Asklepia Foundation
“Journey to the Healing Heart of Your Dreams”

Creative Restructuring Process in 
Family Therapy

by Graywolf Swinney


Individuals and family systems do not readily conform to the predictable mechanistic laws of Newtonian science and Cartesian philosophy which have provided the basic paradigm underlying contemporary medical and psychological sciences; instead, they are complex systems that seem to be as much ruled by chaos as by order.  It is most often the compulsive and rigid structures and behaviors displayed in the individual, group, or family’s interactions that define dysfunction and evoke pain.  To better understand and help change these complex systems requires understanding of and comfort with chaos and the dynamics of complex systems.

Chaos was an integral aspect of the change model proposed by Virginia Satir in her work with groups and families in crisis and change.  In her presentations, Satir proposed that a family or group operates in a structured manner until the intrusion of a foreign agent or influence throws it into a process of dissolution that eventually leads to chaos as the structure disintegrates.  Eventually evolving out of the discomfort and chaos, a new structure appears that after an integrative and adjustment process becomes the new order for the system.  The therapist’s role is to help the family through this process to adopt a more healthy, viable new structure.

But Satir did not have the opportunity of living to see the advent and establishment of chaos theory and complex dynamics in the life sciences.  So while recognizing the importance of chaos in the change process, she did not see its scientific and philosophical implications, fit, and integration with her therapeutic model.

The Consciousness Restructuring Process (CRP) therapy described in this paper does make that integration.  It provides scientific substantiation for the basic change models proposed by Satir.  Consciousness Restructuring Process therapy was developed independently, but influenced by Satir’s early work.  When the author presented the CRP model at two recent IHLRN conferences, the confluence of the two models was immediately apparent.

Consciousness Restructuring Process is a practice and philosophy of therapy that reflects the paradigm shift in the scientific base of healing to the models of the new sciences.  The therapy and philosophy are best understood in the context of chaos theory, quantum physics and relativity theory and the new views of natural process implied by them.  At the same time it is consistent with a broader range of spiritual philosophies and healing practices.  Further, it provides a far more accurate model of the human condition and interactions than is possible with psychologies based in classical science alone, and as noted in many aspects parallels Satir’s model of change.

Most therapists realize that we are not the orderly and predictable beings that we would like to believe we are.  We seldom structure our personal lives and relationships through cause and effect chains of logic.  Instead our lives seem constantly beset and affected by random events outside of our plans.  Indeed, the sole reason for the existence of the insurance industry is to protect us from loses due to some of these “accidents.”

More often than not, we are ruled by complex interplays of emotions, thoughts, values, and beliefs, personal myths, physical-biological condition, all shaped and driven by energies hidden deep within the psyche and beyond our understanding.  We are seldom ruled solely by intellect and rational decision.

Freud called these deep and hidden aspects of consciousness the id, and saw therein our drives and instincts.  These and subconsciously stored primal memory experiences along with our responses and reactions to them gave rise to the behaviors and defense mechanisms which by and large define personality, behavior, sense of self and our ego.

He saw the id as a chaotic and confusing aspect of our organism, barely controlled by the super ego.  Acting out, it would defy the constraints of acceptable social behavior.  He attempted to understand and to shed light and reason into this chaotic morass of seething primal energies and instinctual drives.   He employed such indirect psychoanalytic techniques as: free association, dream interpretation and transference management.

He believed that exposed to the light of awareness, these basic forces that drive people, can and would change.  Since then, aside from the staunch behavioristic psychologies, most therapies and therapists have operated with the essential aspects of this concept as axiomatic, and developed increasingly more precise, sophisticated, and apt ways and practices of finding, understanding, and/or attempting to release these trapped energy systems and memories.

Consciousness Restructuring Process Therapy

Consciousness Restructuring Process as a technique involves consciousness journeys in which the therapist guides the client’s full awareness into direct rather tha indirect experiences of the chaotic self scape of the id in the pre subconscious.  The journey is a multisensory imagery process that involves the therapist entering co-consciousness (intuitive) states and interactions with the client.  The Mentor guides him or her (following the lead of the Journeyer’s process) to the basic trapped energy patterns or consciousness states that underlie the manifested disease symptoms, and then beyond.

In one sense, it is like the healing journeys of shamanism, where the shaman journeys into his client’s unconscious to return from this underworld with the lost soul which is seen as the basis of illness.  At the same time it equally reflects aspects of Erickson’s concept and process of co-consciousness work, a shared consciousness state that gives the therapist intuitive insights about the client that manifests as images or stories, which when offered  to the client, enhance the healing imagery and process immensely.

