessary to the total cosmology. It is as basic as assuming that no committee meeting can even begin without God’s proposal for that event. God is ever-present, offering possibility.

It is also notable that God is persuasive, not commanding. God is not one who will reign within a person, as the image of king implies. The committee image proposes rather that all members present will shape the decision. The "Persuading One" stands in contrast to the Hebrew images of God which arose from the battleground, mountain, palace, and courtroom. The meeting implies that God persuades, acknowledging the freedom of persons to create themselves. The committee will decide. The image of God portrayed is grounded biblically in the characters found in the parables of Jesus who display unexpected grace -- the prodigal’s parent (Luke 15.11-32) and the vineyard owner (Matt 20.1-15).

First, the offering of a new proposal to each committee meeting occurs only following God’s empathic feeling of the last meeting. It is only from knowing the person in his or her fullness that God forms the new possibility.

Second, following each meeting, God saves whoever or whatever was created there within God’s own life everlastingly. In a sense, then, God is present before and after each meeting. While the act of proposing speaks to the issue of human freedom, the empathic act speaks of the need to be fully known, and the saving act addresses the need that our decisions and creations be ultimately meaningful.

Out of the depth of understanding, then, the "Gracious One" offers a new possibility for the next moment, the result of which is cherished forever. Truly, a unique voice is present.

The danger of viewing God as a committee member is that it sounds too familiar. Ideally it should lead not to the domestication of God but to understanding each committee meeting as an awesome and mysterious event.

VII. The Ultimate Quest of Committee Meetings

The image being developed here should offer a vision of wholeness and health. Every adequate theory of personality and psychotherapy must grapple with such a vision. What is health? How is health undermined? How may it be restored through psychotherapy? Health is found in committees with members who can get along with one another while dealing seriously with becoming more whole and beautiful. Health is the complexity of having many intense relationships, while proceeding with varying degrees of harmony toward the highest forms of beauty.

Contrary to the illustrations of committee meetings noted earlier, health involves moving on with creation rather than being stuck in an impasse, creating only by denying a host of diverse members, or following blindly a single dominant voice from the past. Nor is it that one voice wins today and another takes command and reverses the decision tomorrow. It is rather a wide diversity which blends and shapes into unity, or in Whitehead’s words "the many become one." In process terms, health means you have rich committee meetings which work. In the area of relationships, health means an abundance of intense relationships. Limits, however, need to be acknowledged. While God is relating with every entity everywhere all the time, such awesome multitudes would utterly overwhelm us. There are severe limits on the number of significant relationships persons can balance. On the one extreme there is a tedium of bleak scarcity, on the other, the frantic state of debilitating chaos. Generally the more relationships we can cope with effectively the better.

Awareness of relationships is necessary, but even more important is empathy with those relationships. Health is feeling with other persons, significant ideas, the animals, the birds, the trees, the mountains, the streams. Empathic living is healthy living. In committee meeting language, it is to feel for, honor, respect, and listen to all those committee members. This points in the same direction as Albert Schweitzer when, floating down a river in Africa, he experienced "reverence for life."

Another element in health is to be intuitive about oneself. I have come to call this knowing-2 in contrast to our usual knowing-l, which is that "one and one makes two." Knowing-2 is to be aware of what one wants and needs as well as what is good and right for oneself. Knowing as a form of inner guidance is basic to a well functioning committee. For some, this is a knowing of a divine process which moves within.

Health is the quality of passionately questing for beauty -- not just for oneself, but for all of creation. The degree of intensity, eros, and passion one experiences in some relationships, and hopefully many, may be a measure of the degree of health present. Indifference and apathy represent the opposite extreme. The extent to which one desires beauty not only for one’s body, personal surroundings, family relationships and artistic creations, but also for other people may be a measure of health. Whitehead saw beauty as the more comprehensive value, with the understanding that truth, love, and harmony are surely components of beauty. He also proposed God as the ultimate source of all beauty In light of this, a question forms which needs addressing: Is health enhanced by acknowledging God as bringer of beauty? I have struggled with this question and know that for myself the answer is a hearty "Yes."

