Client Centered Parts Therapy
©2007, revised ©2015 by C. Roy Hunter, DIMDHA, FAPHP
My articles on parts therapy have been published in numerous publications, including he Australian Journal of Clinical Hypnotherapy and Hypnosis, and numerous hypnosis journals around the world.
This article discusses the concept of parts therapy and its variations (ego state therapy, voice dialogue, subpersonalities, etc.) to help clients resolve inner conflicts. Experts have used similar techniques for years, based on the concept that we all have various personality parts (also called ego parts, selves, subpersonalities, and other names). The late Charles Tebbetts based his parts therapy on Paul Federn’s work, but evolved it into a client-centered approach and combined it with deep hypnosis in order to help clients resolve inner conflicts. I updated the work of Tebbetts, and explain why client-centered parts therapy differs from most variations of parts therapy. My client-centered approach is based on the concept that the client’s inner mind can resolve inner conflicts when the facilitator acts as a mediator and asks the right questions.
How many people experience inner conflicts that inhibit successful attainment of important goals? Counselors and hypnotherapists often use proven techniques to help their clients change undesired habits and/or to achieve desired personal and professional goals, yet some clients still backslide because of strong inner conflicts.
Increasing numbers of therapists around the world are discovering the benefits of parts therapy and its variations to help clients get past personal barriers. Parts therapy (or one of its variations) can often help resolve inner conflicts even after clients fail to respond to more traditional techniques. The client-centered approach draws out the client’s own ability to resolve inner conflicts (Hunter, 2005).
Definition of Parts Therapy
Parts therapy resembles its variations in that it is based on the concept that our personality is composed of a number of various personality parts, which are aspects of the subconscious, each with their respective jobs or functions of the inner mind. The facilitator calls out and communicates directly with those parts of the subconscious involved in a client’s inner conflict, and then employs mediation to help a client resolve inner conflicts in order to achieve the desired result.
The late Charles Tebbetts taught his methods of employing parts therapy in the 1970’s, even before writing his hypnotherapy book (Tebbetts, 1985) that is now out of print. He believed that we all have various aspects of our personalities, which he called ego parts. His work resembled the work of Watkins and Watkins, called ego state therapy; but they referred to the personality aspects as ego states (Watkins & Watkins, 1979).
Occasionally professionals ask me if Tebbetts based his work on that of Watkins and Watkins, and then simply renamed it; but my belief is that they took parallel paths. My former instructor gave credit where credit was due, both in the classroom and in his written materials. Tebbetts openly admitted that he originated parts therapy from the work of Paul Federn, and borrowed aspects of parts therapy from others therapists and researchers. Federn worked with the id, ego, and superego (Federn, 1953; Erskine, 2002). Tebbetts privately practiced his own variation of Federn’s work for many years before teaching it to others, evolving parts therapy into a format that effectively helps clients resolve inner conflicts. When I took his course in 1983, Tebbetts told me personally that he had invested many years in developing parts therapy. Over the years, I have updated his work to an even more client-centered approach than the one Tebbetts practiced and taught. However, before defining “client-centered” parts therapy, let’s explore its variations.
Variations of Parts Therapy
Therapists around the world have employed variations of parts therapy for decades. I will briefly discuss several of them in this article, starting with my favorite variation already mentioned above: ego state therapy.
Ego State Therapy
Pioneered by Dr. John Watkins and Helen Watkins over a number of years, ego state therapy is still growing in popularity among therapists. Watkins wrote about ego states in several publications and books back in the 1970's (Watkins, 1979). Gordon Emmerson takes ego state therapy into the next level with his excellent book, Ego State Therapy (Crown House Publishing, 2003), which is now required reading for my hypnotherapy students.
Emmerson believes that we use five to fifteen ego states throughout a normal week (Emmerson, 2003), and that we have more ego states available when needed. He goes beyond the use of ego state therapy for resolving inner conflicts, providing other therapeutic benefits as well. My professional opinion, stated both verbally and in writing, is that Emmerson's book is a "must read" for anyone practicing parts therapy or any of its variations.