To begin the journeys, these underlying energy patterns or states are initially identified at superficial levels through their form as encountered in a number of reiterative or nested ways.  For example, in the symptoms presented; from dreams or from images incubated by such techniques as drumming, chanting, or meditation; or by noticing and observing the behavioral and/or emotional patterns displayed in the opening portion of the session.

The essence of this disease energy pattern is then followed through progressively deeper levels of consciousness into its more primal imagery manifestations until the client is guided to experience the existential, multisensory image or consciousness state which contains the pattern in its most basic form. This is called the ‘primal existential self-image” since it defines the client’s sense of self and his world in a primal sensory form.

The journey then continues beyond this bound or trapped consciousness energy pattern into the unstructured, undifferentiated, or unbound consciousness which existed prior to its formation.  From within this chaotic or undifferentiated consciousness a new primal image spontaneously appears, a state of ease rather than disease which provides a new foundation for the self.  More complete and detailed descriptions of the consciousness states, imagery, and the process itself may be found in DREAMHEALING: CHAOS AND THE CREATIVE CONSCIOUSNESS PROCESS, (Swinney and Miller, 1992), [CCP is now known as CRP].

The Mentor or therapist helps the client to do this using the journeyer’s own imaginative process and the multisensory imagery flowing from it.  It is a death and rebirth process--the diseased aspects of the bound consciousness dying to be reborn from chaos, as the Sphinx arises from the flames.  The new image, in  subtle and/or overt ways, restructures not only the client’s personality, from personal mythological levels and belief systems to behaviors, emotional and intellectual responses, but also seems to affect physical structures.  Example changes include body chemistry, muscle tension, immune system function, food preference, and the function of various organs (liver and pancreas) have all been reported.

At an internal level, this is the process described by Satir in her family systems change model.  The client usually just notices the changes in behavior and physiology as the basic change in self-image begins to affect surface manifestations physically and mentally.  Clients have reported feeling effects, changes, and having significant insights pop up several months following a Journey.

In terms of therapeutic technique or practice, it is a process of becoming, or yielding to the various images suggested by the imagination--of temporarily identifying with them.  It is superficially much like Gestalt technique, but differs in that it takes the client into the deeper experiences and consciousness states of an image, rather than working at ego levels of awareness and exploring the relationships of images within the ego as in Gestalt Therapy.  It also involves using a broader range of senses in the imagery than is normally done in Gestalt therapy, including what often appear to be extrasensory experiences, that is senses that cannot be described with simple sensory terms.  A case study later in this paper gives illustration of the technique.

Consciousness Restructuring Process and Chaos Theory

The journey, and the underlying consciousness states which are eventually reached conform in all essentials to the dynamics of chaotic systems as described by chaos theory.  The journey itself resembles nested fractal images on a computer screen.  We amplify a small part of it to find the essence of its form repeated at deeper and deeper levels.  It also reflects the dynamics of chaotic systems in that bifurcations or unexpected trajectories occur during the unfolding journey, the flow of imaginal imagery shifting and taking unanticipated new twists in unpredictable ways.

The healing or unstructured transformative consciousness energy beyond the bound consciousness also reflects these dynamics.  New structures, experiences, and images arise from within it to replace the painful and diseased images.  The butterfly effect, whereby small changes in the initial conditions may have large impact on the system’s development, is also descriptive of the process and its effects.

The new structures or primal existential self images that manifest during these journeys are profoundly healing.  They provide balance and deeply felt sensory repatterning: an internally, deeply sensed freedom for one who was trapped, peace for one who was agitated, wholeness for one who was scattered.  The new state reflects the nature of the journey experience itself and the guide’s influence in the forming of the new self image.

In this sense, the Mentor or therapist is in part the strange attractor that influences this new existential self-image that self-organizes and emerges.  Over a period of time this new image reshapes the personality and behavioral patterns to reflect the balance and creative process that evoked it.  Just a small perturbation boot-straps itself into macro changes.

The imagery forms encountered on the edge of this primal undifferentiated consciousness or “chaotic consciousness” are primal archetypal energy patterns.  They seem very basic and in one sense suggest archetypal images and themes from the collective unconscious as described by Jung.  However, the primal archetypal images emerge deeper than the mythological material.  They are sensory based, not mythical, in nature.

In another sense, they reflect basic patterns of matter and energy forms encountered and repeated in nature from atomic to cosmic levels: spirals and vortices; black holes in black space; felt senses of great antiquity and accumulated wisdom’ simultaneous experience of the polarity and unity of the masculine and feminine or yin/yang; a sense of total interconnectedness with every atom in the universe.

