Improve Your Human-service Effectiveness

Basic Premises for
 Human-service Providers

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council


The Web address of this article is

Updated 09-24-15

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      This is one of a series of Web pages for people who strive to provide effective human services. This page summarizes seven key premises about people and behavior that underlie all these helping suggestions here. Other sections of this Web site provide more detail on these core ideas.

      The premises are...

  1. Normal human personalities are composed of a number of specialized "subselves" or "parts."

  2. Definitions of "needs," "human problems," and "effective human service."

  3. Most non-organic personal and social "problems" stem from [inherited psychological "wounds" + unawareness of key topics]. The keystone wound is a disabled executive subself, or "true Self."

  4. Internal family systems therapy ("parts work") can permanently reduce these wounds, once admitted;

  5. Effective parts work requires some new language conventions.

  6. This 6-lesson educational online course can replace toxic unawareness with useful knowledge;

  7. Adults nurturing minor kids can protect them from inheriting the lethal legacy of psychological wounds + unawareness.

      To get the most from this page and series, first read the Web site and professional-series introductions, and the premises underlying this self-improvement Web site. The premises below extend the latter. Here's more detail on them:

  Premises for Helpers

1) Personalities

      Traditionally, human personalities are seen as a monolithic set of traits + instincts + preferences that shape a person's attitudes and behaviors. There are several personality-type schemes - e.g. Myers-Briggs, Dr. Carl Jung's archetypes, and the Luscher color test.

      This Web site is based on the belief that normal (vs. pathological) personalities are formed by the combined traits of a set of talented "subselves" or "parts" that evolve during early life in response to a child's environment and genes.

      Subselves are probably discrete areas of the brain holding selected data and information-processing "programs." They each have two "states": inactive and active. Subselves activate when they perceive (a) sensory signals like heat, pain, and touch; and (b) environmental events, like noise, arguments, and certain events or conditions (like "danger") in and around the host person.

      When a subself is triggered, it causes predictable thought and emotional sequences, and possibly physiological reactions like muscle tightness, sweating, and increased heart and breathing rates.

      There are three or four functional types of subselves, all of which are ceaselessly dedicated to promoting the host person's survival.

      "Parts work" [internal family-system (IFS) therapy] is a structured framework for helping people learn about and harmonize their subselves, under the leadership of a talented "true Self." I studied parts work with Richard Schwartz, Ph.D. in 1992, and have found it unusually effective at promoting a wide range of desired client changes.

Premise 2) - Needs, Emotions, and Problem-solving

Perspective on Needs

      All sensory forms of animal life experience a mosaic of discomforts and pleasures. These vary dynamically depending on cellular/organic processes (like hunger and thirst) and environmental conditions. Discomforts are popularly called "needs," I agree with Dr. Sigmund Freud's classic belief that all human behavior and relationships are caused by the ceaseless semi-conscious drive to reduce current discomforts (i.e. to fill current needs) and increase local pleasures.

      Human needs can be categorized as surface (intellectual and superficial) or primary (organic and instinctual.) Most people are unaware of this distinction and waste time and energy trying to fill current surface needs. Until corrected via personal awareness, this unawareness promotes significant personal and social frustration, conflict, and "stress."

      When most current primary needs are filled well enough, people experience "happiness," "satisfaction," "contentment," and occasional "joy." As life unfolds, people vary on a continuum from despair and agony (no hope of filling current needs) to satiisfracti8on to temporary joy .

      Besides surface and primary, needs can be also be rated as...

  • immediate to long--term;

  • Trivial to urgent;

  • Mental, emotional, physical, social, or spiritual;

  • Personal or interpersonal; and...

  • Mine, yours, and/or ours.


      The range of human emotions, or "feelings," can be seen as symptoms of current primary needs. An implication is that all emotions are useful - not positive or negative.

      Premise: emotions are caused by activated personality subselves or physiological events. Thus emotions are reliable indicators of (a) which subselves are affecting the person at the moment, and (b) what each subself currently needs. For example: "I'm feeling sad" suggests that a person's Sad Inner Child has been triggered and needs to grieve a loss (broken bond),

 Problems and Problem-solving

     Any personal or relationship "problem" can be seen as one or more unfilled primary needs. "Problem solving" is the process of identifying and filling current needs.

      Personality parts can have different needs at the same time. Their needs may conflict (Part 1: "I want to go dancing!" / Part 2: "But I want to be quiet and rest"). These inner conflicts cause confusion, uncertainty, "ambivalence." "hesitation," "double messages," and feeling "torn,"

      By definition, people seeking human-service help (a) haven't identified what they need or how to resolve current inner conflicts. This is usually because their wise true Self is disabled and they don't know how to problem-solve internally or socially.

