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What's in the Way Is the Way: How to Work With Inner Protectors So Clients Can Change

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By Guthrie Sayen

When you sense that a part of your client is blocking access to their natural creativity, aliveness, and wisdom, you can ask that part to step back. You can inquire, “Do you sense the part of you that is concerned?” If the client says, “Yes.” You can then say, “I am wondering if that part would be willing to step back for a moment.”

To make that simple move, however, you first need to understand something about the human psyche.

At the center of every human being is an immaculate, intact, and indestructible core. The Internal Family Systems model calls this core “Self,” with a capital S, and it identifies eight characteristics of Self, all of which begin with the letter C: calmness and clarity, curiosity and compassion, confidence and courage, and creativity and connectedness. The goal of all coaching is to have the client access just enough Self to shift.

The Self is the seat of awareness and the natural leader of our internal world. It has the capacity to support healing, harmony, balance, growth, and transformation. The Self, however, serves only at the pleasure of the various parts of the psyche.

We all have many parts—parts of us that strive to get things done, parts that criticize our performance or our appearance, parts that seek to please other people, parts that demand perfection, parts that want adventure and fun, parts that are concerned with our health and wealth, parts that insist on immediate results, parts that are skeptical of everything you have read so far.

That is a partial list of the many parts that live inside us. This multiplicity is natural and normal. Parts are resources; we couldn’t live without them. They are the players in the internal orchestra. They make the music of life.

The Self is the natural conductor of this internal orchestra, but the parts rarely allow Self to remain alone at the podium. Certain parts routinely leave their place in the orchestra and blend with the conductor, the seat of awareness. This happens so persistently that most of us think we are our most assertive parts: the controller, the striver, the learner, the pleaser, the critic, the good parent, the loser, the one who wants to shine.

These parts are protectors. Because of life circumstances, they have taken on extreme roles to keep us safe, to make sure we are respected, to help us get through life. But they also interfere with our well-being, though that is not their original intention.

The way to work with protective parts is to welcome them, get to know them from their perspective, and honor their intentions. Every part has a positive intention, even parts that are using strategies that hurt the client. If you can help your client befriend the part and appreciate its intention, the part will begin to relax.

You can facilitate a client in building a relationship with a part by helping the client find the part. Then ask, How does the part show itself to you? You then help the client access their curiosity and compassion as they get to know the part. If the part feels seen, understood, and appreciated for its noble intention, it may be willing to comply, when you ask it to step back.

This method has implications for you, the coach. You need to learn how to have your parts step back so that you can access enough Self to be calm, confident, compassionate, and creative with your clients. You must have access to Self to open your clients to Self, the source of healing, creativity, and transformation.

About the author:
Guthrie Sayen, PhD, is a senior member of the faculty at Coaching for Transformation and the co-founder and lead trainer for the coaching certification program at The Graduate Institute. He has worked with coaches at all stages of their careers, from beginners to masters. Guthrie is certified by the International Coach Federation, the Coaches Training Institute, and the True Purpose Institute, and trained in Internal Family Systems, Voice Dialogue, Pyschosynthesis, four archetypes coaching, and Lucid Living.

Coaching is life-changing, world-changing work. The coaching programs at Leadership that Works go beyond theories and models and work with clients on a deeper level. You learn how to coach the whole person: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Whole person Transformation.

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