The journey phenomenology includes a “place,” usually a gray fog, where both everything and nothing exist simultaneously, the perfect union of black and white, absence of any color combined with all color.  These and many more states and sensory images have been described and identified during these journeys.  They are also remarkably similar to experiences reported by mystics in their ecstatic experiences; to the feelings, sensations and images reported by those undergoing spiritual healing experiences; and to the transformative and religious consciousness states described by early LSD experimenters.

What’s in a Name?

We have used several names to describe this therapy:  Over the years we have called it Dreamhealing, “Fractal Therapy,” Creative Consciousness Process.  “Dream Journeys” is another name that derives from the observation that journey occurs in the awakened side of dream or REM consciousness.  However, not all journeys begin with dream recall; we also use symptoms or feelings to enter the stream of consciousness. Often during journeys intense REM is observed and subjects report intense physical sensations.  REM seems to be a crucial ingredient in the repatterning process.

Often dreams are used as gateways to the process so that the journey is into the depth of the dream.  Another model we have used is the “Shaman/Therapist” and Mentoring models, which reflect the fact that it embraces a synthesis of scientific and mystic approaches to therapy and healing in both technique and philosophy, and that the journey itself involves both participants entering into altered consciousness states.

The Philosophy

There are several philosophical differences that distinguish this process from previous therapies.  For the most part, psychology follows the medical model which in turn is based in classical Newtonian science and Cartesian philosophy with its mind/body split.  In brief, this systems posits cause-effect chains of events that follow certain laws and define the shape of reality.

In this conventional model, disease and healing are both caused by outside interventions: disease from such causes as a viral or bacterial invasion, carcinogenic contamination, emotional trauma.  Healing or cures are brought about by eliminating these agents and/or correcting the damage they have done chemically, surgically or through catharsis.  Symptoms are treated by suppression or elimination, and the illness or diseased component of the organism is isolated for treatment.  Dissolution, chaos and death are to be avoided at all costs and healing or cure is seen as an end point.

The philosophical base of Consciousness Restructuring Process of natural healing differs from this in many ways.  In this revolutionary model, reality is a twilight zone between structure and chaos, form and formlessness, neither one nor the other, yet both.  Structure evolves from chaos in an environment of complex interacting systems, and is responsive to and shaped by the environment.

Eventually structures set and grow rigid and in doing so become less responsive to the environment which is constantly evolving and changing.  The rigidity and inability to respond to the evolving environment ensures the fracturing and disintegration of the structure back into chaos.  At the personal level this is what we experience as a life crisis or a disease.  But eventually new form or structure emerges from the chaos.  It is this dance of evolution and change that is real, not the temporary forms and structures that exist only momentarily in our perceptions.

This is how the universe appears to work from cosmic to subatomic levels, and we are no exception.  We dance with death and dissolution daily, indeed momentarily: at the cellular level whose collectivity is our physical being; at the level of ideas, thoughts, concepts, emotions, beliefs and values that define our mental being.  All are born and die only to come back in new form again and again, each time evolving, each time similar but different, and each time real only in the moment.  It is the futile clinging to them that creates the discomfort, pain, and disease.

Healing and health are present when we live this flow of self evolution.  They are not an end state, but rather a constantly evolving and self-creative state of being.  Disease is when we are lost in, trapped by, or hanging on too tightly to either the chaos or the form, and living outside of the flow of creative evolution.  The soul itself, as in the shamanic model, seems lost or trapped.

Symptoms and diseases are the organism’s way of calling attention to our stuck states and actually provide the opportunity for us to evolve past our current form.  In other words, the disease or crisis is an opportunity to transcend the old and become a new more-evolved being.

Symptoms are surface manifestations of more deeply rooted splinters of disease and are an attempt on the part of the organism to resolve the problem.  A splinter buried in the toe can become infected and fester causing a myriad of symptoms, from fever and internal chemical imbalances, to spinal misalignment.  With a cold, the fever, sneezing, pain, lack of energy, and other symptoms have their purpose to move fluids more rapidly through the body to flush out the viruses and force to restrengthen the immune system.  The heart and force of the symptom is a healing drive.

Pain and discomfort indicate that something is wrong and emanate from that aspect of the organism that is damaged.  To heal we must go to the source of the pain.  Thus, the dream journey is to embrace the fear and discomforts with which we surround and protect our wounds, to pass through them, not to avoid them.