I also believe that any competent therapist who facilitates ego state therapy as practiced and presented by Watkins or Emmerson should enjoy a high success rate. Emmerson believes that hypnosis makes ego state therapy more powerful (Emmerson, 2003), which validates the teachings of Charles Tebbetts (Tebbetts, 1985). In light of the above, I believe that ego state therapy is an outstanding alternative to client-centered parts therapy.
Hal Stone, Ph.D., and Sidra Stone, Ph.D., researched and promoted another variation of parts therapy called voice dialogue. Their technique gained popularity among many facilitators of NLP (neuro-linguistic programming). The client, in a manner comparable to Gestalt therapy, plays the role of each part by changing chairs or positions (although changing chairs is optional). The therapist facilitates the dialogue and proceeds accordingly. The Stones label the ego parts as selves or subpersonalities, providing labels for the various other subpersonalities such as the protector/controller, the pleaser, the perfectionist, etc. (Stone, 1989). They also provide some interesting discussion regarding the origin of subpersonalities. I personally found their discussion of negative selves to be quite fascinating, such as the possible origins of disowned selves, which they also call demonic energies.
Miriam Dyak promotes the work of the Stones (Dyak, 1999). She presents a particular method of facilitating voice dialogue, with a systematic guide for those who wish to practice her approach. She worked closely with Hal and Sidra Stone, and offers training programs.
My past experience as a client of voice dialogue validates my primary concern. The absence of a formal induction into hypnosis may diminish its success with some clients. With little or no trance state, an analytical person such as myself may resist permanent change (Hunter, 2000 & 2005). In 1989, my voice dialogue facilitator thought that he successfully helped me attain resolution to a concern as I moved from chair to chair; but the lack of sufficient trance depth resulted in my own conscious mind interfering greatly in the process. The resolution was temporary, lasting less than a week.
I mention my own experience in classes and workshops; and both students and professionals alike have reported similar failures with analytical clients of voice dialogue over the years. Perhaps their experiences (as well as mine) might have proven more successful if deep trance states were obtained before the facilitation of voice dialogue. Still, voice dialogue apparently works well for clients who can easily access the subconscious without experiencing analytical resistance.
Inner Child Work
John Bradshaw praised the work of the Stones; but he considers the selves (or ego parts) to be developmental stages that remain intact. He labels them as an infant, a toddler, a pre-school and school age child, as well as an adolescent (Bradshaw, 1988). He facilitates group exercises, encouraging clients to meditate with inner imagery, and to love the inner child. He then takes clients through all the "developmental stages" to find out whether the needs were met in each stage. Bradshaw gives suggestions for positive change during each stage, and he gets results.
We may find John Rowan’s concept of subpersonalities in the very first paragraph of his book on subpersonalities. According to Rowan, we all have several little people inside us, all wanting different things (Rowan, 1993). We have more than one center within ourselves, and our minds are divided into portions and phases. Rowan’s book is somewhat analytical, yet written for the novice. I found it easy to read, filled with useful information for both professional and novice alike. Rowan offers numerous exercises, along with some questionnaires for self-awareness. I especially like his history of the variations of parts therapy covered in the 22nd and 23rd chapters. That alone is sufficient for the serious student of parts therapy or its variations to invest in this book.
Satir's Parts Party, and Parts Integration in NLP
Virginia Satir was a well known family therapist, speaker and author who developed a technique that became known as "Parts Party." Other people would stand in for the various parts of the person, and she taught that personal power comes from congruence of all internal parts (NLP Mentor, 2014). She wrote several books, including the highly praised one entitled, THE NEW PEOPLEMAKING (1988, Science and Behavior Books).
In 1976 Richard Bandler and John Grinder presented a variety of different ways to work with conflicting parts, including the "parts party" taught by Virginia Satir; which sometimes included the Gestalt Empty Chair process (Bolstad, 2014). Bandler actually met Satir personally.
In the years that followed, Bandler and Grinder developed Parts Integration from Satir's work; and it evolved into other techniques, including the Six-Step Reframe (Bandler & Grinder, 1988).
