Core process psychotherapy represented by zen stone and sand patternCore process psychotherapy (CPP) is a mindfulness-based approach to therapy and emphasizes a deep, ongoing awareness of one's body and mental processes for self-exploration and healing. Therapy is often viewed as a joint undertaking in which the therapist accompanies the individual on a journey into the deepest levels of his or her experiences. The therapist serves as a facilitator, helping the individual focus attention inward and become aware of what he or she is experiencing in the present moment. Through this contemplative self-study, individuals may discover the historical roots of their problems and achieve a clearer sense of who they are. As they process this information in the present, they will hopefully begin to let go of old habits and approach life with greater creativity and flexibility.

Development and History of Core Process Psychotherapy

Core process psychotherapy was founded in 1982 by Maura Sills who partnered with her husband, Franklyn Sills, to further develop the approach. CPP represents a blend of Eastern philosophy and Western psychology. It draws heavily on Buddhist principles and practices, such as a focus on mindfulness, compassion, and unconditional acceptance, and is guided by the Buddhist view of human suffering and healing.

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CPP is also influenced by Western psychodynamic theories and therapeutic techniques, including those of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and the object relations theorists William Ronald Fairbairn and Donald Winnicott. The theoretical underpinnings of CPP are explained by Franklyn Sills in his book: Being and Becoming: Psychodynamics, Buddhism and the Origins of Selfhood

Assumptions and Goals of Core Process Psychotherapy

CPP is based on the assumption that at the core of all of every human being is an intrinsic state of health, awareness, compassion, and wisdom. This "core state" is believed to be unconditioned and ever-present, regardless of the situation we find ourselves in. As we grow and shape our personality, however, this inherent state of health and freedom can become obscured. We begin to relate to ourselves and the world in habitual ways, repeating set patterns, attitudes, and tendencies. Many of these patterns are influenced by our past experiences and relationships—aspects of which might lie outside of conscious awareness. This movement away from our "core state" toward our personality shapes is what is referred to as our "core process." While our "core state" therefore speaks to who we are, our "core process" relates to how we are.

Core process psychotherapy is designed to work by helping individuals become aware of this shaping process and to see ways in which it contributes to their suffering. More specifically, it helps individuals to:

  • Slow down their automatic processes so that these can be examined and where necessary, adjusted
  • Access psychological material that was previously hidden so that it can be processed in a safe environment
  • Connect with their core state and catalyze their natural tendency toward a healthy existence

Who Practices Core Process Psychotherapy?

In-depth training in CPP is provided by the Karuna Institute, which was established by Maura and Franklyn Sills in 1984. The Institute offers two different master’s degree training programs in CPP: a four-year MA in mindfulness-based core process psychotherapy, and a three-year post-qualification MA in mindfulness-based psychotherapeutic practice. Both programs are offered in partnership with Middlesex University in London, England. The four-year MA is open to people regardless of their professional experience, while the post-qualification MA is geared toward people who already have some measure of experience working in a one-on-one therapeutic setting. After completing their training, students may work toward accreditation with the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) and the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. Core process psychotherapists who are accredited with the UKCP can also apply for membership in the Association of Core Process Psychotherapists (ACPP), which helps promote and support the activities of therapists in this field.

Conditions Treated with Core Process Psychotherapy?

Some individuals choose to find a therapist and engage in CPP in order to learn more about themselves and enhance their potential for growth. However, CPP has also been used to treat a wide range of specific conditions. These include:

What Happens in a Core Process Psychotherapy Session?

Core process psychotherapists take a fresh approach to working with each individual, utilizing the resources that each person brings to the therapeutic environment and supporting his or her unique inborn tendency toward healing. There are, however, some features of CPP which remain standard across all therapists and sessions. One such component is the creation of a safe, non-judgmental therapeutic relationship. This encourages the individual in therapy to explore himself or herself with greater objectivity, curiosity, and acceptance. Additionally, since many emotional wounds are created in the context of relationships, simply engaging in a caring, non-judgmental relationship may have a significant therapeutic effect.

Another key aspect of CPP work is awareness; all practitioners are guided by the premise that awareness itself is curative. During therapy, individuals therefore learn how to achieve a state of mindfulness in which they slow down and carefully attend to internal events without judgment. In this state of awareness, individuals likely notice much more about themselves than they would in ordinary consciousness. They notice their thoughts, feelings, sensations, beliefs, images, and memories and begin to discover for themselves how they are in each moment without having to be told by the therapist.

Throughout each session of CPP, the therapist also maintains a state of mindful presence, carefully attending to the reactions and responses of the individual. The therapist also encourages the individual to share his or her present-moment experiences so that he or she can better follow what is happening. However, no interpretations are imposed by the therapist since it is believed that the individual already possesses the wisdom and resources needed to achieve a healthier existence. The therapist's role is simply to facilitate a level of awareness that will allow the individual to discover for himself or herself what is needed for healing to take place.

Core Process Psychotherapy Limitations and Concerns

In the short time since CPP was first introduced, many practitioners have been trained and have successfully utilized their skills to treat various mental health conditions. Nevertheless, there are a few limitations which must be noted:

  • To date, little scholarly research has been done on the effectiveness of CPP as a treatment option for specific conditions. 
  • Having its roots in the depth psychology of Freud and other psychodynamic theorists, CPP is typically medium- to long-term in nature and may last up to a year or more. As a result, it may not be the most effective treatment if certain symptoms need to be addressed quickly.
  • Although CPP requires no knowledge of, commitment to, or interest in Buddhism, some individuals from other religious backgrounds might be suspicious of this approach and might therefore be reluctant to engage in this form of therapy.


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