Self-led Grieving with Derek Scott
Derek Scott is a registered social worker and certified IFS (Internal Family Systems) therapist with an international online practice based near Toronto, Canada. He is the founder of IFSCA– an organization dedicated to bringing awareness of the IFS model to counsellors and therapists in Canada and beyond.Through IFSCA he offers courses teaching the IFS model online and in person at his retreat centre, Namaskar.Derek has worked in the field of counselling/therapy for over 35 years, including 15 working exclusively as an IFS therapist and for 18 years as an AIDS counsellor specializing in multiple losses. He is a popular guest lecturer in the department of Thanatology at the University of Western Ontario and has presented at numerous national and international conferences.Derek also has a YouTube channel dedicated to IFS, featuring over 40 free videos;It has 5,000 subscribers and has had 400,000 views.Derek can be reached atwww.IFSCA.ca
This is IFS Talks, an audio series to deepen connection with the internal family systems model through conversations with lead trainers, authors, practitioners and users. Today on IFS talks, we have the pleasure of interviewing Derek Scott. Derek Scott is a registered Social Worker and certified IFS therapist with an international online practice based near Toronto, Canada. He is the founder of IFSCA, an organization dedicated to bringing awareness of the IFS model to counselors and therapists in Canada and beyond.
Through IFSCA he offers courses teaching the IFS model online and in person at his retreat center, Namaskar. He has the highest level of IFS training, Level 3, three times. Derek has worked in the field of counseling and therapy for over 35 years, including working exclusively as an IFS therapist and for 18 years as an AIDS counselor specializing in multiple lawsuits. He is a popular lecturer in the Department of Thanatology at the University of Western Ontario and has presented at numerous national and international conferences.
Derek also has a YouTube channel dedicated to IFS featuring over 40 free videos. It has five thousand subscribers and has four hundred thousand views. Derek, thank you so much for being here today.
Derek Scott: My pleasure.
Aníbal Henriques: Thank you, Derek. It's wonderful to sit with you again. We sat some time ago, maybe two years ago or so. And I enjoyed so much, and I learned so much from you. At that time I was just beginning with IFS. Derek your published work includes Self-led grieving transitions, loss and death in the Innovations and Elaborations from Martha Sweezy, Ellen Ziskind, Routledge Edition 2017. Healing Through Internal Compassion in Techniques of Grief Therapy with my good friend Robert Neimeyer, another Routledge Edition in 2015. And also, Grief and Internal Family System in Principles and Practice of Grief Counseling, a Springer edition in 2012 and yet Multiplicity and Internal Family Systems Therapy in Psychologica, 2011 and also Coming Out: interpersonal Loss and Acquisition of a Stigmatized Identity in Counting our Losses, another Routledge edition in 2010.
So, you have been doing so much for IFS also, and especially for this expertise of you, the grieving and the thanatology topic. How is it for you, Derek, to hear this bio? What parts come up?
Derek: The parts "I have been busy", you're quite right.
Aníbal: Really, really busy.
Derek: And also, there's a…I remember years ago, talking to Dick Schwartz about his business and he said he had a crusader part. And I identify with that. I have a crusader part in terms of this model and bringing it forward and promoting it.
Aníbal: They want to give everything you have to those crusade parts. What do they want? They have a mission.
Derek: They have a mission. They want to promote the model as far and wide as possible. So, I need to keep them in balance with my other parts that like to take care of my dogs. And like to spend time with my daughter. And like to do other things that aren't just about IFS.
Aníbal: Wonderful, well done.
Tisha: Derek, will you share with us your journey to becoming a therapist, a counselor? What led you into the field?
Derek: It goes back a long way when I was a teenager. I very much struggled with coming out as a gay boy, a gay teenager. And at the time it was nineteen seventies. I was in a small town in England and I was too full of shame really to talk to anybody about it. So, I remember looking it up in a dictionary, a medical dictionary, and it said homosexuality deviant associated with child molesters. So, there was a part of me that took on this immense fear that I was going to become a child molester when I grew up to.
Aníbal: Wow, it's a huge stigma.
Derek: It's a huge stigma and the shame was unbearable. So, I kind of just navigated the world in my teenage years pretending to be heterosexual and then decided I would take psychology. If I studied psychology, maybe I could find out why I was so messed up, what was wrong with me. So, I decided to study psychology for that reason and then went on to university to study psychology and eventually discovered there was actually nothing wrong with me. And that led to a lifelong critique of the orthodoxy of psychiatry and the orthodoxy of psychology. These authorities that determined that a child that I was, was deviant and didn't have a right to his own existence. So, I'm very grateful for the experience now in terms of the critique it affords me of mental health paradigms. But at the time, it was extraordinarily difficult to live through those years.
Tisha: That explains some of the crusader parts too.
Derek: There you go.
