Author Archives: Elva Redwood

What is Processwork?

Welcome to The Edge, a blog about Processwork in all its applications and manifestations.  As a practice and theory of human experience, those applications are unlimited and as varied as all the individuals and groups who make use of it.  I hope these posts, by Processworkers in different walks of life all over the world, will draw you in and inspire you to discover how Processwork can support growth, creativity and communication in your own life and work.

By Elva Redwood, Managing Editor, The Edge

History of Processwork

Processwork originally grew from Jungian psychology in the 1970s and 80s, when Arnold Mindell practiced at the Jung Institute in Zurich.  Dr. Mindell’s deep curiosity and work with people on body symptoms led him to broaden the dreamwork approach and explore different sensory channels.  Processwork was born as one of the first psychologies to integrate somatic experiences, and has since grown far beyond psychology in its scope.

The group of students drawn to study with Dr. Mindell became a dynamic community who helped him creatively; to teach, apply research, and elaborate on his theory and practice of Processwork.  The discipline continues to develop and is taught with the understanding that each Processworker will make it their own and contribute their own expertise and discoveries to the whole.  This original community has grown into a global association of practitioners and schools, both those without official Processwork credentials, and those with a Diploma in Processwork and affiliated with the International Association of Process Oriented Psychologists (IAPOP).

Influences on Processwork

Since its beginnings, Processwork has been shaped by many indigenous cultures’ wisdom, to which we all owe so much.  Most notably the Indigenous Australian knowledge of Dreamtime and the Chinese philosophy and practices of Taoism are fundamental to seeing the world through a Processwork lens.

Processwork Theory

The theory itself is elegant in its simplicity and application to any aspect of life.  As well as a tool for individual personal growth, Processwork’s model for identity and experience is equally useful for relationships and groups, both small and large, and any kind of conflict work.

Processwork understands human experience as a dreaming process which unfolds through sensory channels.  Our experiences are alive in Consensus (everyday) Reality as well as Dreamland – aspects of experience which are subjective and not necessarily agreed upon in a given culture.  At the deepest level, consciousness and reality spring from Essence, birthed and mediated by Process Mind, which is analogous to the ancient Chinese understanding of the Tao Which Cannot Be Said.


The simple channels of experience are visual, auditory, proprioceptive and movement.  Composite channels are made up of these simple ones and include relationship and world.  We are constantly receiving and emitting information in all these channels, though we are only aware of some of that information.

Primary and Secondary Processes

The information we are aware of and identify with comprises our “primary process,” the person or group we understand ourselves to be.  Information that we don’t identify with, which is often problematic in one or more channels, is connected to our “secondary process,” something outside our usual identity, which we are growing to become.


Between these primary and secondary processes is the phenomenon called the Edge.  It is our growing point, guarded by conscious and unconscious belief systems and contributing to misunderstandings and conflicts on all levels.

Attention to this dynamic of identity increases self-awareness, and therefore gives access to more choices of action.  Exploration and integration of secondary material leads to temporary resolution, eases difficulties, and opens a path to the next phase of growth.

Processwork is Useful Everywhere

Processworkers everywhere use this empowering paradigm to facilitate growth and creativity in uncounted spheres.  From individual psychology and inner work, relationships and families, Processwork has found rich applications in coaching, organizational development, and large-scale conflicts.  One of the most exciting applications for our troubled times is World Work, where hundreds of people meet to work on global issues. There are also dancers, painters, writers and musicians using Processwork in creating and performing their arts.  Teachers apply the theory in the classroom, and nurses use it in the OR.  Anywhere there are humans, Processwork can be useful.

To find out more from these individuals, please read on in The Edge.

If you’d like to explore deeper, visit the Processwork Institute Bookstore and public manuscripts pages, check out Arny and Amy Mindell’s website at, find a school or workshop near you at IAPOP, and take a class, or contact an individual practitioner.

Thank you for visiting us at The Edge!


by Elva Redwood, MA, PW Dipl., Managing Editor

Elva Wolf Redwood is a Processwork Diplomate practicing with individuals, couples and groups in Portland, Oregon, USA, and on-line.  She is a writer and a lover of dogs, fermented foods and knitting.  She is drawn particularly to work with artists, activists, culture changers and anyone addressing developmental trauma.


Alchemy of Eros: Unfolding Chronic Pain into a Richer Sex Life

By Niyati Evers


A little girl in South Africa let me know my pain had become my identity when she stopped using my name and called me “the lady with the broken back.”

