From the time that we are brought into this world were taught to think of ourselves as a unitary being. I am a person named "Douglas". In a common sense way this is true,of course It is also very useful and practical to think of ourselves a a single entity. For example, it is way easier to order a coffee at Starbucks if we just give our name when they ask, rather then explaining that we are in fact " a complex, emerging being made up of multiple subselves".
But when it comes to psychotherapy, especially experiential psychotherapy like AEDP, being too rigidly attached to the idea of ourselves as a unitary being can actually sometimes be counter-productive. I say this because my years of experience as a therapist have led me to the firm conviction that, in a very real way, we actually are “an integrated overall being made up of multiple subselves”.
One of the clearest examples of this idea comes from witnessing client after client exhibiting a split between a more rational, conceptual part of themselves and a more embodied, emotional part of themselves. Inevitably these two subselves see the world in a very different ways. The more rational part is often the "goal setter" or the "driver" who has all sorts of very clear ideas of how things "should" be and what you "should" be able to achieve. The more emotional part often ends up feeling oppressed and pushed around by the rational part, because he or she is the one who actually has to actually bear the deep emotional costs of facing fears and/or continually failing to achieve unrealistic expectations.
One of the most striking things that I have learned over time is that psychological wellness does not involve sacrificing either of these parts. Each has so much of value to offer us. Without the rational part it would be really hard to navigate in the world or to move toward long-term goals. But without the more emotional self it would be difficult to really know what we actually wanted to set as goals in the first place, or to move toward those goals in a sustainable, self-compassionate way.
Rather then getting rid of either of these sub-selves, the key seems to lie in getting them to respect each other and to listen to each others' points of view, even though those points of view will always be different (because their perspective on the world will always be different). In short, the more the relationship between these two sub-selves contained within a single person comes to look like a healthy intimate relationship between two seperate people, the healthier and more resilient people seem to become.
This idea of the self as made up of sub-selves can seem a little weird or flakey to many people at first. But I have seen healing the realtionship between these two main subselves become a key element in so many successful therapies, including one of my own, that I have now strong faith in this model. Given my faith in this perspective, it is a relief that, over my years of reading, I have found that this perspective is actually very consistent with both Buddhist psychology and with neuroscience research.
This perspective does not make sense to all of my clients I work with. If that is the case, then that is, of course, perfectly fine. It is not essential to adopt this perspective in order to have a successful course of experiential therapy. But for those clients who are open to exploring themselves as comprised of seperate but realted sub-selves, this can often offer a very helpful path toward healing.