Tisha: Really, really wishing that you had had what you're bringing to the world of psychiatry. Acceptance.
Derek: Yes. And I wouldn't want any other teenager or child to have to go through that journey. Yes. So, then I graduated university. I emigrated to Canada and decided...I wasn't sure what to do. I was interested in a PhD in philosophy, I have thinking parts, I love to think. But then AIDS hit my community. This was the mid-eighties and I realized I needed to take some action. So, I started volunteering at the local AIDS committee and then looked around for how to study more counselling and signed up for the Gestalt Institute of Toronto's training programs. So, I became a gestalt therapist during the years when I was volunteering and then working in the AIDS community. They were very difficult years. We lived in what we call the death around. Twenty five percent of the community was infected. At the time, it looked like we had two years of life after diagnosis.
Aníbal: It was a devastating time, yes.
Derek: Challenging times, yes. So, I was very glad to have the skills, develop the skills I did as a Gestalt therapist and applied those and worked as a Gestalt therapist for a few years, many years before discovering IFS.
Aníbal: And what a beautiful match. Lucky you. Isn't it? Is a beautiful match gestalt and IFS, I would say.
Derek: I think if Fritz Perls had only discovered Self, I think he would have been on it. He had the rest of it, he just didn't have that piece, which is so crucial.
Tisha: How did you come to know IFS?
Derek: I had a client come to see me who specifically wanted to see a Gestalt therapist, and he held up this book and he said "Have you read this?" And it was Dick's Internal Family Systems book. I said "No." And I read it, as I usually read anything that looks like orthodoxy with my skeptical parts. And I thought this guy could be onto something. So, the next client that I saw, I said "Look, let me try something with you." And so, I had, I think by the end of the session, 26 parts in different floors of a hotel, in different rooms. I had no idea what to do with them. The client had no idea what to do with them. We got totally confused. I thought there's more to this than it looks, it's a bit more complicated than it looks. So, that year there was a retreat in Mexico. It was expensive...
Aníbal: That was in two thousand...
Derek: It was 15 years ago, I think.
Aníbal: 15 ago. So, 2004 or so.
Tisha: Was that with Barb and Dick?
Derek: Yes, with Barb and Dick, yes. So, my parts were like "Oh, my God, there's too much money," and other parts were like "Well, it is a week in Mexico in February." So those parts won. So I was sitting on the plane and then I heard this voice in my head, which I realized later was a part, saying "We're about to spend the week doing group therapy with a bunch of therapists we don't even know and we don't like therapists." And then this other voice said "You're telling me this now? We're on the plane. It's a little late." But went down, discovered the model, spend a few days with my skeptical part in high gear, and then I was the subject of a demo with Dick Schwartz. Such a shift in my system. So, it was from there that I came home and thought "This is important, this is really important and it's going to be important to let people know about this and what's possible with the model." So that was my conversion experience.
Aníbal: And how was it for you, Derek, in your clinical work to combine IFS with the other modalities, the gestalt or others, that you were already practicing for so long?
Derek: Well, it was challenging because what happened...This is an ethical challenge that I think many people experience when they begin to learn about the model, including people on the IFS Circle Programs and the various other programs. I had an ethical dilemma. I was sitting opposite my clients. I realized that they were speaking to me from blended parts and I was not trained in the model. So, what do I do with that? I couldn't pretend that they were unblended parts, but I didn't feel competent to work with the model. So, I asked my clients if they would be willing to explore this new learning that I'd picked up. And they were. I'm very grateful for that. And of course, my managers were taking the lead. My managers are very smart, and they thought that they'd figured out how to do this. So, there was one client I remember in particular by profession. She was a hairdresser, very bubbly, very lively, very chatty. I was working with the parts "Ask that part to soften back, ask that part to soften back, get that one to soften back..." And she started to cry, and she said "I feel like you're bullying me. And I said "I'm so sorry. That's not what this is meant to be about at all. Let's go back to the way we were working." And then the second week with her, I asked if she'd be willing to try it again. She said yes. And the scenario repeated itself and she started to cry again. And in that very moment, this voice in my head said "Stop what you're doing. You need to get trained in this. You're doing harm. This is not ok." As I heard that voice inside, she said to me in that moment, she wiped the tears away and she said "It's ok, Derek, it takes me a while to learn a new cut."
Derek: She was a hairdresser, right? And that felt like grace. It just felt like permission. And my managers softened and then I continued to work with the IFS model as best I could, continue to go to the retreats and finally found my way to New York City getting the overnight bus from Toronto, which was no fun, but I got my Level 1, got my Level 2, and then took the Level 3, three times.
Aníbal: And Dick uses to say that there is so much unlearning for more experienced therapists when they get into IFS. Did you feel the same way?
