Parts is Parts (Theory)

My favorite work to do with clients during a coaching session is parts work.

Photo showing cogs in a machine uploaded by Drew Carey career coach in Indianapolis Indiana

There are all kinds of approaches, and I like them all. Parts theory, in my way of thinking, is the idea that all of us can falsely believe, at times, that our actions, feelings, behaviors are being driven by a part of us separate from the whole.

We account for this in our language: "There's a part of me that just hates socializing at parties, but another part of me absolutely loves it." "He's/She's a man/woman of many parts."

We break down our feelings by body part: "I can't stomach that person." "You're a real pain in the neck." "You broke my heart." "I feel it in my bones." "I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders." "After that difficult conversation, I have a lump in my throat."

The basic approach to doing parts work in a coaching session is to acknowledge the feeling or behavior that is seemingly unwanted. It's almost as if two parts are inside of us, battling it out. One good, one bad. If you can get past momentarily feeling goofy, the coach helps the client to talk directly to the part in question, often the unwanted part.

Photo of boss yelling at worker uploaded by Drew Carey career coach in Indianapolis IndianaWe ask the part what it wants for us, and when we get an answer (and it's not a booming voice we hear, it's more of a quiet internal knowing, a thought that pops into our head), we follow-up by asking what getting that does for us that is even better and more important.

Another form of parts work comes through identifying the role a part plays and giving it its own identity. For example, I did this work on myself several years ago. I hated the fact that I was so shy in some social settings. So I called one part of myself “Shy Guy” and that other part of myself “Gregarious Guy.” I also had “Chill Guy” and “Angry Guy.” They and many other parts were battling it out inside of me! Rather than try to exorcise my shy person or my angry person because I hated them so much, I learned to understand the positive role they were trying to play in my life.

I also have done “committee work” with clients. If a client wants to achieve their most desired goal in life, who needs to be on the committee to make it happen? And how can they all contribute and work together toward success? I might have an “organizational guru” on my committee but sometimes he works overtime so that I get hung up on the details and stop moving forward. Then the “Hippie” steps in to thank the organizational guru but takes a firm stand that he has to relax!

5 chairs set up in coaching activity uploaded by Drew Carey career coach in Indianapolis IndianaThroughout this process, there is an acknowledgment that all our feelings and behaviors (and internal identities and committee members) have a positive intention behind them. The part of us that is impatient in line at the pharmacy, waiting for our child's pain medication, might be tapping his feet, looking at her watch, sighing deeply, raising his voice to the pharmacy tech who doesn’t seem to be moving fast enough.

We get home and feel guilty about our behavior, but if we spent a moment in self-reflection, we'd come to realize that the part of us that was impatient was trying to get home to our child as fast as possible to relieve his or her suffering.

Often the feeling or behavior is being manifested in some area of the body, I believe to call attention to what needs to be addressed. In my practice, I set up 5 chairs in a line and label each one. Based on my client’s answer, I have them go and sit in the chair that most closely corresponds to where in their body they are physically experiencing the behavior or feeling.

  • I'll usually hear things like, "I was aware of this pounding in my left temple,” so he walks over and sits in the first chair labeled "Head."
  • "I felt a tightness in my chest." I'll ask where she is feeling it exactly, then direct her to sit in either the Heart chair or the Stomach chair.
  • If a client says they felt their shoulder muscles tightening up, I'll invite him to choose which chair makes the most sense to sit in to represent exactly what he is feelingPhoto of man hunched over with stomach pain uploaded by Drew Carey career coach in Indianapolis Indiana, the Head or the Heart chair.
  • If they express GI distress, I will have them sit usually in the Gut chair. For sharp lower back pain, they may sit in the Hips (Lower Body) chair.

Once seated, they will continue the conversation with this part, asking "What do you want me to know?" and "What can I do to help you out?" Periodically, it's important to thank the part for the positive contribution it believes it is making in our life. I will often hear, "Thank you. I can see now that you were looking out for me/protecting me/helping me."

Our bodies hold great wisdom, and we can get access to this knowledge simply by asking.

Parts integration occurs naturally when we honor that part of ourselves as contributing positively to our life and growth. When we no longer demonize ourselves for having a certain feeling or engaging in an unwanted behavior, we are then able to enfold that part of our self into the rest of our personality and move again toward wholeness.