Note that Edwin Yager, PhD, mentioned that Carl Jung also believed that we have parts (Yager, 2011); thus it is possible that other variations of Parts Therapy may have evolved from Jung’s concepts rather than from Parts Therapy or ego state therapy. His book from Crown House Publishing entitled Subliminal Therapy (2011) is well worth reading for any hypnosis professional employing Parts Therapy or any of its variations. Dr. Yager is a professor of psychiatry at UCSD School of Medicine in San Diego; and he was willing to “think outside the box” regarding the value of discovering causes of problems rather than simply treating symptoms, documenting many cures.
Nancy J. Napier, a marriage and family therapist recognized in the USA, also wrote about her work with a variation of parts therapy (Napier, 1990). She gives examples of the origins of various personality parts, calling them "protector" parts and "resource" parts; and she provides some self‑hypnosis scripts for identifying, cleansing and healing our various parts. Her research includes extensive written resources that she uses to back up her work.
Some facilitators use a variation of parts therapy called conference room therapy (Quigley, 1999). Although similar to parts therapy in many ways, they use the imagery of a conference room. My concern with the use of a conference room can be stated in the form of a question: what if the client received news of a demotion or termination in a conference room? If we provide the imagery to the client, we take a risk; one person’s peaceful place might be another person’s phobia.
There are others who assume that subpersonalities are attaching entities that a therapist must release rather than potentially productive parts that can be integrated or given new jobs (Baldwin, 1995). This is, in my professional opinion, inappropriate leading that can lead to a number of possible consequences that may be worse than confabulation. I discussed some of the potential risks of making this assumption in my parts therapy book (Hunter, 2005).
Now let’s get back to the better variations. Kevin Hogan, Ph.D., employs and teaches a variation of parts therapy that is similar to what I teach (Hogan, 2001). Additionally, Jack Elias teaches his own variation of parts therapy (Elias, 2005), and bases much of his hypnotherapy work on a blend of Eastern philosophy and transpersonal hypnotherapy (Elias, 2006).
While most variations of parts therapy should prove to be effective with many clients, some variations work better than others. Personally, I prefer the client-centered approach.
Why Is Client Centered Parts Therapy Different?
The best way for me to define “client-centered” parts therapy is as follows: the facilitator remains objective (like a mediator), empowering clients to discover their own resolutions simply by asking the right questions. It is based on the concept that the inner mind, or subconscious, will reveal the core cause(s) of an inner conflict when questions are asked in an objective manner; and the various parts of the inner mind find their own resolutions when the facilitator asks the right questions.
We can best accomplish this during a deep state of hypnosis, which minimizes the risk of analytical interference from the conscious mind (Hunter, 2005). A deeper hypnotic state facilitates effective communication with each part., usually free of analytical resistance. Additionally, the facilitator of client-centered parts therapy should avoid projecting his/her own philosophical or spiritual beliefs into the session, so that it truly remains the client’s experience.
Besides combining deep trance with parts therapy, another difference between my methods and that of most variations is that I avoid calling out “protector” or “controller” parts first, and call out only the two parts in conflict. Looking for a specific part (such as a controller part) might cause parts to emerge that may be irrelevant to resolving the inner conflict. Other parts are called out if necessary, but I avoid unnecessary detours. Also, I avoid putting my own names on the ego parts. Instead, I ask each emerging part to give me a name or title, which often provides important insight regarding a part’s purpose (Hunter, 2005).
Additionally, Tebbetts taught that we should treat each ego part with respect, just as though the part was a person. This helps the facilitator to maintain rapport with each part, making it easier to help the conflicting parts come to terms of agreement. Emmerson also encourages the therapist to treat each part as thought it is a person (Emmerson, 2003), which validates what Tebbetts taught me in 1983.
