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Book Reviews

Wholeness for Wellness: No Bad Parts review

Remember how often you have done something that felt like going against yourself. Visualize a situation where you have been taken hostage by emotions, led by a blind force that drove your mind through future regrets -it could be a life-changing decision or a daily choice. It has happened to everyone to feel like they are not in control of their own choices. At present, societal paradigms instilled in us the belief that to make the best decisions, you must determine a clear goal and pursue it, no matter how difficult the path may be. Yet, how to behave when the threat does not belong to the outside world, but rather the greatest enemy seems to come from within us?  

This is exactly what the book “No Bad Parts” aims to answer. 

Book info and key points 

“No Bad Parts” is a guide to healing traumas, which are the main obstacle when taking decisions that benefit us. The author, Richard C. Schwartz is currently teaching on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and created, in the 1980s, the Internal Family System (IFS): a highly effective, evidence-based therapeutic model that aims to reach harmony between our “parts”.The book explains this therapy through the use of examples, real-life psychoanalysis sessions, and exercises aimed at discovering the parts that form our minds. The main point is to reach a state of mental “wholeness”, which roughly means to cease our endless inner conflicts. The benefits are innumerable and include raising awareness, self-leadership, and self-acceptance by discovering the parts that form our minds.  

Brief History 

The modern view of the mind has it described as a whole, unitary creator of thoughts and emotions. Consequently, everyone will experience better and worse thoughts. They may sometimes even be sinful or harmful, and the solution given is to either heavily ignore or fight to repress them. During the Victorian age, the idea that by only using willpower, one could free himself from his flaws became widespread -gaining popularity even today, especially in the United States, with the vision of the self-made man and the recurring “from rags to riches” motif. 

Therefore, as soon as an uncomfortable or counterproductive thought appeared, it was common, indeed honorable, to ignore it and go straight ahead. That disregarding approach is historically flanked by a more targeted but equally harmful method: the repressive one. 

The latter was mostly practiced during the Middle Ages, due to Catholic concepts of the weakened and evil-prone nature of man: the fear of impurity led people to physical injuries as well as psychological. 

Even in present times, we feel the remnants of these beliefs, but the Internal Family System aims to create an alternative -for some, also controversial- way of relating to ourselves: instead of ignoring or fighting our unwanted emotions, we should strive to understand them. 

The Parts 

IFS built a perspective that enables us to see our mind as a sum of different parts, where everyone has a role to respect and a goal to pursue. This idea is at least as old as Plato, who argued in “The Republic” that just like a city is divided into different social classes, the soul too is divided into parts. There are vulnerable parts, authoritarian parts, inspiring parts, and even self-destructive parts. As in a large family, our mind is an environment that needs balance. The problem is that it often becomes dysfunctional when certain parts start to carry burdens caused by the traumas they have experienced.  

“The collection of parts that these traditions call the ego are protectors who are simply trying to keep us safe, and are reacting to and containing other parts that carry emotions and memories from past traumas that we have locked away inside”, says Schwarts. 

According to him, the parts that change their form after traumas are called “exiles”, because we tend to ignore and push them deep into our subconscious. Those parts have been forced to change their identity to ensure we get through a difficult time, but they remain frozen in the past until they get unburdened.  

At the exact moment that an exile appears, another part is forced to change its position, to prevent the return of the exile. Those parts are called managers, and usually, act as the inner critics, who prevent us from potentially harmful situations that could reopen our inner traumas -and by doing so, they suppress the exiles.  

Lastly, we have the firefighters -parts that emerge when an inevitable event brings back an exile. They try to decrease the pain by searching for “cures” that in the most extreme cases include alcoholism or drug addiction. 

In summary, the exiles are the problem, the managers try to prevent it and the firefighters try to cure it. 

This chaotic role play involves problems which also concern the relational sphere. Schwartz says: “If we live in fear of and strive to control certain parts of us, we will do the same to people who resemble those parts”, directly affecting our social abilities and blurring our rational decision-making capacity. 

But it must be clear that no part was created for those extreme roles and that they are just victims of the environment: as the title of the book says, there are no bad parts inside of us. 

Practical Applications 

Practical applications are undoubtedly the most delicate aspect of IFS: it requires a sufficient amount of suggestibility and adequate perseverance. 

This book provides exercises and daily practices, but if the reader is not dedicated enough, the process is most likely to end in failure. 

However, there is scientific evidence for the effectiveness of this method: a study conducted in January 2015 on patients affected by PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) proved how the symptoms improved after multiple IFS sessions. The primary benefits of the group were: a significant decrease in depression and disrupted self-perception, and a remarkable raising of self-consciousness. 

At the end of the tests, 12 out of 13 trial subjects no longer qualified for the diagnosis, confirming IFS as a very effective trauma treatment. 

Though promising, these results are preliminary: as we might expect from a new, empirical theory, there are no sufficient case studies to ensure long-term lasting effects. 

On the other hand, since most of us hide traumas of different entities within us, it is reasonable to assume that it is worth a try. 

Conclusions 

IFS has been the single most influential model by which I view the world, my interactions with others and myself.  It is more than a model for professionals in the mental health field. It is a model that facilitates one’s personal growth and is intuitive and easily accessible.  It is applicable and versatile for a myriad of contexts including corporate teams and school classrooms.” 

Testimonies like this define the scope of this new field and are a great hope for its future. 

“No bad parts” has no arrogance to stand above neurological and biological science, as stated several times by the author; but at the same time, this therapy has proven to have the potential to help better understand human behavior. 

This book simply attempts to provide a solution to a wide range of internal conflicts. Even if there is a chance to be skeptical about the benefits of IFS therapy, it can always be an efficient way to know yourself better; indeed, most people who have begun this journey have admitted a remarkable improvement in self-consciousness. 


Sources 

Schwartz, R.C. (2021) No bad parts: Healing trauma and restoring wholeness with the internal family systems model.
Louisville: Sounds True. 

Blum, B. (2020) Inside the revolutionary treatment that could change psychotherapy forever, Medium. Elemental.
Available at: https://elemental.medium.com/inside-the-revolutionary-treatment-that-could-change-psychotherapy-forever-8be035d54770 

Hodgdon, H.B. (2021) Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among survivors of multiple childhood trauma: A pilot effectiveness study, Taylor & Francis. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10926771.2021.2013375 

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