Helen E. Lees, PhD
Helen E. Lees, PhD

The Foundation for Self Leadership’s Executive Director, Toufic M. Hakim, PhD, who serves as the publisher of the Foundation’s magazine PARTS & SELF, hosted an online conversation with Helen Lees, PhD, its new Editor, for a conversation about her academic and professional experiences, her new role with the Foundation, and her perspectives regarding IFS and the magazine.

Toufic: On behalf of the Foundation and IFS community, I welcome you, Helen, into the role of Editor of PARTS & SELF. I do so with great anticipation. You bring with you seasoned experienced as a writer, author, and academic journal editor.  Given all that, what made you consider this position with the Foundation?

Helen: IFS is exciting. After talking with you about the Foundation’s remit, it was interesting to me to explore how knowledge about IFS might be developed. During the selection process, I met the rest of the magazine’s editorial team at the Foundation and I thought it a great team to work with.

Toufic: When you came across IFS last year, as I recall, you jumped into its waters without a wetsuit.

Helen: I found IFS via Instagram which is how I spent some time during Covid lockdowns, and then beyond that, just exploring what people do and are into. There was this guy on Instagram posting and a comment on his post mentioned IFS. To this, the guy replied: “Yes IFS is good.” I thought, “what is IFS?,” so I looked it up. Possibly, the first thing I bumped into on that search was the title of Dick Schwartz’s new book, “No Bad Parts.” That rang true with me because alternative education—which was my main academic area of research as a student and then as an academic in a university post—considers there are no mistakes and no failure. There is only learning. Children are born inherently good and capable in their unique, natural ways then, sadly, that goodness often gets troubled by their parents’ own trauma-responses.

So, we could say that alternative education believes inherently in the idea of Self and the 8 C’s (observed qualities of Self) and of there being no bad Parts in a person, just responses. I’d also been doing my own thinking for the past 35 years, 24/7, about what it means to be a person. I think so much thinking is perhaps unusual. I had an active Part in this respect, trying to help me make sense of the senseless.

So, that period had prepared me well for IFS, as trying to seek solutions to confusions, dissonances—or what it calls polarisations, I think, or its emphasis on absences of harmony within. I was entirely prepped, entirely aware of what it represented. I thought “Finally! A method to go with the thinking I’ve been doing.” I also like the fact that IFS is seemingly and relatively rather quick, by the way. People have only so long to live and frankly, the world as a safe space with respect to nature, is in trouble. Natural speed (rather than forcing it to be quick) is a really big requirement for anything we might pay attention to now.

Toufic: It’s great to have you with us.

Helen: It is nice to be here. I would like to add that I don’t want to be a sold-out member of a closed community of people who believe in IFS. I may believe IFS is right in its method to access experience and I think it can help people, but I am not “a believer.”

Toufic:  The Foundation wants to be a bridge between the IFS community and keeping IFS open to society at large. We want to somehow straddle both and not be insular.

Helen: That’s a difficult job. It needs a great deal of care and thoughtfulness.

Toufic: Individually, we may struggle with that, given the size and depth of the task, but together we can give it a good effort. Through your work so far, you have been empowering educators to think differently and people to encounter education, of all kinds, on their own terms. As Editor of PARTS & SELF, how might you bring these notions of voice and rights that have so far been so important to you in your work? This with a view to expanding access to the magazine?

Helen:  A very interesting question. I think that the most important thing is for PARTS & SELF to be attractive. By that, I do not mean sweet and pretty. Possibly something resembling the opposite or contrary: fearless truth-telling. To ensure it is attractive because it is meaningful, relevant, important to engage with because in PARTS & SELF you learn, encounter, become stimulated and empowered to know more or differently, and to discuss—going beyond that initial reading of PARTS & SELFby travelling on your own terms. I’m not interested in telling people what to think; only to stimulate them to think. If they turn up to read the magazine I will assume consent for that much. PARTS & SELF can only go so far. What is limitless is the power of readers who take what they encounter in PARTS & SELF and, then, develop it for themselves and those around them. In this sense, it is a community magazine that looks out.

Toufic: I’d like to learn a bit more about how you might characterise your professional Parts, if I may use that term lightly here. You clearly have an academic Part and you come across as a clear thinker who is not bashful about questioning the status quo. You also seem able to see things through to outcomes.

Helen:  I have a writer Part, an editor Part, an academic Part, a philosopher Part and—included in all these, a spiritual Part, interested in questioning the meaning of self-care as its focus. IFS could bring real change and benefits to people if it gets to them in the right way. My working Parts hold on to that. I have strong social-justice and ethical Parts. Those Parts are not so flexible or compromising as other Parts! I care a lot about consent, a fundamental principle of interaction. Not everyone is going to agree to be alongside my interest and belief that IFS may be effective for people around the world. They will be following other interests and methods, right for them. I need to be aware that this isn’t a remit to force “good” things on people. We all need to be respectful of individuality and choice: this is an educational principle and ethic of no coercion versus the supposed benefits of “introductions” or “exposures.” Educationally this is a fine philosophical line.