Derek: Well, not so much. Because I had the Gestalt practice already, I was familiar with working with parts and also familiar with working with creativity. But the parts of me that I had to get back - and this is what I noticed in the courses that I teach - the therapist parts that like to be the expert that like to give advice, that like to agree, that like to meet the client's expectations, to feel that they've done a good job. All of those parts I needed to increasingly get to know and get to soften back, so I could hold more Self-energy and hold the curiosity. And realized I have no idea what the client needs. None, but I can track their system and they know, they know exactly what they need. But it was a shift to come to that realization. And for the therapists that are trained, particularly in North America in CBT, it's very challenging because...
Aníbal: We have to know, right?
Derek: Yes, we have to know. And CBT is just disrespectful of the parts. It attempts to override them with its reframing, which is not helpful ultimately.
Aníbal: So finally, we could not know. And that is also relieving.
Aníbal: A good experience.
Derek: Yes. Clients say to me, some of the new clients will tell me their story and then say "What should I do?" And I usually say "I have no idea." And then they look puzzled and I'll say "But I suspect you do. So, where did you give up your self-expertise? Let's explore that. When did you give up the trust in yourself that you can make your own decisions? The person sitting opposite me as a human being on the planet, just like myself with Self, just like myself, with parts just like myself. And why would they not be able to navigate the waters of their life in the same way I do?
Aníbal: It's refreshing.
Tisha: When you finished your trainings, or throughout your process of becoming the IFS therapist that you are, when did you shift into specializing in grief and loss?
Derek: Well, I'd already had a specialty in grief and loss. In my time in AIDS work, I ran into grief very young. I was 26 when I started helping people die and then working with their care teams. So, it became an interest of mine. And then I specialized for four years. I was part of an organization funded by the Canadian government, the Ministry of Health. And we would fly to the AIDS service organizations in Canada, helping their staff, helping the volunteers, helping the boards process ongoing multiple loss, because in those environments, people were going to work. The executive director had AIDS. Most of the clients were HIV positive. Half the staff had AIDS. And then to get a break would maybe go to a gay bar at night to see a drag show, discover the drag queen had died that week and it was a fundraiser. It was extraordinarily challenging work. And I hit my 30s and burnt out. I stopped feeling and then I thought that was just a natural, you know maybe that's what happens as you age when you hit 30, you just stop feeling things. Until one day at work I got the information that one of the community leaders had died and I started to sob, and sob and sob and I could not stop. And I was sent home and for four days I was just crying and replenishing the electrolytes and crying. Didn't know what it was. Got quite worried. Contacted my former boss of the AIDS committee and met for lunch and she said "Oh, you've been in psychic numbing and now you're flooding." So, I thought "Oh there's language around this? Good." So, I had spent several years numbed out and then opened up to this flooding and very quickly then moved into focusing on grief. And I discovered IFS, I wanted to see how bereavement theory could complement IFS and vice versa, because bereavement theorists are not yet versed in multiplicity. And I discovered a whole bunch of different bereavement theories that perfectly match onto a name aspect of the grieving process, the attachment and loss process, which from an IFS perspective then we can just bring Self-energy to. So, it was a really lovely mapping.
Aníbal: Yes, makes sense. It was some clarity coming to the way we look to this complex process of loss.
Derek: Mm hmm.
Aníbal: I'm going to quote you. You say in your beautiful chapter, Self-led grieving transitions, loss and death. You say something beautiful "I also point out that loss is inherent to the many transitions of childhood. When parents separate, for example, a child may lose the future she expected, along with her current life. When a family pet dies, a child may have lost a virtual sibling or a magical being who held many confidence. When a family moves to a new house, a child may lose the fabric and structure of the world. When we listen with open hearted curiosity, we hear about the client's attachment and the significance of her losses, which may not be what we would have assumed." So, we are saying that changes and transitions have always to do with losses and we are always counting our losses. And this is our life in our offices is about, always somehow losses.
Derek: Yes. So, for me, there's two aspects here. One is that unlike other therapeutic issues, trauma, child abuse, addiction that our clients may come to us for, we may not have had those experiences as therapists, but as human beings, we've all had the experience of attachment and loss. That's what we do. We attach and we lose, we attach, and we lose. And there's a natural process then of responding to the inevitability of those losses and that process we call grief.
But because we oftentimes in childhood, those losses are not acknowledged, or they're dealt within a way which is not helpful or not supportive. "Don't be silly. Don't worry about it. It was just a dog. Well, it's great that we're moving to the new house." When children are not supported in their losses, then inevitably their managers need to come up and either minimize or trivialize or reframe or whatever the managers do around the grief. And then in adulthood, when we experience losses, Dick Schwartz talks about the need to reassure managers that grief is nature's way of healing and we're all hardwired to grieve productively, which is exactly the message that it's important for people to hear. So, one of the ways that we can access what gets in the way of our natural grieving process, we can get to know our managers what were we taught in childhood? What did the adults around us said to us? How were we supported? It's quite remarkable if you say to someone, what losses did you experience in childhood, they usually think you're talking about death and they'll usually say none.