My Known Way of Being

I’d struggled with severe back pain for many years, but I would not allow it to hold me back.  Even if getting into a taxi made me cry. Even if the only way to get to my hotel room was by sliding along the walls.  Even if I had to call a doctor to come inject me with painkillers just to cope.

That was my known way of being, what we in Processwork call our primary identity.  I was someone who never gave up.  This also meant I marginalized my pain; I refused to listen to my body or bow to its limitations.  I learned early in life not to need support from other people.

The Limit of Will Power

But my strong will couldn’t overcome the pain I lived with.  One night in 2008, I finally gave in. I was lying in my hotel room during a corporate seminar, my knees on a stack of pillows, painkillers strewn all over the mattress.  I hadn’t prayed since childhood, but that night, I found myself praying.

“Please God, whoever or whatever you are,” I whispered into the empty room, “I can no longer live on my will power alone.  Please take over.”

Emerging Identity

The next morning I couldn’t get up from the breakfast table.  I willed my feet to lift off the ground, but I was no longer able to walk.  Here it was, the emergence of what we call a Secondary Process: a new and in my case very unknown way of being.  I was forced to seek and accept help from others.

A friend took hold of me, put my arms around her shoulders, and dragged me into a taxi to see a doctor.  During the drive I kept wiggling my toes, repeating: “I can wiggle my toes, I am not paralyzed. I can wiggle my toes, I am not paralyzed.” 

The doctor told me I needed total bed rest.  My primary identity kicked in immediately:

“I can’t do that,” I told the doctor, “I am flying to America in two days.”

The doctor looked me straight in the eye.  “If you get on an overseas flight in this condition, they will carry you out on a stretcher and you will never walk again.”

My Childhood Dream

In an early childhood dream, I’m riding my bike when a wall suddenly appears in front of me.  I wake up right as I crash into the wall.

In Processwork, we believe our childhood dreams carry themes that run like rivers through our lives, recurring again and again in different forms.  I had run into the wall of my childhood dream, and just like in my dream, I woke up.  I realized my prayers had been answered: a bigger will had taken over and now forced me to listen to it.

Transcendent Recovery

While I recovered, my spine had to be completely straight.  I couldn’t read or work on my computer.  I had to seek and accept help.  Another dear friend took me into his home.  He looked after me for months as I lay flat with my knees on a stack of pillows.  

During those months, I reconnected to the transcendent joy I’d glimpsed on the spiritual quests of my twenties.  As I opened to receive love from other human beings, my heart softened.  People said they’d never seen me so radiant, even though I still shuffled through the house, barely able to lift my right foot, dragging my left leg behind me.  In spite of the incredible physical pain, I felt I was making love with the divine.

I am convinced this process prepared me for the deep, open-hearted relationship I now enjoy with my partner Robert.

My Symptom and Sexuality

When I allow my primary identity to push, my back transforms into the wall of my childhood dream; the pain becomes debilitating to the point where I cannot have sex.  My back injury forces me to listen to my sensitivity, to slow down and relate from the inside out.  I have to ask for what I need, for how and where I need to be touched.  I have to communicate my limitations and boundaries and express my desires for tender connection.  All of which is very secondary for me!  Only when I surrender to my body’s signals am I able to relax into arousal.

From here I can explore the dynamics of my back injury on the playground of sexuality.  Even when a symptom is objectively real, in what Processwork calls Consensus Reality, there is a dreaming process in the background.  When we unfold a disturbing symptom during sexual play, we can tap deep into its true gifts and meaning.  Within my debilitating back injury I access a powerful energy, unaffected by pain.


The overall process of my back injury is about surrender to a greater power.  Things that turn me on or off sexually all mirror that process.  My will power serves me great in many areas of life, but sexually, being the one “on top” or “in control” is no good for me.  

As I consciously play at being Robert’s servant and give him control of the show  (for the duration of our sexual play), I follow my dreaming process; I surrender to a greater power.

Through this we both experience profound levels of intimacy and transcendence.  The “lady with the broken back” recedes and I become Snake Woman.  Robert and I flow in movement, sound, love, joy, playfulness and connection.  Our power and surrender dance together in ecstatic oneness.

I Needed to Break

In a way, the little girl in South Africa was right.  I was the “lady with the broken back.”  Life broke me because something in me needed to break.  Living on will power was a hubris in me that needed to be humbled.  It is through that ‘broken-openness’ I have surrendered to a deeper wisdom and love. 

