What Is Parallel Processing Psychology And Why Is It Important?

Updated February 9, 2023by MyTherapist Editorial Team

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How the brain sees the world around us and interprets it to serve you is fascinating, to say the very least. Without our complex brains, we would see many objects differently. In this post, we will talk about parallel processing. What is it? How does it affect how we observe the life around us? Why does it matter?

How Does Parallel Processing Work?

Parallel processing details how your brain can process different types of information at once. The processing means that it takes in the information around it and interprets it in a way your brain can understand. For example, when you see an object, your brain processes many details about the object at once. These include:

Color: What color the object is will be something that’s processed. Your brain may notice the shades of color the object has, how the object contrasts against everything else, and more. Some people have color blindness, which prevents them from seeing colors, but our brains process colors just fine for the most part. Certain combinations of colors can remind us of objects or events. If you see red, white, and blue close together, you may think of the United States of America.

Motion: Our brain detects if something is moving, and if so, how fast is it moving. For example, if you see a moving object heading your way, you know that if you get hit by it, it’s going to hurt, so you move out of the way. Motion can draw our eyes to the object, and certain types of motion can make it easier for us to stays focused.

Shape: Our brains process an object’s shape, which makes us realize what the object is. You see a box in a much different shape as you would a shoe, for example. These shapes become quite familiar, and you can usually recognize an object through its shape alone.

Depth: Depth teaches us how far apart two objects are. Depth is important when figuring out the relation between two objects. If something is close to you, it affects how you perceive it than if it was further away.

Parallel processing, therefore, helps us realize all elements of an object and allows us to make a good decision on it. Imagine a baseball flying in the air. First, you may see its shape. The familiar round shape will tell you if it’s a ball. Then, you see the colors. The familiar white and red make you realize it’s a baseball and not another ball. The depth of the ball makes you realize it’s close to you and heading your way. The motion makes you realize it’s fast. These elements allow you to conclude, such as catching the ball when it’s in the right position. It’s a valuable tool we take for granted, and if we didn’t have it, we would be in trouble. We’re already injury-prone enough. The last thing we would want is not to be able to process objects.

You may be surprised to realize that this isn’t the only definition of parallel processing. Here are a few others.

Parallel Processing In Systems And How These Systems Interact

Another definition of parallel processing has to do with how systems are interconnected and interact with each other. We know about many systems that work together to function. Look at our branches of government, for example. It may begin with funding and then be connected to the organization, connected to the organization’s staff, which is finely interwoven with the clients themselves. All elements work together in harmony to make the organization.

This way of interpreting an organization gives leaders and other people involved in the organization to look at the big picture and take approaches outside of the norm.

When these systems have a relation, they may end up acting the same. This is parallel processing. In psychology, a client will tell the service workers about the trauma they are experiencing. They tell this to the service providers, who themselves have their problems. This affects how an organization may function, and it can cause drama. All these processes can help or hurt an organization. If everything in the organization is stressed, this can cause trouble.

This damages the client’s relationship with them and makes it difficult to have a conversation. This makes the organization feel pressured, which may affect its funding and how they behave. Good team leaders may become more hostile, making the staff feel worse and hurt the chain below. When a parallel process is working great, it works great. When it haves problems, as mentioned, it can be difficult for the organization to survive.

In a good psychology field, the study of parallel processing in this context needs to be had. A good psychologist should go above and beyond to help the client and not let their personal life get in the way. A therapist who doesn’t do this may damage their reputation. You can’t help someone if you can’t be helped.

This is yet another definition of parallel processing. Are there any more?

Parallel Processing In Psychology – How Does It Apply?

We have generally covered parallel processing in terms of its operational definition psychology. Now, let’s look at how it’s applied in AP psychology. In AP Psychology, parallel processing is a replication of a counseling session when under supervision. The therapist will be the client, and the supervisor is the therapist.

This can help a therapist who feels like they aren’t going anywhere with the client. Both sides are becoming frustrated due to the lack of progress. The goal is for the supervisor to give a new perspective in the form of a reenactment, which helps the counselor find new solutions to serve their client.

This may work in the form of transference, where the counselor subconsciously transfers their behaviors onto the client. This may happen due to empathy reasons or because the counselor has problems of their own.

Transference can also occur with the supervisor, who transfers their thoughts back to the client.

Benefits Of Trying and Exploring Parallel Processing – How Does It Work?

  • Parallel processing can speed up the client-counselor process. If it seems like the same events have been revisited repeatedly, parallel processing can help find a new perspective and get out of that hole that is repeating the same events.
  • Parallel processing can help a counselor out too. Counselors are not robots, and they have problems of their own. If there is a conflict between counselor and client, parallel processing works by finding the reason for the conflict and allowing both to resolve.
  • Parallel processing helps to allow for reflection. A counselor needs to look at their progress in a reflective manner.
  • Ultimately, parallel processing can help counselors de-stress. You may think a counselor is desensitized to all the stress, but you’re mistaken. Instead, mental health counseling is one of the most stressful jobs out there. Someone is always exposed to others’ pain, and an especially empathetic counselor may internalize all the pain and allow it to fester, which is never good.

Problems With Parallel Processing

With that said, parallel processing can have its disadvantages as well, such as:

  • Any process can weaken when overused. If someone has had too much parallel processing, this can get rid of any advantages.
  • The therapist may feel anxious while being interviewed by the supervisor. The relationship between client and therapist is not judgmental, but the therapist and supervisor’s relationship can be a power imbalance where the therapist doesn’t feel comfortable.

To make parallel processing as effective as possible, here are a few ways that can be done.

  • Parallel processing should only be done with counselors who have experience and who are confident in their job. Those who are new to the career may feel like they can’t handle all the stress of being scrutinized.
  • There should be a framework designed to make the parallel processing go as smoothly as possible.
  • The supervisor should be clear about why it’s being used. If not, this can confuse.
  • When necessary, the process should pause so that both the therapist and supervisor can reflect on what’s going on. If this doesn’t happen, it can lead to

Seek Help!

Parallel Processing Is One of Many Solutions

Find A Therapist Who Is Right For You and Your Situation

No matter what you process, it’s worth speaking to a therapist if you’re having any problems. With parallel processing, you can progress in your therapy sessions and move on to a better life where you’re in control.

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