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Book review: No Bad Parts by Dick Schwartz

No Bad Parts (Sounds True, 2021), is the latest book written by Richard Schwartz discussing the IFS (Internal Family Systems) model of therapy that he developed in the 1980s. Unlike some of his previous publications, this book is aimed towards the general public, instead of other therapy professionals.

The book is intended to be an introduction to the model and an encouragement to readers to start exploring their inner worlds. Before we can discuss No Bad Parts, we need to acknowledge the difference between a book and therapy. This is a guide and an introduction of sorts to a therapeutic model. It is not therapy as practice.

IFS is, in many respects, a very different kind of therapy. This model shares many aspects of previous modes of therapy (like gestalt, psychoanalysis, family therapy, etc) but we could say that IFS is using those aspects in ways that are new and unique. IFS also contradicts a lot of assumptions and beliefs held in modern therapy models and, in particular, western society. Those contradictions can feel strange and unknown to any western thinkers. No Bad Parts is an invitation into this new way of thinking. As readers, I think it is helpful for us to remember that the book is showing us the model and to be mindful of this when we are reacting to the model versus reacting to the book. My goal for this review is to consider how well the book describes the model.

No Bad Parts begins with some of the largest beliefs that set it apart from more widespread ways of thinking; the idea that we all have a multiple personality. In the first chapter, Schwartz attempts to show many examples of how we all have multiple “Parts” of us that interact with each other, and he contrasts that to his phrase “mono-mind” that we all grew up with as an incorrect view of the inner workings of our mind. In his description of discovering the model from his clients and hearing about their inner multiples, he gives a striking example of when he decided to listen inside himself and found the exact same multitude of voices within himself. It’s a strong statement of the belief that having multiple minds is not a sign of brokenness. It is just the normal state of being human.

The rest of Part One of the book serves as the foundation of what the IFS model is and how it works. He provides guided meditations and transcripts of sessions to help facilitate the reader’s own experience and exploration of the IFS model as it works for an individual. The guided meditations can be a little clunky. It’s clear they were intended to be followed by listening to someone speaking to you as you explore. Trying to do the meditation while reading it on a page can disrupt the experience, but the ideas are there, and you can probably find a way to make them work for you.

Schwartz offers a check-in during chapter three. He normalizes the experience of not being successful with the exercises presented so far. He acknowledges that it’s ok to not get very far with the practices. Schwartz is fully committed to his model and explains any complications at this point through its particular perspective. While it can be reassuring for him to say it’s normal to experience difficulties, his explanation that Parts aren’t ready yet may feel bewildering to anyone new to IFS. The expectation is to simply trust that the model is correct. It’s a difficulty of books in general that a do-it-yourself requirement can weaken the potential gain from practice, in my opinion. This is not easily overcome as a dilution unless you are joined, perhaps, by a person there with you to lessen the on-your-own aspect?

Part Two of No Bad Parts is focused on “Self” and Self-leadership and kicks off with a chapter on healing and transformation. This is Schwartz’s largest selling point for the model. He describes the 8 Cs of Self and asserts that these qualities are available to everyone. He further asserts that when a person’s Parts trust enough to let the qualities of Self come through, they immediately gain the ability to heal, change, and transform all their struggles and burdens. The book never really describes how the Self is capable of all of this, just asserts that this is what happens. If you’re open to the experience you may be surprised by what you find. However, if you struggle with the practices, Schwartz statements may seem impossible, or fantasy.

Part Two also explores how Self-leadership looks in the outside world and includes a lengthy transcript of two activists using IFS to improve their relationship with each other. It’s an exploration of how even our most noble ideals can have their own destructive edge and create unnecessary conflict when they are driven by Parts, instead of Self.

The call to embody more Self-energy parallels other spiritual traditions to transcend our singular experience and connect with a much broader and less fragile experience of life. Schwartz embraces a spiritual perspective and believes in the power such a perspective can have on healing and transforming both individuals and the world. This section of the book doesn’t offer as much guidance on what to do and expects the previous section to be the path towards this spiritual awakening. It’s more of a description of what the end of the process may look like. For anyone still in the early stages of working with their Parts, this section may seem far-fetched or unattainable. Or maybe, it can be a sign of hope of what’s to come, if they keep trying.

Part Three gets practical again and starts looking at specific ways Parts work can help our daily lives. This section reframes frustrating situations and people in our lives as opportunities to get to know Parts and expand our healing. It takes some previously used practices and expands them to focus more sharply on the things in us that cause shame. Even if we were successful at the earlier practice, this new focus can bring a whole new challenge that may surprise us.

The closing thoughts of the book are just as bold as the rest, with the statement that your inner world is real. The call in these final pages is to treat the Parts we find as if they were (or are) people who deserve relationship. Schwartz believes this approach can heal the world, if we can just do it enough.

No Bad Parts gives a good foundation for the basic concepts of the IFS model. It is a good description for the general public. It does offer opportunities to readers to try to engage in, or imagine, practice for better understanding, but as it presents a deep challenge towards typical western modes of thinking, the reader may need some creativity and openness. That challenge could be a hurdle for some people without guidance because its strangeness could evoke dissonance, requiring new and other clarifications and, indeed, even some kind of support. For those people, No Bad Parts may feel out of touch and impossible or ridiculous.

The book is also meant to be a guide. It does not offer proof that IFS is factual or works. There is very little reference to studies of efficacy or proof that the concepts are scientifically valid. That isn’t the point of the book, so you won’t find it there. But, whatever your reasons or attraction to reading this, if you’re interested in exploring IFS, it’s a good place to start. Hopefully you will find something worthwhile for yourself in its pages.

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