Sunday, March 14, 2010

Anger Management and Parts Psychology

Anger management work is a major sub-industry within counseling. The fact that anger in the form of rage so often becomes a matter for the courts is another reason for the demand for this sort of therapy. Courts often mandate that a person take a class in anger management as part of a sentencing agreement.Unfortunately, anger management classes are not very helpful except in the short term--when fear of incarceration is likely to have a greater effect on a person than learning rules for dealing with anger. The problem with anger management courses is that they appeal to the language-based, rational, left brain. Unfortunately, rage is a product of the emotion-based right brain. By the time a left brain rule for calming oneself has been put into effect, the right brain rage has already been triggered, leaving the person without the ability to reason himself/herself to a state of calm.

Parts Psychology offers a means for working directly that part of a person which carries the rage. In principle the treatment is simple: differentiate the angry part of the self; collect the early memories that created the rage; neutralize those memories so that negative emotions no longer attach to them. Memories that are neutral for a person cannot trigger that person into rage. Often, once you have differentiated the angry part of the self you will encounter fierce resistance to the idea of neutralizing the memories. Fortunately, with perseverence, you will generally be able to convince the angry part to cooperate in its own healing. A more serious problem in working with angry persons is in getting their cooperation in working with the angry part of themselves. In a minority of cases angry patients are simply unable to believe that their angry parts are different from the Self. Sometimes, the patient will say something like, “That is ridiculous!” when the therapist suggests that the patient can have a conversation with the angry part. Such a patient may never return for another session. Another means of resisting the work, especially if the patient is only there to please a partner or a court, is for the patient to insist upon “venting,” which might feeling good for a while but has no lasting effect. There is little that the Parts Psychologist can do when the patient rfefuses to accept the premise that he/she has an angry part and that angry part must have its memories neutralized.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Abreaction Versus Unburdening in Parts Psychology

Abreaction involves the expression of powerful emotions as painful memories are recalled. The patient is encouraged to express the previously blocked rage, fear, or distress. It is one of the oldest techniques in the treatment of psychological problems. It can be scary for both the patient and the therapist. Sometimes it is curative. The problem is that sometimes it also makes the problem worse. Its aim is to process the painful emotions that are bound to traumatic memories in such a way that the emotions are no longer painful. In this sense abreaction is similar to unburdening. Abreaction might even be called one way of unburdening. However, abreaction sometimes fails to do what it is supposed to do because the therapist and patient are not working directly with the part of self who carries the original memories of the traumatic events.

The unburdening that is the core of Parts Psychology accomplishes the unbinding of powerful emotions from painful memories through working with the part (subpersonality) that was created at the time of the trauma. The unburdening occurs internally as the patient directs her/his internal parts in a symbolic release of the pain connected to the memories. The patient does not engage in hysterical crying, raging, etc. in the therapy room. For example, the patient, guided by the therapist, might suggest that the internal part-self feel a rain wash the memories clean of negative emotions. The symbolic intervention might require repeating two or three times before the emotions for the memories are neutral.

Although I have borrowed the unburdening technique from Richard C Schwartz’s Internal Family Systems therapy, there are techniques in the work of Helen Watkins’ Ego State Therapy that also accomplish unburdening. For example, she describes “silent abreactions” in such a way as to make clear that her techniques, generally making use of hypnosis, also accomplish the neutralization of powerful emotions previously bound to memories.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Healing Child Parts in Bulimia

Today's blog consists of an excerpt from one chapter of my book. It illustrates that working in the inner world is about healing the parts in pain, and not just focusing upon the therapy's primary issue--which in this case was decades of bulimia.

In the therapy room Maria found herself in communication with a two-year-old, also named Cecelia. For Cecelia 2 the earliest memory was of raising her hands to her mother to be picked up, and feeling rejected when her mother refused her. In another early memory she remembered going out to play in a neighborhood with lots of other children. Someone was carrying a baby and young Cecelia remembered wanting to bite the baby. In yet another memory involving anger with other young children, Cecelia wanted to hurt a little girl with curly hair. She ran to where the girl was sitting, pulled her hair, and then ran home.

Before we ended the session we unburdened Cecelia Two of the memory of wanting to bite the baby being carried by its mother. The memory did not immediately give up its energy to a bubble bath intervention. Maria observed that there was a lot of energy in the memory picture of the baby getting what she herself wanted from her own mother. Her sense of rejection was quite disturbing. She was envious of the baby and envious as well of the other children who were playing joyfully with each other. They seemed to be feeling the comfort of acceptance that she so badly wanted to feel. Once she had expressed her hurt, a second effort of unburdening the memory through a bubble bath was successful in reducing the SUD level to zero.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

What Do Parts Look Like?

In previous blogs I have talked about the naturally multiple mind that is characteristic of all humans. The elements of this multiplicity I am calling parts, as does Richard C Schwartz from whom I borrowed the term. In Ego State therapy these parts are called ego states, as the name implies. In the psychotherapy founded by the Italian, Roberto Assagioli, they are called subpersonalities. Interestingly, the language used for these elements of the mind by those who study Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), also called Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD), seems now to also be settling on parts rather than alters or alter personalities. One irony is that these experts on pathological dissociation still do not recognize that the phenomena they study are the same parts we study in the parts of normal people, just more extreme.

