“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” – Aristotle
A common challenge on the therapeutic journey is guiding clients through the process of developing self-awareness and determining the underlying causes of unhealthy behaviors all while reducing presenting symptoms and increasing positive outcomes. This is not an easy feat. People are diverse in their needs and there are so many treatment modalities to choose from in this complicated endeavor.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one familiar, extensively researched mode of treatment that assists individuals in identifying and changing maladaptive thought patterns in order to facilitate positive behavioral changes (APA, 2019). The rationale behind this therapy is that the challenges clients face are often due to unhealthy or unhelpful ways of thinking and the pattern of learned behaviors that follow these thoughts (Corey, 2009). While the CBT approach can be helpful in identifying and changing negative thought patterns, it can be limited in understanding the depth of a person as a whole. Thoughts do not exist alone; they come woven into a complex web of emotions, personality characteristics, and developmental abilities that impact the way we relate to ourselves and others.
In our approach to therapy, which we refer to as Part Identification and Integration, we use successful techniques that allow clients to deeply understand the complexities of their minds, as well as make modalities like CBT more meaningful and user-friendly to shift thinking and improve overall functioning. As we move through our series, you may recognize the research and theories upon which our approach is based (and in future articles we will pay tribute to those pioneers). While we are not the first ones to use these techniques to improve the lives of others, we are excited to share how we have integrated the existing research and theories in a way that can easily be applied to a client’s everyday life.
“The foundation of Part Identification and Integration is the idea that each of us is a whole composed of many parts.”
The foundation of Part Identification and Integration is the idea that each of us is a whole composed of many parts. Reflect on this idea for a minute. Think about the part of you that sits in front of your boss or with your colleagues in a professional meeting. Now, imagine the part of you that is at home with your partner or your children. Think about how you show up with a friend that you have made recently compared to the friend you have known since childhood. Do those parts behave in the exact same way all the time? Likely not. Does the part that becomes angry at your mom ever show up when you’re talking to your boss? Hopefully not.
Part Identification and Integration is about discovering and honoring all of our parts – the good, the bad, and the ugly. It is about understanding where a part came from, what the purpose of it once was (more on that in the next article), and how it might be helping or hurting you in the present. Identifying parts is integral in the therapeutic process because it allows people to externalize their struggles rather than over-identifying with them and losing sight of their authentic selves. By the time someone makes it to therapy, they are usually in great distress and struggling with a set of concerning symptoms that are preventing them from living a full life. A client in this state is stuck in one active part – the part that is so depressed that they cannot get out of bed every morning or the angry part that is so easily triggered in relationships that it cannot manage conflict without hurting loved ones. When someone starts to believe that one wounded part is their true self, they get caught in a cycle of self-criticism, shame, guilt, and negative thinking. Part Identification and Integration allows a client to remember their other parts and to access the more successful aspects of themselves as well as healthier ways of thinking and relating to others.
Once a client is able to identify and understand how their parts work, they can begin the process of integrating their parts into a coherent whole. This involves connecting to or creating our wisest part. This is usually a representation of our authentic self that facilitate the expression of all the other parts. It means allowing helpful or nurturing parts to heal wounded and vulnerable parts. It means giving a long unexpressed part (e.g. an inner child) a voice in the present. It involves taming a self-destructive part through use of the insights and strategies developed in therapy. At its core, the integration process means that all the individual parts become fluid, flowing together in an intricate dance to come forward or move aside as needed so that the individual may lead an authentic, fulfilling, and connected life.
American Psychological Association (n.d.). What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/cognitive-behavioral.aspx
Corey, G. (2009). Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy.
Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning.