Tag Archives: inner work

My One Problem

Arch reflected in waterby Cindy Trawinski

It is always foolish to oversimplify complex problems. Nonetheless from the viewpoint of the Dreaming, regardless of the complexity of your life, you can have only one problem – ignoring the Dreaming background to reality. Ignoring the Dreaming means marginalizing the deepest unformulated experiences that create your actions in everyday life. Every time you ignore the sentient, that is, generally unrecognized dreamlike perceptions, something inside of you goes into a mild form of shock because you have overlooked the spirit of life, your greatest potential power.

Arnold Mindell, Ph.D., Dreaming While Awake

I love this quote from Arnold Mindell, founder of process-oriented psychology also know as process work. .

It reminds me of the importance of awareness. It nudges me to be more curious and to open to the subtle disturbances I sometimes overlook. It helps me remember that, underneath my emotions, thoughts and beliefs, is an exquisitely responsive inner ecosystem. It reminds me that I too am an animal, a part of nature and that nature is moving through me. When I lose my connection to the deeper nature, when I step over my reactions or am lulled into the rhythm of my everyday experiences or identities, there may be a part of me that goes into a kind of altered state.

Learning how this happens specifically for me means, in part, learning what kinds of experiences I tend to marginalize, ignore or avoid. Discovering what kinds of events tend to pull me away from my awareness and what awareness I pull away from is a lifetime’s practice that I am only just beginning. But it is one that calls me forward.

Dreaming Our Way Into the Future

beaded dream catcherby David Bedrick, J.D., Dipl. PW

At this time in our world, we may need the power to dream and the ability to understand one another’s dreams more than ever.  Our colleague, David Bedrick,  has been writing about dreams and other psychological and social issues for many years now.  In the blog below, originally published by Psychology Today, David gives us some insights into the mysterious, night-time phenomena, we call dreams and suggests some reasons why we should pay attention to their quirky and often wise messages and symbols.

#1: Dreaming is one of the most powerful natural healing events.

Dreams are naturally occurring; every night we live in a world where our deepest, but often suppressed and unconscious, experiences get to live in the form of symbols, feelings, and other worldly experiences. Then we wake up, and for most of us, these experiences get dismissed or simply forgotten as we attempt to live in what we believe is a more objective world of “real” people, places, and events. The underlying dreaming experiences of our lives become marginalized leaving us without a connection to our deepest feelings to move us, without our imagination to show us new roadways, and without a profound sense of what it means to be sentient, to be human. In short, dismissing our dreams dismisses our deepest selves.

#2: Dreams offer new resolutions to our greatest sufferings. 

Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” Our dreams are absolutely brilliant at doing just that – flipping our usual script and offering a radical new orientation designed just for us. They reveal the fear behind our rigidity; the beauty behind what we hold as ugly and the ugliness behind what we hold as beautiful; the power behind what we deem vulnerable and the vulnerability behind what we deem powerful; and the wisdom behind what we deem foolish and the foolishness behind what we deem wise. Further, they compensate for our biases showing us parts of ourselves that are in dramatic tension and conflict with who we try to be. Thus, when we try to be thoughtful of others, our dreams reveal how we need to be more self-interested; when we try to be spiritual, our dreams show how we marginalize our body and sensuality; when we try to be disciplined, our dreams show how we need to let go and let life flow; or when we try to promote peace, our dreams show how we need to live in a more “militant” fashion or grab hold of our power.

#3: Dreams reveal our most private needs nakedly, completely, and honestly. 

Dreams take off all of our clothes, showing the full range of our humanity in ways that our waking-selves would never do. I began commenting on people’s dreams in a public Facebook space about a year ago where 100’s of dreams have been shared with me – dreams of being fearful, powerful, brilliant, magical, ill, abused, brutal, and so many things that we wouldn’t show to others (and sometimes ourselves). It’s simply incredible to have a community of people, most who have never met personally, candidly revealing their deepest inner selves whether it is their demons or angels. Maya Angelou wrote in her inaugural poem for William Jefferson Clinton, “Give birth again
to the dream. Women, children, men. Take it into the palms of your hands. Mold it into the shape of your most
private need. Sculpt it into
the image of your most public self.” Our nighttime dreams help us heed Dr. Angelou’s call – to make our private selves public.

#4: Dreamers are needed to resolve the world’s most protracted problems.