It is only at the site of the wound itself that we can tend it, and the healing comes from within, a natural self-organizing internal process and an integral part of the being needing healing.  The therapist is at most a mentor or guide to the inner healing states of consciousness.  Healing and disease are as much, perhaps more a matter of the form our consciousness assumes than any other factor.

Since healing’s a matter of mind over matter,
And matter’s a matter of mind,
In matters that matter, when healing’s what matters,
Then flow is the right state of mind.

Using the Consciousness Restructuring Process in Family Systems

Although the process of Consciousness Restructuring Process therapies was not developed exclusively in the arena of family therapy, it did evolve in a practice in which often entire families became active in the therapy.  So, although our experience is limited to a few instances, we can show some ways in which this process has been used in family therapy situations, and suggest other ways that it could be used.

Case Study:

The immediate family consists of Gary, Mary, and Brad.  Gary and Mary, the adults are both professionals, have independent careers and are in mid age.  Both have had previous marriages and had subsequent relationships which proved disastrous.  Shortly after Gary and Mary committed to a “life” relationship, Brad (Gary’s teenage son) who was being both emotionally and physically abused by his biological mother, decided to stay with them after his summer visitation with Gray.  Mary has one grown daughter living independently.

An overstrict and competitive father and a physically and emotionally abusive passive aggressive mother, both emotionally unavailable, had helped Gary shape his attitudes to life, women and authority figures.  He was having trouble with all three and lived it our in a series of relationships in which he was abused, betrayed and eventually abandoned by women.

In his previous marriage he had been repeatedly physically and emotionally abused by his wife.  His way of coping with life was as to be a rebel, hard to pin down and not trusting of anyone.  People were constantly taking advantage of him, using him and then casting him aside.  He had built a powerful body pumping iron, but seldom lifted his fist against anyone in his adult life.

Mary’s background was similar in many ways except her coping mechanism was that the unpredictability and uncertainty of life was best handled by bringing order, neatness and control into all situations.  In this she was compulsive.

The two coping mechanisms had come into conflict.  Gary’s rejection of authority and material things, his unwillingness to plan ahead or be pinned down, and his often sloppy and messy ways were in direct conflict with Mary’s penchant for order, organization, neatness, and planning ahead.  This brought them into couple’s therapy soon after they had begun cohabitation.

In the initial couple’s session, (before Brad entered their lives), the background and history were explored, and the patterns of interactions identified.  Bandaid measures were suggested: a process of “time out” to soothe their escalating angers and fears, back off from the confrontations where violence was becoming a possibility, look inside to indentify the part being threatened or hurt, and find a way to take responsibility for it before coming back together. They further agreed to come in for some individual sessions to work individually on this internal stuff.

In her individual session, Mary noted that the time outs were working well and they were getting along much better.  Her compulsive cleaning and neatness, she admitted, was a predominant aspect of her life in all areas and sometimes too much even for her.  She physically experienced it as a tightening and deadness-pain in her chest.

I invited her to forget the intellectual content and focus entirely on that pain.  The image that came to her was of a black metal sheath surrounding her heart.  I invited her to go inside the sheath which she soon experienced as a confining and suffocating rigid airless void.  Her eyes now closed and eyelids fluttering in REM, she entered deeper into the void and imagined letting go of breathing.  She began sliding rapidly down a frictionless chute at ever-increasing acceleration, out of control and was terrified, the physical sensations now affecting her solar plexus as well.

Stay with it; I’m with you,” I said and did experience it with her.  We catapulted into the blackness of the void and she reported falling into nothingness but soon a white net appeared to catch her and settled over her.  Wherever it touched her it brought a deep sense of security, peacefulness and connectedness.  It mostly concentrated on her chest and solar plexus.  She stayed in that consciousness state for some time letting it act on her.

Returning from the journey she soon realized that most of the journey experiences were actually sensory memories of her experiences of childhood including an intellectual tie in of it being how she felt hiding in a closet to escape her father’s wrath.  The memory was no longer as “charged;” the peaceful consciousness state was now more her sense of being, and seemed more real than the memories.

The next session she reported noticing that she was getting less compulsive about things, and more tolerant.  We continued with journeys over the next several weeks; all amplified and re-enforced her first one.  With the inner growing security her improvements continued and the relationship improved.  She shared her Journeys with Gary who had been working with me and taking his own journeys prior to meeting Mary.

