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Process Work for Kids - PW4K Blog
What am I learning about therapeutic and awareness work with children and families?
Shared learning, tips and gems, from my life, practice and supervision over 20 years

Process Oriented Psychology or Processwork is an awareness-based therapy developed by Dr Arnold Mindell and colleagues since the 1970s. It has very interesting applications for working with children and families. (Read more about this approach with children and teenagers)

Since the early 90s I have studied and applied process work to working with children, families and the systems around them.

Some areas i have focussed upon:
  • NHS specialist services for Looked After and Adopted Children - I presently run the Connect Service for LAAC in Suffolk. 
  • NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) - Trouble Tree 'Attachment Focused' Tier 2 - Working with all ages of children in and around Southend and Essex
  • Residential Children's Homes - I worked for 7 years in children's homes since the 1990s. This is where you get trained to work with some of the most difficult childhood experiences. 
  • Working with Mainstream Schools - I have worked with children of all ages in school, and worked with the schools themselves to develop more attuned and nurturing environments, advised and taught about children and trauma and giving attachment friendly approaches.
  • I am also an adoptive father.
Mark O'Connell  - Process Oriented Child Psychotherapist-

Recent blogs on 'Processwork, Child & Family'

Showing posts 1 - 7 of 16. View more »

Recommended Reading? Visit our amazon page for Relevant reading on Process Oriented Psychology and recommended reading around child and family work.




  • Games and Exercises for child & family
  • Innerwork Exercise for when you feel closed 1. Imagine that you have a skin around you, a skin or membrane which wont let things come in from the outside.2. Now just allow whatever experience take place ...
    Posted 3 Jul 2014, 10:49 by Mark O'Connell
  • Reparation Exercise – Relationship reparation exercise It is not uncommon to have relationship ruptures with the children we care for. (Just today as I am writing this exercise I created a conflict with my daughter on ...
    Posted 3 Jul 2014, 10:41 by Mark O'Connell
  • Processing the Approach – Relationship awareness exercise This exercise is very good for working on applying your awareness and your child’s awareness around boundary issues, in relationship to personal space, intimacy, and in particular learning to ...
    Posted 3 Jul 2014, 10:40 by Mark O'Connell
  • Edges to Intimacy (& Attachment styles) Exercise Edges to Intimacy Innerwork— Edges to intimacy can take place on both sides of relationship, and it can help to have an awareness on the blocks which are  The purpose ...
    Posted 3 Jul 2014, 10:37 by Mark O'Connell
  • Exercise for working on your 'Critic' using mask making Facilitate the critic—Purpose of this exercise is this is a basic way to interact and intervene with the critic. 1.     Identify a way you criticize yourself or something you ...
    Posted 3 Jul 2014, 10:38 by Mark O'Connell
Showing posts 1 - 5 of 5. View more »

Mapping our Journeys through Adoption (China) - CACH writeup by Mark Drummond

posted 19 Oct 2014, 02:57 by Marina - Mark O'Connell   [ updated 1 Aug 2016, 09:05 by Mark O'Connell ]

This was a workshop that took place on the saturday morning of the CACH reunion with Mark OConnell bringing an inspirational way of exploring and sharing our adoption stories. Set out on the floor were two maps; one of China and one of the UK. Using old video tape we strung our journeys across the globe-floor telling our adoption stories in the process. It was a moving and intimate process for a small group of us. I felt we were finding new clusters of of connection with each other; shared stories, overlapping resonances. We worked through the years that the group members spanned in terms of our adoption processes. For example, it was fascinating to see how the SARS outbreak impacted differently on someone who went out to China to adopt a month or so after another. It felt a good beginning of a process I would love to see as a regular feature at CACH perhaps gradually including more people. What was also included in this process was an opportunity for remembering; strange, incidental details of our narratives emerged, forgotten moments, thresholds, realisations, meetings. This workshop offered some of those moments to have a place with each other. I personally felt deeply nourished by hearing the stories of others in the group; their struggles, their joys. They helped me touch forgotten but precious moments. For this I left the workshop grateful. By the end of the session the floor was strewn with ribboned tape and blocks marking orphanages, cities, tracing our journeys to our children and back again. But there were also new, unseen threads between us as a small group that we carried away.