How shall we respond to the enormous difficulties we face as individuals and as a global society – war, terrorism, addictions, and the harm done to women and to people of color?  We set up geographical borders and try to push them on the people of the Middle East to resolve their conflict, but it is not sustainable. We send people to treatment programs for substance abuse, but most relapse. We try to create a better world through revolutions and movements, but the new status quo ends up abusing and oppressing people in the same way that the old status quo did. We look at the problems of people of color and hope that some legislation and time will make it go away, yet the color line still remains one of the fundamental facts and tension points in America and much of the world. What can we do? We need dreamers who imagine outside the box, outside of our current paradigms, offering new ways of understanding, facilitating, and building deeper relationships with each other. Again, Einstein reminds us that, “The person with big dreams is more powerful than one with all the facts.”

#5: Our indigenous brothers and sisters consider the dream world to be sacred and we owe it to them to honor dreaming as they have.

The injury, death, and symptoms of trauma left in the wake of the genocide of America’s indigenous people are overwhelming – shame and guilt that most American’s survive via our defense systems and denial. Along with the injury and neglect of our indigenous populations comes the neglect of indigenous wisdom and ways of being, thinking, and relating that have always been connected to the earth and to dreaming. Making a connection to our dreams is one small, perhaps very small, way of holding on to and valuing the native culture that grew out of this land and nurtured by the original people of this land.

#6: Dreams express our unique and creative brilliance equalizing the light we all share.

No matter how different we are in IQ, physical capacity, and other conventional or arbitrary norms of evaluation, we all dream. Further, we find in our dreams a wildly and profoundly creative, psychological, and spiritual genius and insight. Whether sick or healed, a guru or a fool, each night each of us dreams of what we are less aware of during the day. Regardless of the person and their station in waking life, the brilliance in symbolism in their dreams, the genius in their crafting, and a dream’s capacity to see through the narrow boxes of convention, seems to be the same for all people.

#7: Dreams tell the truth about our inner diversity – we are not only “one,” we are “many.” 

I think I am “David,” you think you are “you.” But dreams show how we are both sinner and saint, child and elder, Muslim and Jew, man and woman, gay and straight, able bodied and dying of illness, brave and terrified. Further, dreams show how these parts of us relate to each other, instead of falling into the trap of thinking that one way is right while the other is wrong or that resolutions will come from one way triumphing over another. In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, our inner and outer diversity “inter-are.” Nhat Hanh writes, “Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are.” Dreams declare, with emphatic repetition that we are not one, we are many, tied in an intricate web of life together.  We, in all of our diversity, “inter-are.”

David Bedrick is an author and speaker. His newest book, Revisioning Activism, provokes critical thinking, feeling, and dialogue. The book is comprised of essays that broaden our vision of activism to include how the social/political world impacts the inner lives of people, how dialogue across diverse viewpoints can impact hearts and minds, and how psychology can play a role as a social-change agent.  Revisioning Activism is a daring call to empower activism and see ourselves as individuals intimately woven into a web of relationships and social issues.

Deep Democracy: Coming to Understand My Polyamory

by Rami Henrich, LCSW

This is the first in a series of articles about the intersections of polyamorous identities and psychotherapy, adapted from my article in Sexual and Relationship Therapy, “Social and therapeutic challenges facing polyamorous clients” (Henrich & Trawinski 2016).  In this installment, I explore the ways in Process Work influenced my understanding of polyamory and drove my research into the topic.

What Is Process Work?
In the late 1970’s, Arnold Mindell founded Process Work (otherwise known as Process-Oriented Psychology), which has its roots in Jungian psychology, physics, and Taoism. In very general terms, the practice of Process Work is one of understanding people’s “processes,” or said another way, the flow of experience as it unfolds in oneself and in the environment. “The Taoist view of life assumes that the way things are unfolding contains the basic elements necessary for solving human problems.” 1 In order to stay close to this “unfolding,” Process Work is focused on expanding personal awareness and “paying attention both to events that support your identity and to the disavowed aspects of life—to which you do not usually pay attention—that disturb.”2

As an awareness paradigm, Process Work has a wide range of applications including individual work, relationship work, and group conflict facilitation work. In the sections that follow, I discuss some of the Process Work theories and methods that have been most helpful to me as a person involved in a polyamorous relationship, as a clinician and as a support group facilitator for people who identify as or are exploring polyamory and consensual non-monogamy (CNM).

