Liz's Parts Work Journey
Studying non-dualistic spirituality in the tradition of Ramana Maharshi and my experience with clients during the first years in bodywork practice inspired me to see humans as multiple. Seeing humans as multiple contextualized a series of consciousness events I had growing up and in my early adult years. I am sharing this story because it highlights an underlying organization I feel in life. I believe that when someone discovers and interacts with this harmonious organization (aka spirituality, the "universe," the Game, the Tao, God, divine order and timing, etc.) in whatever way they name it, that the process of interacting with "it" is healing in and of itself.
I discovered somatic parts work through a suggestion and a surprise. One day in 2010, my mentor, Steve Finn, told me, “Parts don’t go away, but we can throw them a retirement party or help them change their job description.” I adopted a “no parts left behind” policy from that day forward.
At that time, I was also hyper-focused on non-dualistic spirituality from Ramana Maharshi's lineage and Eckhart Tolle's teachings. To see the good and the potential in others is a core tendency of mine, and this focus deepened my tendency to “see” the core essence of light and being in others. I have also been generally aware of the layers of disruption, anger, pain, and separation that layered on top of the core. The awareness of the layers increased at this time, too.
I remember being confused as a young person because you couldn’t just interact with anyone and have an easy connection. I always felt like easy connection ‘should’ have been the case because I could “see” the core of perfection in others. Learning how the other “layers” or parts functioned helped me understand why the connection was so hard.
Shift to Direct Communication with Parts
As my clientele shifted to people with more significant trauma presentations, I began talking directly to parts. I would ask the parts and the client permission and invite the parts to speak freely. This was particularly easy with clients who had structural dissociation (the extreme version of this is called DID - dissociative identity disorder). It seemed to me that the parts needed someone willing to listen and go to the dark places with them. I was surprised that they tended to resolve on their own with good presence.
I noticed that parts have their own postures and movement patterns, their own fascial restrictions, they hold disparate belief systems, and sometimes they even have their own mind/body dis-ease processes separate from other parts.
Incorporation of Sensorimotor Psychotherapy (SP)
My education in Sensorimotor Psychotherapy changed how I do parts work and added a new level of sophistication. I named my new Colorado-based therapy practice PROSOPON because I wanted to juxtapose the “prosopon” (πρόσωπον) or “parts that change,” i.e. masks or faces from the hypostasis (ὑπόστασις), “the essence that stays the same,” i.e. the non-dual core. This is one of the interpretations of this philosophical concept. (I also like how the “Os” in PROSOPON look like faces…to me anyway.)
Philosophical Underpinnings and Education
By the way, you see a lot of Greek and philosophy in my writing because I studied Latin for four years as a teenager and ancient Greek at my college, which is primarily a philosophy school (also called a great books program). I had the opportunity to study at the Zen Center in town concurrently. I am a great lover of evolving wisdom traditions and I bring them into my practice.
Introduction to Internal Family Systems (IFS)
I laughed out loud when I realized "how much time I wasted" (it's not really wasted time. The work was worth it and I wouldn't take it back for anything). I finally attended a 14-hour introductory course in Internal Family Systems this summer, the most recognizable version of parts work. I spent over 12 years developing my own approach when I could have just taken an IFS training. Fortunately, life is about the journey, not the destination.
I took an introductory Janina Fischer training about her combination of IFS and SP (called TIST or Trauma-Informed Stabilization Treatment) this spring too. I must not have been ready to “get it.” I loved the training and incorporated what I learned, but it did not land like IFS.
Accelerated Healing with Combined Approaches
Incorporating the ideas of IFS, TIST, Sensorimotor, and my own style of approaching parts has accelerated the healing and recovery I have witnessed in my office. I am so excited to feel validated and educated by Dick Schwartz, his approach, and his community of therapists and trainers.
The Implicit "Rulebook" for Parts Work
The interesting thing for me is this: if I can develop my own version of parts work by interacting with client parts, as many therapists do, there must be an underlying implicit “rulebook” for how the human multiplicity of subpersonalities function. This reflects my experience with spirituality as well. When you simply turn your attention to something like the Tao, let’s say, over time, you start to get an embodied understanding of it that no word-based explanation can provide.
The fundamental rule is that we are all multiple, and many of our mind-body and behavioral difficulties can be resolved if we start honoring, loving, and updating our subpersonalities as though they are real people.
Key Modalities: IFS, Sensorimotor, and TIST
I want to be really clear and transparent that I have yet to take level one of either IFS or TIST as of December 2023. I have taken introductory courses and studied material related to IFS and TIST, but I do not claim to practice these modalities per se. I incorporate my understanding of the philosophical and practical underpinnings of each modality.
I love the IFS unburdening process because it's straightforward and user-friendly.
Sensorimotor is magic surgery. SP properly applied manages a nervous system and its transformation better than any other modality I have ever witnessed. IFS helps SP get the job done by helping a client get to know their system, how to ask parts for genuine consent and learn about your non-dual core and how your parts relate to that core. The IFS framework creates an environment within which SP can do its magic.
Importance of Regulation and "Titration"
TIST highlights the importance of using parts for regulation and “titration” largely because Janina Fischer’s clientele, like mine, often have strong dissociation and overwhelm components. When an overwhelming feeling is present, we can't process it all at once. It's like being presented with a gigantic sandwich. I couldn’t eat the whole thing in one bite, but I can finish the sandwich if the bites are smaller and spread it out over multiple meals. When I recognize that an overwhelming feeling resides in just one part of me instead of all of me, it's like eating one bite of the sandwich rather than trying to choke the whole thing down.
Pure Bottom-Up Somatic Work in Certain Cases
There certainly are exceptions to this IFS and SP ordering. From time to time a client comes in, and they are so good at avoiding, or their nervous system is so disorganized that using emotional or sensing talk of any kind is unavailable. In these cases, I start with pure bottom-up somatic work, either myofascial release or somatic movement of some kind. Myofascial release is especially suited to help these clients because hardly any talking is required, and any talking that we do is related to purely physical things. Every time I have used this approach, the client begins to bring up emotional things on their own in their own time. You can read my article on trauma and fascia to understand more why starting with a pure MFR approach can be helpful for these presentations.
I embrace the haphazard and, at times, comical nature of my journey (read “ignorance”), cherishing the continuous evolution of my 'selves' and therapeutic approach. The invitation to clients and clinicians is this: honor the journey, recognize the multiplicity within, and leverage the transformative power of somatic parts work.