Attunement to heal - Tuning into your adopted child and to yourself - CACH 2013 Write-up

posted 19 Oct 2014, 02:47 by Marina - Mark O'Connell   [ updated 19 Oct 2014, 02:47 by Mark O'Connell ]

Mark O’Connell gave an excellent talk on attunement to a packed house. Mark outlined the circumstances in which adoptive families find themselves in through the making of families from disparate individuals with pasts, fully or partially unknown to one another. He led the audience to consider how significant their own childhood and early experiences are in this blending with other individuals, and how important working towards a place of attunement and resonance amongst, and between family members is, in order to be able to stabilise and grow.

Mark comes from diverse experience standpoints working as a professional psychotherapist with looked after children and young people, supporting their careers and foster/adoptive parents, in a private practise work, and crucially also as an adoptive parent to two daughters from China.

He focused our minds on finding resonance with our children through becoming aware of moments of positive feedback between ourselves and our children, in a similar sense to the resonance found in harmonious musical, pattern, and colour arrangements. He stressed and encouraged us to find places and situations of resonance through just being and living life together, rather than by thinking of it as a goal or task to complete.

A good part of the session included questions and sharing of experiences from the floor, during which Mark encouraged us to see the process of attunement as creating an atmosphere of value, respect, and trust within an emerging child/parent bond.

He directed our focus to the benefits which emerge from this place of value – healing of past trauma, creating an atmosphere of safety and possibility, regulating stress reactions, and lessening feelings of overwhelm through encouraging and allowing children to unfold their pasts at their own points of readiness. Importantly, Mark very much stressed that “being” in this way with our children (and as whole families) is beneficial to all parties, as it is all (in the family) who can gradually co - create a climate in which our children as individuals can thrive and prosper.

Amanda Brook.

Slightly off the topic of children and families, but a great Youtube on Earth Healing - Process Oriented Psychology, and the Role of the Earth in Healing

posted 22 Jun 2014, 08:51 by Marina - Mark O'Connell   [ updated 6 Jul 2014, 23:57 by Mark O'Connell ]

Dr Gary Reiss

YouTube Video


Gary Reiss - Child & Family work with Extreme States - Process Oriented Psychology - Youtube Video

posted 22 Jun 2014, 08:44 by Marina - Mark O'Connell   [ updated 6 Jul 2014, 23:57 by Mark O'Connell ]

Gary Reiss PhD PW Dipl has applied Process Oriented and earth-based methods in the field of child and family therapy for many years. He is a regular visitor around this theme to the Apricot Centre in Essex UK, as well as to many other parts of the world.  This little video gives a bit of a taste of process-oriented approaches to working with children, and families particularly around Extreme States experiences. 
Dr GAry Reiss


YouTube Video


Mapping our Journeys through #Adoption

posted 17 Jun 2014, 14:57 by Marina - Mark O'Connell   [ updated 17 Jun 2014, 14:58 by Mark O'Connell ]

This was a workshop that took place on the saturday morning of the CACH reunion with Mark OConnell bringing an inspirational way of exploring and sharing our adoption stories. Set out on the floor were two maps; one of China and one of the UK. Using old video tape we strung our journeys across the globe-floor telling our adoption stories in the process. It was a moving and intimate process for a small group of us. I felt we were finding new clusters of of connection with each other; shared stories, overlapping resonances. We worked through the years that the group members spanned in terms of our adoption processes.
For example, it was fascinating to see how the SARS outbreak impacted differently on someone who went out to China to adopt a month or so after another. It felt a good beginning of a process I would love to see as a regular feature at CACH perhaps gradually including more people. What was also included in this process was an opportunity for remembering; strange, incidental details of our narratives emerged, forgotten moments, thresholds, realisations, meetings. This workshop offered some of those moments to have a place with each other. I personally felt deeply nourished by hearing the stories of others in the group; their struggles, their joys. They helped me
touch forgotten but precious moments. For this I left the workshop grateful. By the end of the session the floor was strewn with ribboned tape and blocks marking orphanages, cities, tracing our journeys to our children and back again. But there were also new, unseen threads between us as a small group that we carried away.