Derek: And in fact, all of those losses that you named, you know, the moving to a new school or moving to a new house or whatever they are...
Aníbal: Pet dies...
Derek: Yes, they all bring up a grief response. And some of those messages can be very distressing. I've worked with a woman who had a pet chicken. She lived on a farm and the chicken died. And so, she buried it. And her mother told her that if the chicken had led a good life, it would go to heaven, it would go up to heaven. And so, as a little girl, she would periodically go and unearth the chicken to see if it had gone to heaven and hadn't. It had stayed in the ground. And so, she determined that that was a bad chicken. And then she determined that there was maybe no God. So, she went into a spiritual crisis based on this message that she had had about death and loss. Need to be very careful what we share with our children about this process, because children will make meaning and they will believe what we tell them.
Tisha: This is IFS Talks, an audio series to deepen connection with the internal family systems model through conversations with lead trainers, authors, practitioners and users.
Aníbal: And so, Derek, what is exactly about grieving? What is behind this emotional state or process, exactly, when we are talking and we are processing, grieving, what is happening really inside us?
Derek: So, it seems to me what's happened is there's been an enormous emotional response, depending on the depth of the loss. But there are parts that hold huge distress around losses, and they need to be witnessed and sometimes they need to be expressed. So, when a recent loss and raw grief, if it's a significant attachment parent, child animal companion, there will be these surges of emotions coming through. And that's what the managers will often fear. We're going to be a basket case on the floor, the sadness is bottomless, we cannot go there, will go into despair, we'll go into depression and never find our way out. Anyone with a background that includes clinical depression will have parts very fearful of going into the reactive depression that is characteristic of loss. So, the common protectors tend to be numbing, disbelief, minimizing, and those are very, very helpful initially when the raw loss is occurring because they prevent us from getting overwhelmed. And then when we bring Self to them, we can say, would it be ok to get to know that part, holding all of that grief? And we negotiate with the managers to get the permission. We ask the part not to flood, not to overwhelm, so we can hear it, so we can attend to it. And often there's multiple parts. In a parental loss, for example, there'll be a number of parts that had different experiences of that loss. If it's an abusive parent, some may be relieved. Some may be grieving the parent that they never had. One of the aspects of working with grief is it brings in a full humanity and I'm very grateful to the IFS model for finding ways to acknowledge and articulate our full humanity.
Oftentimes, people will report feeling a connection to the person that's passed or being visited by them. In some of the bereavement literature that's called the presence of absence. And in IFS, of course, we just stay curious and acknowledge and validate whatever's going on in the client system. So, there's space for that, whereas other modalities might call that wishful thinking, or may I call that hallucinating. So, this model, particularly with grief, facilitates the fullness of the experience. I'd like to share with you, if I may, an example of that. When I was working with a client who was bereaved and a guide came in to help with the work, would that be ok?
Aníbal: Yes, please.
Tisha: Yes, it's Welcome.
Derek: So, this was a this is a woman in her 50s and her mother had what would fit the diagnostic criteria for a full-on narcissistic personality disorder. So, this woman's experience of being a child was that she was wheeled out as a trophy whenever there were people around to witness and praised. And then where there were no other people around, she would basically put back in the closet and neglected. This was a child who would wait for four hours outside of school to be picked up and her mother would show up singing because she'd been shopping and bought all these fabulous things and forgot that her child was there for four hours. So, a history of neglect and finding ways to cope with that. And her mother had terminal cancer. And so, I was working with her online and she came online and she said "My mother passed on the weekend." And I said "Oh, how are your parents with that?" And she said "Well, I thought I'd be dancing, but I'm not. I woke up this morning and I heard this little voice say, Where's my mommy?" And I said "Oh, would it be ok to go to that little voice?" She said "I guess." So, she focused in on that part and she told me, she's asking if I'm her mommy. I said "No, let her know you're not, let her know who you are and then see what she wants." And then she..."Well, the little girl wants me to take her to her mommy..." And then she... "hang on a second. I'm hearing another voice saying it will take her to her mommy" and I said "Ok, bring your attention to that voice. What does that part tell you?" She..."It doesn't feel like a part." Because I'm familiar with guides which are usually taught at the higher levels of the training, I could ask if it's a guide. She did and it was. "So, would it be ok to let the guide take the little girl to your mommy" She said "Sure." And then this guide...This is a little difficult to speak about because it was so moving. The guide picks up the little girl and starts carrying her through the forest. Now, all the time this journey through the forest is going on, the client has protectors that keep coming forward saying, excuse my language "This is bullshit. You're making all this up. Oh, my God, this is Mills and Boon. This is wish fulfillment." So, I kept asking the protector to soften back and they would. As they're going through the forest, the little girl says to the guide "Why was my mommy so mean when she was here?" And the guide says "Well, you know, sometimes when we're on Earth, we wear clothes that are too tight and it's very hard to relax and come through when your clothes are too tight, but your mommy's clothes are not too tight anymore. She left those behind." Which I thought was a beautiful, age appropriate way to talk about it.
