Parts Work

Written By: Cristina Mardirossian
June 28, 2023

Understanding Treatments for Structural Dissociation

Chronic trauma, particularly in childhood through some form of ongoing abuse or emotional neglect, can lead to structural dissociation. Structural dissociation a self-defense mechanism employed in situations where the survivor is not able to avoid the abuser and must instead live with them or interact with them regularly over long periods.

In this situation, the survivor can turn against themselves, creating a split that allows them to turn their anger, resentment, and hurt not against the person responsible but toward themselves. Anger transforms into unbearable guilt and shame, and a separate self (separate part) is necessary for survival. The structural dissociation of the personality will be more complex the greater the intensity, frequency, and duration of the traumatization and the earlier the trauma started in life.

What Is Structural Dissociation?

Structural dissociation is the psychodynamic process of creating a separate self/selves that deal with the different aspects of chronic trauma. The personality becomes split into different parts, and each part has its own emotions and behaviors, leading the individual to feel different from one moment to the next. It manifests as rapid mood swings, with the individual moving from happiness to rage or even a sense of numbness within a short amount of time.

Over time, structural dissociation can lead to incredibly detrimental results. The individual will usually experience worsening symptoms and start to withdraw from their lives. Even intimacy with loved ones and/or spouses can become painful as the different parts clash. Symptoms of structural dissociation can include:

• Amnesia for the past, “memory gaps”
• Feeling numb or empty, chronic loneliness
• A sense of disembodiment with little or no hunger, thirst
• A lack of motivation
• A lack of stamina
• The rise of the inner critic

Thankfully, several treatment options can help survivors of structural dissociation, including parts work therapy, which can also be implemented within specific treatment modalities, like IFS and EMDR.

What Is Parts Work Therapy?

Parts work therapy is precisely what it sounds like – a therapeutic approach designed to help patients deal with the different parts of themselves created through chronic trauma, eventually bringing a sense of peace and wholeness to the person. For instance, a therapist might have us begin working through a particularly traumatic memory. Part of us might want the release and relief offered by working through it, but another part interferes with the process to protect us from the threatening emotions that will arise.

Most people have different parts of themselves. This does not mean that we have multiple personalities or that everyone suffers from structural dissociation. For instance, when we make a mistake doing something, the voice of our inner critic could sound like a disapproving family member from our past. The critic is part of us, but it is also that family member’s voice, and can also feel separate from the part making the mistake.

Chronic trauma is often held within specific parts of ourselves – usually, a “younger” self that is roughly the same emotional age as we were when the trauma occurred. Parts work therapy strives to resolve those memories and ease the emotional burdens, by erasing the lines between the different “parts” of ourselves.

Parts work is usually integrated into a specific therapeutic approach. IFS and EMDR are two popular approaches that can both accommodate parts work.

What Is Parts Work in IFS?

IFS stands for Internal Family Systems and uses a model that identifies three common types of parts within us. These are exiles, managers, and firefighters. Each part operates differently, with the exile responsible for carrying emotional burdens, managers controlling vulnerable feelings, and firefighters preventing exiles from emerging by submerging them in addictive or self-harming behaviors. Through IFS, patients develop a stronger relationship with their inner self, which is the individual’s core.

