4 Core Processes of Human Suffering, Explained—and How We Address Them

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Lightfully’s direct approach to treating maladaptive processes is fast becoming the new gold standard for patients. 


Traditional models of care are often impersonal and mechanical.   


For starters, the DSM system of classification of mental health disorders is ineffective. Categorizing patients on a set of observable symptoms oversimplifies the issue—the root of human suffering is much more complex than that. 


Successfully treating these disorders is even more complicated. There are more than 100 different diagnostic-specific, evidence-based treatments, according to the American Psychological Association. It’s unreasonable to expect clinicians to be trained in every protocol and to know how to identify the right treatment approach, especially if patients have been diagnosed with multiple disorders.  


Furthermore, most clinicians integrate a variety of evidence-based modalities, but until now we haven’t had a framework for how to integrate those interventions in a systematic and intentional way.  


That’s where Lightfully’s dynamic new clinical model, process-based therapy (PBT), comes in. Instead of utilizing diagnoses to guide the path of treatment, clinicians target the underlying core processes that lead to suffering for each client—and create a personalized care plan based on their individual needs. 


“What’s unique about process-based therapy isn’t just that it’s an integrated model. It’s more that it utilizes a framework for how you integrate these interventions,” says Nicole Siegfried, Lightfully’s Chief Clinical Officer. “That’s something that’s really missing with previous models.” 


Lightfully takes a holistic approach to treatment, rather than utilizing a mechanical approach in which diagnoses dictate interventions. By focusing on the client’s specific and unique processes that contribute to their suffering, we’re able to tailor treatment to the individual. 


Let’s dive into the processes and how we can best understand them.  


What Exactly Is a Process?  

Broadly speaking, the “process” in process-based therapy is the way in which we interact with ourselves, others, and with the world around us. It’s the way we take something in, make sense of it, and then act on it. 


At Lightfully, we’ve identified four core process domains: 


  1. Fusion and shame 
  2. Meaninglessness and stagnation 
  3. Emotion dysregulation and avoidance 
  4. Alienation and disconnection 


These four overarching domains can be broken down into more specific process mechanisms. For instance, under emotion dysregulation and avoidance are such process mechanisms as arousal, affect, and somato-sensation.  


Here’s how the process mechanisms align under the process domains, and examples from a client who we’ll call Josie. 


Clinicians who are trained in all our interventions work with clients and referring therapists to create a treatment roadmap that helps patients access the care and resources they need in the long term.  


“We want our clients to have an experience that advances them forward into their healing,” Siegfried says. 


Here’s how PBT addresses each of the four core processes of human suffering: 


Core Process #1: Shame and Fusion 

Goal: Mindful self-compassion 

Many clients who come to Lightfully are grappling with shame. They are overconnected to negative core beliefs, such as “I am a horrible person” or “I don’t deserve to live.”  


These clients benefit from interventions targeted toward improving flexibility in their thinking and building self-compassion, Siegfried says. That way, they can approach past traumatic life events and future anxiety-provoking events with psychological flexibility.  


Core Process #2: Meaninglessness and Stagnation 

Goal: Values-centered living 

Many clients at Lightfully are worn out from the toll of their mental illness. They have tried many treatments with little progress. They have often lost hope and have difficulty seeing a path out of suffering. When patients feel hopeless, it’s difficult for them to focus on moving forward, Siegfried says. 


At Lightfully, clinicians utilize PBT to help clients build hope and possibility. Clients identify their core values, learn ways to align with their values, and then make decisions and use behaviors that move them toward a values-based life.  


Core Process #3: Emotion Dysregulation and Avoidance 

Goal: Emotional flexibility and acceptance 

Patients who seek care at Lightfully are often struggling with their emotions. They might feel things intensely and want to block the pain. They may use behaviors such as self-harm or substance use to soften the pain.  


Unfortunately, although these behaviors may provide some short-term relief, they contribute to more suffering in the long run. By the time clients enter treatment, they’re in a vicious cycle of emotional avoidance—and they’re exhausted.  


Lightfully clinicians utilize a PBT-based treatment plan to help clients exit the cycle of emotional avoidance and move toward acceptance. This approach shifts their mindsets so they can start perceiving and feeling positive emotions instead of focusing on their negative ones. 


Core Process #4: Alienation and Disconnection 

Goal: Interpersonal connection 

Connection to others is one of the greatest human yearnings. Clients with mental illness often feel misunderstood and like they don’t belong. Building and healing relationships is an integral component of the recovery process.  


At Lightfully clients learn skills to build compassion for themselves and others, which provides a foundation for healthy and fulfilling relationships. Therapists work with clients and their families to improve interpersonal communication, set boundaries, and heal ruptured relationships.  


The Journey from Suffering to Well-Being 

Our goal at Lightfully is to help clients move from suffering into wellbeing. Prior to entering treatment, our clients have been doing the best they can to relieve their pain.  


Unfortunately, these methods end up creating more suffering. Clients often feel like they are going in circles of despair with no way out. PBT offers a path out of suffering by addressing the maladaptive processes that keep clients stuck and helping them pivot into adaptive processes associated with wellbeing and fulfillment. 


“We address those underlying processes that change the way patients interact with themselves, relate to others, and approach their life,” Siegfried says. “We’re truly giving patients the gold standard care.” 


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