The Parallel Process

Mental health and geometry are not terms that people put together very often.

Years ago when I was a graduate student in a counseling program, I was required to have a supervisor with my internship. I enjoyed the gentlemen who served as that for me. We would met every Wednesday and talk about the few clients that I had in a private practice.  I learned a lot about myself at that time.

Joe (named changed) often spoke of the parallel process that goes on between clients and counselors. We as helpers would often find something in common with our clients. It could be as simple as birth order or marital status. Often it could be a similar trauma we shared. A skilled and effective therapist is aware of this and maintains healthy boundaries in the therapy process. Remember that one of the first tenets of counseling is “first do no harm.”

I have applied this notion of “parallel process” to my family and friends. How often have a talked on the phone with a friend or sat across from a family member talking about a subject and have a sense of deja vu? You know that sense that you have done this before or something feels all to familiar?  The ability to look for themes in conversation is a valuable tool for counselors. Teachers, pastors and managers often employ this skill too. It is helpful to listen as well as hear. You can hear what the other person is saying, but if you listen you often gather the intent behind the content.

At times, I scratch my head after a conversation with someone. I look for the why instead of the what in their situation. Why leads to an endless loop of frustration and analysis paralysis. What assists a person in discovering a new path to thinking or behavior. Why leads to a myriad of unhealthy emotions such as shame and guilt. What has the opportunity to lead a person to progress.   You cannot ignore the why but we as humans can have the tendency to over focus on why.

Jesus did the same thing when he spoke in parables and interacted with people. One of my favorite passages that demonstrates this is in John 8 — the woman caught in adultery. A group of religious leaders brought a woman for Jesus to judge. What these leaders hoped to accomplish was to catch Jesus in sin and judgment. He did not speak to them but merely wrote in the dirt. What he wrote we do not know. He asked the leaders who was sinless to cast the first stone at the woman. As they left the scene, the woman remained alone with Jesus. At the conclusion of their time together, Jesus told her to go and sin no more. First there was no condemnation and secondly, and I think more importantly, there was no endless recapping of why.

Don’t get me wrong. It is important for us to see our sin for what it is and to try to understand the reason why we choose some sins. The goal for sinners is redemption (clearing of the debt of sin) and reconciliation (to restore to what was). Jesus did not spend endless hours with the woman examining her reasons behind her choices but he simply accepted her acknowledgement of sin. We could speak volumes of the phrase “Go and sin no more.” In the simplest terms, he offered her forgiveness and instruction on leaving her sinful choices in the past.

In this interaction, Jesus addressed three levels: the sin of this particular woman, the sin of the religious leaders and the sin of mankind.  I think this is the parallel process at work.

Over the last months of my absence from writing, I have observed the parallel process in my relationships. While I cannot speak specifics, I can report that my observations in my children have echoed loudly in my life. I think God does all the time. It is part of that tapestry imagery that is written about in the Old Testament. Our lives intersect and intertwine with one another. We are part of each other and part of our Creator. His gift to us is discovering Him as we see this process work out in ourselves and others.

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