Tisha: Oh, absolutely.
Aníbal: It is.
Derek: Being in a blended part, right? Or in a diagnosis of some kind. So, then the little girl wanted to pick some flowers, so she did for her mom. And then she said to the guide "Well, will this be a different mummy to the mummy that was here?" And the guide said "Oh, this mummy is so looking forward to meeting you." And then they got to a cottage with the door and there was a light on in the cottage and the guide was about to knock on the door. And then the client opened her eyes and she stared at me and said "It's the session nearly over?" I said "We're fine. Close your eyes, drop back in, we're good." She knocked on the door, the door opened. Her mother was there in a white, easy flowing gown, said to the little girl "I have so missed you. I love you so much."
Derek: The little girl said "I love you too." And they embraced for the first time. And shortly thereafter the client ceased therapy and whatever attachment wounds that were being carried seem to have been healed through the presence of a guide taking charge of the work. So, in my experience and when I just hold back, and hold my curiosity about the inner world, these kinds of healing become possible. Whenever a guide shows up, I just back off with gratitude and awe that this is both happening and available. So that's what I mean by the encompassing the fullness of our human experience and how this model is facilitative.
Aníbal: Yes. Thank you so much for sharing.
Tisha: And how you are facilitative. And you sharing that story we saw your heart and your significant guidance of the process. So, I'm sitting with a lot of appreciation.
Derek: It's an absolute privilege to facilitate this kind of work.
Aníbal: And your work is illustrating how much IFS particularly is appropriate to bereavement. How was it for you, Derek, to incorporate all your previous knowledge and wisdom on the bereavement field into IFS? Meaning, does IFS can inform and is informed by the field in grief integration?
Derek: It's been surprising Aníbal, in a number of ways, how the integration of IFS with attachment and loss is working. So, recently I've been very excited to consider aging. I'm...we're all aging. So, I'm heading into my 60s and I'm noticing I'm very curious about the aging process in terms of loss, because if you ask most people what they think of when they think about aging, they will start articulating losses. I may lose my sight, I may lose my hearing, I may lose my mobility. All of which is absolutely true. I grew up in a residential home for the elderly in England. My parents were residential social workers. So, I saw the very old. I grew up from the age of 12 to 18 with people in the 80s and 90s. I used to play Scrabble with them. I used to play organ concerts for them. I used to sit with them. And what I found the very old was sometimes they would get mired in what I now know are stuck grieving parts. And so, they would spend their time complaining "Oh, it's not like the old days. Oh, I remember back when I was a girl that was very different. Oh, I miss those days." And then they'd sit and commiserate with each other about how terrible that is these days and just complain. Just unhappy parts, right? That I now know, of course, needed to be witnessed, but witnessed by Self. So instead they get witnessed by each other. And there's an expression in England, I don't know if it's in North America or Portugal, but it's: misery loves company. And so, I'd see this miserable old people being miserable with each other. I thought "That's not how I want to be." I'd also see amazing people with a lot of Self-energy. There was a guy, I loved him. His name was Mr. Hansford. He was in a wheelchair. He had one tooth in his head, always wore a flat cap. And during the dances that we had for the residents, he'd be doing wheelies in his wheelchair and flirting outrageously with the women. I thought, that's who I want to be. I want to be the guy with one tooth in my head floating outrageously. So, one of the gifts that IFS brings is who's aging and who's responding to aging? Because it's true that, you know, in my own experience, I have less mobility. My hearing's not what I was. And I have parts that hate that, they protest that. Well protest is part of grief. I have parts who wish it was different, that's part of grief. I have parts who regret that they put their head in speakers on rock concerts when I was a teenager. Regret is part of grief. And if I can attend to all of those and let them know "I get that this is hard for you. The aging body is hard for you." I don't need to identify them. They don't need to take charge and I can hold more Self-energy. And Self, of course, does not age. There is no reason why vitality in terms of Self-energy would be lost as the body ages.
I had the gift a few years ago of being at a retreat with some remarkable people. The average age of the retreatment was seventy. One couple had just come back from Cambodia, where they're working in sustainable farming. Another couple had just come from Hawaii, where they teach ayahuasca retreats and they were vital engaged human beings in their 70s. And some of the conversation, of course, was we have less energy than we had in the 60s, in our 50s. Where do we put our energy? Where's the bang for the buck? We were invited to explore parts of this that had ideas about aging, where they learned them. This is the legacy piece. We carry legacies around aging in our culture, which are important and helpful to identify because otherwise it feels like a predetermined path which need not be the case. So, in attending to the parts that respond to the inevitability of changes, losses, loss of hopes and dreams, we can hold that Self-led vitality.