When the therapist helps a person to distinguish a part from the Self and then asks the person to describe the image of the part, there is sometimes no image, only a body sensation. Most of the time however, the person becomes aware of a visual image representing the part. Sometimes the visual representation was present before the work with the therapist, and sometimes the representation is produced at the time the therapist helps to distinguish the part from the Self. In most cases the image of the part is an image that closely resembles the person. Occasionally, the image of the part is identical to the image of the person as she or he sits in the therapy room. More often, however, there are differences in clothing, hair style, facial hair, age, muscularity, or other subtle things. Sometimes the image is that of some other person, having no resemblance to the person in the therapy room. The image can even be that of an animal, a cartoon, or a creature from an animated film. The visual image of a part can also be a cloud, a ball of fire, a color (most often red for anger), or just about any symbol the mind can conjure up. And this is an essential understanding: the images are symbols or clusters of symbols drawn from a person’s life experience and are meaningful to that person in terms of her or his life experiences. From my point of view the images, like names of parts, are mostly of importance for the purpose of telling parts apart and for easing recall of the parts from one session to the next.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Procrastinating Divorce

I have moved this blog to its companion website at Please click on this site to see the latest description of psychotherapy work

Sunday, January 24, 2010

New Posts

For those of you who have been following my blog here, it has now changed homes. It appears on The difference in the URL is the change from .com to .org. Today's blog describes the beginning of treatment of a single individual who knew he was going to get a divorce but couldn't move himself to take action. Treatment took three sessions.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Moving Blog to New Website

For those who follow my blog here, I am moving it from dot com to dot org: I intend to include it on the site where I will offer my book. Please be patient if the "subscribe" button is not yet accepting subscriptions.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Historical Origins of Parts Psychology

The 20th century appearance of Parts Psychology seems to have its roots in the work of psychiatrist Morton Prince who, writing in 1925, took the position that the personality is naturally multiple. He suggested that the normal person has many parts (“sides”) of his/her personality. Further, he suggested that these parts were not very different from the parts found in Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple Personality Disorder). Hypnosis was the means he used to discover and describe the inner world of a person’s personality parts. We know that he was well versed in the symptoms of Dissociative Identity Disorder because he provided one of the first well documented descriptions of the condition. His book describing his years of work with his patient, “Miss Beauchamp,” was published in 1906. Unfortunately, further significant work in parts psychology yielded to the development of Freudian psychoanalysis, as this set of exciting new ideas swept America and Europe.

Then, in the 1970s John and Helen Watkins began to develop what they called “Ego State” therapy. They used hypnosis, as did Morton Prince before them, to enable their clients to discover and work with their hidden selves. Between Prince and the Watkinses Roberto Assagioli, working in Italy, developed what would become an internationally recognized approach, “Psychosynthesis,” which acknowledged the presence of parts (“subpersonalities”) in all of us. Finally, in the 1980s Richard C Schwartz developed his “Internal Family Systems” model which demonstrated that the normal parts of the average person could be accessed and worked with without the use of hypnosis. My approach to Parts Psychology is most strongly influenced by the work of Richard C Schwartz and by the work of John and Helen Watkins.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Parts Psychology in the Treatment of Eating Disorders (Bulimia)

Following up last week’s blog on the kinds of clients for whom Parts Psychology may be helpful, I provide another short sketch of a patient who benefitted a great deal from this kind of work. After six months of therapy she graduated herself with the strong sense that she had largely healed herself of her decades-long problem with bulimia. Central to the success of the therapy was the processing of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse during childhood. She was not, however, abnormally dissociative, as in Dissociative Identity Disorder. Her dissociation test scores fell within the high average range. The two most important internal parts in the successful treatment of the bulimia were a three-year-old and a 12-year-old subpersonality.

Maria was 46 years, divorced, and living with her fiancé when she first brought her 12-year-old son to treatment for his social withdrawal and uncontrolled rages. When, after four months of treatment, her son graduated from therapy, Maria revealed that she had issues of her own that she wanted to resolve. Chief among them was her lifetime eating disorder. She was an attractive woman who dressed to accentuate her beauty. She was also slim and looked 10 years younger than her actual age; however, she had managed to resist the weight that normally comes with middle age only through regular purging of the contents of her stomach through self induced vomiting. She had purged nearly every day of her life, often as many as four or five times, for the last 30 years. She thought that it was now time to heal herself of this problem. She had worked with many other therapists over the years with little success, although she believed she had gained a great deal of insight into herself. Now, having seen her son respond so quickly to Parts Psychology, she hoped to find similar success for herself. Six months of once-a-week therapy is fairly typical in the treatment of major problems when there is no extreme dissociation present. The existence of subpersonalities is normal for all humans and does not indicate in itself that a person is abnormally dissociative.