Yet others appear to reach health as measured by the above criteria without recognizing or identifying God. Are differing degrees or differing kinds of health obtained depending upon whether one is consciously relating with God? This question deserves further exploration.

Thus, this initial effort to define health includes a picture of a person as a creative process which continuously transforms varied intense relationships into increasing beauty. Degrees of health would be related to the degree these functions were occurring.

VIII. Psychotherapy: Sitting in on Committee Meetings

In this model the counselor enters a process that is already going on. God has been a constant participant in the process. The counselor is a late-comer pulling up a chair and sitting down in the circle. The basic task in the early stages is to listen carefully, constructing mentally the network of relationships which make up the client. Functioning in this style a counselor does not raise the following questions during the initial task of listening, yet would be aware of them during and after a session: Who is there? What are they proposing? How loudly, strongly, and adamantly are proposals made? Is the proposing radically different suggestions? Thereby are there strong disagreements? Who committee member aware of others present? Are there opposing voices with Is missing? Is there variety among the voices? How long have members been there? Who is new and, perhaps, disruptive? Who is old and has seniority? Are things moving along or is there an impasse? Who is hurting? Who is being ignored? Who do they want to get rid of?

The counselor’s role during the counseling process will vary among listener, friend, guide, proposer, and cheerleader. The primary focus is upon the quality of committee meetings which have been held to this point and the characteristics of those committee members who have been influencing those meetings. To be more specific, the basic image has led to the following strategies in counseling. Each will be stated briefly followed by an illustration of how a counselor might speak to a client.

(1) I promote awareness of the committee members who are present in a client by listening for the relationships which that person describes. If that client spends most of our hour talking about the ending of a personal relationship, I may say: "You are really hurting about the loss of your friend."

(2) As early in the counseling process as possible, my client and I paint a vision-dream-ideal of who he or she wishes to be. Painting such a picture will either offer permission to the person to walk right into it or will "flush out of the bushes" those committee members who have differing goals. The so called ambushers or saboteurs are identified and brought into the conversation with the hope that they may have an even better, though surprising, vision to offer. Either result is productive. "So, you’re saying that you want to be more honest with others instead of so pleasing."

(3)1 develop understanding of and appreciation for those committee members who are presently disliked, hated, repulsive, or alien to the client by entering their viewpoint as completely as possible. "I’m curious to know more about that sneaky part that you can’t stand."

(4) I encourage a new name for a committee member who was given a degrading label in the past, by re-entering past situations and carefully reviewing those committee meetings. "Let’s look carefully at how you decided that you were a coward after that terrible fight with your brother."

(5) I seek a harmony a unity with diversity, within present committee meetings of a client by promoting dialogue between previously divided or unknown committee members. It may well be that the qualities of a global society proposed by the World Council of Churches is just as applicable to the transactions of varied committee members within a client: just, sustainable, and participatory "I wonder what the over-eater and the scolder might say to one another."

(6) I encourage the awakening and enlivening of committee members who have been sleeping or sitting shyly and fearfully in the background, by offering a safe environment for diversity, differences, and inconsistencies. "When you said that you felt annoyed at him, I think I may have heard a new voice speaking."

(7) I facilitate the creation of a new committee member when there is need for such a voice in order that the client may be effective in today’s activities. This is done by mutually searching for models from that person’s past or by turning to history, novels, movies, TV, or imagination. "Sounds to me like you need a new, soft voice inside you."

(8) I practice planning for a day weekend, or some future event with the client by calling upon the total committee, not merely listening to those loud voices which have dominated before. "I wonder how your day might go if you listened to all parts of you."

(9) I promote an appreciation in the client for the complexity of being human by both experiencing and reflecting upon that person’s committee meetings. "Life sure isn’t simple, with all its tugs and pulls."