Tisha: I'm curious about unburdening and the parts that have raw grief. Is there a different approach to being with grief? I guess it's always what someone's individual system needs. And I think about adult life loss and approaching it from an IFS perspective, I get curious as to whether it's always related to burdens or...
Derek: No, it's not. Yes, it's a great question. So, here's what I find. It seems to me that there is a cluster of parts that will help us move to the inevitability of loving and losing. And those attachments can be a concrete person place thing that can be abstract, my self-concept. So, wherever the heart attaches, there will be a loss response to that. And when I’ve work with those parts, so a part holding, you know, tremendous sadness, I mentioned to you before we started, my dog George passed a year and a half ago now. And he was my companion for 11 years. He was a remarkable being. And there are parts of me holding tremendous sadness, of course, around his loss. And when I'd say to them, you know "Does this feel like a burden? Does this need to be released?" The part would say "No, no, this is who I am, and this is what I do for you. I hold the sadness, so you don't have to." And they're like little bodhisattvas, these parts that help us move through grief are willing to do that. They're willing to hold the protest, to hold the sadness, to hold the missing and just want to be known and attended to. Now, in raw grief, sometimes they will just flood. They will take over the system. And that's fine. They just land and they vent. But when there's a little bit of distance or when we can say to them, because they don't know what's going on in the outside world, they live in the inside world. Right now, I'm working with a client "Right now I'm shopping. This isn't a good time, but I will attend to you later." If we return to them later, then we don't need to be flooded at times that are, quote unquote, inconvenient. So that cluster of parts is not necessarily burdened. I should also add that in the grief process, those parts come up and then we'll move to restoration cluster parts because there's inevitably a dance between the grief and the moving forward. That has to be, otherwise we'd drown in the grief.
Now, that said, there may be a burdened part. So, if I'm listening to a part that's so sad and, you know, "would you like to release some of that? Yes. Oh, Ok. Well, tell me about that." The burden can often go back to those childhood losses that were not attended to. And that's where the burden of not being witnessed or the burden of being told you're too sensitive or the burden of being told you feel too much or there's something wrong with you, or why can't you be happy? Or however the message got internalized from the family of origin, usually, those may result in burdened parts that are connected to loss. So, of course, we help them to release the burden, but don't assume that profound sadness, raging protests about how unfair all of this is. Don't assume that they are necessarily burdened to pass because they may well not be. It is unfair. Anyone that has ever experienced a significant loss. Of course, it feels unfair, of course it does. And there's a part that holds that. So, it can simply be attended to.
Aníbal: Yes. Derek, you just entered the field of complicated grief, right?
Aníbal: You can see the interface of bereavement and burdens in your chapter. You differentiate between simple grief and complicated grief. That's what you are saying right now.
Derek: Yes, and the complicated grief tends to have somewhat different protectors, more complex protector's around them. But, yes, that's one way to distinguish what you might call regular or healthy grief from grief, which is complicated by burdens.
Tisha: And so that would be, you know, all parts related response.The ones you just mentioned, the parts that were shamed, the parts that were told they were too sensitive. That's what leads to the complex grief.
Derek: I can do also traumatic grief or multiple loss. So, if there's a grief connected to a trauma, if you witnessed your parent being killed, you've got trauma and you've got grief. What the system wants to do with trauma is move away from it. But it needs to do in grief is move towards it. So, it's complex when you're working with traumatic grief. And so, the protectors will be more complex around it to. But one protective response that's very common is somatization. Particularly, when we're little if the grief is not supported, then it goes into the body. And there was a study done a couple of decades ago now of AIDS workers in Canada. They were simply asked as part of the study: Are there places in your body where you feel like you hold grief? And the results were remarkable and consistent, gastrointestinal distress, shoulder and neck pain. And so, when we come to those as parts, people that have a chronicity around gastrointestinal distress, shoulder and neck pain or other physiological distress, when we come into the body and we ask, is there a part connected to this? It's often unexpressed emotion from grief. And then we can facilitate that release and then there's a shift in the body as well.
Aníbal: You are describing, Derek, the protective strategies taking control? The minimizers, the somatizing and you say also, replacing and displacing and postponing. I'm just saying some of the protective strategies that can lead to somatizing or other kinds of symptoms. Help us with this language, beautiful language on your chapter. You talk of first responders, grief cluster restoration cluster, grief attack, tell us more.
