I have been investigating “state model” or “parts of self” theories of personality. According to these theories, the different parts or “states of mind” that make up who we are have their own personal memory systems. These parts expand from our very earliest infant states and grow up mostly together, if we’re lucky, or fragmented, if our earliest “true self” expressions are discouraged and stymied. It’s as if our inner children had been forced to grow up in different parts of the house.
Parts can for example, be social personae, defenses, emotionally isolated or disavowed and can be triggered by context. The more rigid they are, and less they flow, the more problematic. So, what are some ways we can get these parts into harmony? To possibly bridge the gap between them, so that they flow, or transition more easily?
The great clinician Carl Rogers’ focus was to unite the self into a harmony he called “congruence”. Rogers and his Humanistic approach to therapy begins from the point of view that the patient has a “true” self. This self is expressed organically with a felt sense of congruence that arises when what we think, say and do mostly align with each other.
Carl Rogers c. 1964 in the famous “Gloria” sessions. Wouldn’t you like him as a therapist?
This is quite different from saying something in one state of mind, and doing the polar opposite in another. This dynamic of parts can result in perplexing actions or hypocrisy. Since they sometimes seem to have a mind of their own, we might not trust ourselves, or be ashamed of certain “bad” parts when they are triggered and express themselves.
This what we want to get a handle on in therapy, for the patient to know and experience all their states consciously and fully; to be able to trust themselves.
Carl Rogers began with relationship. In fact, Rogers was the among the first major clinicians to emphasize the human relationship element of therapy as the most healing factor.
Rogers would begin with what he termed “unconditional positive regard”. While it appears this statement describes a Buddha-like radical acceptance, it really means that the therapist is present with the patient and attempts to immerse herself into the patient’s subjective experience with responsiveness, restatement, and clarification. This means that the therapist does not try to educate the patient or modify his behavior, rather it means that the therapist and patient engage in dialog to collaborate in articulating the patient’s feelings and thoughts as they unfold during the therapy hour.
Some parts are more acceptable to the patient than others. But the fact is, all of them exist within the patient. Roger’s therapeutic method gives the acceptance for each part to express itself fully, as it arises, and even the more distrusting parts come to see the consistency and acceptance of the therapist, who herself behaves in a congruent manner.
Through the therapist’s empathetic listening and mirroring – reiterating and exploring what the patient says until the patient has the felt experience of being understood – all parts that can express what was held back and defended against, and the social personae can let down their masks and become more genuine.
As all parts grow, they feel increasingly confident to join the group; become integrated. The patient gradually feels more “real” and less fearful of retribution and ashamed by the expression of a “bad” part. This integration mirrors Roger’s “congruence”, in which the states flow naturally and smoothly the entire self can think, feel and act as a whole. As therapy progresses, all the members of the family are increasingly able to sit down together and appreciate each other’s conversation in harmony.