Help clients understand and break the lethal [wounds + unawareness cycle!

Key Lesson-1 Interventions

Empower the true Self to harmonize
personality subselves,  and
reduce psychological wounds

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

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        This article is one of a series on effective professional counseling, coaching, and therapy with (a) low-nurturance (dysfunctional) families and with (b) typical survivors of childhood neglect and trauma. These articles for professionals are under construction.

        This series assumes you're familiar with:

        Before continuing, pause and reflect - why are you reading this article? What do you need?

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       This article is one of a series on effective clinical interventions with low-nurturance family clients. A "low nurturance family" is one in which members seldom get their primary needs met in wholistically-healthy ways. An effective intervention is an instinctive or intentional behavior of the clinician which significantly raises the family's nurturance level in the opinion of all involved.

        Until typical wounded co-parents in low-nurturance families hit true bottom, they will not be fully motivated to commit to long-term work at these wound-reduction interventions. When this is so, the best clinical option is to use the Serenity Prayer and "plant seeds" (teach and illustrate basic concepts, and not push clients to free their true Self and harmonize their subselves (reduce psychological wounds). This significantly reduces what's possible with all 11 other sets of interventions.


        To get the most from this article, first read:

  • this introduction to professional family clinicians and educators,

  • this slide presentation on the [wounds + unawareness] cycle that is a root stressor with typical low-nurturance families. If you have trouble viewing the slides, see these options.

  • this overview of the clinical model on which these articles are based;

  • this summary of requisites for effective professional service with these complex client families;

  • scan these terms which are liberally used throughout these clinical articles; and read...

  • this overview of effective clinical assessment of these six types of client families, and these key assessments for Lesson 1 with any client family; and...

  • this introduction to effective interventions with low-nurturance families and persons recovering from psychological wounds; and...

  • This overview of Lesson 1, and the index of all Lesson-1 articles and resources; and scan...

  • the Lesson-1 guidebook "Who's Really  Running Your Life?" (2nd ed.), by Peter Gerlach, MSW.

If this seems like a lot of work - it IS.

Why Does Lesson 1 Exist?

        At age 49 (1987) I broke lifelong denials to accept that (a) I was the son of two functional alcoholics,  and (b) I had survived a very low-nurturance childhood which I and our kin and friends thought was "normal" (functional, or healthy). Since then, I have compulsively studied and worked at personal recovery from the psycho-spiritual effects of my unintended childhood neglect and trauma.

       My personal epiphany coincided with these 1980s movements...

  • exploding interest in and recognition of the traits and special needs of Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACoAs); and...

  • the growing belief that addictions - including the new idea of codependence (relationship addiction) - was a family-system symptom and stressor, not an individual "disease"; and...

  • widening lay and clinical acceptance of the psychological reality of one or more Inner Children; and...

  • an emerging mode of therapy called "psychosynthesis," based on the work of Dr. Roberto Assagioli and colleagues; and...

  • the continuing evolution of psychoanalysis into family-systems theory and therapy; and...

  • a growing clinical awareness and acceptance of the treatable dissociative condition then called Multiple Personality Disorder - MPD - renamed Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) in 1994 by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

        As my awareness and wound-recovery grew, I began to see common "ACoA" behavioral traits in most of my adult therapy clients and many of their kids - tho many of them reported no addicted parents or ancestors. I began to wonder if the traits resulted from low-nurturance upbringing, not addicted caregivers per se. After 17 years' clinical research, I now believe this is universally true, and that most lay people and family-support professionals are unaware of it and what it means.

        After attending an introductory clinical seminar on "Internal Family Systems Therapy" by veteran psychologist Dr, Richard Schwartz in 1990, I enrolled in two 9-month internships with him focusing on this therapeutic concept. He applied accepted family-system principles to the old, little-regarded idea that all normal personalities are composed of interactive, semi-independent "parts" or "subselves." A key theory component was that every person has a subself whose special talent is leading other subselves effectively - the "true Self" (capital "S"). Schwartz proposed (after 10 years of clinical investigation and practice) that common mental-emotional "disturbances" were promoted by narrow-visioned, reactive, distrustful subselves (a "false self") disabling the Self and unintentionally causing toxic reactions.

        The concept made intuitive sense to me, and I began to weave personality-subself assessments and interventions into my clinical work. I continued to study related subjects like mood and dissociative disorders - specially Multiple Personality Disorder, and Ericksonian (indirect) clinical hypnosis and the unconscious mind. I discovered that almost all clients accepted that their personalities were composed of dynamic subselves, and showed interest in learning how these "parts" might contribute to their presenting problems. Some clients were not ready to pursue this in any depth, and others - typically having hit their true bottom - were willing - even eager.

        Over time, the concepts of "psychological wounds" and wound-recovery (empowering the disabled self to guide and harmonize the inner family of subselves) evolved from Schwartz's and other clinician's ideas. As my experience and understanding grew, the concepts of "Lesson 1" coalesced - first as these Web pages, and then as a guidebook. In the 15 years I've explored and practiced "inner-family systems therapy," I have experienced what Schwartz did - "my clients taught me about their (and my own) subselves."

        As I evolved and clinically applied the concepts of the five re/marital hazards and 12 protective Projects since 1990, I became interested in preventing psychological wounds and their widespread symptom of divorce. A fundamental concept began to form, which is now called the [wounds + unawareness] cycle in this site. I know of no one else who has formulated this idea, nor any research that confirms it. If my premise is right, this unseen, pervasive cycle is the root of most personal, marital, parental, family, social, and ecological problems.

        The bad news is, no one currently seems to recognize this, or want to - probably because doing so forces us to acknowledge that our society promotes this toxic cycle by permitting widespread irresponsible child conceptions and unqualified parenting. The good news is - if and when local and societal leaders do recognize the cycle and it's widening impacts, they can evolve policies and legislation to break the cycle and protect future generations from wounding and ignorance. The first step in this essential process is informing people of the cycle and its effects. That's the main purpose of this Web site and related guidebooks. The next essential step is testing these concepts via well-designed impartial research.

        If the personality-subself and inner-family therapy concepts are new to you, I encourage you to adopt an open mind, read this background and letter to you, and try this interesting exercise. Then (a) experiment with clinical assessments using these worksheets or equivalent - starting with yourself; (b) try out interventions like those below, and (c) see what happens. Note the central implication of Lesson-1 concepts - to be fully effective in all your personal and professional relationships, you need to be usually guided by your true Self.

        Are you? Notice your reactions to this question - they're your diligent, well-meaning subselves responding!

Basic Lesson-1 Interventions - for significantly-wounded family adults (a) before and (b) after they've hit true bottom.

        Before Hitting True Bottom

1)  Ask clients to define "my personality" and how it evolves. Then ask for their ideas on why peoples personalities differ.

2)  Propose that normal (vs. pathological) personalities are composed of semi-independent, talent "parts" or "subselves," like players in an orchestra or sports team. Offer behavioral evidences of this, and observe client's reactions.





After Hitting True Bottom








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Updated March 22, 2014