Parts Work Therapy: What is it, and how does it work?
As a therapist, I often help clients work through conflicting emotions. It’s human nature to have several different emotions about the same situation. For example, you may feel nervous about going to a party where you will meet new people, as well as feel excited to go out and have fun. When you are grieving a loss, a part of you may be incredibly sad, while another part of you feels incredibly angry. Someone with an eating disorder may want to restrict their food intake while another part of them wants to eat freely and intuitively. We all have different parts of ourselves, allowing us to experience complex emotions.
What Are Parts?
“Parts” can be specific feelings, or they can even take the shape of ourselves at a certain age. Inner child work is one example of parts work. Has there ever been a time where you feel like you’ve been transported back in time, where you feel like you resort to child-like ways of coping with something? Whether that is fighting, running away, or escaping inside your mind? That may indicate that your inner child has been triggered, and you are coping with feelings in a way that may have worked for you when you were younger.
What Does Parts Work Therapy Look Like?
Well, it can look like a lot of things. There are several therapy modalities that have incorporated parts work, such as Gestalt therapy, Jungian therapy, and Internal Family Systems therapy. At the core of parts work is helping clients recognize when a part may be showing up within their lives, and then the therapist will help the client create space for that part to be seen and heard. Oftentimes, we learn to push away parts of ourselves that we don’t like or parts that society deems unacceptable. Creating space for those parts opens up the door for self-compassion and self-acceptance. Parts work allows each of us to acknowledge that all parts serve a purpose and have good intentions, although their behavioral execution may not always benefit us.
What Is Internal Family Systems Therapy?
The model of Internal Family Systems (IFS) separates parts into three main categories: Managers, Firefighters, and Exiles. Managers and Firefighters are protector parts.
These parts help us “manage” day-to-day life and essentially keep us afloat, while firefighters protect us from danger, or rather, protect us when we feel we may be in danger.
These parts can emerge when we feel triggered by a previous trauma we have experienced, or if we are facing trauma in real-time.
These parts that managers protect us from. These are often our younger parts that have been cast aside, and ultimately, exiled, because they hold emotions and memories that are painful and/or shameful. IFS also recognizes the Self, which is not a part but rather the version of you that is confident, competent, and compassionate.
However you label them, we all have parts that carry our pain and parts that protect us from it. A therapist that uses parts work can help you develop an understanding of your parts and remove their burdens. With time, clients can find balance and live more authentically.
If you think you would benefit from parts work, reach out to schedule an appointment: https://monarchwellness.com/contact/
Katie Zweig is a therapist at Monarch that specializes in eating disorders, anxiety, and perfectionism. Her therapy style draws from Internal Family Systems, among other things. She is available online across Maryland,Virginia, and Washington DC.