"Alters or Parts??"


There is alot of controversy about how to treat a client with DID/MPD. Where to start? What to focus on? How does the therapist deal with the alters? How should family members deal with the alters? What will progress look like? I would like to explain how my therapist dealt with me and helped me through on of the toughest things I have ever faced.

When I first entered therapy I was very ignorant about what therapy was or how it could help me. I only knew that if I didn't do something, I was going to die. The first words I said to my new therapist was, " I think all counselors are full of sh*t but I have no where else to go."

She smiled, "That is a good start. What seems to be the problem?"

My statement had no impact on her. It was as if I had only said good morning. This was to be the foundation of our relationship. A relationship that I needed. I needed someone who was not shocked, angered or empathetic towards the stories I would tell her. I didn't know this at the time, but looking back it was one of the best things that could happen to me.

Where to start?

She started with a case history. I didn't think much about it. I just told her the facts. I remembered all of my abuse. I always have. I came to the conclusion that since I remembered it that couldn't be my problem. She informed me otherwise. That is exactly the core of the problem. Just like a seed that lies in the soil it has bred more problems. It becomes a very tangled enmeshed of strands like the roots of a tree.

Oh great, I thought. Now I am a tree. As I look back at those first 6 months I wonder how she ever put up with me. I was suicidal, angry (although I would never show it) and I was resistent to therapy (even though I would show up every week for my appointments).

She explained to me the steps we would take for therapy. The very first thing would be journaling. I never attended high school so the thought of writing was horrendous to me. She went onto explain that this was not writing. There were a few rules to journaling.

1. Just write, put your pen to the paper and don't stop for 10 min. Whatever comes out. No complete sentences. Don't worry about puncuation or capitals.

2. Write your thoughts as they come. Even if it means jumping from subject to subject. If a picture comes to mind draw it, even if you are not an artist.

3. Try not to read what is written for atleast a day... and then try not to judge what was written. Just let it be.

Hmmm... I could do this. Yeah right! I went to the store and bought a notebook, pen and some stickers. I decorated my journal with the stickers hoping this would encourage me to write more. Some were scented stickers so that when I reached that page it would be a little reward.

That night I set my kitchen timer for 15 min and sat down to write. For the first 5 min all I could write was "I hate this. This is stupid... i dont know what to write why am i doing this. Over and over it filled 3 pages of my new book. What a way to start I thought.

As the week went by I found that writing became easier. I still had to set the kitchen timer. This went on for a little over a month. Each week I would take my journal to therapy with me and share little pieces of it with my therapist. She would not read it herself. She said it was not her journal and it was good for me to learn to share of myself.

Each time I shared something with her she would ask "What do you hear?" I don't know. "Ask God". This dialog continued for a few months. Then one session she asked me if I knew what multiple personality disorder(MPD) was? (that is what it was called back in the 1990's. Now it is referred to as Dissociative Identity Disorder((DID)). Oh yeah that is Sybil. She laughed not quite... but close.

She proceeded to expain that MPD was a natural reaction by a young child due to severe life threatening trauma in his/her life. Well, I had that... but I don't have MPD. She proceed to show me why she thought I did have it. She took my journal and started flipping thru the pages. Do you see all the different styles of handwriting? Oh that. I have done that all my life. I try to write pretty like my fourth grade teacher Mrs. B taught me but it never seems to work out. I will try harder to make it right. She smiled... it IS right. So thus began my journey of MPD.

My first reaction was to find out all I could about MPD. There was not much out there as far as Christian authors went. When my therapist found out about all the books I had been reading she said no more. She explained that I was focusing on the diagnosis and not the core problem of how I became this way. I didn't understand what she meant but I was learning to trust her so I cut back on the books.

What to focus on?

I was like a child let loose in a toy store. I was learning as much as I could about MPD. I was switching more or so it seemed. I think it was just because I was aware of what switching was. I remember sitting down with my journal one day and drawing out a map of all the voices. I wrote their names and things that they told me about themselves. When I showed it to my therapist she replied. Good, now what are you going to do with it? I was confused, this was a work of art from my soul! I answered that I didn't know what to do with it. Then she asked me one of the hardest questions I ever had to answer (to myself) Will you wear this as a badge of honor? Parading it around for all the world to see? Or will you press through it?

