The LEACA NetworkThe Movement for Learning and Caring

Process and Content

Content

A person's words and actions at face value, the things that a person consciously intends to say or do.

Process

The process of thoughts and feelings that underlie the content.

Many personal development practitioners (e.g. counsellors, psychotherapists and trainers) consider that having an understanding of process and working with process is important. Some think it is the most important thing. However, the one thing that we know about process is that we do not know, we can only hypothesise about it.

Examples:

(Note that various possibilities are given each case, we are not suggesting that these possibilities are exhaustive or accurate, see the previous sentence.)

Content: "I was on my own last weekend"

Process possibilities:

Content: A patient complains a lot.

Process possibilities

Content: A student finds learning about computers very difficult.

Process possibilities:

Content: A student finds it very easy to write music:

Process possibilities:

Here-and-now, there-and-then

There will be process underlying the immediate interaction with a person here, where it is taking place, and now, at the present time. There will also be process, which may be different though connected, that underlies the rest of the person's life there, in some other place, and then, at another time, including the part that they may be talking about.

Process indications

There are many indications that give clues to process. These can be divided in to those that are contained in the content and those that are contained in the body language. Sometimes a clue might be in a combination of the two, as when someone says they are pleased about something and their body language says otherwise.

Indications from content

Indications may be clearly stated, e.g. "I feel angry about this", or slightly less so: "I don't know what to say". Internal inconsistencies can give other indications, for instance if someone says that they love another but spends most of the time complaining about them. What someone says may not fit with another person's perspective, such as when someone appears to be competent in a particular way and yet says that they are not.

Finally, there is the whole area of where someone's actions do not appear to be in their own good interests. How do they feel that they behave in this way, what underlies or is at the root of those feelings?

Body language

A great deal of information about process is conveyed by people's body language. To some extent, this language is universal. Experiments have been carried out that demonstrate that people can correctly identify the feelings expressed by facial expressions in others from a wide range of cultures and racial backgrounds. (Eckman 2013)

As well as facial expression other examples of body language indications of process can be the way someone is sitting or standing and movement e.g. tapping of feet or shaking. What someone is wearing and how can also give clues to process. Tone of voice also carries a lot of information.

Body language can be incredibly subtle. We pick up things from other people without being able to identify what it is that we perceive. Psychotherapists will sometimes try to get a better understanding of a client's process by noticing what they, the psychotherapist, is feeling. It may be that body language has a lot to do with how people who do things like fortune-telling seem to know so much about someone they have never met before.

Process and learning

Another way of thinking about it is that process is what happens in the affect (the assemblage of all our feelings and emotions). All learning appears to be rooted in the affect. Heron's model (Heron 1999 p47) can be paraphrased as "If it does not feel right, I cannot imagine it, if I cannot imagine it I cannot understand it and if I cannot understand it I cannot do it".

Facilitating affective learning involves working with process. It is particularly in this area that teaching and counselling can be seen to be similar?. Both are about the facilitation of learning. Teachers tend to work with groups and cover a lot of cognitive learning, counsellors tend to work with individuals and focus on affective learning but there is plenty of overlap.

Bibliography

Ekman, P. (2013). Emotion in the human face. Los Altos, California: Malor Books ISBN 9781933779829

Heron, J. (1999). The complete facilitator's handbook. London, UK Sterling, VA, USA: Kogan Page ISBN 0-7494-2798-1