(10) I encourage hope in the client by offering a model in which each committee meeting is free within natural limits to create itself. The past, genetic inheritance, habits, and personality all loom large in any new meeting, but there is also freedom among the givens. Each new meeting offers the possibility of a new decision. "There’s a big difference between your saying that you have no will-power and saying you’ve overeaten most of your life."

(11) I listen for the lures of God in each committee meeting of a client by being alert to feelings, thoughts, symbols, images, and dreams which appear to persuade toward beauty, harmony, joy, intensity, complexity, and love. "Sounds like that idea just won’t go away until you do something about it."

While this list may have omitted strategies which are so obvious that they are out of awareness, it does include particular techniques drawn from the image of the committee meeting. Listening for committee members, understanding how they interact, and sensing the new potential disturbing the old patterns are central. In addition, a model of change has emerged. It involves an alternation between acceptance and celebration of the client’s actions. When both members and meetings come out in an old "business as usual" style this behavior is accepted knowing that this is the more established and powerful way for that client. Naturally they will be present and powerful in the process of counseling. When meetings reveal new voices and actions, celebration with the client is the mode, knowing that this is the new seedling just breaking though the earth with potential to grow into something strong and enduring.

IX. Past and Future in Committee Meetings

Given this image, the past is fixed and done, yet it is actually never left behind. It is, as it were, felt in the present. Like a shutter that is snapped, the picture is recorded on the film unchangeable. Thus, earlier committee meetings produced committee members. They are what is left as evidence of those primordial meetings -- or those that occurred a day ago or a split-second ago. Having been created they may speak from that moment on to emerging committee meetings. The result is that we cannot change the past. Still, the past is central to the counseling process. The counselor’s task relative to this past is to "reframe old pictures." The old pictures cannot be changed, but their meaning and significance can be. In fact, many committee meetings, which occur outside any counseling office, are devoted to seeing the old in a new light.

The client who decided in the past that she is a nobody can reinterpret her past by deciding that she was a somebody who was neglected. One who decided he was stupid may reframe that decision to state that he had dyslexia and did not know it. Delwin Brown’s concept of "contextual creativity" has been most helpful in considering a client’s past. This concept states that one is always creative within the particular context which is given. In reviewing carefully how a client made a decision or created a self-label, it is possible to appreciate that, given those particular conditions surrounding the client, the decision makes sense.

So often when clients have badly maligned themselves, the counselor’s task is to review the other choices they might have made and their likely consequences. Appreciation frequently increases as well as self respect. "I didn’t do half bad after all!" I have described this process in my own early decision that I was a coward (Brizee 93-98). The coward was a prominent committee member with a loud voice in my committee meetings for many years, and though now seated in the tenth row of most meetings can still occasionally rush to the inner circle and grab the microphone.

Whether nobody, stupid, or coward, these are committee members who live and speak in the present meetings. They will not be sent away, but be listened to, spoken to kindly, appreciated, or engaged in negotiation. They are the picture taken, the fixed past. Under earlier conditions, usually fiery and too often life-threatening, clients have created themselves in drastic ways. Yet those ways need not be how they create themselves now and in the future. Being aware of the circumstances in which the decision was made is critically important.

The future is the opposite in this model. It is pure potential. Nothing out there is fixed. Nothing is known. This conclusion is implicit in the committee meeting image. No one knows the results until the meeting is over, not even God. Great importance is attached, then, to each such meeting. The client is creating the future. Freedom is present, within a given context, to do so. The strategy of visualizing one’s future looms large in importance. This vision may become a powerful voice in ensuing committee meetings. To be effective it must. It is vital to ask clients the following question: "How will this action affect the "you" of the future?"

X. Assessment

To create an image is one thing, to present evidence of it is another. Both are acts of creativity and have their place in any system of psychotherapy. The counselor can point in directions which may offer tangible data for understanding the committee process, the members of the committee, and God’s ever-present possibilities for committee meetings. Assessment can begin with identifying the stages of the committee meeting and its conclusion. Process is not easy to measure. Carl Rogers and other early client-centered researchers used the Q-sort of self-statements as their technique for measuring changes of self during psychotherapy. As were they, we are truly dealing with most elusive data. Nonetheless, persons could be queried on the steps they go through when they face decisions. Perhaps the questions might sound something like: "How do you deal with tough choices?" "What steps do you go through when you are at an important crossroad in your life?" "How do you usually go about making big life decisions?"