As Rumi says: “only from the heart can you touch the sky”.


Niyati and Robert will be leading a workshop; Alchemy of Eros: An Erotic Journey of Intimacy, Pleasure and Transformation, at the Processwork Institute, October 19th-21st, 


By Niyati Evers, MAPW

Niyati Evers is originally from Amsterdam, where she facilitated Tantric workshops during her twenties.  In 1998, Niyati moved to South Africa, where she lived for 14 years and worked with race and gender dynamics.  She completed her Masters in Process Work at the Process Work Institute in Portland.  Niyati and Robert have an international therapy practice called Alchemy of Eros.  Together, they facilitate workshops in the realms of relationships, sexuality and intimacy.  She is working on a book about her experiences growing up in Amsterdam as part of the “second generation” of Holocaust survivors and living in post-Apartheid South Africa.   


This post is an edited version of one published on Niyati and Robert’s website.


Process-Oriented Coaching in Organizations

By Rho Sandberg


A Process-Oriented View of Organizations

In order to thrive in today’s constantly changing environment, most organisations recognise the need to become more agile.  They’ve often experienced first-hand the challenges that arise when structures, hierarchies, rules and work practices become rigid or are slow to transform.  Many organisations are attempting to cultivate new approaches, so that they can catch the wave of change early.

Leaders are now becoming deeply curious about the changing world around them.  They work with their teams to discover ways of operating that anticipate and are responsive to their dynamic and complex environment.

Anyone familiar with Processwork will recognise this movement to understand the dynamic forces at play within organisational life as an inherently process-oriented approach.  Arnold Mindell, the founder of Processwork, recognised the limitations of a state-based view of the world, which regards ourselves, our organisations and the world as static.  His methods introduce a way to work with the conscious and unconscious dynamics within organisations, groups, teams and the individual herself.

Accessing Deep Organisational Intelligence

Effective leaders are interested in accessing the deepest intelligence of their organisation.  As process-oriented coaches and consultants, we help leaders and teams to access tacit or internalised knowledge that is easily lost or overlooked.  

A process-oriented approach to organisational change is inherently agile.  Here are some of the reasons why:

1. Working With Disturbances

Organizations interested in being more agile, are learning to value and embrace the fluidness of becoming, as much as their current understanding of who they are and the business they are in.  In an era of disruption, the status quo can change in the blink of an eye.  Increasingly leaders engage coaches to support them in this enquiry.

A process-oriented attitude is curious about those disturbances that seem to interrupt our plans, as well as chronic organisational problems, conflicts or changes in technology and the marketplace.  We believe disturbances are of value and hold important information and potential for the organisation.  The value of this appreciative mindset, when faced with disappointments, is reflected in one of the classic business innovation case studies: The invention of The Post-It Note.  As a result of an apparent failure – an adhesive that did not stick permanently – a new product was created that had not even been imagined.

Rather than looking for one right way to do things, the process-oriented practitioner – just like an agile organisation – is looking for signs of what is happening in the environment, system or relationship in that moment, including apparent failures.  We ask ourselves: “What is right about that?”

2. Working Systemically

Process oriented coaches and consultants understand that subtle shifts in the environment can lead to major changes in society.  Drawing on the principles of complex systems theory and quantum physics, we help leaders to pay attention to what they are experiencing within themselves as a reflection of the dynamics of the larger system.   The links between inner and outer reality are understood in ways which are deeply meaningful.  

Leaders and teams that adopt a process-oriented approach begin to pay even closer attention to the early signs of pending change.  They work with curiosity and a learning mindset to discover rich sources of information they would previously have overlooked.

3. Mobilising Diversity

Solving complex social and technical problems is beyond any individual and increasingly beyond the skillset of one profession because different ways of thinking and experience are needed.  Agile organisations bring diverse and multi-disciplinary teams together.

However, forming a diverse and inclusive team is just the first step.  Learning to communicate with people who come from different professional or social backgrounds is challenging on occasions.  Process oriented coaches and facilitators draw on their training in conflict management and share these skills with others.  In this way, subtle tensions and the entrenched problems that limit creativity and stifle genuine innovation can be successfully addressed.

4. Emerging Leadership

In addition to recognising the formal roles people occupy in the hierarchy, we work with the dynamic shifts in roles which can easily be missed.  For instance, relying only on identified leaders or experts can be a dangerous trap that limits the information and insights brought to the table.

