Parts work & AIP model

We all have parts! Have you, or someone you know struggled to order from a menu and say something like "part of me wants to order salad because I'm trying to eat healthier, but it's been a long day so another part of me really wants poutine even though I know I'll be up all night with heartburn"? Parts want the best outcome but sometimes our parts cannot agree, might not be fully aware of consequences, or they might not have been updated with present information due to trauma. 

Parts work is based on Structural Dissociation Theory and Ego State Therapy. Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a therapy that also works with parts. Think of the brain and body as a computer system having many folders and apps. They are created from experiences and contain information of how we think, feel, and sense the world around us. They work together and sometimes an app is launched to direct the system.

Imagine that each folder holds information for survival of the species and daily life actions. Daily life folders help us navigate activities such as play, sleep, house cleaning, attachment, socializing, reproduction, and taking care of others. This is much needed for mental and behavioural functioning! Folders are categorized so the brain knows how to respond the next time an even slightly similar situation happens. These folders essentially form our worldview. 

Apps are initiated when there is a perceived threat such as an injury to the body, social rejection, and attachment loss. They run specific defence instructions on how to react based on the perceived threat. They also hold information such as survival of the individual, and are involved with fight, flight, freeze, collapse, social submission, attachment cry, and recuperation. Apps also encode and store all pieces of events that are not completely processed.

From the time we are born, our thoughts, feelings, and body sensations, as well as how we perceived others to behave and the meanings that go with those experiences are recorded and contained in these folders and apps. As we get older and add to our experiences, folders and apps evolve as they are reassessed and updated. 

When folders and apps cooperate, communicate, and work together, adaptive information is integrated and apps are updated. The person experiences positive mental health. ​When trauma happens, the app cannot be updated and it keeps repeating instructions related to past circumstances. The brain does not process the past experience and app instructions might not be appropriate for present circumstances. Think about unhealthy behaviour. It is likely that at one time the related thought/feeling/body sensation served a purpose to protect the self but when not updated, the behaviour can become socially, physically, or emotionally harmful.

Parts work can help the system work collaboratively, so the system can move towards positive mental health.