Written by M Drummond 2014

#DeepDemocracy, Rank & #Diversity -ideas from #ProcessOrientedPsychology

posted 8 Jun 2014, 05:20 by Mark O'Connell   [ updated 8 Jun 2014, 05:20 ]

There are a wide range of beliefs about the nature of #diversity and best ways to approach or work with diversity issues. In 1988 Dr Arnold Mindell developed the idea of Deep Democracy, which he describes as a “feeling attitude towards life… which recognizes the basically equal importance of: consensus reality[1] issues and concerns… dreamland figures… and the essence (common ground) that connects everyone.”[2] Mindell suggests that:

“If a group succeeds at diversity, it is a successful community and will work. If it cannot do this, it fails at the deepest spiritual level of community, becomes unsustainable within itself and does little good for the world around it.”[3]

With children in families, schools and other groups and systems an attitude and atmosphere which welcomes and values diversity is needed for the young person's wellbeing. Parents, carers and teachers can create welcoming community through getting to know and appreciating aspects of themselves and others which are further from their awareness or identity. The rank of the general consensus (or Consensus Reality) in families and schools can directly or indirectly put down the experience of young people. A good rule of thumb may be that when a child is seen as a 'disturber' or 'disturbance' that we can take this as an opportunity to become curious about what they are bringing into the school or family setting. The dreaming and essence levels of disturbing behaviours can have rich offerings for the whole system. 

[1] Consensus reality is a term used to describe a reality that we adopt by general consensus

[2] Amy and Arnold Mindell’s Website http://www.aamindell.net/worldwork_terms.htm

[3] Dr Arnold Mindell – Sitting in the Fire. P20

'The Whole Child' and Diversity - September 2011

posted 1 Jun 2014, 11:12 by Mark O'Connell   [ updated 3 Jun 2014, 13:51 ]

In working with cared-for children we are invited to work with ‘the whole child’. But who is the whole child? And are we truly open to the whole child? To answer these questions requires considerable self-reflection and awareness in examining whether there is a common ground between the values and belief systems which organise how we work, and the values, perceptions and beliefs of the children with whom we work. One conflict emerges very commonly around cared-for children, in which staff may often find themselves 'dreamed-up' into different polarities, and that is the conflict of values between ‘wanting the child to function well and fit-in to society’ and the ‘appreciation of the ‘way-out’ behaviours and altered states the children may often occupy’. 

One conflict emerges very commonly around cared-for children, in which staff may often find themselves dreamed-up into different polarities, and that is the value conflict between ‘wanting the child to function well and fit-in to the ways of society’ and the ‘appreciation of the ‘way-out’ behaviours and altered states the child often occupies’.

When a child recently bared her breasts to me at work, and I expressed some disapproval, a close colleague asked me if I had really been offended by her exposure. I quickly realised that I wasn’t personally offended at all, but rather was responding habitually along the lines of what felt socially permissible. In such circumstances children have to deal with the meaning of our feedback, which may not be clear to them. The child, and indeed myself, are both here dealing with ‘society’ and ‘the urge to expose’ as aspects of our diversity.


By simply closing down the behaviour of the child, through identifying myself with society, I may well block the opportunity for her to find-out about the deeper meaning of her behaviour. Does she need to show more of who she is? Does she need to have an impact on those around her? Does she need other people (or herself) to recognise her feminity or sexuality? If I only support her to expose her breasts, thus dis-identifying my response from society (or the rules of the organisation), then no doubt the role of ‘society’ will become occupied by someone else in the organisation in reaction to both myself and the girl. The challenge here in interacting with the her wholeness is to bring all these different aspects to awareness, and to help unfold them in relation to each other.