0:03 really happy to have dick Schwartz here
0:06 with us today to talk about parts work
0:08 and the self and we just to give you a
0:12 little bit of a heads up we're going to
0:13 have a short conversation and then dick
0:16 is also going to lead us in a meditation
0:17 where you actually will get to
0:18 experience some of what ifs is about so
0:22 look forward to that but before we kind
0:25 of jump into that I really want to give
0:28 dick a chance to begin to explain when
0:31 we talk about parts work what are we
0:33 talking about because I think I have an
0:35 idea in my head of what that might mean
0:36 and maybe you all have ideas in your
0:38 head about what that might mean so I'd
0:41 love for you to start when this whole
0:44 idea of parts and how many parts do I
0:47 have or does a person have how might we
0:49 identify those and how does ifs try to
0:52 balance out the different parts and a
0:54 person such that there is greater
0:58 freedom and thank you for coming at home
1:01 it's great to be looking Shawn and ah so
1:04 this goes back a while as Emily said I'm
1:07 trained as a family therapist and in the
1:10 early 80s I had a collection of lima
1:13 clients we were doing an outcome study
1:15 and weren't getting better with straight
1:17 family therapy and started talking about
1:19 these parts of them and I got a little
1:21 nervous because they were talking about
1:22 that as if they had a lot of autonomy
1:24 I thought maybe these are multiple
1:26 personality disorder clients until I
1:28 noticed I've got them to some a minor as
1:32 extreme about food as theirs are and
1:36 then I get intrigued because these
1:39 clients could describe how they
1:41 interacted with each other
1:42 so if something bad happened in one of
1:44 my clients life this critic would attack
1:46 her brutally and that would bring up the
1:49 part that make her feel totally bereft
1:51 and empty and alone and then to the
1:54 rescue almost would be the bench that
1:56 would take her out of her body
1:57 but then the critical comment back and
2:00 attack her again so as a family
2:01 therapist sounded like these sequences
2:04 of interaction and a little system in
2:06 there I just started to experiment with
2:09 helping clients good to know these parts
2:12 at first trying to stand up to the
2:15 critic or to control the bins but
2:16 finding that that made it worse yeah but
2:20 if clients could get into what we're now
2:22 calling a mindful state and not just
2:25 observe their thoughts and emotions
2:27 which most mindfulness practice but
2:30 actually engage them from a place of
2:33 curiosity and compassion even these
2:36 parts would start talking to them and
2:37 tell them all kinds of things that
2:38 surprised them about how they got into
2:41 these roles some of which were quite
2:44 destructive but my position is they're
2:48 all multiple personalities anybody here
2:50 a multiple personality or the other I
2:53 don't ever have that many people raises
2:58 not we don't all have multiple
3:00 personality disorder but we all have
3:01 parts and and some of them my position
3:06 is the natural state of the mind to be
3:08 divided that way to be multiple that
3:11 each of them has valuable talents and
3:14 resources but trauma and then attachment
3:19 injuries will take them out of their
3:21 naturally valuable state and force them
3:24 into these roles that they don&'t like
3:26 they feel are really necessary to keep
3:28 us safe and so a lot of the work is
3:31 designed to help them trust that they
3:33 don't have to do that anymore and then
3:35 they transform great so for example with
3:37 the critic so one way would be just to
3:39 be aware that there's a critic voice
3:41 happening right now
3:42 that's judging me you had said you you
3:45 really within ifs you actually engage
3:47 the critic and listen to the critic so
3:49 how would that how does that look in
3:52 terms of that like listening and
3:54 engagement curiosity you have a critic I
3:57 have a critic reddit all right so if I
3:59 were working with you Sauron huh I would
4:02 say I'd like you to focus on that voice
4:04 so how have you experienced it in your
4:06 body or around your body find it in your
4:08 body okay my attention scum is brought
4:16 to right the right side of my head as
4:19 where and as you notice it's there how
4:21 you feel toward it in other words you
4:25 hated or you try to get frustrating
4:27 you're frustrated with that and I really
4:29 appreciate it that much yeah they're
4:33 hard to appreciate it first
4:34 and it's telling me right now I better
4:35 do a good job at this area it has to be
4:39 loud well listen to ya don't mess up
4:42 don't mess up yeah so what I found is
4:47 and let's keep going
4:49 so if you could please ask the parts
4:52 that hate it or frustrated with it to
4:55 just give us a little space to get to
4:56 know it so just see if those parts of
4:59 you willing to step back a little bit
5:01 and relax and we're not going to give
5:03 the critic more power we're just going
5:05 to get to know it a little bit okay I
5:07 think so so focus on it again up here
5:09 you tell me how you feel toward it now
5:13 now it's kind of empty I just see this I
5:17 feel this like sensations and sense of
5:22 this kind of dark space that's on the
5:25 right side of my head I don't but
5:27 there's not an emotional charge of the
