Here is a clear description of parts work from an Internal Family Systems perspective. Parts are described as relating to the schemas we develop throughout our lives based on our experiences in life. These are outdated ideas about how we need to live our lives because they are based on the past.
There is a difference between therapy that seeks to develop new strategies to overpower the old ones vs therapy that seeks to transform the old strategies. Parts work is a type of therapy that can transform these outdated protections and coping methods.
Excerpt from Video
It would be cumbersome to always be walking around, like, willing to learn how to be human again fresh every day, you know, with no assumptions about what’s about to happen, and how should I respond.
So once we kind of have the learning down, we just automate it and assume that those rules are going to stick with us. And we can use them in an unconscious way, moving forward.
The problem is, that those expectations or rules don’t always serve us anymore. Why? Well, they’re based on a reality, we’re no longer in. At the very least, we are no longer the same. We’re not the same people. We’re adults now. And as adults, we have different capacities and different options. We’re also very, very likely around different people. And it’s nice if our brain can like get that memo, sort of.
Now, certainly, we do learn from our adult experiences. But usually, those learnings kind of exist in different memory systems so that the new learning can be parallel. And in competition with the old without necessarily changing what we originally learned.
And therapies like CBT, do a good job of sort of bolstering or strengthening the new learning. So it can compete, and perhaps even override our original felt sense of reality. And that produces incremental change, which is a good thing.
But today, I’m going to talk to you about transformational change, to borrow a term from Bruce Eker. And in transformational change, we actually go to the original learning itself, updated with new information. So that then whatever symptoms or struggles are sort of launched by this belief “that I can’t trust people” or “I have to always please them”. Whatever outcome from this belief can sort of naturally dissolve ongoingly without constantly having to try to override it, or convince ourselves that it is a good idea to do something that is different than what our original learning taught us.
So those original learnings traditionally have been called schemas, so we’ll use that term. So some examples of schemas are, in order to get attention, I have to be perfect, or I have to be bad. If I let myself feel sad, I’ll be rejected. And then I’ll be alone with the sadness in a way that’s so overwhelming, that I have to find a way to not let myself feel sadness. So these underlying associations and beliefs about how the world works, the schemas, exist in something called implicit memory.
Now, scientists used to believe that implicit memory once it was encoded cannot be changed. But now we do know that it is possible to update our implicit schemas. So there’s all sorts of tricks that people have developed to make this process easier, many of which use imagination.
One of my favorite of these is what’s called doing parts work. In other words, picturing these little schemas, as a little person, as [crazy] as that sounds, when we picture that as a as a little personality or little creature or person inside our mind. It makes it easier for the brain to both ask questions and listen for answers, simply because the brain is just much more accustomed to dialoguing with people.