Meaningful Experience or Mental Illness?  Process Oriented Approaches to Altered and Extreme States of Consciousness
– An ISPS-US Webinar 

Are you looking for better ideas about unusual states of mind than the same old talk about “mental illness”?

Would you like to have some tools for understanding people who appear to be in a reality that’s different from yours and mine?

Last week I hosted a webinar for ISPS-US about Process Work and Process-Oriented approaches to altered and extreme states of consciousness. Thanks to Ron Unger for the generous invitation! In this webinar I combine my personal lived experience with the material I learned in grad school. Process Work is powerful stuff!

Recorded August 17, 2018 (2 hours)


Process Work (also called Process Oriented Psychology) has an innovative and non-pathologizing view of altered and extreme states of consciousness. Rather than dismiss such states as mental illness — as something to be discarded — Process Work takes the position that such states contain something meaningful and important that is trying to emerge.

This workshop takes you on an aerial tour of key Process Work attitudes, concepts and vocabulary as they relate to out-of-ordinary states of mind. Unusual states are framed in terms of internal conflict and field phenomena rather than as diseases and disorders. Viewers will get a sense of how to map “process structure” — what is familiar, what is emerging, and the barrier between the two. Also examined are channels of awareness and how to reach someone who appears to be unreachable.

Practical skills are then discussed which you can use to understand and communicate with themes that emerge in altered states. The idea is presented that unusual beliefs (often called delusions) are actually metaphorical expressions of something that wants to become better known; not just for the experiencer’s benefit but for the benefit of the broader group.

Finally the presentation explores the four phases of conflict — different postures we can take toward things that bother us. Identifying and moving between the four phases is key for those wondering how to approach people who strongly identify with psychiatric labels and the medical model, as well as people who don’t believe in the psychiatric framework at all.

John draws from his training in Process Work, personal lived experience with out-of-ordinary states as well as his time as a psychiatric patient to offer a candid, funny, interactive and educational presentation.


Hearing Voices Network USA:  A Personal Journey

Facilitator and advocate John Herold gives a presentation at the SW CHAPS (Southwest Washington Community Health Advocate and Peer Support Network) meeting on June 21st, 2018.

The topic: John’s personal journey that brought him to the Hearing Voices Network, as well as his current work as group facilitator and trainer.

John will share his personal history with an extreme state and involuntary psychiatric hospitalization in 2012. He was deeply disappointed to discover his community’s mental health resources were missing something important: a welcoming attitude — one that embraced the reality, meaning and significance of his experience. John’s life improved dramatically in 2014 when he learned about Portland Hearing Voices. He drove two and a half hours each way to attend meetings and found the trips to be totally worthwhile. He has now co-facilitated Puget Sound Hearing Voices in Tacoma for three years and trains peers and professionals to facilitate HVN groups throughout the Northwest.

(68 minutes)


Sources of Madness:  How I lost my mind and what I gained in the process

On June 6th, 2018 I had the opportunity to deliver a new presentation titled “Sources of Madness: How I lost my mind and what I gained in the process” for Rethinking Psychiatry in Portland, Oregon. This talk was deeply personal. I describe the factors that led to the extreme state of consciousness that landed me in a psych hospital in 2012. This experience was more than just crazy, though. It was also mystical and profound.

But where did it come from?

In this talk I use the Process Work “Ice Cream Cone Model of Reality” to explore different possible causes of this experience — biochemical, psychological and spiritual. I also employ values from both Process Work as well as the Hearing Voices Network to describe my journey from one-sidedness to fluidity around matters of unusual states of mind, psychiatry and diagnostic labels.

Finally I discuss the metaphorical meaning behind some of the unusual beliefs I had during the extreme state. Maybe I’m not the next Dalai Lama in consensus reality, but I strongly believe that theme (and others) stood for something important that might be worth considering on a more symbolic level.

(74 minutes)


What is Reality?  Version 2.0

Guest lecture at Portland State University
May 21st, 2018
(91 minutes)

In this presentation I re-visit the relationship between mainstream concepts of reality as they relate to people who have been given diagnostic labels.  Delivered to a class of psychology majors at Portland State University, I introduce key concepts from Process Work, the Hearing Voices Network, as well as lessons from my own lived experience as a psychiatric patient.  What if we live in a dream?  What does that mean for people who know they’re living in a dream?  Put another way, what does it mean for people who have been labeled psychotic?  


Hearing Voices Network Mini Training

This mini-training was presented at the Peerpocalypse Conference in Seaside, Oregon April 8th, 2018 by John Herold, Director of Puget Sound Hearing Voices and Cindy Olejar, Director of Seattle Hearing Voices.

What is the Hearing Voices Network? What does the phrase “hearing voices” even mean? What is the history of the Hearing Voices movement? How did this innovative approach begin? What is a Hearing Voices group? What is the Hearing Voices Network philosophy and when is it useful? What does it mean to participate in a Hearing Voices group and what is the role of facilitation?

We answer all these questions and more, condensing highlights from a 3-day HVN facilitation training into one hour. You will hear personal stories about how the presenters first encountered the Hearing Voices Network and will hear some ideas about re-framing diagnostic vocabulary and psychiatric labels into language based on experiences. We will examine some useful attitudes when facilitating Hearing Voices groups. These attitudes are not only useful when facilitating groups, they are useful for ourselves as individuals should we encounter an unusual sensory experience like a voice, vision or extreme state of mind.