I also emphasize the importance of avoiding inappropriate leading, and encourage my clients to avoid dwelling on any pre-conceived opinions before they enter hypnosis…and simply go with what emerges from the inner mind. Any preconceived opinions can influence what emerges from the subconscious, whether said opinions come from client or facilitator. This is true whether the therapist employs a variation of parts therapy (Emmerson, 2003), or regression therapy (Durbin, 1999). Inappropriate leading can often result in false memories (Sheflin & Shapiro, 1989), taking both client and therapist alike down the wrong path, with the potential of costly consequences (Churchill, 2002).
When Is Parts Therapy Appropriate?
Client centered parts therapy is ideal for clients who have two different parts of the subconscious pulling them in opposite directions. For example, a smoker might have a strong emotional desire to quit in orderto have more energy (or better health), while another part of the subconscious provides pleasure in lighting up after meals (or at other times). Inner conflicts are also common with people wishing to control their weight. How often does a dieter give in to junk food?
The obvious clue would be evident by a client saying: "A part of me wants to get rid of this weight while another part wants to keep on eating junk food!" The ego part desiring to be attractive is in conflict with the inner child (or some other ego part) wanting to enjoy eating sweets, etc. Parts therapy usually will uncover the cause(s), so that the facilitator may facilitate inner conflict resolution through a process similar to mediation.
Before proceeding, however, I tell my client: “We tend to wear different hats as we walk through the path of life. We get into the work mode on our jobs, wearing the hat of a dedicated worker; but the inner child often comes out to play after our work is done. A smoker might have a part of the subconscious motivating that person to quit, while another part is determined to sabotage every attempt…” This type of advance explanation is, in my professional opinion, essential for the client. One minute of communication can be worth many months of resolution, as I once saw a female client who believed that she had multiple personalities simply because another therapist had previously employed a variation of parts therapy without giving her an advance explanation of the process.
Often the need for parts therapy may not be readily apparent. Practitioners of diversified client-centered hypnosis learn how to fit the technique to the client rather than vice versa, and they do not automatically use parts therapy with everyone. Most of my intake sessions begin with my asking the client to describe his (or her) desired goal. When possible, I give some positive suggestions designed to the client's specific benefits for achieving a desired goal. This is because an enjoyable first impression is lasting, and more likely to result in the client keeping his/her next appointment (Hunter, 2000). I also devote a session to teaching self-hypnosis as a way of reducing stress. By the third or fourth session, if the client still resists positive suggestions, I will choose an advanced hypnotic technique that seems appropriate for that particular client. Naturally, when an inner conflict is apparent, I choose parts therapy. When the appropriate technique is not so obvious, I use finger response questions before deciding how to proceed.
While my primary motive for facilitating parts therapy is to help clients resolve inner conflicts, some trainers and authors use additional applications of parts therapy or its variations even in the absence of an apparent inner conflict. Emmerson uses an intriguing “map” of a client’s ego states, calling out a number of different parts (Emmerson, 2003). His approach is also client-centered.
How Do We Employ Parts Therapy?
I compare parts therapy to mediation. The reason I chose Hypnosis for Inner Conflict Resolution in the title of my parts therapy book (Hunter, 2005) is because I mediate between the two primary parts in conflict, which I call the conflicting part and the motivating part. As previously mentioned, I ask each part to provide me with a name or title to use during the process, which I call the 11-Step Process. While many of my sessions involve calling out only two parts, other parts do exist whether or not they make their presence known. My 2005 book from Crown House Publishing describes these steps in detail. Here are the steps:
1. Identify the part
2. Gain rapport (compliment the part).
3. Call out the part.
4. Thank it for emerging.
5. Discover its purpose.
6. Call out other parts as appropriate.
7. Negotiate and mediate.
8. Ask parts to come to terms of agreement.
9. Confirm and summarize terms of agreement.
10. Give direct suggestion as appropriate (only after terms of agreement, but NOT before).
11. INTEGRATE the parts! (The formal parts therapy process is completed.)
Several chapters explore all eleven steps in-depth, with sample scripts to help the facilitator along the way. Common detours often appear, making it necessary for the facilitator to deal with what emerges from the inner mind. I discuss the common ones, and provide tips to help the facilitator find ways of getting past the detours.