Leadership is both a formal role and an impetus that is needed throughout the organisation.  Supporting informal leadership to emerge is essential for any organisation or community that wants to tap into its resources.

Process oriented coaches work with the visions and aspirations of teams and individuals.  They help would-be and emerging leaders pay attention to their dreams and sources of inspiration, to step into their fullest potential.

5. The Skilful Use of Power, Influence and Authority

Processworkers are interested in the influence of power and rank on the ways people interact in the workplace.  The ripple effect of unacknowledged power and rank differences can be insidious, resulting in negative competition and jealousy, interrupting the flow of information and ideas, and impacting organisational morale and wellbeing.

Too often, power and rank are not recognized because of a hesitancy to talk about these things.  They are felt but not discussed.  Process workers assist others to understand their own relationship to power and impact upon others.

6. Exploring The Undiscussables

Process oriented coaches and consultants support organisations to bring awareness to the “undiscussables” which often shape their culture.  Coaches work with individuals to think about the best ways to approach these potentially challenging conversations.

We recognize that these unexplored dimensions of organisational life can block the flow of energy and resources.  An organisation that wants to be effective can rarely afford this sort of energy drain.  It undermines flow and keeps creativity and dialogue stuck.  

In fact when worked with skilfully, those things we try to avoid and regard merely as disturbances, reveal themselves as a rich source of useful insights for the organisation.  Exploring the more challenging aspects of organisational life can in fact mobilise a deep potential.

7. Adopting A Multi-level Lens

In summary, process-oriented coaches and consultants adopt a rich lens to view and work with different sources or levels of information and potential within an organisation.  They assist individuals in organisations to understand the fluid environments they operate in and to make better strategic decisions.  These elements include the flickering signals of impending change or new market needs and trends, the dynamics of leadership, team and partnership relationships, and a deep connection with the organisational mission and purpose.


By Rho Sandberg, 

MACFOC, MCogSc, PCC Accredited Coach

Rho Sandberg, along with her business partner Vicki Henricks, MA, Dipl. PW, PCC Accredited Coach, is a founder of the Global Coaching Institute, which offers internationally accredited coach training using a process-oriented approach.  Collectively, they bring over 60 years experience as executive coaches and consultants to senior levels of government and executive teams in global corporate, public sector and community settings.


Photo credit: Oliver Sjöström (cropped)


My Path of Heart: Using Processwork to Understand and Nourish my Polyamorous Relationship

By Rami Henrich


Believing in My Path of Heart

One of the greatest gifts Processwork has given me is the ability to accept my wild, adventurous, intense, and outrageous nature with greater ease.  I had a tendency to pathologize my curiosity, my intensity, my sexual explorations, my counter-culture relationship, and my general out-of- the-boxness, but Processwork helped me value my own inner diversity.  Processwork suggests what you doubt about yourself or what you think is wrong with you may in fact be the seed of something beautiful and useful that wants to unfold and be lived more completely.  For me, the idea that my family’s polyamorous relationship (35+ years now!) might somehow be perfect and hold exactly what is needed in the world was a radical and deeply relieving perspective.  This cleared the way for me to embrace my path of heart more fully.

Marginalization and Internalized Oppression

Cindy, Tom, and I have always been aware that our non-monogamous relationship meant we were outside the mainstream, but Processwork provided me with the additional framing of marginalization, which has helped tremendously.  To realize that non-mainstream people are marginalized by the dominant culture in so many ways that it lead to internalized oppression confirmed my experience and provided some relief.  

It is often difficult to recognize internalized oppression because it can take on the form of an inner critic, a relationship argument, or some other personal manifestation.  Processwork helped me de-personalize it and wake up to the ways in which our family’s difficulties and feelings of self-doubt were not entirely our own.

Our Relationship Is a Worldwork Issue

The Processwork concept of Worldwork shows how world problems can be felt and processed by individuals through relationships and manifest in group dynamics.

Realizing my marginalized voice and experience were not just tolerated but actually needed in the world was yet another breakthrough moment for me.  The mainstream may also suffer from a rigid adherence to monogamy; both the freedoms and difficulties of a polyamorous relationship may be something our culture actually needs.  Without suggesting monogamy is wrong, this new perspective opened me to new questions about what polyamory means for the broader culture.  Do people in monogamous relationships need more awareness of an expansive capacity for love?  Might they need more attention to their own inner diversity, to the myriad needs and interests they have that might not be wholly satisfied by one partner?