In another situation a boy who wished to dress-up as a woman was discouraged by staff, because of what ‘people outside’ might think. Here we enter the complexity of diversity issues. Talking of what outside people might think is the use of a 3rd party to represent what people ‘inside’ already think (Consider the previous example in which I become unconsciously identified with ‘society'). Could we not equally say to the boy; “you may experience strong reactions but if you choose to explore dressing as a woman we will support you to deal with the reactions that come, and to keep yourself out of harm?” If we can’t do this it may be more relevant to discuss attitudes to cross-dressing within the organisation or staff team, or to be clear with the child that we ourselves are not comfortable with cross-dressing and that he may need to talk with someone else about his impulses and identity. 
It is understandable that we as professionals or parents may consider it important that the child learns to relate to the world in a ‘normal’ as possible a fashion, so that they can function well in the world. But we might note that normality itself is a socially constructed ‘reality’ with immeasurable other possible versions of reality. It is probably equally important to appreciate that whenever we are disturbed by a child’s behaviour, the aspect of their diversity which disturbs us may need more (not less) awareness, both for us as a member of staff, and for the child themselves. th cared-for children we are invited to work with ‘the whole child’. But who is the whole child? And are we truly open to the whole child? To answer these questions requires considerable self-reflection and awareness in examining whether there is a common ground between the values and belief systems which organise how we work, and the values, perceptions and beliefs of the children with whom we work.




The boy with a glint in his eye - September 2011

posted 1 Jun 2014, 11:08 by Mark O'Connell   [ updated 1 Jun 2014, 11:08 ]

A youngish teenage boy came to see me each week in his secondary school. He sloped into the room for his session and lolloped onto his chair. People were concerned about this young man’s low mood and that he had a tendency to being bullied and then not attending particular lessons. I was quite unsure how to approach the situation with him, mainly because he was fairly unresponsive to most of what i would say to him.

At some point i began to notice that his eyes seemed to fix me with quite an intensity. I commented on his intense blue eyes which i experienced as something of a bright light or ‘glint’.

He seemed to stare at me even more intently. At this point i dropped all my previous theories and plans of how to intervene with him, and just began to stare into his eyes while telling him what i was noticing. It wasn’t long before we both began to giggle which then developed into hilarious and joyful laughter….

Each week would involve more moments of catching one another’s eyes and then descending into raucous laughter. I was struck by the similarity of this eye contact as when an infant has an attuned relationship with their parent. This was a boy whom i felt hadn’t experienced enough enjoyment and appreciation of his nature, his essence. Just noticing the glint in his eyes seemed to ignite humour and a joy for life. I discovered that he lived in very stressed family environment with a brother with debilitating symptoms and thus he received very little attention indeed.

One day he told me that he had run away from home. When i asked about the story I discovered that he had had an argument with his parent, and this had felt the end of their relationship. Together we rang his mother who was quite shocked that he felt this way, and we were able to discuss his need for her love and attention.

My Experience! by Zoe - 2011

posted 1 Jun 2014, 11:02 by Mark O'Connell   [ updated 3 Jun 2014, 13:34 ]

I am a sixteen year old girl who suddenly has come to terms, or is trying to, with the fact that every day I am making decisions which will ultimately affect the rest of my life. Without overdramatizing things, I believe that today there is an incredible amount of pressure on young people, and for me personally, I am beginning to catch a glimpse of my life as an adult- and for the first time there could be nothing scarier.

The exercise using vectors to try and map out all the thoughts in my head concerning university and my life was something I had no previous knowledge of. The initial process of simply writing down my thoughts on paper was something which I had never thought of doing before, but was actually incredibly interesting as it added some sense of solidity to the dreams that pass through my head on a daily basis.

It is really hard to put into words the experience I had. Daily I seem to be bombarded with thousands of pieces of information, some things may influence me or have an effect, whilst others simply pass; the idea of formulating some sort of navigation between such a complex web of ideas was surreal, but also incredibly enlightening- travelling between things such as theatre and human rights, things which I would never have seen the link of before, I was now suddenly realising how everything is connected, as everything makes and influences the person I am.

A very deep moment for me was the walk between what we called the starting destination and the final destination. Basically we drew a line between the place where I had originally started and the place where I ended up, and it was actually quite crazy to see how my whole journey had resulted in one simple line. Then I was asked to go deep inside myself, in an almost meditative state to begin the walk between these two points. Now this is something you don’t hear every day “to look inside”, and the process of almost stepping out of reality and the craziness which constitutes my life was seriously like a breath of fresh air. As I walked, it didn’t really feel like walking: it was more a process of motion, whether I was taking a step forward of simply bouncing up and down to get grounded within my thoughts, it felt as though I was silent, like my whole body, all my thoughts, had suddenly been put on mute. And all I was left with was the journey I had just taken, and what seemed like the almost primal intuitive gut feelings which grounded the bases for all the ideas I had mapped out. Just like that, I was deeply questioning the formulation of myself, almost un-building the bricks which make me, and with each brick I removed I seemed to have removed a weight or a burden of myself. This relief brought on what I can only describe as real, true emotion. Rather like images, I was suddenly overcome with thoughts of things such as brightness and the sun.