I fall squarely on the side of always checking in with someone that they are ok with something. I see that in IFS practice, when Parts are given respect for their good intentions and asked, in a way redolent for me of allowing for democratic voice, if they would agree to step aside or if they have anything to say, that is then listened to carefully. I like that very much. I believe this is what works when it comes to moving towards well-being. A good magazine for me allows truth to circulate freely, like fresh air.

Toufic: By being in this community, many of us have migrated to a specific language to discuss the method and refer to ourselves or our interactions with notions and terms like Parts and Self, which might be considered at first blush idiosyncratic and inaccessible to business people, academics and the larger society.  Ultimately, that’s our audience. What are your thoughts about shifting the language overtime to make it even more accessible?

Helen: You don’t want to put people off. That’s the first thing.  I’m told by many, the real way IFS works is not, in fact, through language by through actual experience. I agree with this, although such experience is new to me. But there is another idea here that is vital to consider: language is attached to concepts. I think the language of IFS, whilst possibly strange at first, is quite simple to understand and pick up and why not try? It gives access to useful, possibly healing concepts. What is someone afraid of if they speak in a new way? That newness, tried, may be part of a journey of healing and growth.

Toufic: What you’re saying is not unlike when Sigmund Freud came up with the model of id, ego, superego. People said “What the hey? What’s that?,” but now it’s common vocabulary. The dictionary people introduce language every year they have collected or gathered from society that’s become common. Maybe one day, the term part, for example, doesn’t mean “part of a car” but Part of a person with reference not to a physical part, but inner Parts. My concern is to be conscious of the language and not have people turned away if we were to appear too-inward focused and insulated from the larger community. I want to learn something more about you personally. I know you grew up in Essex, UK, a south-east county – you tell me – of swearing rudely and London commuters. Then you moved to Birmingham, the second city of the UK to do your doctoral work, where you met your husband and adopted your son. Now you are living in Italy, in Tuscany, near Florence since 2019. How was it transitioning, and just before Covid? Adjusting and creating your own space? Please don’t forget to mention the olive trees you have around your house and the extra virgin oil you produce.

Helen: Apart from the undeniable everyday beauty of Tuscany, the olive oil harvest is one of the best bits about being here. The joy of this work of being a (very) small-time farmer is significant. We have 60 trees and honestly, when I found the house, I didn’t think at all about the trees. As a British based European, I had no concept for “olive tree” or oil production. I have one now! It’s a lot of work looking after them every year—we arrived to discover they were all in a terrible state of neglect—but it has been satisfying and interesting to restore them to productive health via appropriate pruning and organic fertilizers. They returned to producing fruit so quickly, I’m humbled by their generosity and natural resilience. We had 70 litres last year. This region is renowned for its excellent oil, so I went from having no clue, to producing superb oil in the space of 2 years. How lucky. Nature is spectacular and so friendly. It is also dangerous, wild, with a law of its own. A fascinating kind of law. Look! All I talk about regarding the transition to Italy from England is the trees. That’s how much they affect you.

Toufic: Coming from a place where olive oil is a commodity and something that is on every table all the time, I appreciate it’s a good thing. Getting back to PARTS & SELF, you know by now it has evolved from a news bulletin, which went on to share developments in the community as well as stories from individuals who have experienced transformations and the like. The next natural place to go is to broaden our reach and our readership. To go, with the community, beyond “just” IFS and see how it might interact or become more interactive with other practices such as mindfulness, or with political and social issues such as the climate crisis, as two examples.

We want to explore how to push the boundaries of IFS as a vehicle for achieving greater personal resiliency. What will it take, in your opinion, to move in that direction? How can PARTS & SELF play a role?

Helen: It will best be co-constructed. This is a platform for voices. It’s a democratic platform. What that means is that people need to believe in their voice and stand up and share what they might have to say. As Editor, I keep the door to this open. My job is to creatively curate. The art of creation-curation. Opening doors to possibilities.

Toufic: We’ve been interested since the beginning in engaging our readership in dialogue. That may only start in PARTS & SELF but continues beyond its publication. What are your thoughts on this?

Helen: PARTS & SELF as a springboard for things happening in the real world?

Toufic: A conversation starter. PARTS & SELF could become an open platform for dialogue rather than a mere magazine.  How might PARTS & SELF evolve in this sense?

Helen: My initial response is through the technological modality that we have moved into by re-creating the former PDF incarnation of the Foundation’s publication which was OUTLOOK, as PARTS & SELF – this as the first experience for the reader of the magazine: a website-based forum-magazine, rather than a PDF readable. That opens up lots of new possibilities for how to engage, using various media and formats.

Toufic: One last question: What is your message to our current readers?

Helen: PARTS & SELF is where IFS can have voice to evolve its relevance to the world.

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Toufic Hakim, PhD is Executive Director of the Foundation for Self Leadership

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2 Comments

  1. Helen and Toufic – Thank you for taking OUTLOOK to new heights! PARTS & SELF is a gorgeous interactive magazine where we can have dialogue with one another, sharing thoughts, feelings, and ideas about each story. It’s good to have you on board, Helen. Wishing you all success as you traverse these new terrains. Fabulous so far! ❤️

    1. Thanks Michelle! Great to be here. I stand on your shoulders.

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