Viewing our relationship as a Worldwork issue helped me value our path of heart that much more.  It supported and encouraged me to come out, to express myself, and to step into yet another worldwork role: that of a therapist and facilitator to polyamorous clients and support groups.

Discovering My Own Rank

In Processwork, rank is the power or privilege a person or group has in a given circumstance.  When people are unaware of their rank, it can lead to increased oppression and escalations in conflict.

I’m often aware of the social rank and privilege monogamous people have.  While it is important for me to recognize I may have less social rank in terms of my relationship status, Processwork has helped me notice the rank I do have.  My psychological rank is relatively high because creating and sustaining a counter-culture relationship has forced me to work on my awareness, my edges, and my relationship in a very determined way.

Also, being part of a marginalized group provides me with a certain amount of spiritual rank.  Our relationship has given me ample opportunity to experience isolation, feeling on the outside of mainstream relationships, feeling afraid to celebrate our relationship both within the context of our extended families and in the world, and always feeling like I/we should act “normal” so as to not attract attention.  This made me feel unseen and unknown.  One person even called us an abomination.  These experiences forced me to go deeply inside, to find a place of detachment and love for all voices, including those who judge me harshly.  

In addition, I recognize I also possess a certain amount of social rank that results from having two wonderful loving relationships, while many people struggle with loneliness and wish they could find even one partner with whom to share their life.

In a polyamorous relationship, some members have more rank than others.  For instance, Tom and I have more social rank within the relationship because we are legally married, while Cindy and I have more psychological rank because we are both dedicated to psychological learning, personal growth, and awareness training.  As the person in the middle, I have a certain kind of rank in the relationship because both Tom and Cindy “share” my time and attention.

Rank is fluid, it changes all the time depending on the circumstances, and developing my rank awareness has been tremendously helpful in our relationship.  Noticing who has rank in a given moment can really help in the midst of a difficult relationship situation because it shows which perspectives or feelings may need more support and understanding.

Deep Democracy

The Processwork concept of Deep Democracy means being open to all viewpoints, experiences, and emotions, not just the ones we agree with, but also those that are uncomfortable, unknown, or frightening.  This is a difficult thing to achieve because there are always aspects of self or other that I would rather change or just get rid of.  It has been worth the effort because ignoring one viewpoint in favor of another only polarizes the two sides and moves them farther apart.  

I strive to develop my sense of Deep Democracy; an inner elder and facilitator who can hold and honor a diversity of perspectives simultaneously.  It is this developing skill I attempt to bring to myself, my relationship, my clients, my group work, and the world, and it is part of a learning that takes me into the depths of an oceanic process within me that has the room and space for everything, every way of being, every state, every thing.


By Rami Henrich, LCSW, Dipl. PW

Rami Henrich is a grandmother!, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a Diplomate of Processwork, as well as a founding partner of LifeWorks Psychotherapy Center in Chicago.  Rami has studied, taught and applied Processwork since 2000.  She has a special interest in working with relationship difficulties and those who identify as living an alternative lifestyle.  Rami is a certified Imago Relationship Therapist as well as is a frequent blogger and speaker on topics including: Sex Positivity: Therapist Bias; Rank & Power; and Polyamory.  In 2016, Rami published her final project for the MAPW; Henrich, R. & Trawinski, C. (2016) Social and Therapeutic Challenges Facing Polyamorous Clients.


This post is an edited version of one that appeared in KPACT, May 25, 2017.


Photo credit: Tim Mosholder

Innerwork in Public Arenas

By Bill Say


Innerwork is Facilitating Your Own Awareness

In this post, I use the word Innerwork to refer to the Processwork form of Innerwork, as distinct from the many other forms in the world.  Processwork Innerwork focuses on individuals facilitating their own awareness.  We can practice Innerwork by sensing how we interact with physical sensations, following our bodily movements or allowing inner parts to speak to one another.  

Innerwork also Connects us to Others

Innerwork is “working on ourselves,” often by ourselves.  This is distinct from relationship or group work.  That said, Innerwork can also be a powerful practice when done in public!  Of course this is not what every individual or group chooses to focus on.  Our awareness and work with internal processes, parts, thoughts, and feelings often remain hidden.  However, this work is a potentially enriching factor that is often not just our own.  These complex, sometimes troubling and enlightening “inner” matters seem to frequently involve our friends, enemies, families, teams, organizations, communities and world.