5:29 charge at this moment does it feel like
5:32 you'd be willing to get to know it now
5:34 I sure yeah I'm curious about what it is
5:38 alright so let it know that okay and
5:42 just see how it reacts to your curiosity
5:46 as this I can tell it's cool okay but we
5:52 can follow surprised but cool yes like
5:54 okay yeah so this would go on and we
5:59 would ask questions of it like what's it
6:02 afraid would happen if it didn't badger
6:04 you all the time and it common answers
6:07 to that or you would get hurt or you
6:10 wouldn't perform well or you you would
6:12 take a risk or
6:14 and so at that point we know now what
6:18 it's trying to protect and I would have
6:20 you showed appreciation in there for at
6:23 least trying to protect you even though
6:25 it does it as heavy-handed way sometimes
6:27 mm-hmm and often right at that point
6:29 they just just relax well and that
6:34 appreciation is a lot to those parts
6:36 yeah
6:36 because most of us are fighting with
6:39 them all day right and this one of
6:41 beautiful things about your work is that
6:42 you never do anything without the
6:43 permission of the person's inner
6:46 guidance so if somebody is being evasive
6:51 of a question you know therapists might
6:53 come up and say hey you're evading that
6:55 question I need it I need to confront
6:56 you or I need to talk to you about that
6:57 there's an energy that the therapist can
7:00 bring to help bring something to
7:02 awareness that the person might not be
7:04 aware of your approach is a little bit
7:07 differently right can you say a little
7:08 bit about the role of permission well we
7:12 have these like all protective parts it
7:14 could agree wine and then we also have
7:17 these parts that have been hurt really
7:19 badly and because they got hurt and now
7:22 they carry all the pain from the traumas
7:24 yeah we what I call exile down inside
7:26 and the protectors are trying to contain
7:28 those exiles and also protect them from
7:32 getting triggered so what I learned the
7:35 hard way early on was to go to these
7:38 protective parts first like what's
7:40 called resistance and other things and
7:43 approach them with respect and just say
7:46 I get that this is a scary idea of going
7:48 to use very vulnerable places and we're
7:51 not going to do it without your
7:52 permission well but if you were to open
7:55 the door to that we could heal a lot of
7:58 what's in there and then you'd be
8:00 relieved of this job and if you didn't
8:02 have to do this job being the critic
8:04 what would you like to do instead and
8:07 you'd be amazed because it's often
8:08 exactly the opposite of what they do in
8:10 30 years yeah the around trauma it seems
8:13 there's a protective voices a protective
8:15 energy that's been developed by this
8:18 person to survive right around that
8:20 trauma right so if I hear you right that
8:23 protect whatever it's been protecting it
8:25 and whatever patterns have come up to
8:27 protect it whether it's defensive nests
8:28 or whatever need to be understood and
8:31 have compassion towards them yes so we
8:33 work with those wild flowers show them
8:35 appreciation for like the army or the
8:38 military you know for their service and
8:41 then ask what it is they're protecting
8:44 and then go for permission to go to that
8:46 and change that we don't expect these
8:48 parts even parts that
8:50 suicidal or parts that have you addicted
8:54 to something we don't expect them to
8:56 change until what they're protecting has
8:59 been filled well well okay and what you
9:03 find is the key component to change and
9:06 we've worked with 35 years in this model
9:09 and there's a lot of people here who I
9:11 know have done various kinds of
9:12 therapies and practices what in your
9:15 years and years of work is like a key
9:17 component that helps to support
9:19 transformation is that when we turn
9:21 towards what we thought was the enemy
9:23 and make it our friend is that that how
9:26 would you describe you need to use this
9:28 line for a while but as other things of
9:30 the Dali Lama a few months ago it's that
9:38 part of happy now all right this one too
9:40 I only got it the best friend I've shut
9:42 up it is I said you tell us to go with
9:49 compassion to our external enemies why
9:52 not go with compassion to our internal
9:54 enemies so this is one of the basics of
9:57 the approach is find if you love what's
10:01 in your way it will transform though and
10:05 most of us try to get rid of it or and
10:09 don't appreciate it and right and that
10:12 could be physical pain that could be an
10:13 inner critic that could be whatever we
10:15 think is the problem yeah all those
10:17 basically most of our thoughts and
10:19 emotions are manifestations of these
10:21 parts and all kinds of symptoms are and
10:25 yet you asked about the key to healing
10:28 early I discovered that if you can get
10:31 these parts to separate an open space
10:33 this other person emerges who knows how
10:36 to heal them and can take over your son
10:38 and has qualities like calm compassion
10:42 curiosity always for the eight C words
10:45 of self-leadership and spontaneously to
10:49 a part they hated like I had you that
10:52 some parts of step back and focus on the
10:55 critic was I'm just sorry that it has to
10:57 do this suddenly out of the out of the
