Parts Work therapy is an approach to the human experience which looks at each person as a complex system of parts working together to create a unified consciousness. In Parts Work, there is a belief that it is normal for a person to have internal conflicts and that inner conflict is a healthy part of being human.
However, when a person has a traumatic experience which their mind is unable to deal with, the trauma parts begin causing problems in this complex system. Instead of being able to accept that the trauma occurred, the mind finds ways to avoid thinking of and to avoid dealing with what happened.
Parts work therapy is about identifying defense mechanisms that help you deal with traumatic memories. In therapy, the client is taught that living inside their mind are different “parts” that have different coping skills, resources, and solutions for how to face everything from trauma to decision making. These various parts speak up at different times in a person’s life to help them cope and stay safe.
For people with a traumatic background, or those experiencing grief, stress, depression or anxiety, healing can happen when you start to understand how your various parts are either supporting your growth or holding you back from achieving what you want to accomplish.
Richard Schwartz is most commonly credited with developing the therapeutic model of parts work therapy through his Internal Family Systems model. He explains that the human mind copes with trauma in an easily understandable way.
The Exile is the traumatic memory itself that one tries to avoid thinking about.
The Firefighters are the parts that try to put out the fire when the Exile is triggered. For example, drugs and alcohol are common Firefighters which douse the bad feelings that come from the Exiled Parts.
The Manager’s job is to try and direct your interactions with the world so that the Exiled parts don’t get triggered.
In my work with clients, I will explore the various parts of you and how they function in different ways. There are no bad parts of you, but you may be ready to retire some parts that have outgrown their usefulness. In therapy we can work directly on how to make sense of the parts of you that want to come to light, as well as ones you are ready to let go of to move on and live a more fulfilling life.
Yes, understanding and being aware of your parts can help you realize that it is normal to be conflicted at times. Being aware of your inner conflicts and the source of those conflicts can help liberate you from feeling stuck so you don’t feel like a slave to your conflicting motivations.
Therapy using Parts Work can help you understand the source of the various parts that are pulling you in different directions so making decisions gets easier. You will begin to understand yourself better so that you can lead a life from your values.
The more traumatic your childhood was, the more likely you are to have exiled childhood parts which are causing problems in your adult life. These exiled parts are memories of experiences from your childhood. These younger parts of yourself hold beliefs about the world such as, “the world is not safe” or “I can’t stand up for myself” or “ I can’t be myself in the world etc.”
When these parts are running the show in your adult life, you will likely believe that your childhood beliefs are true. Therapy will help you distinguish between the beliefs of the traumatized child and an empowered adult.
When you are doing Parts Work therapy you will likely spend a lot of time identifying the parts that are driving and motivating your present experiences. Depending on your needs in therapy, you may use modalities like Sand Tray or Somatic Therapy to help identify the parts inside of you, their function and purpose.
If after reading all of this you’re interested in exploring individual therapy with me, please schedule a free consultation call with me so we can talk over your specific situation and see if working together makes sense for us both.
Because we’re working with the body, there are some moments in somatic counseling where working with touch makes sense. For example, touching hands to create pressure and demonstrate how energy moves in the body.
That said, generally I do not touch my clients during sessions. If touch were to be used, I would discuss this with you beforehand so written consent was clear and obtained. Otherwise, in my practice, physical touch is not part of the therapeutic process.
When a person experiences trauma, “Parts Work” would define trauma as something that is unacceptable to the person because the experience was too disturbing or scary for the person to deal with. As a result, whenever the memory of the trauma arises in their thoughts, they are unable to deal with it and it creates a disturbance in their emotional equilibrium. In Parts Work trauma therapy, the focus on the therapy will be to accept and properly grieve the experience so that the person comes to terms with what happened so that they can move on. If they haven’t come to terms with the trauma, it will continue to direct their behavior either by avoiding things that remind them of their trauma or they may be drawn to circumstances that remind them of their trauma in order to try and unconsciously fix what happened to them.
Parts are simply aspects of who you are. It is normal and healthy to have internal conflicts. In Internal Family Systems, Schwartz talks about the idea of the capital “Self”. The Self we can talk about parts trauma parts or exiled parts meaning that this a part that is not integrated, meaning I haven’t dealt with it, If I haven’t dealt with it, then it is probably effecting me in ways that I’m not aware of. The other kind of Parts are parts that I am aware of and I am not avoiding. An important idea in Parts work is the capital Self. The Self is your conscious mind which directs all the other parts. However, Parts that are in exile are not directed from Self rather they are chaotic and disoragnized and come up whenever there’s a trigger.