Parts Work – NLP Six Step Reframing

 One of the ways that I work with people, more and more frequently, uses the idea that we have different “parts” of ourselves.  This is easy for people to grasp and is even in our common language “one part of me wants to do one thing, another part of me wants to do another”.

What’s great about this way of thinking of our mind is that its being backed up by neurological research, especially the ideas of Marvin Minsky, the artificial intelligence expert (The Society of Mind is a popular work that he wrote) and Michael Gazzaniga, one of the researchers who discovered the left brain/right brain distinction (The Social Brain is one of his many books).  Our brains function in different ways for different tasks and it appears that the idea of us having “parts” and even “sub personalities” is a good model for that functioning.

 When I first heard about this, it was when I was taking training in Neuro Linguistic Programming back in the late 1980’s.  One of the great things about NLP is its flexibility and use across many areas: business consulting, education, advertising as well as psychotherapy.  There is a process known as “Six Step Reframing” that uses the idea of parts and has been in the NLP model since almost its beginning.

The essence of the process is this: if you have a “part” which is doing something that the rest of you doesn’t like (jealousy, eating, smoking, anger, etc.) it can be envisioned as having a goal (often unknown to you) that the problem behavior is trying to solve.  The problem is, these parts are like a “one trick pony”, they only see one way to get to the goal.  The surprise to many people is that, no matter how bad the behavior is, the goal is always positive for the person (but it may take some questioning to find the ultimate purpose).  For instance, a “smoking part” may ultimately want the person to relax or, as in one case of mine it wanted to preserve the idea that “I’m a grown up adult, a man”.

Negotiation then takes place between this “problem part” and a presumed “creative part” which comes up with other ways to get to the goal, which the original part decides on, choosing three that are “just as good or better” than what it was doing previously.

There can be problems with the technique, most of which are easily dealt with.  Establishing communication with the part is the first step, sometimes difficult if the part doesn’t use communication as part of its process (an internal critic that is heard by the person often is easy to communicate with, while a physical behavior may take a little finesse to connect with).  The other main consideration is that the new behavior doesn’t cause any new problems, but the final part of the method is an “ecological check” that looks for possible conflicts.  Here is a diagram that may help explain:

Six step reframe

While all this appears fairly common sense, when Six Step Reframing was first taught, many thought it was simply a “symptom substitution” and it was criticized for that.  This was commonly held by those schools of therapy that think that the cause of something has to be known and the emotions behind it attenuated in order for something to change (a classic psychodynamic idea).  My own experience is that the change can be very long lasting.  I contacted one client from 20 years ago who has still maintained the change from the technique.  To be fair, she also discovered the reason behind the problem, but, what’s also possible is that the part doesn’t want to let the reason be known and all the steps can be done “in the back of the mind” without the person’s conscious awareness.

What about part that are in conflict?  NLP has a way of handling that, which will be discussed in the next blog post.


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