Derek: Well, the grief attack...What's her name? Therese Rando is a well-known bereavement theorist, and she refers to STUGS - Sudden Temporary Upsurge of Grief. And these are parts that are responding to internal or external cues that will suddenly flood the system with feelings. So, for example, if a good friend of mine has passed and I'm shopping and I will past the olives in the supermarket and my friend loved olives, that can trigger an emotional response in the system, a sudden temporary upsurge of grief. They also tend to come during anniversaries, the first year after a significant loss. Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, times without the person will trigger grieving parts. And also, not all parts get the information at the same time that the loss has occurred. So, you can be at the funeral present in whatever way you present at the funeral of someone that you've loved. But not every part will have that information at the same time. And so sometimes a part will get that information weeks or months later. And that will also result in a surge of grief.
Aníbal: And I'm going to quote you again for another interesting concept, the neoexiles. You say "After first responders, we usually hear from the grief cluster, the sad parts who are protesting, missing, searching, longing, regretting and feeling guilty. I therefore think of grief clusters, parts as neoxiles. Unlike exiles connected to childhood events, whose stories are kept out of awareness until the Self is available, neoexiles are only held in abeyance at first, so that their experience can be heard, held and assimilated gradually." Tell us more about this concept of neoexiles.
Derek: Well, the neoexiles here are...They're not full exiles because they're not holding burdens, but they have been kept, sort of out of awareness in the system because often because of the intensity that they carry, and they are kept usually by the protective system. So, we need to work with the protective system to invite it to know that it can be safe now for Self to hear the distress that these parts are carrying. So, we work, of course, with updating the protectors and making sure they know it's 2020 now. That Self is coming from this time. And then the typical manager concerns around overwhelm, of course, we address. And make sure that the managers of the protective system are genuinely appreciated. Whenever these managers came in to adopt their strategies, it's because they had to. There were no other options at the time. The external supports were not there, and the only resources that were available were internal. So, these amazing managers stepped forward with these ways to contain the distress, which is great. So, we let them know how much we appreciate them, how grateful we are and how thankful we are. And we now let them know that there's a different strategy available because the system is now adult and there is an adult with lots of Self-energy available that can help out the parts they've been protecting in a different way. And that is a way to get the managers online once they know that we also care deeply for the parts holding the distress and we have a way of helping them, which is not only about containing them, but is about a permanent release and a permanent transformation of the system. That's when the managers will happily come on board and work as allies in a different way. So, as opposed to seeing them as defenses or resistance, that is not helpful at all. And it's not true. They are extraordinarily helpful parts of the system that have been doing the best they can for a long time and often started out very young.
Tisha: So, a lot of hope and updating.
Derek: Yes, Yes. But it's realistic hope. Because this is how it is, right? One of the things I love about the model, I don't even like calling it a model because I think Dick Schwartz has nailed it. This seems to be how the personality system operates. And thank goodness. Because now we can offer stuff that's genuinely facilitative of that kind of transformation and not get bogged down in either the grief or the avoidance of it. You know, I'm fine. Everything's fine. The meaning of life, which is impoverished because we don't have the full depth, when we when we go into those parts, we hear them, we know them. We're in the fullness, the richness of our humanity. And that's an incredible gift.
Aníbal: It is.
Derek: And it includes deep sorrow. Of course, it does. And it includes amazing joy and profound love. Our capacity as human beings is astonishing, really. And if we can work with the parents to get concerned about that, find out what their concerns are, addressed them, and then invite them to allow us into that richness, then it's a game changer.
Aníbal: I discovered another beautiful sentence on your work, written work, that maybe illustrates so well the love you put in your work with loss and grief. It's just this sentence. "We sat in silence. Lisa put her head in her hands and sobbed, and I felt honored to hold space for grieving parts." Just being there, just being present.
Derek: Yes, absolutely.
Aníbal: And I would like to have your help also with another concept that I think is so important. You talk of normal oscillations in grieving and when oscillations are absent.
Aníbal: Can you tell us more about what for are those normal oscillations in grieving and when they are absent, what does it mean?
