What is parts therapy, and how does it work in hypnotherapy?

You might have heard the term ‘parts therapy’ being used within hypnotherapy and maybe even put it into Google to understand what it means for you as a client (or even as a hypnotherapist).


There can be a lot of conflicting information about it online, with much of it relevant more to psychotherapy than hypnotherapy. I’ll cover the history of parts therapy in another article, but for now, what is this type of therapy and how can it help?

In short, parts therapy is designed to help you work with different desires and needs within your mind. For example, whilst you may really want to quit smoking, that habit will be giving you benefits too. A 'part' of you is desperate to stop whilst another 'part' of you is desperate to continue.

Parts Therapy allows you to see each of these desires as individual characters you can interact with and negotiate between. It’s really a metaphor to help you work with these differing drives. Lots of hypnotherapy works by using suggestion, which tells the mind it’s going to do something different now (adding a new ‘suggestion’ directly into the subconscious). But suggestion therapy doesn’t work for everyone, and that’s because the subconscious will only accept what it believes is best.

Your subconscious isn’t trying to keep you happy; it’s trying to keep you alive. And it’s doing so the best way it knows how, but that might not be using logic or the most up-to-date information. When you were seven, you might have needed to do a specific thing, this might be completely redundant now. But the subconscious is often still working on the premise you still need that thing, and that’s why we use hypnotherapy to update its knowledge. By just offering a suggestion, the subconscious can simply choose to ignore it. And sometimes does. Or the subconscious will take that suggestion but then bounce back to its old way after a few days.

Think about the salesperson who sold you a new printer you didn’t need. A few days later you might decide you really didn’t need it and send it back. The subconscious was taken in by the sales tricks, but in the end, reverted to what is best for you. Your subconscious does the same with hypnotic suggestions. If it’s not on board, it will send them back. Parts therapy gives a platform for the subconscious to put its case forward- to explain why it's doing something and what it’s trying to achieve.

Whilst much of our behaviour is driven by safety, much of it is also driven by simply just trying to function and the brain staying efficient. We need to sleep. We need to eat. To focus. To rest. To form attachments with others. Your subconscious will make sure you do these things (so long as it sees them as safe – remember staying alive is its primary goal). The brain functions via careful management of its neurotransmitters, of which dopamine gets the most press. People with ADHD may struggle due to neurons not responding to dopamine, looking for unhelpful ways to increase the levels.

If you take away the negative behaviour the brain is left without a way to keep itself functioning. We need to understand what the subconscious is trying to achieve and give it a more acceptable way to do so. And for that, seeing these conflicting needs as 'parts' of individual personalities and the ability to debate with each other can help us to find those answers and get the subconscious to agree to make those important changes.

But sometimes parts therapy is rejected by the subconscious before we even start. Your subconscious simply might not have the belief system which allows it to see itself as having multiple parts with its own needs. And that’s why some hypnotherapists will only use parts therapy as sessions three or four within a series. It gives them time to explain to you (and your subconscious) what it is and why it works. It also gives your subconscious time to build trust in the hypnotherapist.

If you’re reading this and think parts therapy doesn’t sound right for you, there are other ways to communicate with the subconscious. Although it’s a system many of us use, we don’t have to. There are, however, some ways I adapt parts therapy to make it easier for the subconscious. As it’s simply a metaphor to communicate with conflicting needs and desires, we can build parts therapy into metaphors the subconscious sees as safer. In this instance, safer mostly means more recognisable and closer to its current belief system.

Understanding a client’s spirituality and background can help a hypnotherapist to find different ways to communicate with these 'parts'. For me, working with my client’s existing belief system means I can use those key parts therapy techniques to treat an issue in just one session, whilst keeping their trust and belief in the process.

And they don’t need to know anything about the theory behind what I’m doing if they don't want to as more information sometimes causes more confusion and less belief. For many clients, talking through their issue in a consultation (or writing it down for me) and then turning up for a single session is the best way for them to make those changes (and also cheaper than taking three or four sessions to encourage their subconscious to understand parts therapy)

If you would like to know more about how hypnotherapy can help you, feel free to book a free intro call or visit my website for more information.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Hypnotherapy Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Sandwich CT13 & Herne Bay CT6
Written by Katie Gerrard, Integrative Hypnotherapist, MSc, Dip Hyp, GHR, CNHC, GMBPsS
Sandwich CT13 & Herne Bay CT6

Katie Gerrard is an experienced, qualified, registered and insured Hypnotherapist specialising in trauma (including phobias), habits, and working with neurodivergent clients. She works with ancestral patterns, polyvagal theory, and parts therapy and is passionate about researching and honing her craft.

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