Ego state therapy, also known as 'Parts Work' or Internal Family Systems Therapy is an indispensable tool when you're wanting to make change. And, once clients learn more about it, they really like using this approach because it helps things make a lot more sense. It's also one of my favourite therapies because it pairs so well with other methods, and it gets into those 'stuck' places that often cause therapy, and change, to stall.
Have you ever heard people say things like:
"A part of me feels like this, but then a part of me feels like that".
"I feel like an adult until I'm with my mom, and then I turn into a child".
"A part of me just can't seem to do this, even though I logically know better."
"When I parent my child, I sometimes sound like a kid myself".
When you start paying attention, these kinds of statements are everywhere. We hear others say them... and we say them too. These are your 'parts' talking.
These parts of self are very normal, and they start developing in the brain and mind in childhood. These parts are called 'ego states' - a fancy clinical term for the different parts of ourselves that help us navigate the many areas of life. For example, when you need to be a professional at work, your 'joking-around-fun-self' might not be the part you need just then. When parenting your child, your wise adult part is a better fit than your own 'angry-teenager' self. When needing to organize your day, your 'secure-and-organzied' part is needed instead of a 'panic part' that will stall your daily routine.
Over time, this system of parts (each with their own brain circuitry) becomes pretty skilled at helping us 'do-life' - if we have the right parts activating in our different life areas.
WhenParts Are Stuck
Here's when problems begin - your nervous system starts to over-use a particular ego state, or uses it in a life-area that actually requires a different, more suitable part. A part that sometimes causes issues for people is a 'protector part' - and, we often have more than one of these. Protective ego states develop to keep us safe in the world. In other words, if we find ourselves in a threatening situation, we typically (and automatically) respond with a 'fight', 'flight', or 'freeze' ego state - which is helpful if we're actually in some kind of danger.
However, often we're not really in danger. Yet, our nervous system misreads the situation, and still sees some kind of threat (difficult past experiences can cause the brain to see threats everywhere). So, our deeper brain activates a 'heavy-hitter' protector part, when a 'rational-adult- problem-solving' part is all that was needed. When this becomes a routine response in life, problems develop.
Ego State Therapy is very helpful when a part of you is:
Activating in your life too often.
Over or under-reacting in certain situations.
'Coming up' in the wrong situations.
In conflict with another part of you.
Here, it's easy to feel frustrated, stuck, and confused. We wonder why we "keep reacting this way", even though we really do "know better." (This is also why logic or behaviour-based therapies alone, often don't help enough). So, we actually do therapy with these problematic parts. In other words we help them either become unstuck, 'come up' only when needed, or we build other necessary parts that will let your life function better. It's amazing the difference this can make.
Some well-respected colleagues of mine say, "I don't know how to help people without working with their ego states. Good therapy just requires this." I agree! And, I love this therapy because it's gentle, easier than you might think, doesn't require you to understand the problem,and pairs so well with other therapies. Most importantly, it removes blocks and allows for change that may have been stuck for a long time.