Sunday, October 25, 2009

Parts Psychology Book Summary

I injured my hand this week and so today's blog is merely a cut and paste of the summary of the book that I am sending to a potential publisher.

While the natural division of the personality into parts, or subpersonalities, has been recognized for nearly a century in the works of early American scholars such as William James and Morton Prince, the “Parts Psychology” of this book draws heavily upon recent theorists such as John and Helen Watkins (Ego States: Theory and Practice, 1997, WW Norton) and Richard C. Schwartz (Internal Family Systems Therapy, 1995, Guilford Press). However, the present book goes beyond these works by drawing upon their insights and combining them with innovations from the last 12 years of my clinical practice. The result is a contemporary theory of personality dynamics that recognizes subpersonalities as responses to a universal developmental process which is activated whenever people confront novel, and, generally, painful life situations. Once created, each internal part selectively attends to life experiences according to the emotional themes that organize a part’s content. In the book, case narratives describe the process of psychotherapy through painstaking elicitation and resolution of each part’s unique set of problem memories. In the great majority of cases therapeutic issues are resolved within a few months. However, three chapters describe therapy with the same female attorney, illustrating that while Parts Psychology work is generally short-term, it is also suitable for more complex, long-term, work.

The case descriptions are written in an engaging style which holds the reader’s attention as each story unfolds. Each chapter presents a success story. A woman overcomes her debilitating jealousy and anger with her husband. A man overcomes his addiction to sexual swinging. A woman overcomes her aversion to joyful sexuality. A man releases the love for his ex-wife which had prevented him from moving on. Another man releases his obsession for internet pornography. A woman works through her personal issues of body and beauty to accept herself as she is. A gay man releases his obsession with adolescent boys which he feared could ruin his relationship and his career. Another man heals his lifetime depression and anxiety while withdrawing from a soup of psychoactive medications. In each of these cases the solutions to overwhelming emotional issues lay in discovering and healing the wounds of small but significant life traumas, especially those of childhood and adolescence.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Psychotherapy for Love

Most frequently patients come to individual psychotherapy for love for one of two reasons. The first is when they have been dumped. The pain can be overwhelming, so great that the person cannot function and may even contemplate suicide. The second reason is when the patient is confused about not being “in love” anymore. The person’s sex drive has diminished and he or she may be thinking about divorce or taking a lover—or may have already done so. Treatment for these issues in Parts Psychology involves first the identification of the internal parts, or subpersonalities, who are involved. We all have parts who handle love feelings just as we have parts who specialize in anger or sadness, or work performance. Generally speaking there are sexual parts, romantic parts and attachment parts. While all of these functions can be rolled into ways of being for any one part, my impression is that they tend to be allocated to separate parts. My general impression is that sexual parts are most often mature adults; romantic parts are often teenagers presenting as 13 to 15 years of age; and attachment parts are often child parts. There are also many exceptions to these generalizations.

Helen Fisher is a biological anthropologist who has actually studied the chemistry and brain mechanisms of these different kinds of love. Each of them involves a different set of brain chemicals. Sexual drive, as most of us have come to know, is regulated most strongly by testosterone for both men and women. Romantic love, what Fisher calls the “attraction” component, involves elevated levels of norepinephrine and dopamine and lowered levels of serotonin. Attachment involves vasopressin and oxytocin. Fisher discusses these and other love issues in her book, “Why We Love.” It’s a good read. Fisher doesn’t say so but I wonder whether people with elevated levels of serotonin, such as those taking one of the SSRI antidepressants, might experience a decreased amount of romantic love.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Parts Psychology Book

My book is now 15 chapters in length with approximately 400 pages. It presents a novel model for treating psychological problems by addressing the parts of the whole person that carry the distress. These are the parts we casually speak of when we say things like “A part of me was sad when he left, but another part of me felt a tremendous relief.” Or, “I know I can do this job, but a little part of me asks ‘Are you sure?’” Talking in this way is more than just a manner of speaking. It is the expression of the natural structure of the whole personality. Here is an experiment. Think of the person who irritates you most of all the people in the world: family, friends, colleagues, bosses, politicians, etc. Try to build up that irritation or anger by remembering particular ways this person has bothered you. Then notice where it is in your body or head where you feel the irritation most strongly. Focus your attention on the sensation or emotion you feel there and then speak to it, subvocally or aloud, and ask it to give you a picture of itself. Most people who do this exercise will visualize themselves at some other time in their lives, or as they are now but with a frown or angry expression. A minority of people who do the exercise will visualize the person who causes this irritation. And some will visualize a person they don’t recognize or perhaps an object or a color, especially the color red. For those who picture the irritating person an additional step is needed. But for everybody else the image that comes to mind is one of the “parts” or “subpersonalities” I write about. You can actually have a conversation with this internal image, and eventually you can discover that you, the observing self, are not simply role playing both sides of the conversation. You will discover that the “part” you visualize has a point of view different from yours in a number of ways. You might even be surprised by the response of the part you visualize. You might find that the part, if an angry one, will tell you to go away or otherwise indicate that it is irritated. The blogs I write once a week have to do with healing through work with these invisible parts of the whole personality.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Healing Hoarding with Parts Psychology

My client is a 42 year old man with whom I have worked for more than a year. We have cleared away most of the major issues he came to work through. Recently, he asked if we might be able to do something about his inability to throw away some of the things he has accumulated over the years. These things included about 30 motorcycles and motorcycle parts, about 25 bicycles, hundreds of old videotapes and phonograph records, and a large number of unused exercise machines of various types. When he thought about letting go of any of these things he experienced anxiety bordering on panic. In order to help him find the internal part or subpersonality involved in his hoarding, I asked the man to connect to his anxiety and to ask the part who carried the anxiety to show itself.

The part presented itself as the image of a child, perhaps eight years old. I asked the child part to share with us its earliest memories that connected somehow to the anxiety my client felt when he thought about getting rid of any objects from his accumulated hoard. The child part identified three relevant sets of memories. The first was of his mother throwing away food which had spoiled when it sat too long before being eaten. The second was of having to discard relatively new shoes because my client had outgrown them. The third set of memories also involved discarding relatively new shoes, but this time because of tears or other problems that prevented their further usage. If we look at the common elements in these three troubling sets of memories (i.e., troubling to the child part), they all appear to have something to do with unused or wasted product. That also appears to be what troubles my client in the present. For example, he imagines that he could use the parts from some motorcycles to repair other motorcycles; he just never gets around to doing it.

Using the “unburdening” technique from Richard Schwartz’s Internal Family Systems model, we helped the child part to give up all of the negative energy (distress) connected to its memories of childhood loss. Once the childhood memories were no longer troubling to the child part or to my adult client, my client was able to think about getting rid of some of his hoard of objects. He hasn’t yet begun to do so—it’s only been a week since our work—but he can think about it now without anxiety or panic.