Finding Harmony Within: Working with Parts in Therapy
The human psyche is a rich tapestry of thoughts, emotions, and beliefs that shape our identities and influence our experiences. Within this intricate landscape, different aspects of ourselves can emerge, often referred to in therapy as “parts.” These parts represent distinct facets of our personality, each with its own voice, needs, and motivations. Examples can include our “inner child” (or children), angry parts, wounded parts, protective parts, etc. You may have noticed that the use of parts language in therapy has become more and more popular in recent times. Working with parts in therapy can be a powerful approach that allows individuals to gain insight, healing, and integration. In this blog post, we will explore the concept of working with parts in therapy, its principles, and how it can facilitate personal growth and transformation. Let’s take a look!
Understanding Parts in Therapy
When we talk about parts (sometimes referred to as “ego states”) in therapy, we refer to the idea that individuals are made up of different aspects or subpersonalities that can influence their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. How many times have you thought, “on one hand I feel this, and on another hand I feel that.” Or “a part of me wants this, and another part of me wants that.” Or “my rational self thinks this, but my emotional self feels that.”
Now please understand – we’re NOT saying you have dissociative identity disorder (previously known as multiple personality disorder) or anything like that. What we ARE saying is that everyone has different aspects of themselves and that these parts often emerge in response to various life experiences, shaping our reactions and influencing our sense of self.
And, sometimes, a person does indeed have a disorder such as dissociative identity disorder (DID), previously known as multiple personality disorder. For these individuals, their parts are considered “dissociative parts” which are similar to the what we’ve already discussed however are more distinct and separate (we won’t go more in depth with this for the sake of this blog, though there are a TON of resources you can find on the subject).
Examples of Psychotherapy Approaches that Work with Parts
One of the first therapies focused on parts is Ego State Therapy which was developed by two psychologists, John G. Watkins and Helen H. Watkins, in the 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s, and summarized in their book published in 1997 (Ego States: Theory and Therapy).
Another therapy, developed more recently, is Internal Family Systems (IFS) which was created by psychologist, Dr. Richard Schwartz. IFS conceives every human being as a system of protective and wounded inner parts led by a core Self. It’s based on the belief that the mind is naturally multiple and that is a good thing. Just like members of a family, inner parts are forced from their valuable states into extreme roles within us. IFS helps people heal by accessing and healing their protective and wounded inner parts.
Recognizing and Naming Parts
The first step in working with parts is often recognizing and naming them. During the process of therapy, individuals learn to identify different aspects of themselves, such as the inner critic, the nurturer, the wounded child, or even the oldest, wisest self. Clients begin to understand what purpose these parts serve (often survival), gaining insight and self-compassion. Once empathy and compassion for these parts is achieved, they often become less reactive. And this leads clients to feel more in control. But this shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, don’t we all just want to be empathized with and understood?
Creating Internal Dialogue
Once parts are identified, therapy encourages individuals to engage in internal dialogue, facilitating communication and understanding among the various parts. This dialogue helps individuals gain insight into the needs, fears, and desires of each part, promoting integration and harmony. Often clients will come in with inner conflicts, with various needs often conflicting with each other. Dialogue can help negotiate a helpful compromise between these parts.
Here’s an example: A previous client of mine recognized that a part of them desired a deep connection with others. While this is of course a normal, human need, the desire for it was especially strong due to growing up in a cold, non-nurturing environment. However, another part of them, protective in nature, desired a high level of safety due to getting hurt repeatedly in the past. This part would sabotage efforts to get close to people to avoid getting hurt again. Both parts had important, valid needs (one needing closeness and connection, the other needing protection and safety) yet were acting independently and thus going against each other. Only after first creating an internal dialogue where each of their needs were acknowledged, we were able to work on finding a compromise.
Compassion and Curiosity
As we mentioned earlier, approaching parts with compassion and curiosity is essential for effective therapeutic work. Instead of judging or suppressing parts, individuals learn to cultivate self-compassion and curiosity towards their experiences and emotions which allows for a safe and non-judgmental exploration.
Clients sometimes find they have a certain level of disdain for various parts or aspects of themselves. This can lead to challenging psychological and emotional problems. After all, if we detest a certain part of ourselves, how can we truly achieve self-acceptance?
An example of this can be illustrated with another former client who had an angry part that would come out when they were feeling powerless and unseen or unheard. Naturally, people became upset with these strong displays of anger and aggression, and the client, therefore, developed a lot of shame and resentment toward this part. In the process of therapy, he learned that this angry part developed as a kid to protect him from feelings of vulnerability he had in a very chaotic and abusive environment growing up. After all, anger gives us the gifts of strength, assertiveness, and a sense of power. When examined in context, this client gained a greater appreciation for how this part helped him survive a very challenging upbringing, and this awareness, in turn, helped him gain more control of his anger.
Integration and Wholeness
Often the ultimate goal of working with parts is integration, where different aspects of oneself can coexist harmoniously. Integration involves recognizing that each part has a valid role and purpose and finding ways to meet their needs in a balanced and healthy manner. Integration fosters a sense of wholeness and authenticity.
Emotional Healing and Resolution
Parts work allows individuals to address unresolved emotions and past traumas held within specific parts. By acknowledging and processing these emotions, individuals can promote healing and create space for emotional growth and resilience.
Parts work is often done in the early phases of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy to help identify where the traumatic memories are stored and to gain permission from protective parts to work on these experiences.
Working with parts in therapy opens a gateway to deep self-discovery, healing, and integration. By embracing the diverse aspects of our inner landscape, we can cultivate self-compassion, gain insight, and foster wholeness. Through the gentle exploration of our parts, we embark on a journey of personal growth, unlocking our true potential and living more authentically.
All of our therapists at Mangrove Therapy Group are trained in helping you with the process of self-exploration and creating understanding and compassion for all parts of yourself. There are no bad parts!
Begin the Process of Exploration and Self-Discovery with A Trauma Therapist in Delray Beach, FL
Our team of caring therapists can offer support from our Delray Beach, FL-based practice and across the state. We would be honored to support you on the journey to better understand yourself. You can start your therapy journey by following these simple steps:
- Contact Mangrove Therapy Group
- Meet with a caring therapist
- Start receiving support for yourself and your loved ones
Other Services Offered with Mangrove Therapy Group
Parts work isn’t the only approach or type of therapy that Mangrove Therapy Group offers in Delray Beach, FL. Our team knows that you may experience a wide array of mental health concerns which is why we are happy to offer therapy for trauma and PTSD/C-PTSD, substance use disorders, eating disorders, body image issues, anger management, anxiety, low self-esteem, and much more. Please feel free to learn more about how we can support you. We also offer support with addictions such as process addictions, grief and loss, “Failure to Launch” syndrome, CBT, and DBT. Feel free to learn more by visiting our blog or FAQ page to learn more today!