Finally we will take a look at some highlights from the Hearing Voices Network USA charter. This document contains the values that distinguish full Hearing Voices Network USA groups from other groups. Do you hear voices, see visions or have other unusual sensory experiences or extreme states of consciousness? You are not alone. To learn more about the Hearing Voices Network USA please visit

(60 minutes)



What is Reality?

On Tuesday April 10th I delivered my “What is Reality?” workshop for the first time to an audience of over 100 at the Peerpocalypse Conference in Seaside, Oregon. The audience was engaged and asked great questions! We explored and learned together about reality – the most important yet ignored idea in all of “mental health.”

What is Reality?

A Workshop at the Peerpocalypse Conference
Seaside, Oregon
Tuesday, April 10th 2018
(88 minutes)


Anyone who’s been accused of being crazy has probably asked themselves whether they are in touch with reality. This question has a way of attracting more questions. What is reality? If I’m feeling, seeing or hearing things that others aren’t, does that mean those things aren’t there? If it’s real for me, then isn’t it real?

Most notions of mental wellness imply that there’s an objective thing called reality in the first place. Those of us who don’t always experience that fixed, hard, unchanging phenomenon are assumed to be sick – often branded with psychiatric labels like psychotic, delusional, bipolar or schizophrenic.

People who live with experiences of unshared reality are given little attention and in many cases, are deeply marginalized.

In this humorous, transparent and thought provoking workshop we explore the nature of reality and the resulting implications for what is currently called mental health.

My logic: before we diagnose people as out of touch with reality, we should better understand the properties of reality and how it works.

We will grow more sensitive to the concept of reality, uncovering common assumptions so basic you might have missed them. We will explore reality as a multi-level phenomenon instead of a singular, hard object.

We then examine the question: Is the universe weird or is it just me? Mainstream culture assumes that the universe is normal and that psychosis is an experience reserved only for the mentally ill. But what if our universe itself behaves in a psychotic manner in its own way? Might the existence of a weird universe make us re-think who we label as weird down here on Earth?

Finally we will dive into the basics of quantum mechanics and how the implications of the “double slit experiment” might be important when considering how to approach out-of-ordinary experiences.

The audience engages with thoughtful questions, clearly showing that the nature of reality is not only relevant to mental health, it’s something we can all understand.

Process work + simulation theory + altered states of consciousness = mind blowing ideas!



Madness:  It’s Complicated – Version 2.0

Guest talk at the Franklin S. Dubois Center in Stamford, Connecticut January 12, 2018
(87 minutes)

Are unusual states of mind junk? Or are they important and meaningful?

Is “shell shock” a chemical imbalance? What about Beatlemania?

How do people get trapped by psychiatric drugs?

How is “mental illness” like the fake cake at the cash register at Sizzler?

And how can a “pattern of everything” help us understand the jam we’re in with diagnostic labels and disorders?

Facilitator and advocate John Herold ponders these questions and more in Madness: It’s Complicated – Version 2.0. This presentation was delivered at the Franklin S. Dubois Center in Stamford, Connecticut to a diverse group of mental health professionals, consumers of psychiatric services, and members of the community.



Madness:  It’s Complicated

Guest lecture at Portland State University on November 15, 2017 
(80 minutes)

Facilitator and advocate John Herold gives a guest lecture at Portland State University on alternatives to mainstream attitudes around unusual states of consciousness (often called “mental illness”) as well as responses to common assumptions in the field of psychiatry. John shares his personal story as a psychiatric survivor and offers insight into how fully buying into diagnostic labels can hypnotize our identities and shorten our lives. He also gives a brief introduction to the values of the International Hearing Voices Network.



Keynote Speech:  Moving From Recovery to Discovery

Delivered at the Peerpocalypse conference in Seaside, Oregon April 25, 2017
(50 minutes)

Facilitator, peer and advocate John Herold delivers a keynote speech titled “Moving from Recovery to Discovery” on April 25, 2017 at the Peerpocalypse conference in Seaside, Oregon. John tells the story of his extreme state of consciousness of 2012, his subsequent psychiatric hospitalization as well as his evolving attitudes about what is often called “mental illness.” Humorous and transparent, his story will be inspiring to anyone looking for a different approach to diagnostic labels. John also gives us his “keys to discovery” he used to escape a life of psychiatric torture and reduced expectations of his life’s purpose. He also introduces us to Process Work or Process-Oriented Psychology.



Life is a Dream:  Process-Oriented Approaches to Altered and Extreme States of Consciousness

Workshop at Peerpocalypse on April 26, 2017
(90 minutes)

Facilitator, peer and advocate John Herold leads a 90 minute workshop on Process Work and Process-Oriented approaches to extreme states of consciousness, often labeled as psychiatric disorders and “mental illness.” Founded by Arnold Mindell, Process Work has an innovative set of theories and approaches to understanding and interacting with people who are in far-out states of mind. Process Work has a *non-pathologizing* approach, that is, one that does not assume illness when working with someone whose behavior might be considered crazy by mainstream standards. John distinguishes between altered states and extreme states, and describes what sorts of situations tend to bring us into unusual frames of awareness. This talk is relatable, insightful, humorous and easy to understand.