Working Groups are Not Process Groups

Process Groups are an integral part of most Pathwork transformation programs. These intentional groups are safe environments where participants, at first strangers to each other, can get in touch with their true feelings, their shadow sides, that which is unconscious and needs to come out so that these usually negative aspects that seem to run that which is dysfunctional in us can be seen for what they are, owned as a part of us, and transformed.  This is long and hard work.  Transformation programs are four to five-year programs.  In these groups we recreate our families of origin and work through our stuff.

These groups are at once scary, risky, invigorating, healing, and transformational. Some involve engcounter-group techniques, Gestalt psychodrama techniques, emotional discharge techniques, breath-work, sweat-lodge, Hellinger Family Constellation work, teachings, meditations of all types, and the like — covering the full range of mental, emotional, physical and spiritual dimensions. When one such group goes on for years, the participants, initially strangers, bond in deep ways, honest ways, washing away the subterfuge of masky ways of interacting.  It is a beautiful unfolding and uniting for most involved. Some participants come to their first experience of deep and true love in such environments.

Then we graduate. But there are further opportunities for group work, and we often go on to advanced Pathwork study groups, Teacher Training Groups, and Helper Training Groups.  These groups continue the model of honest confrontation, processing out deeper aspects of our lower natures, and the like.  But eventually we finally graduate from the last program offered. Our world of safe containers and deeply honest relationships seems to have come to an end.  What next?

Well by now we have been trained to be Pathwork Helpers and Teachers, so quite naturally we enter the Helper Community as Apprentice Helpers.  Expecting this Helper Community to be a continuation of what we’ve experienced in all our years of Pathwork, we are at once disillusioned that this working functional group is not the crème de la crème of functional organizations. And where is our processing work? Our breath-work sessions? Our confrontation work?  Something has changed, and we long for what we had in the “good old days of process groups.”  What happened?  What next?

Having experienced this transition first hand in my ten years of Pathwork, I certainly have experienced some of the disillusionment.  But in reflection I sense part of the change is that we have moved from a life of process groups, led by a qualified and designated leader, to the life of a functional working group that has a structure, a structure where people serve on committees and have roles and responsibilities to plan, organize, and run programs and the business of the Pathwork organization.  This is NOT a process group by first charter! It is, rather, an organization, or collection of sub-organizations, with mission and purpose!

But we want our process group. We feel a need for a process group.  And it seems to me that our functional working group of Helpers cannot be, in the same setting, that process group! What is the difference?  In our process groups our purpose is our personal transformation. In our process groups we do not have life responsibilities and roles to carry out in order to get things accomplished as a group or working unit.  About the only thing we’ve planned together is our graduation, and often that alone was a traumatic process.

No, in process groups we bring our real life problems from “out there in life,” from our “real” world of family, friends, job, financial responsibilities, sexual relationships, and the like to “in here” to “work on.” And after group we do not take our processing techniques from “in here,” in the process group, to “out there” in “life.”

And of course over time we also come to trigger each other in our process groups, creating opportunities to understand ourselves and others more deeply, but at the end of the weekend we go home and are not left trying to live with our process buddies in real-world settings.  It is a process group with process purposes.

The process group, it is often said, is a recreation of our family, but in our process group it is a recreation where we can work on ourselves in the context of family issues. It would be totally different if we brought our real family together and attempted process work!  Or our boss, or whomever we are struggling with in real life.

In process groups we are intending to charge and discharge our emotions for our own healing. We do not go home and now discharge our emotions with our family, fellow employees, and friends!  No, the process group is intended to be the safe place where we can do our work without doing damage to the people we love and live with, so that we understand ourselves and transform ourselves, so that we can bring more love and peace into our day-by-day living environment.

Perhaps in this sense, our Helper Community is our day-by-day working group, not our process group. It does not seem to be the place where we freely charge up and discharge our emotions the way we did in process group.  We now have to practice living our Pathwork in our Pathwork Community the way we practice living our Pathwork in the rest of our “real” life.

And it seems to me that the Pathwork lectures say over and over again that in our Pathwork community we come to a point where we stop processing with each other and live more emotionally maturely. Sure we’ll have issues.  Sure we’ll have to have means to work issues, means of confrontation even.  But this is not a place for full out emotional processing among ourselves any more than we would do full out emotional processing in our family at home without a counselor present.

It seems to me that the lectures say this over and over.  Yesterday I was struck by a simple few sentences in Pathwork Lecture 45, ¶ 29: “When you have decided for this path, you are obligated to think a little of the effect that you have on others.  Recognize yourself, analyze your emotions, but do not discharge them on others. The more self-aware you grow, the more unselfish you must become, the more conscious of your effect on your surroundings.

Perhaps this is how we are invited to live in our Helper Community, as well as in our families, our jobs, and among friends, including our Pathwork helper buddies.  Again this does not mean suppression or numbing out our feelings. Quite the contrary!  In means being always aware of our feelings, but waiting to work them with another until after cooling off has occurred and we are able to discuss them after the emotional heat has passed.

And of course the issues of transference loom as huge factors in a Pathwork helper community as new Pathwork helper apprentices who were workers and students a month ago meet their helpers and teachers in an entirely different peer-like context.  And there are generational layers of these relationships in the Community of Helpers, often amplifying the challenge of working together in an effective way.

No, a working Pathwork Community is not the same as a process group. And I guess we need both, but just not in the same space.  What has your experience and wisdom been in such situations?