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CO-CONSTRUCTIONS – The origins and first forms of IFS (sub-personalities, complexes, etc)


This is the inaugural “CO-CONSTRUCTIONS” for PARTS & SELF – a new feature inviting anyone to pitch a piece of writing to the Editor to join in a rolling, growing body of writing we publish to a theme.

This is a post exploring the origins of IFS in the history and work of multiple sources within psychotherapy, across time and space, from Jung to Rowan, to Hillman and back again.

We are particularly interested to feature an entry on Assagioli’s or Redfearn’s “sub-personalities”; Jung and complexes/archetypes; Freud and ego, id, superego; Millir Mair and “community of selves”; William James on “various selves”; John Rowan on “subpersonalities”; Ken Wilbur; Gestalt approaches; voice dialogue; Federn, Berne or John Watkins on ego states; Lewin on sub regions of the personality; Perls on topdog and underdog/ retroflection; Klein/Fairburn/ Guntrip on internal objects; Balint, the child in the patient; Mary Watkins, imaginal objects; McAdams on imagoes; Hilgard on the hidden observer; Tart on identity states; Denzin on the emotionally divided self; Winnicott or Lake or Janov or Laing about the false or unreal self; Gurdjieff on the little I’s; Goffman on multiple selving; Stone and Winkleman on energy patterns; Mahrer on deeper potentials to the surface; Ornstein on small minds; Gazzaninga or Minsky on agents and agencies within the mind; Gergen or Martindale or O’Connor or Shapiro on subselves; Strauss or Rosan on subidentities; Markus on possible selves; Kihlstorm and Cantor on self-schemas; T.B. Rogers on prototypes; Beahrs on alter-personalities; Crabtree on multiple personality and possession, James Hillman on “little people,” and imagining, etc,  – and any others.

Thanks to page 8 of John Rowen, “Subpersonalities – the people inside us” (1990, Routledge) for much of this list.

You are invited to join other voices (no need to agree or disagree – just state your case) if you have knowledge to share about the theme of the CO-CONSTRUCTION. Anyone from anywhere can email Helen: with your suggestion/writing. We’ll take it from there. We cannot guarantee the accuracy of entries as we are not peer-reviewing formally but we will do our best to assure quality. We invite anyone who spots errors or infelicities to email Helen with your possible very useful update which we can list against your own name as a sub-contribution. Thank you.

Not all suggestions will be accepted but the intention is to give platform to any/all submissions involving honest and informed attempts to contribute knowledge. Views expressed by contributions are not endorsed by PARTS & SELF, but they are probably enjoyed by us.

Comments about any entries published can be made using the comments option (approved by the Editor before appearing).

Psychodrama and multiplicity

by David Williams

One of the pioneers of multiplicity was Jacob Moreno – As you can read, he was a peer of Freud, and his ground-breaking ideas and methods preceded Gestalt, Ken Wilbur and most of the other modalities of interest to the Co-Constructions project.

Moreno literally created a Therapeutic Stage in Beacon Hill, New York, for people to walk in off the street and enact what he called “roles” – both interpersonal and intra-personal, aka parts. Much like Dick Schwartz created IFS as a complete model, Moreno created a whole modality called, “Psychodrama.”

Moreno was a deeply spiritual man who saw the universe, independent of religions, as being imbued with a spontaneity and creativity that all beings were capable of accessing. A key figure in the New Zealand and Australian Psychodrama community, the Psychodrama Trainer Max Clayton (now deceased), wrote numerous books where he talked about the “life force” in a client’s system, something akin to the IFS concept of Self energy and its quality of Creativity. A key aim of Psychodrama is to develop peoples’ creative spontaneity by enabling participants to enact the different roles within and between group members.

Psychodrama is also an experiential modality. Moreno conceived of “roles” as each having their own thoughts, feeling, sensations and actions. In a psychodrama, participants enact certain roles and thereby experience all dimensions of a role wholistically. Moreno’s inclusion of the body was groundbreaking in the 1930’s, and echoes the development of IFS to include the somatic (which we understand is thanks largely to Dick Schwartz being open to Susan McDonnell’s somatic insights).

Moreno also thought systemically about the relationship between enacted roles. A sub-branch of Psychodrama, called “Sociodrama” focusses on “laying out the system” which basically involves having people enact the different outer and inner roles/parts, and experiencing how they interact. The Psychodramatic technique of placing a “protagonist”/client in the “mirror position” outside their system and enabling the client to observe their whole system interacting closely resembles the IFS process of “unblending.” Indeed, whenever a protagonist/client enacts a role/part and is then invited to pick a group member to enact that role, they are physically (and often emotionally) unblending from the role/part.

Moreover, Moreno invented an extensive array of externalisation techniques like empty chair and sculpting, which many therapists believe were created by Fritz Perl and others. For example, in Psychodrama they have a technique called, “Interviewing for Role,” which is almost exactly the same as direct access in IFS. The only difference is in Psychodrama, when you say to a client, say, “So you’re the Part that criticises Alex?,” in Psychodrama, you are saying these same words to an actual group member who is enacting the client’s Critic Part.