This 11-Step Process is based on the discipline I learned from Tebbetts in 1983, which he put into print (Tebbetts, 1985). I have updated his teachings through my years of professional experience. For example,Tebbetts often engaged in what he called a “Great Debate” with what he called the offending part (which I call the conflicting part), and he referred to the facilitator as an arbitrator (Tebbetts, 1985). AlthoughTebbetts got results in the classroom, witnessed by me and other students, my major update of his work is to encourage the facilitator to act as a mediator instead of an arbitrator, and to avoid engaging in debates with any of the parts.
When I shared this update with Tebbetts in 1990, he agreed with my reasons for the update; but he passed on before putting it in writing. He was a pioneer, and I believe that Charles Tebbetts made one of the most profoundly beneficial contributions to hypnotherapy in the 20th Century.
In addition to the parts therapy process described above, the session contains a preparation and a conclusion. During the preparation, I explain parts therapy briefly to the client, so that he/she will be comfortable with the process. The preparation phase also includes an appropriate induction and deepening techniques, and establishing a client’s peaceful place. The conclusion begins after the parts are integrated in Step 11, when I give both direct and indirect suggestion and imagery, in order to have the client imagine his/her desired result. Appropriate debriefing takes place after the client emerges from hypnosis, and another session is scheduled if necessary.
Why Is Client Centered Parts Therapy Effective?
In my professional opinion, the client-centered approach empowers the client, because the cause(s) and resolution for the problem come from the client’s inner mind instead of from the mind of the facilitator. The inner mind seems to contain a profound wisdom that is often surprising to both client and therapist alike, because there is a part of the inner mind that observes what happens even during deep trance (Durbin, 2001; Hilgard, 1994). The facilitator must simply ask the right questions in order to access that inner wisdom.
Some hypnotic techniques, such as aversion therapy, employ scripts and/or suggestions asking clients to give their power away to someone who tells them what to do. They may even receive "spells" in the form of hypnotic suggestions! A person with a strong “rebel” button can overcome aversion suggestion, yet others who do succeed could run the risk of losing self-esteem because of their dependence on someone else to place hypnotic suggestions deep in the subconscious.
Even parts therapy or its variations are sometimes employed in a therapist directed manner, where the facilitator tells each part what to do and debates with rebellious parts. This type of approach is risky. One of my former students learned that lesson the hard way after losing a debate with a client’s rebellious part. He gave her two free sessions to apologize to the offended part, and finally helped her resolve her inner conflict.
Several years ago, a psychologist asked me to use parts therapy to help her resolve an inner conflict. Upon emerging from hypnosis, her first words were, "That solution was so simple, I wish I had thought of it myself!" I quickly reminded her that the resolution had indeed come from her own mind, and not mine. She smiled and agreed, and acknowledged the value of client-centered parts therapy. Both professionals and students alike also acknowledge the value of using a client-centered approach after sitting through my classes or workshops.
The client-centered approach helps clients attain greater empowerment, because it is based on the belief that the power to change resides within the client. The facilitator’s job is to remain objective while helping clients discover their own inner power, and to help them use it constructively. Successful client-centered parts therapy provides a greater probability of lasting results, and often provides the side benefit of an improved self-esteem for many clients. This is a win/win.
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Quigley, D. 2007. Conference Room Therapy (course). URL: http://www.alchemyinstitute.com/course.htm (Accessed January 10, 2007)
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Scheflin, A, Shapiro, J.L. 1989. Trance on Trial. New York, NY: Guilford Press; Guilford Clinical & Experimental Hypnosis Series.
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Tebbetts, C. 1985. Miracles on Demand. Dexter, MI: Thompson Shore (out of print).
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Yager, E. 2011. Subliminal Therapy. Carmethen, UK: Crown House Publishing.
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Roy’s book, Hypnosis for Inner Conflict Resolution: Introducing Parts Therapy (2005, Crown House Publishing) comes highly praised by professionals around the world. It explores the parts therapy process in depth.
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Originally Posted December 4, 2007