11:00 blue no practicing
11:02 they suddenly have compassion to this
11:03 part and they know how to relate to it
11:05 in a way that's it's going to help it
11:06 relax more beautiful so what if we guide
11:09 you're ready to guide us at yeah this is
11:11 Riya yeah
11:12 it allows you stuff down if you're up
11:14 for this if you are aren't just do what
11:18 you normally do how much time I have we
11:26 can just take seven we can go female
11:27 seven okay all right so first step is to
11:31 think of a part of you that gets in your
11:33 way and that you're annoyed with or you
11:35 even hate or that you're afraid of so
11:40 when you have such a part in mind raise
11:43 your hand just so I can see where we are
11:44 okay good all right you get the chance
11:47 down and now focus on it and find it in
11:51 your body or around your body and that's
11:54 not necessary if you can't find it
11:56 that's okay but if you can then it can
11:59 step place in your body can serve as a
12:01 kind of anchor point
12:10 and as you notice it there I also notice
12:15 how you feel toward it you have a
12:19 relationship with it and if indeed you
12:23 don't like it or you're afraid of it
12:28 just see if those parts of you could
12:31 relax a little bit so you could just get
12:34 to know it and it might have some
12:36 surprising things to tell you in the
12:43 words see if you could just be mindfully
12:45 curious about it and if you can't that's
12:52 okay
12:52 but if you can't don't proceed with this
13:04 if you get to that curious place just
13:08 ask it what it wants you to know about
13:09 itself and wait for an answer don't
13:14 think of the answer so thinking parts
13:16 can relax too just wait for an answer to
13:20 come to you from that place in or around
13:23 your body
13:53 and then another question would be ask
13:58 it what it's afraid would happen if it
14:01 didn't do this job inside of you and
14:04 again just wait for the answer don't
14:05 think of an answer
14:07 what's it afraid would happen if it
14:09 didn't do this
14:16 [Music]
14:44 and if you've got an answer that
14:46 question that it told you about what
14:48 it's protecting so if it's possible
14:53 extend some appreciation to it or
14:56 compassion for it and just see how it
14:59 reacts to that
15:24 [Music]
15:31 and ask it if you could heal or change
15:35 what it protects so it was free to this
15:39 responsibility what would it like to do
15:43 instead inside of you was really
15:46 liberated what would it like to do
15:48 instead you just wait for an answer
16:33 another interesting question how old
16:35 does it think you are now how old is it
16:38 but how old does it think you are and if
16:45 you get a younger age than you are maybe
16:48 update it and see how it reacts
17:21 and then thank you for letting you know
17:23 whatever it did and then begin your
17:27 journey back out here taking deep
17:30 breaths at that house okay
17:40 I'd say normally we'd have some time to
17:44 have you talk to somebody about you
17:46 expand are we going to a break now so
17:50 you will be going into QA and our
17:53 village in I believe 30 minutes yeah so
17:56 if those of you want to explore and ask
17:59 for questions directly with dick or talk
18:01 to you about what you experienced here
18:03 there'll be time in the the village
18:06 stage which you walk past as you are
18:08 getting here to have more time to engage
18:10 so there'll be that and then you're also
18:12 around are you around all weekend around
18:14 a week around all weekend so he will
18:17 also be around so I know our time is
18:18 short but he'll be available both on the
18:21 mainstage if you are in the village
18:23 stage if you check your schedule I think
18:24 it's about 30 minutes and then around as
18:27 most our speakers are which is great
18:28 which entry point out often gets people
18:30 to just stay the whole weekend which is
18:32 wonderful so they can be available to
18:34 you all thank you again and I want to
18:37 honor your like creative work in
18:40 exploring the inner dimension and
18:42 finding pathways through that heal and
18:45 help people thank you for those for
18:47 having me
English (auto-generated)

The Power of Self to Heal Our Parts | Richard Schwartz

Parts Work Use in EMDR

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and is a psychotherapy that helps people heal from emotional distress and chronic trauma. It pairs very well with parts work because both modalities focus on creating a sense of wholeness and functional integration. EMDR can help with parts work because it helps to reprocess and integrate memories that may not be resolved, held by the younger parts of the self.

These unresolved memories are often painful and are pushed away and hidden by various parts of ourselves. EMDR breaks down the walls that isolate painful, disturbing, traumatic memories while also allowing us to focus on the things that stem from those memories, such as beliefs about ourselves and even how we process sense perceptions. EMDR can be instrumental in integrating those memories and reducing the fight or flight response.

In Conclusion

Parts work is a critical approach for healing chronic trauma. However, it can also be integrated with other treatment methods, including IFS and EMDR, which help integrate the various parts of us and create a sense of wholeness.

Skip to content