Believing in My Path of Heart
One of the greatest gifts that Process Work has given me is the ability to accept my wild, adventurous, intense, and outrageous nature with greater ease. As much as I knew I could never really deviate from my deepest self and path of heart, I was nonetheless intermittently conflicted about my relationship scene and wondered if something might be wrong with me, wrong with us. 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 Process Work helped me to see the value in my own inner diversity. It offered a perspective that emphasized “the belief that inherent within even the most difficult problem lays the seed of its solution.” 3 In other words, Process Work suggests that 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 might somehow be perfect and hold exactly what is needed was a radical and deeply relieving perspective.

Process Work does not rely on preconceived notions of what is right or wrong, “it follows experiences rather than holding fast to any culturally determined standards.” 4 According to Julie Diamond and Lee Spark Jones, “following the flow of process involves caring for the absurd and impossible and going against conventional beliefs and ways of seeing things. … [it] also involves going with what is happening in a given moment, rather than resisting it.” 5 This lack of judgment, attention to personal experience, and respect for the unconventional was liberating. As I began to unfold and follow the flow of my individual and relationship experiences, my internalized judgments and resistance began to slowly dissolve. This cleared the way for me to embrace my path of heart more fully.

In the words of Arnold Mindell:

The path of heart makes you feel strong and happy about your life because it follows your dreams, your dreaming body, your mythical task. … If you view the world from the path of heart, you understand it to be the place … that you need in order to grow. The world is awful and awesome; from the viewpoint of the path of heart, what happens is meant to be used, completely and fully … to find our entire selves. 6

By bringing forth awareness of how polyamory is an aspect of my life myth (or the path of my life), Process Work has helped me to de-pathologize my view of myself and my relationships. It has kept me close to the dreaming and meaning that flows through this path, and it has paved the way for greater self-development and relationship growth.

Becoming Aware of Marginalization and Internalized Oppression
Cindy, Tom, and I have always been aware that our non-monogamous relationship meant that we were outside the mainstream, but Process Work 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 such a way that it leads to internalized oppression confirmed my experience and provided some relief. As Mindell points out, in addition to external forms of oppression, discrimination and bias, “many people from minority groups are plagued by self-doubt, self-hatred or hopelessness and think these feelings are only their own problems” 7, when in reality these people “suffer from different forms of internalized oppression picked up from the mainstream.” 8

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, but Process Work helped me to 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. Such pervasive forces can creep into a polyamorous relationship and have a huge impact on the interactions and atmosphere of the relationship. “You can exhaust yourself dealing with your personal pain and fighting, not only the mainstream, but members in your [relationship] who are unconscious of oppression’s effects.” 9 In addition, internalized oppression and inner criticism can enhance and reinforce marginalization that occurs within the relationship and between the members. Having some awareness of the internalized oppression goes a long way towards minimizing these effects, because “every time you free yourself from a sense of internal oppression, you begin to transform the cultures [and relationships] you live in.” 10

 

Read the remainder of this article and learn more about deep democracy and polyamory at the KPACT website.

Everyone Has Bias

therapist bias

by Rami Henrich, LCSW

No one is immune from bias, not even us therapists! Everyone has bias.

Therapist bias takes many forms, especially with regards to clients’ sexuality, gender, erotic orientation, etc… 

Bias ranges from misinformed opinions about BDSM to confusing polyamory with infidelity to other subtle perceptions, beliefs and attitudes.  Bias is a part of us all and we need ways to work with it, learn from it and transform ourselves. 

Where Does Therapist Bias Begin?

How does bias impact clients? What can be done to mitigate its effects? Cindy Trawinski, Psy.D. and I attended the 2015 Alternative Sexualities Conference* (or ASC), where I presented “Uncovering Therapist Bias – A Lifelong Approach,” a talk about these questions and more.

*Produced by the Community-Academic Consortium for Research on Alternative Sexualities (CARAS) and Projects Advancing Sexual Diversity (PASD), the ASC brings together leading researchers, clinicians, and educators for a one-day series of seminars and discussions about cultural concerns, clinical issues, and the latest research in the field of sex-positive therapy.

I wanted to share a few of the highlights from the ASC conference.

Why Talk About Therapist Bias?

The topic of therapist bias is especially interesting to us in our work as psychotherapists, educators and clinical supervisors. Our goal is to help the therapists we train and educate learn to recognize bias in themselves. By acknowledging that each of us holds onto certain biases, we can begin to discover and work with unknown or unexamined perceptions, beliefs and attitudes to enhance our ability to understand the diverse experiences that clients bring.  We believe this is best accomplished by deepening experience and awareness toward ourselves as well as others.