Using Innerwork in Public Speaking

Innerwork has been a practice I’ve often used before addressing the public and feel too nervous to do so without undue anxiety or self-consciousness.  To start, I ask permission from the audience and offer a simple explanation, such as, “I often get nervous speaking in public.  Is it ok if I take a minute to ‘work on myself’ by simply noticing what I notice for a minute or so?”  Few of the groups I’ve asked have denied me this privilege and many seem to be fascinated by this relatively rare public expression.

Here’s an example of working on myself before giving a public presentation for Occupy Sonoma County.  (I start at about the 1:30 second point):

A Facilitator’s Innerwork Reflects the Group

Aside from working on myself at the start of presentations to ease my nerves, I also use Innerwork to begin to speak to dynamics that may exist within a group I am facilitating.  My own thoughts, feelings and even dream-like processes in a moment may not just belong to me but may also represent feelings, perspectives, roles or processes that live within the group, even one I’m newly encountering.  

One example is a graduate psychology class I was teaching.  After a challenging number of weeks, I was facing a group that was in deep conflict.  Plus, on this particular day a few of the members were challenging my teaching.  For some reason that day they didn’t trust me, at least not enough to support me to continue my instruction.  I realized I needed to work on myself and asked the class if I could take a few minutes to do so.  The group hesitated about my request and after some back and forth they agreed, on the condition that they could then respond to my Innerwork.  

I proceeded to explore a part inside me that didn’t quite trust me and one that wasn’t necessarily trustworthy!  By even briefly hearing from these parts the group shifted and was satisfied enough to continue with the class.

Levels of Reality

What happened in that class?  To answer that, I need to refer to the Processwork model of Levels of Reality.

There is the consensus reality level of facts and issues; there is “dreamland,” the level of feelings, subjective material and roles that are shared; and the essence level realm of what we feel most deeply and often share as an experience.  

At the dreamland level of reality, roles are shared and any “ghost role” (a role or part that is referred to or implied but not yet explicitly represented) is a vital part to explore and express.  In the case of my graduate class, the “untrustworthy” one was a ghost role.  On that day, my exploration and expression of these parts was congruent enough that the group was satisfied and could move on to other things.

You can read more about the three levels of reality at Arnold and Amy Mindell’s website:

My Inner Conflict Mirrored the Group’s Process

On another occasion I was teaching a public seminar on diversity, conflict and community building.  Though I wasn’t particularly nervous at the start I did feel a bit “blank” mentally.  In this instance of working on myself I quickly found a part of me that wanted to be structured, clear and “get on” with the teaching while another part expressed itself in an arm movement that also brought forth a feeling of expanse, emptiness and possibility.  Though there was no clear resolution to the subtle conflict these two parts had, it did seem to point to a particular way of processing issues that the group later revealed.

This expansive style seemed to spread without any pressing need to resolve the issues involved (and even defied my own efforts to contain and frame the process).  It included more and more of each member’s perspective and shifted our collective consciousness into an unusually diffuse state of mind.

Did my Innerwork at the start of the day influence or predict the group dynamic to come?  I may never know, but having this moment of conflict in my inner process alerted me to an outer process that I wrestled with and embraced as the day went on.

The Facilitator’s Innerwork Engages the Group

Lastly, in my introduction to a conflict resolution training I gave to a local government group of internal change managers, I worked on myself for a minute in front of them.  With a group of government administrators, emergency services providers, and managers engaged in organizational change, I wouldn’t normally think working on myself would land so well.  Nevertheless, my minute of Innerwork elicited laughter, a sense of immediacy and connection and set the stage for a day of very engaged, lively and fun learning and dialogue.

Innerwork in Public Makes More Effective Leaders

As Arnold Mindell has suggested, in the near future, our leaders may pause during their talks to say, “Wait a minute.  Something is going on inside me…”  This Innerwork may be an important factor in shifting and transforming our environments and cultures.  I invite you to try it out!

By Bill Say, MA, PW Dipl.

