Self Therapy Workbook Working With a Partner

The Importance of Partner Work
To get the most out of this workbook, you need to practice IFS on a regular basis. Each chapter outlines a basic idea with exercises that bring home the concepts, making them relevant to your psyche and your life. For most people, it works best to do these with a partner; the two of you take turns working on yourselves with the other as witness and facilitator. It isn’t easy to open up deep places of pain in yourself, even with the powerful and respectful IFS method. When someone is there to witness you, it makes the whole exploration more inviting by providing a holding environment for your wounded and defended parts. Even a silent witness provides presence and support that is very helpful for most people.
What Partner Work Could Look Like
Before you begin your explorations, have a discussion with your partner about the kind of facilitation you would like when you’re working. If you’re new to this process, we recommend that, at the beginning of your work together, you act as a quiet witness. Gradually, as you become more comfortable with the IFS process, and perhaps also with the partner relationship, you can move to more active witnessing and finally to gentle facilitation.
The Explorer
When you are the explorer, you are in charge of the session and are responsible for what happens. This is different from being in psychotherapy, where the therapist has more responsibility for the work. When you are working with a friend in peer counseling, he or she can be helpful to you but may not know any more about IFS and therapy than you do. Therefore, he or she can’t take responsibility for what happens in the session the way a therapist would. It is up to you to conduct the session in
a way that works for you. It is your job to judge how fast or slow to take the process and how deeply to explore certain issues. You are in charge of keeping track of what’s happening in the session and where you are in the IFS procedure. You are responsible for choosing what parts of yourself to explore and how far to go into painful or vulnerable places in your psyche. Although the listener has an important role to play, it is your show.
Listener Possibilities
Stage 1: Quiet Witness
Your job is to stay in Self as much as possible. Before you begin, take some time to center and ground. Feel yourself supported by the chair you’re in, follow your breath for a while, and ask any parts that are active to give you some space to be present.
While your partner is exploring, do not speak unless he or she asks for your help. This helps cement the idea that the explorer is in charge and responsible for the session. It helps the explorer learn how to work on him- or herself, and it encourages you to be free of any sense of responsibility for what happens. You will have an opportunity to give the explorer feedback after each session.
As your partner is exploring, you can note, for yourself, what parts come up for you. Gently acknowledge each part and ask it to give you some space to be fully present with your partner.
Stage 2: Active Witnessing
When you are an active witness, you may offer gentle suggestions at appropriate moments, during a pause, or when it seems as if your partner is at an impasse. It is up to the explorer to decide whether or not to take your suggestions. Remember that if your partner gets stuck or lost, it is his or her job to figure out how to proceed. This is part of the explorer’s process. He or she might be confused for a while and have to work it through. You can help in any way that seems right, but you aren’t obligated to “fix” the explorer, remove any pain, or get him or her out of a corner. The active witness checks to see if a suggestion at this time might be helpful, makes observations, or—with permission—expresses curiosity about something that is going on in the work. Don’t find solutions or give advice. Support the process and trust its unfolding.
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Stage 3: Facilitation
When both you and your partner feel ready, discuss the possibility of you more actively facilitating his or her exploration. Take this individually and move at your own pace. One of you might be ready for this before the other. Moving into this slowly gives you the leeway to become comfortable with the process before you take an active role. You will gradually learn to be helpful without having the burden of knowing what to say thrust on you too soon. Remember that your presence and full attention are very helpful to the explorer’s process, even if you don’t say a word.
Facilitation Possibilities
Here are some possibilities for facilitating your partner to explore him- or herself. It can be useful to follow along with the Help Sheets (see Appendix A) and keep track of which step the explorer is on. Taking notes on the parts that have come up and been related to can often be helpful.

Reflect back what the person (or a part) is feeling.

Mention when you think a Concerned Part is getting in the way and the explorer doesn’t realize it.

Mention when you think the person is blended with the Target Part and doesn’t realize it.

Suggest questions to ask a part. Some effective phrasing is, “You might ask the part . . .” This leaves the person room to not take your suggestion.

Suggest which step the person might do next. This can be in the form of a question to ask the part, as in the previous item. Or it could be done by mentioning the step explicitly, for example, “Maybe it is time for Reparenting now.”

Point out when you think a part is an Exile or Protector when that may influence what happens next. For example, “Shouldn’t you get to know that Protector better before working with the Exile?”

Point out when it looks as though the person has switched to a new part without realizing it.
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Keep track of the original Target Part when the explorer is working with some Concerned Parts so you can help your partner refocus when appropriate.

Keep track of Concerned Parts and Protectors that have stepped aside so they can be checked in with and thanked at the end of the session.
Remember that the person working is in charge of the session. You don’t have to do the above facilitations. Only say something when it feels to you as if it will be helpful.
Explorer: Remember that you are in charge of the session. Don’t feel that you have to take your partner’s suggestions.
When working with a partner, after the explorer has finished working, it can be helpful for the partner to offer feedback about the work. Don’t give feedback only on the content of what the explorer worked on. Focus especially on the IFS process.
People can feel quite vulnerable when they have been doing this kind of exploration, so it is important to give feedback that is sensitive and supportive. Before you and your partner begin working together, it is important to have a conversation about feedback preferences. Each of you has a right to ask for, or to limit, feedback. The type of feedback does not have to be the same for both of you.
Here are some possibilities:

You can talk about any personal responses you had to the explorer’s work as long as the responses aren’t negative or likely to be hurtful. It is best to do this by talking about parts of you that you noticed were activated.

You can say how moved you were by the work or any other positives responses.

You can mention ways that you have similar issues to what the explorer was working on. Be considerate when sharing your issues. You want to keep the focus on the explorer as long as he or she needs to process the experience. When it is time to shift the focus, you can have your fuller experience.

You can ask the explorer questions that might further his or her understanding of the work. You might note where his or her work piqued your curiosity.
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You can mention any steps of the IFS process that he or she skipped over.

You can mention any parts that you thought were blended with Self.

You can mention any parts that you thought were activated that the explorer didn’t seem to notice.
Make sure that your feedback is not given in a judgmental way.
If the explorer feels judged by any of the feedback, it is good to say so in order to prevent this from happening in the future. Give the explorer some time to explore whether he or she had parts come up that were reacting to your feedback.
This is not a time to give advice. Your role as listener is to be supportive of the explorer’s process and trust that working with parts in an honest way will lead to the clarity he or she needs to live more fully.
Ongoing Partner Relationships
Before you start each session, create an understanding between you about how much facilitation and what type the explorer wants. Do you want to be led through each step and have questions suggested? Do you want to primarily lead yourself and have your partner intervene only when help is needed? This can change from session to session, so check in each time. It is also important to revisit this during the session if it needs to be renegotiated or if something isn’t working.
If you work with someone regularly, pay attention to anything going on between you that may be getting in the way of your work. Bring it up with your partner and work it through by talking about the feelings that your parts have. The partner relationship can be a fruitful exploration. Make sure to bring any issue out into the open first and let your partner know that you’re interested in investigating your parts around it.
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