Structuring a Session

Originally published in  Coaching for Transformation

Prepare for the session

1) Take a moment to self-connect, remember your coach’s stand and set your intention to serve your client.

2) Connect with your client.

3) Get clear about your client’s intention for the session.

4) Explain the purpose of Embracing the Shadow—to create space for parts to be acknowledged.

5) Ensure that your client is ready to begin.

Begin the session

1) Identify a part that would like to be understood more fully.

2) Get permission from the protectors to talk to the part.

3) Ask the client to move to a new place in the room to embody that part.

4) Get to know the part by asking curious questions.

5) Ask the part what it would like to be called.

6) When that part has finished speaking, thank the part for its service.

7) Ask your client to move back to the original position of the Self.

Debrief the session

1) Check in with the Self to learn how it is reacting to what the part just shared.

2) Give the Self some reflection time to make meaning from the experience.

3) Ask the Self to summarize what the part said and describe the impact on the Self.

4) Share your impression or your sense of how the part serves.

5) Ask if there is anything else the Self needs for closure.

6) If a new or opposite part wants to be heard, ask the new part to choose another location and repeat the process.

Getting permission to work with parts

The first step in working with parts is to get permission. Embracing the shadow only succeeds if we respect all parts. If we ignore them, don’t believe them, or make their fears seem inconsequential, we ostracize them and reduce the chances of bringing parts into alignment. If we judge them, banish them, or argue with them, the whole system loses trust.

It’s only natural for parts of the psyche to have reservations about change. If we insist on change, without getting all parts on board, the change won’t be sustainable. The resistor comes back with a vengeance. Furthermore, resistors always have our best interest in mind. If a part doesn’t want us to revisit a childhood trauma, it has a good reason. If it doesn’t want us on the stage, it has a good reason for that too. Every part is invested in our well-being. Maybe it’s blocking our progress because we truly aren’t ready for the change or our life is in danger. Maybe we will get fired or get hurt or lose our friends if we change. Whatever the reason, if a part is unwilling to give us permission to do shadow work, we need to honor their fears and discover their underlying positive intent.

With that in mind, we ask all parts for permission to do the work. If we don’t get permission, we don’t move forward. The easiest way to gain permission is simply to ask for it and then listen. If a part comes forth with some reservations, and we listen to their fears with reverence, permission is often granted. If that’s not enough, we can get curious about the part and learn about their worst fears. Only then do we negotiate; not by arguing or convincing, but by listening respectfully to objections and asking for the part’s conditions or requests. We can ask:

What topics are off-limits?

What would make it possible to have a discussion?

What conditions would you like to set?

If you sense any danger, will you let me know?

If you start to feel unsafe, will you stop the process?

Whatever agreements we make, we keep our end of the bargain. If the part wants to stop the process, we don’t say, “Can I ask you just one more question?” We stop immediately, thank the part for taking a stand, for insisting on safety, and for its honorable service. That way we can build trust over time and can keep the door open for future conversations.

Getting Permission Example

When Lara came to coaching, she’d already done a lot of work on herself. She was widely known as a leader in her field. As an Asian woman, she was angry that women and Asians weren’t promoted in her organization. Part of her wanted to speak out and change policies and another part didn’t want to rock the boat. Lara had already been doing some parts work so she wanted to explore these two parts more deeply.

Coach: I would like to talk to the part that wants to speak out and change policies. Will you check-in to see if any parts object or want to set some conditions?

Lara: [silence] My protector is saying that it’s okay to talk to the part that wants to change as long as you also talk to the part that doesn’t want to rock the boat.

Coach: Okay. Agreed. Can I talk to your protector for a moment?

Lara: Sure.

Coach: Okay, so step out of yourself and become the protector. Go to a place in the room where you feel most comfortable.

Lara: [moves to the window] Okay, he is ready to talk to you.

Coach: Good. So protector, can you say that again, “I am ready to talk to you.” (requesting Lara to be the protector, speak in the first person, instead of talking about the protector).

Lara (Protector): I am ready to talk to you. It’s okay to talk to this part that wants change, but you must also listen to the part that doesn’t want to rock the boat.

Coach: Sounds important.

Lara (Protector): Very important. She could lose her job.

Coach: So your role is crucial. You keep Lara from losing her job.

Lara (Protector): Yes. I’m fiercely protective of her. Coach: Thank you for protecting her. For keeping her safe.

Lara (Protector): I’m astounded that you’re thanking me because Lara doesn’t like me very much. She wishes I’d just go away.

Coach: What touches me is that you’re still willing to serve Lara, even though you think she doesn’t like you. Such dedication.

Lara (Protector): Thank you. I work hard.

Coach: Is there anything else you want Lara to know?

Lara (Protector): It wouldn’t hurt for her to appreciate me once in a while.

Coach: And what would you most like to be appreciated for?

Lara (Protector): For making sure she’s respected. Keeping her employed. Making sure people like her. Also, I want to make sure she knows how much I care about her. Without me, she’d be miserable.

Coach: I will tell her you care about her and how hard you’ve worked to make sure she’s respected.

Lara (Protector): Thanks.

Coach: So you’ve set the condition that we also talk to the Don’t-Rock-the-Boat part. Are there any other requests that will keep Lara safe?

Lara (Protector): That’s enough.

Coach: If anything comes up that might seem dangerous, will you stop the process?

Lara (Protector): Don’t worry. I’ll do that. I’m always here.

Coach: If you say the word “stop,” we will stop. Thanks for keeping Lara out of danger.

Lara (Protector): You’re welcome. I take my job seriously.

Coach: We’ll keep our agreement and talk to both parts.

Self Integration Example

Coach: Can you leave the protector role, shake that off and come back to your seat and be yourself now.

Lara: Okay, I’m back. That was interesting to hear from my protector.

Coach: Yes, your protector wants you to know how much he cares about you and how hard he works to make sure you are respected.

Lara: I didn’t know that. I’ve always found the protector a bit of a nuisance, but now I have a new appreciation for his dedication.

Coach: Would you like to take a moment to appreciate all the ways your protector has served you?

Lara: Yes, in addition to appreciating the protector for all his years of keeping me safe and respected, I want to thank my protector for loving me. I used to think my protector was mean, but now I’m really clear how much he cares about me.

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