9 Commentsby   |  10.23.09  |  Uncategorized

Process is what we’ve been working on for the past few weeks, but this concept is a slippery one. When we work on our dyads, or when we write up our observation reports, we are looking for evidence of process. Gilbert (1992) describes watching for process as a “complex but fascinating” endeavor (p.33). Indeed, looking for the process in what a client is saying can be challenging, yet if we want to be the most effective therapists we can be, we must take this challenge.

Must of what a client says in therapy is content-based. These statements are the facts of the client’s situation.  Meier and Davis (2008) find that the processing of a situation cannot be forced, and is most effective when the focus is on the here and now (see guideline 8).To get to the process-level, a therapist needs to watch for the emotions, motivations, and cognitions that sit below the surface when a client talks about their situation. Content is what happens at the surface, but process is what comes from deeper within the client and is not as easily spoken of, but the observant therapist will see process expressed in more subtle ways. Content-based questions have their place, but as Meier and Davis assert, true change happens at the process level. Simply recounting a situation will not change the situation or how the client assimilates that information into their lives, but if the therapist can get the client to process the situation, change can occur.

Watch this video (here) of a therapist doing an initial interview with a couple. Her questions are focused mostly on content, but if you watch carefully, you will see how she picks up on the small cues of process and integrates it into this information gathering.

How do you notice process-level information in the course work we have been doing (dyads/observations)?

What do you think makes process so difficult to notice/express?

What has helped you in becoming more aware of process-level information (body language? vocal tones?)?


Gilbert, R. M. (1992). Extraordinary relationships. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Meier, S. T., & Davis, S. R. (2008). The elements of counseling. Belmont, CA: Thomson Higher Education.


  1. Sabrina Johnson
    2:54 pm, 10.28.09

    These counseling video crack me up… I know we rarely see real couple because of confidentiality, but surely we could splurge on some good acting once in a while. By the way, I am not volunteering!


    I think process is so difficult because we clients sometimes gives us SO MUCH content that it is hard to boil it all down to what really matters, the process. I have found that especially in the dyad sessions, there is so much information we want to explain that it is hard to get at the real issue which is most important.
    I think a good exercise for process/content would be to watch a foreign film and try to get at what the conversation is about by body language, and tone (process). Then you could watch the same film with subtitles (content) to see how close your theory about the conversation was.

  2. Dean Pye
    8:15 pm, 11.06.09

    I think that’s a really interesting idea, watching the foreign film and trying to understand what is going on. I think there are alot of things we can learn about process from the things the clients have to say, but being aware of body language and how something is said is critical to understanding process. I also agree that oftentimes its easy to focus on the content in our dyads because of the overwhelming amount of information there. The “client” is pouring out all about their problem, and it is very easy to miss the patterns that are present within the problems.
    In regards to what has helped me become more aware, I think the amount of time trying to figure out process in our therapy and supervision observations has helped tremendously. I think the supervision observations have helped me alot because they seem a little removed from the need for evaluation in terms of content and process, and so it helps me really see some examples of process and helps me look for process in everyday relationships.

  3. Kevin Burnette
    3:13 pm, 12.05.09

    I think that process level of communication is something that we’re all a lot better at than we realize. I know I find myself being able to infer a great deal of meaning by the intonation of a person’s voice, and the exact words that they do and do not use when they’re trying to communicate an idea. I just think this is a natural knack that a lot of people have. Sometimes I hear it called emotional intelligence. I have a hunch that among our cohort of students, the emotional intelligence level is bound to be significantly (statistically that is) higher than among the general population.

    Sometimes I think that our learning about process level communication has actually been a hindrance in understanding. When I’m gleaning information from someones tone of voice or posture, it comes to me in an intuitive flash. I think trying to slow the process down enough to allow my upper brain to be involved actually makes it harder and makes me more likely to mistake a signal. All this to say, that I don’t think working at the process level is beyond any of us. I just think we have to learn to trust ourselves. The value of our formal learning on the subject is that we have to be able to take our intuitive impressions of process level stuff and be able to articulate them (at least internally to ourselves if not to the client), so that we can know what to do about them and know just be aware of them.

  4. Scott Rampy
    12:11 am, 12.11.09

    I tend to agree with Kevin that we do pick up more process than we may initially give credit for. As communication theorists say, only 10% of communication is verbal. It does seem to come to us in an “intuitive flash”. However, to slow down and thoughtfully consider what we are absorbing is, I believe, where the difficulty enters. Consciously and conscientiously taking note of the function statements have in the conversation, issues of power and hierarchy, subliminal issues being discussed, unspoken emotional reactions and cognitive assumptions, etc. is more difficult to achieve.

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