      Effective human service aims to teach troubled people how to problem-solve - i.e. how to...

  • free their true Self from false-self takeovers (''blendiing''). ;

  • identify and prioritize their active subselves' current mix of primary needs; and...

  • fill their needs and resolove any need conflicts well enough.

Premise 3) - Inherited Psychological Wounds

     Two fundamental causes of most (all?) nonorganic human "problems" are (1) inherited psychological wounds + (2) unawareness of a range of vital topics. These pass silently down the generations unless parents or their adult kids recognize them and proactively act to heal and learn. The keystone wound is a disabled true Self

      Implication: effective human service intentionally promotes healing these wounds and educating persons, couples or familiees,

4) Internal family systems (IFS) therapy ("Parts work")
can permanently reduce psychological wounds

      The six inherited psychological wounds are caused by the ghost person's unawareness of (1) significant early-childhood trauma and (2)protective personality parts (subselves.) Paradoxically, each subself wants to promote the host person's survival, but their strategy for helping may cause stress. Skillful Parts Work and education can retrain such well-intentioned subselves to be genuinely helpful.

      Recall - we're reviewing seven important premises about people, problems, and human service.

5)  Effective parts work requires some new language conventions.

      All kids and adults use the descriptors "me,""myself." and "I" when communicating about themselves.

      The Parts-work concept proposes that personalities are composed of discrete subselves (personality parts). It also proposes that all non-organic moods, attitudes, and behaviors are caused by active subselves.

      This allows a new way of thinking and speaking: "I'm sad" becomes "a part of me is sad."  "I'm conflicted" becomes "Several of my parts disagree with each other." "I  don't know what I feel" can be expressed as "My Numb-er subself is blocking my emotions."

      Using this kind of parts-work language can help people feel less overwhelmed by their current problems, less self-critical, and more optimistic about filling their needs.

      Try it! Get quiet and undistracted, and identify one or more current non-physical discomforts in your life - e.g. "I'm anxious about..." / "I'm depressed when I think about...' / I'm confused right now about..."  Now change your language, substituting "a part of ,me" for "I." and see how you feel. Option - explain this new language convention to a receptive person and ask them to try it and see what they feel. Collect several opinions and notice the pattern.

Premise 6) This 6-lesson online course can
replace toxic unawareness with useful knowledge

      The first root of most human problems comes from unwise conception decisions, ineffective parenting, and resulting psychological wounds. The second of two roots comes from widespread ignorance (unawareness) of six core topics. Both roots are preventable.

      Test this premise by patiently taking each of these six quizzes , and see what you learn, Then ask yourself...

  • How would each of my family adults and mentors do on answering these quizzes?

  • how would my professional peers do?;

  • how would average adult clients do? and...

  • are most kids and teens being taught these topics well enough by their school systems and our culture?

      My experience is, the great majority of average people can't "pass" these quizzes - they don't know what they don't know, or what that unawareness costs them and their families.

    This suggests that a major part of providing effective human service is (a) alerting people (specially parents) to what they could learn, (b) the benefits of learning key basics, and (b) motivating them to do so.

      This nonprofit Web site is my attempt to summarize vital knowledge that everyone needs in order to...

  • be effective parents,

  • choose and enjoy healthy relationships, and...

  • live up to their full potential as unique, worthy persons.

Premise 7)  Adults nurturing minor kids can protect
 them from inheriting psychological wounds + unawareness

      "Human service" aims to resolve personal and social problems or to prevent them. If these "problems" come from inherited psychological wounds + unawareness, then service providers should do what they can to help parents guard their kids against these two toxic stressors.

      My impression is that our country has focused more on treating "mental health" problems than preventing them. That's partly because of public apathy and passivity, and partly because of difficulty identifying, validating, and quantifying successful prevention.

      Pause, breathe, and reflect: in your efforts to help troubled people, how often do you intentionally include wound and ignorance prevention in your work?

      For a sampling of the many ways lay people and professional service providers can help to break the lethal cycle of inherited [wounds +  unawareness], see this.


      Have you ever seen premises like these listed in one place?  How many of them do you agree with? Note with interest what your subselves are saying and feeling. 


      This article is part of an online self-study course for human-service providers of all types. The article offers 7 premises about human personalities, needs, families, behavior, change, and effective human service.

      These premises for professionals augment premises for everyone who studies the seven self-improvement lessons in this educational Web site. The contents of this Break the Cycle! Web site and the related guidebooks and YouTube videos are based on these premises.

      These general and human-service premises come from over 40 years of professional study, reflection, personal recovery, and clinical experience with over 1,000 troubled adults, couples, and families. Use these premises to clarify your beliefs about these core topics. 

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

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Updated October 01, 2015