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What Is the Dr. Ira Progoff’s Method? – VISIYA

Updated: May 5, 2023

The American social worker and psychotherapist Ira Progoff, who developed an accessible system of therapy and self-help, was one of the first to think of a journal as not only an object of interest for outsiders (as in the case of memoirs or biographies), but also as a useful tool for deep introspection.

In the 1950s, that is, at the beginning of his career, Progoff decided to depart from the ideas of depth psychology and studied the trajectories of its prominent adherents. What interested him most was Carl Gustav Jung’s approach: unlike Sigmund Freud, Otto Rank, and Alfred Adler, Jung believed that every client had sufficient resources for self-knowledge and self-help.

Yet, Jung insisted on the need for expensive analytical therapy, something not everyone could afford, and the tangible involvement of a psychotherapist. Meanwhile, according to Progoff, the presence of the therapist only hindered one’s understanding of one’s own unique system of symbols and reflexes.

Progoff’s humanistic approach drove him to seek a spiritual practice that would make it possible even for a poor person to receive psychological help. He also focused on minimizing the role of the therapist so that the person would rely on his/her own resources during therapy and would be guided by his/her own assessments.

What Is the Progoff’s Method and What Is It for?

Progoff couldn’t find anything like that, so he had to invent his own system. Over the years of practicing and teaching, he found out what was lacking in personal journals, so that they could not only mitigate momentary emotions, but also become the core of therapy (the predecessors considered the diary to be only an auxiliary tool).

According to Progoff, a diary is often just a platform for recording events rather than a way of self-discovery. The therapist explained that when a diary is associated only with a particular goal (e.g., finding a new job), it loses its meaning once it’s achieved. You can use it to get through a specific period of time comfortably, but not to explore your personality.

The Progoff’s Method (Intensive Journal Method/Process) requires you to regularly keep a diary, thematically divided into four parts. If you relax well before writing and avoid distractions, you can record not only rational reasoning, but also twilight observations – those that pop into your mind when you’re doing monotonous activities like jogging or knitting. Progoff believed that “twilight perception” was a crucial part of therapy for gaining a fuller understanding of the past and present.

The method of intensive structured journaling helps to look at your life as a single story, to recognize your past experiences and to assess future perspectives. In other words, to sort out relationships and work problems, cope with stress and understand how to move on - after a traumatic situation and in general.

The most important thing about Progoff’s structured journal is non-linearity. The journal should be arranged so that you can easily add sheets to any section. The sections constitute four so-called “dimensions”:

  1. Life/Time Dimension. This includes such sections as “Period Log”, “Daily Log”, “Life History Log”, “Stepping Stones”, “Intersections: Roads Taken and Not Taken”, and “Now: The Open Moment”.

  2. Dialogues Dimension. This dimension includes such sections as “Dialogue with Persons”, “Dialogue with Works”, “Dialogue with the Body”, and “Dialogue with Events, Situations, and Circumstances”.

  3. Depth Dimension. This dimension includes such sections as “Dream Log”, “Dream Enlargement”, “Twilight Imagery Log”, “Imagery Extension”.

  4. Meaning Dimension. This dimension includes the sections “Dialogue with Society” and “Inner Wisdom Dialogue”.

Life/Time Dimension

When working with the journal, the “Now: The Open Moment” is placed in the center. The person is asked to define the boundaries of the present time in which he or she lives: what event draw the line between the past and present life? What is the essence of the current period of life? What does its course look like? The present period is viewed from both rational and extra-rational perspectives.

Next, a person keeping a diary is offered to conduct two processes at the same time: to do exercises in different sections and to keep daily records of inner events and states. The exercises contained in the sections are aimed at reconstructing life history, giving it meaning, "populating" it with various significant people and figures, tracing possible directions of development in the past, present, and future.

The life history log is reconstructed by compiling a list of “Stepping stones” meaningfully leading up to the present period, which serves as the climax of the story. The following is a detailed examination of one of the stages that contains great semantic potential in the context of the present. The flashbacks are recorded in the “Life History Log” section, and the possible courses that emerged in the points of choice in the “Intersections: Roads Taken and Not Taken” section.

Eventually, life changes, and a person can re-define the “Now: The Open Moment” and rewrite “Stepping stones” accordingly. Entirely different periods and events may turn out to be significant. This gives the person first-hand experience of the polyhistorical nature of life and the opportunity to rewrite own life history. This is especially important when working with people who have had traumatic experiences.

Dialogues Dimension

The principle of dialogue is another important aspect of the Progoff’s structured journaling. It’s extremely difficult to maintain the tension of dialogue between two subjects in daily life, as well as in extraordinary circumstances. The dialogue method can be compared to a Swiss knife slipped into a diary toolkit. Surprisingly functional, dialogue can immerse you in almost any journal situation and guide you through it.

The journal exercises invite us to trace the life story of someone/something with whom/what we seek to enter into a dialogue: another person, our own body, a project that is important to us, etc. Then a person tunes in to the meaningful continuity of the course of this life story, and imagines their interlocutor as if he or she is present nearby. A spontaneous dialogue occurs between them, allowing the person to understand something new and important about his or her own life.

Depth Dimension

When working with a structured journal, no life experiences are ignored. In this dimension, special attention is paid to the flow of dreams and fantasies. Progoff assumes that images and symbols flow constantly, but while awake they are hidden under a “layer” of rational thinking. It’s not the interpretation of each particular dream that matters, but the movement of the dream flow.

When people manage to match the flow of events and experiences that take place while awake with the flow of dreams and fantasy images, it opens up possibilities of understanding, and the life becomes multidimensional. Recording dreams and imagery allows you to detach yourself from them, while also paying proper attention to them. This technique is useful when working with people suffering from nightmares and obsessive-compulsive disorders.

Meaning Dimension

In modern culture and in the medical psychotherapeutic model, a person is often constructed as an isolated, autonomous “Self”, “from within” which actions, personality and character traits emerge. It ignores the fact that people never exist in a social vacuum; they are part of a community that constructs meanings through language. Values, interests, intentions, principles and other intentional categories of human existence are not “inside” him/her, but in culture.

Structured journaling helps to re-establish contact with non-personal sources of meaning – art, social movements, spiritual teachings and practices, the dimension of the sacred.

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