At the end of each walk, and at the end of the process altogether, I was left with a feeling which can only be described as pure relief. I really do feel after taking this journey, like I have come to terms with where I am in the greater scheme of my life. I am a child. I am an adult. In many ways I am both. Standing on what seems like the edge of something huge, to see clarity, to see brightness, is something which is both rare and something for which I am eternally grateful for.

Zoe 

Labyrinth - Environmental Empathy - Mon 18 Jun 2007

posted 1 Jun 2014, 10:59 by Mark O'Connell   [ updated 3 Jun 2014, 13:35 ]

Today we gave a short-notice session at the Apricot Centre for 90 students from a local Primary School, and their teachers and teaching assistants. It went really well. We split each group of 30 into groups of 10 children and they circulated over the period of 1.5 hours through three different experiences with 3 facilitators, one on each, followed by a whole group reflection session. Group 1 - Walking a labyrinth blindfold in Nature. Group 2 - Tasting and smelling session, foods, and animal pooh. Group 3 - Making postcards with attached pieces of nature around.

The aim of this was Environmental Empathy, having a feeling and identification with the environment.

I learnt loads about working with 10-13 year olds. And specifically in the labyrinth space.  Here's a list of my observations:

    * All young people were up for the experience even though some were frightened.

    * Teachers were reluctant to trust their students such that they themselves be blindfolded, but when they did, they had a strong and valuable experience. E.g. one boy who I think was autistic was led blindfold through the labyrinth, he was highly sensitive, and smelled and experienced everything. We were odd numbers so I suggested he lead his teacher. She declined saying she wasn't sure if she could trust him. I said he had gone through it with such sensitivity I was sure she could. She agreed, and he led her to the centre and out again, including giving her experiences and with no bumping into trees. I felt she had gained from the experience. And it took her out of her usual role of being responsible for caring for him, and temporarily letting him care for her, and take some responsibility. Loads of benefits.

    * Some teachers bullied their students, and expected me to be impressed. I didn't comment directly, but listened intently and when they saw I wasn't impressed the behaviour diminished.

    * Teachers can often be very stuck in their roles of controlling and managing children. Even when I provided the whole team with rules such as no speaking, no verbal direction giving, lead with the hands or voice. Teachers were breaking these rules left right and centre, shouting at kids, telling them off, guiding them verbally, and one chap talked loudly to me from the centre all the way to the exit without noticing I had asked him and everyone to do it in silence.

    * The kids learn from these behaviours. Some kids act out in similar ways. Some kids are also quite attuned to the sensory experiences.

    * A girl smelled a Bay Leaf, and said 'Sheperds Pie'. I later asked her to smell two leaves and recall which was sheperds pie. She said her gran had cooked it for her last week.

    * I learnt to space the children out in the start of the labyrinth.

    * I did keep reminding them 'Sssssssh' and spoke occasionally with a quiet voice.

    * I used alot of mime and demonstration to the leaders. Sometimes I would instruct them in a whisper.

    * I gathered the whole group in the centre. Told them they were at the centre of the Universe and to listen out. Feel what you feel on your skin. Listen to sounds near and furthest. Feel the Earth beneath your feet. Don't touch your neighbour. Now take 30 seconds in complete silence to experience ...

    * We again gave them herbs to smell along the way. Most of them thought that all the herbs were 'Mint'. Only the occasional child new of other herbs. The older teaching assistants knew the most rare herb - Feverfew.

    * Trust was a huge issue. Many of the childrens were very uncomfortable - initially to hold hands or guide each other physically (one commented on it being 'Gay'). But they all did. Many were not able to guide their partners so their partner could relax, but they learned along the way. Some had incredible sensitivities to one another. I was very touched! I think this is a huge opportunity for kids and staff alike to explore trust, touch, senses, and sensitivity. Lots of opportunities to learn here.

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