My way of working with clients involves seeing them (and myself) as made up of different parts. While we may think that we are unified, coherent personalities, when we pay attention to what is going on inside us we often discover a collection of many different parts, or sub-personalities.
These may include a part of us that criticises or judges us (the inner critic), a vulnerable yes often playful part (the inner child), a part that tries to win approval from others (the pleaser), a part that can feel defeated or powerless (the victim) and many others. These sub-personalities are connected to the idea of archetypes (universal patterns of behaviour and being) developed by psychologist Carl Jung.
But what kind of internal leader do we have who is in charge of these different parts?
According to therapist Stacey Millichamp, in her book Transpersonal Dynamics, our personalities can be compared to political regimes. We may have an internal ‘dictator’ who orders the rest of the psyche to behave in a certain way. These kind of clients tend to be very controlled, even uptight.
Milliband says: “Honesty is suppressed and freedom from the regime must be found through covert, secretive means…[there is a] fear of punishment, disallowing spontaneity and creativity.”
Such clients can be hard to work with because they often keep secrets, fearing that if they are honest in therapy it will be used against them in some way.
A different client may have a fragmented psychological regime in which there is a lack of internal leadership that can create a frightening and chaotic internal world for the person.
Part of the therapist’s role is helping such clients develop a strong internal leader who speaks to them in a firm but compassionate way. Such a leader can allow the difference parts of ourselves to be expressed in an appropriate way.
The internal leader is a bit like having an ally who we can rely on, who is on our side but who will also tell us the truth about ourselves.
So, how do we develop such an internal leader or ally?
According to Milliachamp, there are several ways:
- think about a historical or present day leader who inspires you and describe in detail what you admire about that person
- develop self-talk that is evidence based and encourages getting reality checks about situation’s in your life. This is because often we have fantasy scenarios in our heads that are based on negative ways of seeing the world and our place in it.
- spend time with people who embody the leadership qualities you are seeking. This may be in person but could also include attending workshops or reading books.
The client may also look to their therapist to model positive psychological leadership and I have had clients who have said things like, ‘When I found myself in that situation I heard your voice in my head and that helped me decide what to do.”