When Brad showed up for his summer visitation, appointments ceased and a ‘honeymoon’ period was enjoyed.  When Brad decided to remain with Gary and Mary, they brought him for a session because he was up tight about calling his mother to let her know he was staying.  He accurately predicted that she would guilt trip him, perhaps as far as threatening suicide, which it turned out she did.  Using his feeling of helplessness in being responsible for his mother’s well being to initiate a journeys, his imaginative process took him to a very powerful state in which he experienced himself as a crystal like being who had the power to transform any energy touching him into rainbows.  He used that sense of self in his call and handled it very well.

With Brad’s entry into the family scene, the situation soon worsened after the initial honeymoon.  Brad, much like Gary in his ways, and Mary soon began to clash.  She was getting little help from Gary whose profession often took him away on extended trips and left Mary to supervise Brad.  When she got tough, he got resistant.  The family structure was evolving into Mary being the ‘over-compulsive bitch’ who no one could please.  Gary and Brad were the ‘sloppy incompetents who could nothing right.’  All were trapped in their own internal structures by which they perpetrated this reality.

In the late fall we received a panic call from Mary.  The honeymoon was over, things had deteriorated to a critical state where she was now considering asking Gary and Brad to find their own place.  After an individual session with Mary to let her vent, Gary and Mary returned for another joint session.  Brad resisted joining them.  The result was another coping strategy to deal with the ‘tit for tat’ arguments and developing roles as ‘Bitch’ or ‘incompetents.’  This time Gary followed up with an individual session.

The “band aid” strategy from the joint session was working and he felt that Mary’s previous sessions had resulted in considerable changes for her.  But his concerns about the damage to Brad from his years with his alcoholic and abusive mother, and his basic paranoia and distrust in others and, more deeply himself, had him depressed and feeling helpless.

We used a dream in which the content and symbols reflected his depression, fear, and helplessness to initiate a Journey in which Gary ended up experiencing himself as a powerfully flowing river.  In this state of his being, he is now dealing with his problems without trying to run uphill.  [His personal mythology that had emerged in earlier sessions was with Sisyphus who kept pushing a rock up a hill only to have it roll back down on him each time he got near the top].

Gary and Mary, in sharing their journey experiences with each other, have revealed much about their deeper selves and they are now perceiving each other far past the coping mechanisms each had developed and finding deeper levels of understanding and connection.  Confrontations have become less frequent and more rapidly and easily terminated.  That is where the situation now stands.  Future sessions are scheduled to get Brad more involved, and because Gary and Mary want to delve even further into freeing their creative energies and self empowerment.


In brief, we used joint sessions to explore family dynamics and help each see the context in which they play out their personal parts in the drama.  Individual sessions and journeys brought about individual changes which helped shape a new process of interactions which, since the journeys are based in imaginative and creative processes of imagery, are also imaginative and creative in helping diffuse old explosive possibilities.

The above outlines one use of Consciousness Restructuring Process in Family Therapy.  There seem countless possibilities for using it.  Two, one of which has been used and one contemplated and waiting trial are outlined below:

Using the CRP journey technique in whole family session in which one member’s journey is shared by the whole family has had very interesting effect, bringing new levels of insight and understanding to all.  It facilitates rapport and family identification.

It has been our experience in families and indeed in groups of all types from workshops to lecture demonstrations, that those observing a journey most often find it carries them along and triggers much inside themselves.  Just as certain dreams, by touching universal or shared themes, transcend the personal and belong to a more expanded group, so too do journeys, particularly among family members who share similar consciousness patterns.

The following method is one which we have considered but not yet had opportunity to use.  In this approach, we propose using an improvisational psychodrama format in which a family could be asked to begin by acting out a typical dysfunctional pattern of theirs.  Then, as with the individual journey, focus in on some aspect of this pattern, and in that focus have the drama become what is happening within that aspect.

An example might be becombing what is happening within one of the actors.  This process is repeated again so that the family drama becomes like an individual’s journey, going deeper and deeper, more primal and less rational, into the pattern.  The actors may find themselves being an emotion, color, odor, sound, some other sense, or perhaps an image such as a vortex.

The family could be guided in this way on a collective journey through the dissolution of the old pattern into the chaos and subsequent self-organizing emergence of a new existential collective consciousness pattern.  We suspect that done as a family group, this dramatic journey would have profound impact on improving the dysfunctional system.


Individuals and family systems are in reality complex systems and conform more to the reality and dynamics outlined in Chaos Theory than to the classical science that provides the current paradigm for most psychotherapies.  Virginia Satir’s philosophy and therapeutic models of change reflect her intuitive understanding of this.  The Consciousness Restructuring Process is a therapeutic technique and philosophy that is consistent with Satir’s work and with complex dynamics and its implications, and it provides a robust model for guiding individuals, families, and groups through crisis and change.

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