There are choice-points such as deciding whom to marry, choosing a college, selecting a job, buying a car, taking a stance regarding alcohol, or developing sexual values. These events are much too momentous to be captured in the split-second occasions of which Whitehead wrote. Still, they could be a beginning until refined techniques are developed to measure the microcosm rather than this macrocosm. The resulting variety of process statements regarding life choices could be something like the following. "I just can’t ever make up my mind." "I always get into this big fight with myself" "Well, you just do what you gotta do." "I wait til the last minute and see how I feel about it. I Just know in my heart what’s right for me." "I do it and always end up having real regrets." "I simply ask what Jesus would do and do it."

"I write down the pros and cons and go with the longest list." "I follow the old saying, ‘let your conscience be your guide."’ "I go full steam ahead without thinking much, then pretty soon I trip myself." "It’s always a wrestling match between what I want to do and what I should do." "I end up asking someone else what to do." "My folks instilled in me a pretty good set of rules." Within the vernacular of these illustrations are some significantly different processes. There are important and consistent variables which could be teased out of these self-reports. There may be factors like committee meetings which are routine, closed, limited, restrictive, and narrow in contrast to those which are varied, open, expansive, complex, and broad.

Clear operational definitions are needed regarding a client’s perception of an occasion of experience, the stages she or he is aware of during this occasion, and how she or he knows that closure has been reached. There surely must be times when experience is felt to be "going with the flow" or a "leap of faith." Our folk wisdom states, "I’m glad that’s over" in contrast to "I lost track of time." Collecting data on the units and the stages has many intriguing possibilities.

There is a need, also, to assess members of the committee meeting, technically the objective data of important prehensions. We can measure actual and potential relationships. An inventory could be designed, and I have the rudimentary beginnings, which would raise the following questions with a client: (1) With whom or what has the client been relating? (2) How long has the client been relating to it-her-him? (3) To what degree is the client aware of the relationship with it-her-him? (4) Which feelings does the client usually have toward it-her-him? (5) How intensely does the client feel toward it-her-him? (6) What does the client expect will usually happen in the relationship with it-her-him?

A variety of clusters or constellations of relationships would offer us valuable information about planning the course of counseling. Simply the number of relationships a client reports would have meaning, to say nothing of the variety of relationships and their differing intensities. A person who lives with her dog, watches sitcoms on TV, and won’t buy a newspaper because of all the bad news carried in the headlines is surely markedly different from the person who relates to adult children, writes frequently to her friends, belongs to several social groups, and reads the latest bestsellers.

Great discoveries could be made in the realm of relationships by focusing upon the questions noted above. Number, varies; awareness, feelings, intensity, and expectancies of relationships could yield a multi-dimensional constellation of the personhood of a client. Problem areas as well as gaps would be helpful to both client and counselor. We would learn about "is" and "has been."

The committee meeting image might point toward instruments of assessment which would help us to gain valuable insights into our clients while also honoring who they are. An inventory might be developed which would serve us as effectively as the more traditional tools: the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, The Million Clinical Multiaxial Inventory, and The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. A comprehensive study of a client’s relationships could offer us the diagnostic information now sought in the usual instruments and clinical assessments. Character structure or personality could be sought in the sustained, enduring, and continuous relationships and the expectations therein, while more transient states of anxiety or depression could be found in the present constellation of relationships.

The idea of assessment gained from the image is that of finding out who is there in the life space of a client. As we draw out implications, the committee member image could lead us in some new directions differing from where assessment devices have led us before. Only if an image points us toward where we should look is it of any practical value.

