Ego State Therapy
Whether or not you have gone through trauma therapy before, you might find yourself often saying “part of me feels…, but the other part of me feels…” These parts of self can also be understood as ego states, or bundles of neural networks that contain separate experiences, personality traits, memories and sometimes traumatic experiences. When trauma occurs, ego states are formed as our nervous system’s way of protecting us from painful memories, sometimes allowing us to numb or block out pain. This is part of the reason why we can’t always remember details of a traumatic experience.
In his book Parts Work, Tom Holmes describes how parts function within us as “psychological software.” Like software installed on a computer, each part serves a different purpose. “Protector” parts keep us safe from emotional pain. “Manager” parts help us get our daily tasks and responsibilities done. “People pleaser” parts make sure we keep everyone around us happy to prevent abandonment or abuse. While each ego state is helpful in its own way, trauma often robs us of our ability to be in control of which parts come forward at what times and leaves us feeling fragmented and disconnected from our Whole Selves.
Ego state therapy welcomes each and every part of the client, exactly as they are. By being open to each part, we can get to know its experience, emotions, and needs. This allows the client to reprocess traumatic memories and heal all of the parts inside that may feel “broken” or unsafe.
What If I Don’t Like All Of My Parts?
The parts we don’t like are often the parts we were made to feel ashamed of or believe that they hurt us in some way. Sometimes, we don’t like a part simply because its memories and emotions are too painful to experience. These parts are often referred to as “exiles,” and are kept out of conscious awareness by “protector” parts. It’s understandable not to like, or feel afraid or critical of different parts.
Lindsey helps clients get to know each part by showing compassion and acceptance. Curious about what is important to each client during each session (or which parts are showing up each session), Lindsey helps clients name emotions, needs, and desires of each part. Through this process clients learn more about how to heal, reparent, or meet the needs of each ego state. This allows clients to experience increased body awareness, reduction in intense negative emotions and more control over emotional reactions or triggers.
The Whole Self
Just as each individual person is different, each person’s parts look different. While “exiles,” “protectors,” and “managers” are examples of broad categories of parts, Lindsey works with clients who have been able to identify many other parts and have used their own language to name and understand them.
However, a general goal for ego state therapy is to help clients connect to their “Whole Selves.” This is the term Dr. Holmes uses to describe the center of ourselves, where we can observe all other parts in our internal system. Some refer to this as Self, Higher Self, Whole Self, or some clients prefer to create their own name. When we can connect to or be in the Self, we feel calm, curious, collaborative, compassionate, courageous, connected and confident. Lindsey helps clients feel more rooted in Self, allowing them to bring forward each part when they believe it to be necessary or useful.
How is Ego State Therapy Incorporated with EMDR™, Psychodrama, and Somatic Experiencing™ in a Session?
Lindsey enjoys being able to utilize a combination of these four experiential modalities, as they all stem from the same general framework and understanding of the impact of trauma on the nervous system. Lindsey works with clients to determine which tools are right for them, but the first step is often using ego state therapy to ensure each part of self feels safe and ready enough to engage in the therapeutic process.
Ego State Therapy is gentle, and the pace is set by each individual client. It can look similar to Lindsey’s other approaches as it encourages clients to slow and notice body sensations, name emotions and integrate the experiences of each part into the client’s overall understanding of their life story. It is an especially helpful approach when experiencing conflicting feelings or thoughts, and can be used alongside EMDR™ for a more direct approach, as well as with Somatic Experiencing ™ or Psychodrama to promote reorganization of the body’s survival responses and spontaneous storytelling. As mentioned in the descriptions of other approaches, the plan for each session is determined collaboratively with therapist and client, based on comfort level, priority and readiness of the client.