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Using Parallel Process to Build Organizational Resilience

One approach to healing our helpers.

Key points

  • To build more healing-centered systems across the helping professions, we must better connect external practice with internal operations.
  • A new research-based framework called CORE can guide helping professionals to create greater practice-systems alignment in their organizations.
  • The parallel process work underlying these efforts is linked to improved employee retention, treatment outcomes, and organizational performance.

This post is Part 3 of a series. In Part 2: To meet the challenges of this moment and combat the dangerous paradox in the helping professions, we need to push for more healing-centered systems change. An approach known as "parallel process" could help us author this change as we strive to practice our professional values at all levels of our work—with clients, colleagues, leaders, and across teams.

Pexels/Pavel Danilyuk
Source: Pexels/Pavel Danilyuk

To the outside observer, the work of practicing professional values in organizational operations may seem intuitive, even banal, within the helping professions. The experiences of our workforce—particularly since 2020—tell a very different story, however. We have been conditioned to accept the status quo of a dangerous paradox that celebrates our professional values in our practice with our clients, while simultaneously asking us to tolerate the absence of those values in our professional experiences.

The truth is, reimagining our human services systems and operationalizing real change will require fortitude, innovation, and community. What I call "parallel process"—striving to practice our values at all levels of our work, or “walking the talk”—can help us create more healing-centered organizational systems across the helping professions.

Parallel Process in Practice

To illustrate how parallel process can support these efforts in practice, I would like to share the example of a recent Play At The Core partnership with a child life services department in a large pediatric hospital. Throughout the last two years, their team has gone above and beyond to support young patients and their families as they navigated the uncertainty of their medical conditions during a time of heightened fear and anxiety due to COVID-19.

Like so many others in the helping professions, however, the pandemic put significant strain on their department by limiting opportunities for supportive connections, communication, and collaboration among team members. Over the past year, in particular, the severity of both medical and mental health needs among patients has paired with growing concern about the organizational culture within the department, leading to increased workforce turnover that threatens to compromise patient care.

The ultimate goal was to strengthen community across their team, as well as their internal capacity to engage with future challenges. This collaboration is rooted in the belief that the child life team already possesses the skills and strategies needed to overcome their challenges—in fact, they are readily displayed through their current work with patients and families.

Parallel process is being leveraged to draw this practice wisdom out of the department staff and help them make meaning of its applications in their work with one another. These efforts are organized through three phases of what I call the C.O.R.E. (Collective Organizational Resilience through Empathy) Model:

1. "Know your power."

Identify and celebrate the existing strengths within the program model. For the child life team, this work is centered on the ways that specialists build connections and a sense of community with patients and families during their hospital stay, by asking:

  • What are the beliefs, behaviors, and systems that help you to form a strong sense of community with patients?
  • What is the impact of these efforts on the care you provide?

2. “Release your pain.”

Articulate and explore the challenges in the professional context. This work requires the staff to hold a brave space for one another to examine the dynamics of their professional community. We ask:

  • How would you describe the professional community within the department?

  • In what ways has this professional community supported you as you confronted challenges over the last two years?

  • In what ways has it made your engagement with challenges more difficult?

3. “Live your purpose."

Imagine and create ways to bring strengths to bear against these professional challenges. This work invites the team to envision the changes that they seek within their professional experiences, and the ways that their powerful work might be applied to this end. The team’s responses to these questions can help them begin to envision new ways of working and thriving together:

  • How would you like to see this professional community be stronger?
  • How might you begin to apply some of the same beliefs, behaviors, and systems that help to build community with your patients with one another?
  • What might be the impact of these changes on both your individual/professional and patient experiences?

Building a New Paradigm in Community

Parallel process work must be deeply anchored in the context and experiences of the professionals engaging it. The inputs of the individual team members engaging in this work are critical to the meaning-making and iterative strategizing that results as teams begin to consider how their work together should evolve.

With each change that teams put into practice, a growing sense of well-being and agency at the organizational level can begin to fuel a virtuous cycle in which the potential for healing, learning, and thriving are unending. Decades of research link the strengthened organizational culture possible through parallel process to increases in professional motivation, service quality, client satisfaction, and overall organizational performance.

Not only can parallel process be a potential antidote for the despair and exploitation all too familiar in our professions, it can actually strengthen our ability to achieve our mission. This is our moment to co-create a new paradigm of healing, to leave the dangerous paradox behind us, and to more fully realize the promise of the helping professions.

Jared Carroll
Source: Jared Carroll

Play At The Core and Dr. G’s Lab are designing an experiential learning institute guided by the C.O.R.E. Model: The C.O.R.E. Institute for Healing in the Helping Professions.


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Gregory, B. T., Harris, S. G., Armenakis, A. A., & Shook, C. L. (2009). Organizational culture and effectiveness: A study of values, attitudes, and organizational outcomes. Journal of Business Research, 62(7), 673–679.

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Sackmann, S. (2010). Culture and performance. In N. M. Ashkanasy, C. P. Wilderom, & M. F. Peterson The handbook of organizational culture and climate (pp. 188-224).

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