Assessing the activity of God in committee meetings is a major challenge. In my attempt to define God’s possibilities operationally, I have turned to the grammar book. The subjunctive mood of the verb implies condition, contingency, hypothesis, or possibility. In contrast the indicative or declarative mood tells what has been or is now. The committee meeting image guides us to listen for the "shoulds," "mights," and "coulds" in client language as clues to wishing, yearning, longing, and desiring -- the realm of God’s possibilities. There is no doubt that shoulds and wishing can come from other members of the committee, but there is a higher degree of probability that they are reflecting the divine. The tugs, nips, pulls, and lures are going to be expressed by a client in some form, and the subjunctive may be a beginning in our search.

Such lures need to meet other criteria before even qualifying as likely possibilities from God. Three questions advance the inquiry: Does the lure involve a risk to the client? Does it include some degree of intensity, harmony, diversity, joy, beauty, or love? Does it expand the empathy of the client with all of life? Content analysis might be employed to seek out the frequency of certain verb forms in client talk. Do clients live in the land of the past, imprisoned by who they have been, or do they entertain future possibilities of who they might become?

XI. Questions Inviting Research

Thus far a simple image has been teased out of a theological system and applied to psychotherapy in order to see where it makes a difference in both theory and strategy. The remainder of the essay considers several arenas which invite research.

(1) What if Carl Rogers had attended seminary at Harvard rather than Yale? If Rogers had experienced Whitehead as a mentor, would his system of client centered therapy have come out differently? Would he have stayed with theology rather than entering psychology or would he have devoted himself to integrating the two?

There are a number of similarities between process thought and his theories of psychotherapy as formulated in his basic 1951 work. For example, he employs the following words and phrases: experience, self-in-relationship, process, significance and worth of each person, respect and reliance on the person, and most intriguing, forward-moving tendencies. He writes that "experience must tell its own meaning" (98, 117). He speaks of the self-in-relationship which can be "congruent with the sensory and visceral experiences" (97). This fits well with the committee meeting model.

Further, Rogers writes that our basic hypothesis is "that the individual represents a process which is deeply worthy of respect" (45). He speaks as well of "the inevitability of the process" (117), and that "some process new to his experience is at work within him" (75). The counseling interview is "only a small fraction of what he works out between interviews" (74). Clearly, Rogers is a process thinker.

Of equal importance is Roger’s respect for persons and their capacity to change. He highlights the "significance and worth of each person" (21, 35), and his "respect for and reliance on the capacity of the person" (36, 56).

Particularly intriguing is Roger’s use of "forward moving" and "directional tendencies." Was he allowing room for some type of life force or divine creativity? His own words speak for themselves. Rogers places "basic confidence in the forward-moving tendencies in the human organism" (36). He hints of their nature in the following quotes: ‘‘the forces which make for growth" (122). "forward-moving forces of life itself" (195), "this deeper force" (195), "the observed directional force in organic life -- a force which has been regarded as basic by many scientists," "directional trend," and "directional tendency" (488-89).

Rogers may be referring only to the organic and physiological components of homo sapiens. But the phenomenon he emphasizes is fully compatible with a Whiteheadian interpretation. And the totality of his system is so caring and compassionate that it suggests possible spiritual components. On the other hand, there are no explicitly named concepts in Roger’s system which recognize committee members, sub-personalities, ego-states, or parts. His emphasis lay more in the shifting and transforming of the total constellation of self-statements. Recognition of the complexity of the self would have enriched his client-centered position.

(2) Could Cognitive and Behavior Therapy talk with Process Therapy? These two schools have achieved tremendous practicality, but why is thinking or behavior the epitome of the human endeavor? The committee meeting image, "the occasion of experience," allows many facets to be the most important component in any particular occasion -- thinking, feeling, values, or physical sensations.

Process relational psychotherapy has the potential to be both wider and deeper, with an emphasis not merely on the process of thinking, but also on the gamut of that which might he experienced in relationships at any given time. Beginning with how a person is processing the complexity of her or his relationships may lead to more sophisticated results.