I was so angry! How dare she suggest that I would do this!! I am NOT one that looks for pity. I have NEVER used my childhood to gain sympathy. I just knew it. I knew all counselors were full of sh*t! But out loud I said "of course I will press through it."

She asked me if my husband C could come to our next appt. I thought he would but I will ask.

How does a therapist deal with alters?

I can only tell you how my therapist dealt with the alters. I only had one, well two but the first one didn't count. I only saw her three times before she referred me to her supervisor which is the therapist that I stayed with. My therapist expained it to me this way:

They are all parts of you. When you were traumatized at certain age the part that was created to cope with the trauma stays at that age. I will not address alters directly. I will also ask your husband not to address them. They are you. They are shattered parts of you. They allow you to feel things that you as a whole do not yet know how.

I was confused by this statement. So what will you do when I switch? What am I supposed to do? What is my husband supposed to do?

It depends on the circumstances. If you switch here in the office I will continue to talk to as you as I always have. We will talk through what is causing the triggering. But I will not address you by other names. This encourages splitting. It encourages 'game playing' not that you would play games intentionally. It is too easy for you AND me to get caught up in the game playing. When you switch it is a very real thing. We will deal with it head on without the attention getting dialog.

At first this seemed very harsh to me. I wasn't playing games. I wanted so much to be healthy. I have been coming faithfully every week for over 2 years. I immediately was defensivve towards this type of finger pointing. When I told her this she tried to explain again. It is nothing that you do intentionally. But it is an easy rut to get into and a harder one to get out of.

When I did switch in her office she would continue to talk to me in the same tone and manner as if nothing had happened. We would stay on the subject at hand. But her manner was as if nothing had happened. As I look back now I can see that was the best thing for me. It helped me keep focused on the journey of getting well. Even though no one had ever really paid any attention to me when I switched (I hid it well) I can now understand how if someone had paid attention to it; I would have gobbled up the attention.

How should family members deal with alters?

It was hard for my husband to act the way my therapist had described. It was even harder for him because at home the alters would act out. One always wanted to run away, to walk. This frightened him because she was only about 6 yrs. When he explained this to the therapist she said to let her walk. But she is only 6 and it is usually dark when she wants to go. My therapist smiled. Yes, but your wife is 27 yrs. She has survived 27 yrs, she will survive. The MPD was created as a self defense mechanism for safety. Do you not think that it still works that way? If she is in danger, she will switch to create a safe enviroment for her. I know it is hard on you but keep doing what you are doing.

Sometimes he would come home and I would be hiding in the closet shaking. I was so scared that my dad was going to find me (he had been dead for 2 yrs). My husband would call the therapist, what do I do. Just go in the closet with her, remind her that she is grown up now and that her father is gone he can not hurt her any more. Keep speaking those words to her. MPD creates a fog like atmosphere in the spirit... it might take a little bit to sink in. Once she is ok just go about your normal life, try not to focus on what happened. If she wants to talk about it that is fine but try not to react to what she says. Treat everything she says as 'normal'. He did. He became very good at working with me. Helping me through hard times. I have often thought that he needs to write down the things that he went through with me because this impacted his life as much as it did mine.

What will progress look like?

I used to ask my therapist alot of what life would be like after therapy. It will be the same she said. What? Life will always have ups and downs. There will always be problems to deal with. The difference is you will have the tools to deal with them now. She was right. I have been out of therapy now for over 5 years. The problems roll along and I learn that I can deal with them. I learned what boundaries are and how to enforce them. I learned that it is ok to feel emotions without switching. I learned that the alters or parts (which I prefer to call them) are like little children. They wanted someone to parent them to help them grow up. I learned to treat them as I would my real children. As I did this I found that they grew up and became a part of me. I didn't lose anything in this transition. I remember reading that people with MPD didn't want intergration because they felt it was like killing off someone. I found this to be the very opposite. It was a birth, a completion of me.

My Conclussion....

I still switch once in awhile but it is usually not because of triggering events rather just because. I know my therapist's approach to MPD is not the common approach. When I share with others how I got better it is usually met with the same reaction I had when she first started; anger, denial and pain. I have found that other therapist who take this same approach find their clients in therapy for a shorter amount of time. Their clients are able to heal and become whole quicker.

Do not be AFRAID to press into the pain of the memories.. knowing that peace lies on the other side.

1