Keep reading for a summary of our ASC presentation:

Therapist Bias as a Clinical Issue

At LifeWorks, our clients identify across a variety of religious and spiritual practices, genders, sexualities, erotic orientations and relationship constellations, including: lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, queer, non-monogamous and polyamorous, and kink and/or BDSM-identified. Many hold more than one of these identities. Being able to identify, transform and understand therapist bias when it occurs is critical to our work.

In a recent informal sampling, a significant number of clients explicitly indicated that they had had experiences where a previous therapist’s bias regarding kink or non-monogamy was an obstacle to their care or hindered their experience in therapy. In an unpublished study (Henrich, 2011), 50% of clients identifying as polyamorous reported that they had seen therapists that they felt lacked cultural competency or were biased. Participants in the study reported that therapists who were uninformed about polyamory, or biased toward monogamy lead to them avoiding certain topics or leaving therapy.

Further, a 2006 study by Drs. Keely Kolmes, Wendy Stock, and Charles Moser found 67% of therapeutic relationships with kink/BDSM-identified clients reported instances of biased care, including:

  1. considering BDSM to be unhealthy,
  2. requiring a client to give up BDSM activity in order to continue treatment,
  3. confusing BDSM with abuse,
  4. the client having to educate the therapist about BDSM,
  5. assuming that BDSM interests are indicative of past family/spousal abuse, and
  6. therapists misrepresenting their expertise by stating that they are BDSM-positive when they are not actually knowledgeable about BDSM practices.

Therapist bias can be devastating for clients. It can undermine the therapeutic relationship and prevent clients from getting the help they seek.

New Perspectives on Therapist Bias

Therapist bias, as we define it, is a perception, attitude, emotion, belief or idea that limits the therapist’s capacity to relate to their client as whole, or that creates a tendency to marginalize aspects of that person’s experience. If left unexamined, therapeutic bias can wound the client by replicating (in the therapy) the stigma and bias they face in the outside world or triggering internalized oppression and further damaging the sense of self.  At the same time, we have seen bias be an important looking glass into the therapist’s and the client’s experience that can enlighten, deepen, and transform the connection and relationship between the client and the therapist.

In our work, we begin with the premise that every therapist—and in fact everyone—has bias. Bias comes from our experiences and the information we gather in life, which are filtered through our identity and culture. Some of our biases are known to us and some are unknown or hidden.

Even therapists who themselves identify as marginalized in some way—for example, those who are LGBTQ, kinky, non-monogamous, or polyamorous—may have biases about the groups with which they identify. Neither being inside or outside a given community offers immunity from bias towards that community (or any other). In our experience and anecdotal research, we find that bias is in all of us and affects us all.

Our work on bias is shaped by the concepts and methods, developed by Arnold Mindell and others, known as process-oriented psychology or process work. Process work is an approach to working with human problems that emphasizes awareness, the flow of experience, and embracing disturbance.

Using process-oriented methods and awareness, we have been teaching psychotherapists to detect and identify bias, to unfold its meaning and to learn to relate to aspects, attitudes and behaviors of themselves or their clients that they may find difficult, disturbing or troubling. In our experience, therapist bias is often a reflection or expression of some quality or trait that the therapist has a tendency to marginalize in themselves or has a tendency to have too much of. Something important, and often subtle, may need to be known or understood better, and can be uncovered by looking closely at our reactions and perceptions.

From our perspective, getting rid of bias is probably impossible, but we have found that it is possible to embrace and transform therapist bias into something that enhances the capacity to experience and support clients’ wholeness. In our experience, however, the awareness and transformation of therapist bias is a lifelong endeavor.

During the ASC presentation, we demonstrated an inner work technique that we developed for discovering the meaning and value of bias. We guided participants through an experiential exercise, which offered participants an opportunity to learn to detect and work with their experience of bias first hand. After the exercise, participants shared their experience and learning in small groups and we then facilitated a guided debrief where participants shared what they noticed, where they got stuck in the inner work and what might be useful about what they discovered.

If you are interested in the topic of therapist bias or have had personal experiences of it, we would love to hear from you. If you have any questions about our presentation, would like to see the list of references we used, or simply want to say hello, contact us.

LifeWorks also facilitates monthly Poly & Kink Support Groups in Chicago at the Center on Halsted. For more information about these and other upcoming events, visit www.lifeworkspsychotherapy.com/events.