A second area of concern, which follows from the first, is the degree to which cognitive and behavior therapists manage the counseling process. The therapist sets priorities with the client at the beginning of a session and likewise assigns homework to the client upon the closing of a session. Process thought, in contrast, encourages entering and becoming acquainted with a process which is already occurring, then cooperating with those aspects of that process which are luring toward health and allow the new to unfold rather than manage. Dialogue between process-oriented psychotherapists and those committed to cognitive and behavioral therapy would be fruitful.

(3) Can Diagnosis and Treatment Planning Dialogue with Allowing the Process to Unfold? This question bears similarity to the previous one in that both deal with the degree of control exercised by the counselor. The process approach favors facilitating the process. Being convinced of a divine process moving within each client, the counselor engages in increasing awareness of its emerging directions. The counselor seeks to be as totally present and fully open to the words and actions of the client as possible, thereby offering a friendly context for the new, novel, and creative to come forth.

This challenge to cognitive and behavioral therapy is a call for research. How often do clients take an unannounced right turn at the next appointment, when the counselor was ready to move along the earlier established trail? To what degree are counselors able to predict the course and outcome of psychotherapy? Are there certain situations and personality types which call counselors to manage more extensively than others?

(4) Where does process relational psychotherapy fit among other psycho-therapeutic systems? Process belongs nearby the dynamic clinical systems and farther away from the more recently created cognitive and behavioral approaches. The emphasis upon members of the committee would be shared by the ego-states of Transactional Analysis, offspring of Psychoanalysis and its tri-partite design of id, ego, and super-ego, the sub-personalities in contrast to the Self of Psychosynthesis, and the many parts of Gestalt Therapy All consider the person to be complex, constituted of a number of causal agents which influence the becoming of the self.

Family System Theory holds in common with process thought the significance of the matrix, web, or configuration of relationships, although these theories focus more directly upon the interpersonal rather than intrapsychic. Explanations of the behavior of members within a family are sought in the role and status of those persons within the wider system. Systems theories are just as compatible with process thinking as the intrapsychic theories, since relationships are central in both and their designation as outside, interpersonal, or inside, intrapsychic, sets up a false distinction.

Cognitive and behavioral systems have already been addressed, but should be seen as results of the liberation of scientific psychology from the philosophical and theological matrix in which it had its birth. Among the theoretical systems, they represent most clearly the empiricism of twentieth century psychology.

While there are varying degrees of openness to the role of God within the person, none places the divine in the central and causal position of process thought. The Individual Psychology of Carl Jung is probably the most open to the divine and shares interest in Platonic "Forms" named "archetypes" in contrast to Whitehead’s "eternal objects."

None of the systems make a claim to be a cosmology attempting to explain every event occurring throughout the universe, but rather each is conceived as a theory describing human endeavors.

(5) Will process relational psychotherapy be part of the growing post-modern movement? Since presenting this paper, I have become aware of four postmodern statements, which were not available when I wrote (Jordan, Kvale, Wolleat, Olds). It appears that a movement is forming. For years the Stone Center colloquia have been exploring the concept of "self-in-relationship" (see Jordan), while a symposium on postmoderity in psychology was held in Denmark in 1989. Titles are suggestive. In 1992 Olds’ book, Metaphors in Interrelatedness: Toward a Systems Theory of Psychology, was published, and Wolleat’s article appeared in October 1993 entitled "Environmental Counseling: Post-modern Counseling Psychology" Process relational psychotherapy should participate in these developments.

Speaking confessionally, the committee meeting image has worked for me. It was conceived in the counseling office and has grown and changed in the years I have employed it. I find clients liking the image and the style it encourages. It has pleased me that the image has been gleaned not only from practice, but also from a cosmology which intends to explain everything everywhere. I sense this imaginal work to be only in the "Model-T" stage of development and to be calling for more reflection and research.

Process relational psychotherapy is truly the "new kid on the block" and needs significant help in growing up gracefully Recalling Whitehead’s belief that it is more important that an idea be interesting than that it be true, I hope that some interest has been generated.


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