Indeed, one of the Psychodramatic techniques that (in my opinion) could be used more in IFS is called, ‘Maximisation.’ This is where you invite the client to “make that bigger” as you refer to one of the client’s non-verbal behaviours. Done with enough Self energy, maximising raises the client’s awareness of the sensations they would otherwise be unaware of. For example, say you notice the client picking at their own finger nails, a Psychodrama Director might say, “Make that bigger!” As the client is exaggerating their nail picking, the Psychodrama Director might then say, “And put words to that?” And out of the client’s mouth comes the sensations, feeling and thoughts that accompany this otherwise subtle behaviour associated with a Part. In other words, maximisation is another way of “fleshing out” a Part.

With all that Psychodrama has to offer, you might be wondering how come Psychodrama didn’t take off to be a more widely known and practiced form of therapy?

The unfortunate corollary to Moreno’s emphasis on spontaneity was that it lacked a framework for practitioners to more easily (at least in my experience) master the art of “directing” a client’s psychodrama. Without a coherent framework, trainee Psychodrama Directors are often left wondering where to go next, in what feels like a theoretical vacuum. By contrast, I found IFS provided an open framework that guided my facilitation of an IFS session – be it one-on-one, or with a group.

But probably, more importantly, the idea of systematically collecting data on the effectiveness of Psychodrama was anathema to the core principle of fostering spontaneity. So, for a modality that has been around since the 1930’s, Psychodrama to this day has a sparse evidence base.

In conclusion, Jacob Moreno and Psychodrama was one of the great pioneers of multiplicity. From the 1930’s he conceptualised people as comprised of multiple outer and inner roles, aka Parts. He saw those roles as interacting as a system. What is more, he created an impressive array of methods to externalise people’s multiple inner roles/Parts that other modalities have built on and enhanced since.

Origins of IFS in the bicameral mind

Joshua Pritikin

Richard Schwartz derived the Internal Family Systems (IFS) method through clinical experience. While many reports of positive outcomes attest to the method’s validity, IFS is seen by some as a somewhat separate and niche approach within the broader field of psychology. One way of placing IFS in a historical context is to look for theories of psychological evolution that hinge on the differentiation of Parts from a mono-mind. The Bicameral Mind Theory, advanced by Julian Jaynes, is one such theory. This controversial and unconventional theory is outlined in his book “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” (published in 1976).

One reason that this book is more controversial than deserved is because the word consciousness is defined in a unique and specific manner that sets it apart from many other theories of consciousness. For Jaynes, consciousness refers to the ability to introspect. Jaynes posited that early humans lacked introspective self-awareness and instead experienced auditory hallucinations, which they interpreted as the voices of “gods” or external authorities guiding their actions. He named this state bicameral to suggest that the most important (or only) mental division was into an Authority Part and a personal Part. In this bicameral state of mind, ancient people had experiences somewhat resembling those of modern individuals with schizophrenia. Instead of consciously assessing unfamiliar or surprising situations, ancients would hear a voice providing authoritative guidance or commands and would unquestioningly obey. These ancient people had negligible introspective access to their own thought processes.

Jaynes’ argument rests primarily on analyses of the vocabularies of ancient texts, including the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Bible, and other religious and mythological writings. The oldest texts display a profound poverty of psychological insight. Hence, the Bicameral Mind Theory can be regarded as an extreme version of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, also known as linguistic relativity or linguistic determinism. Linguistic determinism suggests that the language we speak influences and shapes our thoughts, perceptions, and worldview. For the Bicameral Mind Theory, introspection, including thought, is a learned ability rooted in language and culture rather than being innate. The development of metaphors and language played a crucial role in the breakdown of the bicameral mind, leading to the emergence of modern introspective self-awareness.

Since Jaynes’s death in 1997, there has been some modest progress in the development of his theory. For example, evidence has surfaced about lateralization of brain function. Neuropsychologist Oliver Sachs found that some patients with damage to the right hemisphere of the brain experienced auditory hallucinations. Separately, cognitive neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga learned from his experiments with split-brain patients that the two hemispheres of the brain can have different experiences and motivations. These findings suggest that Jaynes’s idea of a divided mind is not entirely implausible.

Taking a different tack, developmental psychologist Bill Rowe speculated that introspection emerges in the childhood of every modern human similar to how introspection evolved historically. In other words, child development may recapitulate human evolution. To what extent Jaynes’ ideas contribute insight to child development is still an open question. At least Rowe (2012) hoped to make the bicameral mind feel less distant and more familiar.

Even with future advances in neuroimaging and our understanding of child development, it is hard to imagine what evidence might help confirm or refute Jaynes’s theory. Any direct evidence that humans once had a bicameral mind is long gone. Moreover, some scholars have advanced competing theories to explain the peculiar nature of ancient texts and archaeological artefacts. From the point of view of the practical application of Internal Family Systems to heal trauma, Jaynes’s work will likely have little impact. However, it would be a kind of poetic justice if we could trace the origins of Internal Family Systems back to the dawn of history.

Rowe, B. (2012). Retrospective: Julian Jaynes and the origin of consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind. The American Journal of Psychology, 125(1), 95–112.

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Author´s Bio



    PARTS & SELF is an online, multimedia, open access magazine, published by the Foundation for Self Leadership, since October 2022.

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  • Joshua Pritikin

    Joshua has a PhD in quantitative psychology and is IFS Level 1 trained.

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  • David Williams

    Dave Williams is a retired Psychologist who lives in Sydney, Australia. He wrote "The Little Book of Self Leadership" ( Prior to becoming a L2 Certified IFS Therapist, Dave spent five years training in Psychodrama.

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