Milton Erickson makes the distinction between the “conscious mind” and the “unconscious mind”. This recognition of two separate “sub-personalities” within the brain is one specific example of a wider model, describing what are called in NLP “parts”. For our purposes, the word “part” refers to any state dependent neural network with enough functional autonomy to run its strategies without control by the rest of the brain. The “conscious mind” is, in this sense, as much a part as the unconscious.
As early as 1976 Richard Bandler and John Grinder presented a variety of different ways to work with conflicting parts, including Satir’s Parts Party and the Gestalt Empty Chair process. Their methods involved conceptually separating or “sorting” the “polarities” (another Gestalt term for opposing parts) and having the client assume a meta-position from which they can enable the parts to “reorganise themselves into a new, single representation which will include all of the Para messages of both, and will be itself greater than the sum of the two.” (Grinder and Bandler).
One early model of parts work used in NLP was called six-step reframing. Six step reframing involves communicating with the part and asking the person’s unconscious mind to think up some equally effective and more acceptable ways to meet the positive outcome of that part.
The notion of parts has its psycho therapeutic origins in the dynamic model of psychoanalysis. There, the core parts of the psyche spoken of are the id (which Freud says is based on “untamed passions”), the ego (the area based on “reason and circumspection”) and the superego (which upholds socially required, moral “norms of behavior”).
In these formulations we have been discussing, the assumption is made that the main “parts” to be found in a human being are largely similar from one person to another. With the theory of archetypes common to the collective unconscious of humanity, Carl Jung takes this a step further. He describes an archetype as “an inherited mode of psychic functioning… In other words it is a ‘pattern of behavior.” He describes in this way such elements as the anima (inner feminine principle in a male) and animus (inner masculine principle in a woman), the persona (our adaptation to social expectations) and the Self (a supra-personal summation of ones life and its meaning). Jung says “Conscious and unconscious do not make a whole when one of them is suppressed and injured by the other. Both are aspects of life… It is the old game of hammer and anvil; between them the patient iron is forged into an indestructible whole, an “individual”.
The work of Roberto Assagioli describes parts work in a very similar frame to that used by NLP. The aim, in both cases, is the integration of separate parts into one unitary whole (a process called by Assagioli Psycho synthesis). Assagioli describes his aim as “Co-ordination and subordination of the various psychological energies and functions, the creation of a firm organization of the personality.” In Psycho synthesis, as in NLP, this process is recognized as ultimately leading to transcendent states of pure awareness, joy, peace and love, and as extending beyond the “individual human being” as normally understood in the west.