From Conflict to Peace… Part 1

US Flags

There are many ways of viewing the recent US elections. One thing that was evident to me was the struggle between groups fearful of marginalisation on both sides of the political spectrum. People desperately tried to ensure their views were heard and priorities respected. Each side descended into more intensified rhetoric and devaluing of their opponents, attempting to convince the public of the danger of the other candidate based on past communication and decisions. America is still deeply divided and hurting from this election campaign – not just from the outcome but the process.

What seemed to be missing from the campaign was listening, humility and respect, whether on social media or in political debates. People rarely become open to influence when someone is attacking their values or judging them. It is a recipe to invite more extreme positions and distrust. Humility, respect, listening, and genuine valuing people creates a safe environment where people are free to consider ideas, work out what fits, and respectfully disagree.

These same principles of human valuing and dignity may also apply to our clients’ inner worlds.  There are some experiential approaches that conceptualise that people are made up of a diversity of ‘parts’. One approach, Richard Schwartz’s Internal Family Systems model (IFS), assumes clients have intra-psychic parts, types of sub-personalities.

People develop problems because some internal parts become powerful and controlling of the weaker more vulnerable parts, while other parts act in desperation, leading clients into self-destructive behavioural patterns. It is believed that these internal power dynamics and struggles contribute to suffering and pain.  In this type of approach, the role of the therapist is not to side with the desired parts against the undesired parts, but invite the client to listen respectfully to each part, and to negotiate with parts towards a healthier internal system.

A similar approach is in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), whereby the therapist teaches clients to observe inner experiences compassionately without trying to control, suppress, or fuse with them. Both IFS and ACT adopt a non-judgemental non-marginalising approach, and teach the clients to engage in a more open and respectful relationship with their inner experiences instead of the painful and tiring struggling.

As we hope the United States moves towards respectful, compassionate listening to the needs and concerns of all its people and groups, likewise we can invite and support clients to develop peaceful relationships between all aspects of their experience. In the next edition, I will describe ideas for interventions to assist clients to listen and learn from all internal experiences, including those they regard as problematic.



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