Bill Say brings over twenty years of experience to the intersection of diversity awareness training, conflict resolution and community building.  He is a faculty member of the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco and a former faculty member of the UC Berkeley Extension School of Professional Communication.  Bill is a Diplomate of Processwork. His website is:


Photo credit: Didgeman

Sitting in the Fire: The World Work Approach to Conflict Resolution

By Lukas Hohler


When we switch on the TV to fighter jets taking off or “fire and fury” speeches, why does that grab our attention so much more than ongoing peace-negotiations elsewhere in the world?  Are peace negotiations just not as juicy as saber rattling?  Is there good reason we’re not transfixed by orderly people having rational peace talks about highly emotional problems?  Is it partly because many of those peace agreements will not last for long?

When Arnold Mindell first developed Worldwork in the late 1980’s, he said, “We are looking for something that is more exciting than war and more sustainable than peace.“  That is what attracted me to the Worldwork approach more than 20 years ago.  I have been eagerly studying and applying Worldwork ideas ever since, in my professional life as a conflict resolution practitioner and social entrepreneur.

What is Worldwork ?

Worldwork is an approach to group work and social issues which, unlike other paradigms, believes in the wisdom hidden within conflict, and the importance of all people involved in a conflict fully expressing themselves.  This attitude of inclusion is referred to as Deep Democracy, meaning that all levels and forms of human experience and expression are welcome to participate in a group process.

Roles and Ghost Roles

In order to facilitate a Processwork group process, we need to identify the main polarities – we call them roles – that express themselves under a certain umbrella topic.  We also examine what is being mentioned or talked about, but not visibly represented in the room.  We call that a ghost role.  

It is very important for ghost roles to be expressed for any process to move forward.  For example, if a group talks about history and the dead, the dead becomes a ghost role.  They are fundamentally important to what is happening but they are not expressing themselves yet.  In that case, we would invite the dead to speak.  Anybody who feels the dead can speak through them in that moment is invited to step into the ghost role and help it express itself.  

Other ghost roles that often arise include the founder of a movement or business, the vision of an organization, the perpetrator or the oppressor, “the system“, and more roles that we usually do not identify with.  Bringing in ghost roles has brought forward incredible relief in highly polarised situations, from social and political settings to organizational development.

Rank and Privilege

Worldwork also helps address issues of diversity, differences in the way we view the world, and how we experience those differences.  This is an area where humanity desperately needs to develop, since we are living in a globalized world and will be more so in the future.  We need to learn how to examine differences in rank and privilege and how these impact our interactions, as well as becoming aware of how each of us is powerful in our own ways and how that power can be used well.  Diversity without working on power issues is not likely to last and will result in marginalizing differences and separation.

The Kaospilots

After using Worldwork in various cultural and organizational settings, I had the pleasure to be invited to teach Worldwork at the Kaospilots; an innovative school for social entrepreneurs and changemakers, located in Denmark and Switzerland.  In both locations, the focus was on the school itself and the issues creating tension and conflict within it.

Sitting in the Fire

After introducing the Worldwork perspective on conflict as the embarking point of a process trying to happen, we steered right into the conflict and we sat in that fire together for 3-4 days.  The work mostly consisted of working our way up to a group process.  The main roles and ghost roles present took the stage, one by one, to fully express their experience to everyone present in the field of tension.  Only when everybody could empathize with every role, we moved on to the next one.  This process in itself brought a lot of insight and relief to the groups.  We would then focus on one or two central interactions that we all felt needed to happen and came up with inspiring directions to move forward.

I am very happy the Kaospilot school is interested in the Worldwork approach.  I feel it really supports the school’s vision of being a hub for social change, where real world challenges can be tackled by our future leaders.  

If such juicy conversations can happen at the Kaospilots, they can happen elsewhere.  “Fire and fury” is no longer only out there on our TVs, but can be processed among ourselves into something way more exciting than fighter jets taking off.  Using Worldwork, we can find solutions together that all parties can take ownership of.  

Instead of signatures on fragile treaties, we are working towards hugs over sustainable agreements.


by Lukas Hohler, MA, PW Dipl.

Lukas Hohler works internationally as a consultant for individuals and organizations in change processes.  He is also on faculty at the Institute for Process Work in Zurich, and is Managing Director of

As an entrepreneur he has founded SCHULKRAFT, an organization that consults with schools in Switzerland, and GRUNDKRAFT, that develops and distributes Empowerment Programs. He developed the Empowerment Programs, and, and has trained trainers and organizations in over ten countries to apply these programs in their work.


A version of this article first appeared in the Kaospilots Newsletter,, January 30, 2018. 


Photo credit: Kaique Rocha