Derek: Yes, so the oscillations, as I mentioned earlier, are between the grief cluster and the restoration cluster. And there's a dance between the two, so we don't get stuck in one or stuck in the other. But people can. They can get hijacked by grieving parents and stay stuck in them. So, for example, there's an organization in North America called Mothers Against Drunk Driving. And these are bereaved women, bereaved mothers who, as part of moving through, as part of their response to their child's death, campaign and organized against drunk drivers. Which is great, it's a great organization. However, someone can get stuck in that identity, a bereaved mother. Not move through it, not move beyond it and hold it because there's comfort in that identity. Awful as it is, there's comfort in it. And there's a way in which people can become known in that place and then not move towards moving forward or people can get into the restoration cost. So, ok, one door closed, the door was open. My partner died. I'm going to start dating in three months and I'm going to look for a different partner. And that doesn't allow for the fullness of the oscillation back to the grieving parts. So an example of this maybe make it more clear is the last parent dies and there's a whole bunch of parts, of course, connected to that who need to be attended to and then another part might pop up and say "Oh, I wonder how much money I'm going to get from the inheritance." And that part might get beaten up by other parents that are saying "How could you think of such a thing? Your mother just died. What's wrong with you?" I want people to know, is that absolutely normal? Because that part how much money am, I going to come into is part of the restoration costs. It's moving forward. That part is actually not a grieving part. It's a part that's looking at how are we going to continue with our lives and how will it be different. And it has every right to do that. And it's normal and natural that it does that. But we live in a culture which has these grief myths that say "you should only be grieving because you had a recent death. And if you think about anything about what you might gain from that, then you're a bad person and you should feel guilty." And we have managed to internalize those messages that beat us up internally. So that's just an example of the natural oscillation that occurs. And it gives you a break. If you if you're planning on let's say maybe I'm going to inherit fifty thousand dollars, maybe I could pay off my mortgage. That would be great. Help my kid through university. That's a break. It's a break from the intensity of oh, my God, I lost my mother. So, we need those breaks. Otherwise the system gets too weighted down.
Aníbal: Yes, thank you. I found this work of you so, so precious, so helpful for our everyday work because our work is mainly about losses. So, this is really hugely important for me and for the community working clinical work.
Derek: Thank you.
Tisha: And you've given us all such an incredible gift with your YouTube channel and all the videos you've made have been so informative. I always start off new clients by referring them to those videos that are so clear and informative. And you're expanding into this retreat center and online trainings. And it's curious if you talk a little bit about that.
Aníbal: Where do you get such good energy, Derek?
Derek: I think it might be my crusader parts. The retreat center it's outside of Toronto. It's about 40 minutes from Toronto Airport. It's in the country. It's quite beautiful. And it's where I run my courses now. So, I run the courses in teaching the ideas, model, skills and competencies. And I run a weekend periodically, which is a weekend for people that know the model to explore what we've been talking about. So, a weekend on attachment and loss and grief, getting to look at how grief is held in the body, getting to look at the loss history and then moving - this is one of the gifts of grief work - you can move from grief to gratitude. But in order to do that, the first parts that are presenting in the grief are the parts that hold the distress, the anguish, sadness, the protest. If we avoid those, we stay in an avoidant part, we stay in a numbing part. If we come to them, hear them, validate them, witness them, they will soften back. And what becomes inevitably available is the gratitude, right?
So, you know, I had 11 years with my dog, George. I had a lot of parts that had intense feelings around his passing. And what I'm now able to come to is "Wow, I had 11 years with that dog, I had 11 years with that amazing being. The gift of that is astonishing." And then I can also go to the legacy. How did he enrich my life? What did he teach me? And George was a shepherd pit bulldog, is he? He had fantastic energy. And the main lesson I learned from him was be formidable as necessary, you know. He's a shepherd pit bull. He could have ripped most other animals and people in half and he only twice aggressed in his whole life on another human being. And it was because of human was being inappropriate towards me. He was being hostile towards me. And what a phenomenal gift. And any loss that you've had of any significant being in your life, attend to the grieving part it's really important, they want that. And then it makes space. They naturally fall back. And then that Self-led, that Self manifestation of gratitude and then the incorporation of the legacy becomes available. And that's the focus of the weekend, really, from grief to gratitude. And people come into the weekend not necessarily feeling a lot of gratitude, but by moving through that process, they come to that. And I believe spiritually, this is how we enrich our lives and how we enrich other's lives. When I pass, I want people to be able to remember if I've touched their lives in some way. When you pass, how have you touched people's lives in some way. This helps them. I think this is the gift that we bring each other. And loss is very, very hard. And there are ways of attending to it that allow us also to embody and embrace those gifts to move forward in life.
Tisha: I imagine these retreat weekends are so popular. Are they open to anyone and everyone or do they get full quickly?
Derek: They tend to fill. They're open to anyone that's familiar with the model. The retreat center itself has accommodation for 10 people. The weekend is capped at 20. So, I usually go with external people that need to fly in first. So, they've got the accommodation and then go to the local Toronto folks that want to come. I think the next one is in May. May this year, and then I'll run them again in the fall. But yes, they're quite lovely. And I think also they're available as CEU'S for IFS therapists. So, IFS therapists are seeking certification or recertification, they also get those.
Aníbal: Derek, you are doing so much for IFS as a teacher and the supervisor. Is there something else you would like to do or achieve besides keep doing all you are doing now?
Derek: Well Aníbal, it seems that the more I keep doing what I'm doing, people are finding me and inviting me to come and work with them, which is lovely. So, I had an agency last year in eastern Canada. They work with veterans. They flew me out to teach their entire staff the model. So now when the veterans come in, they work with IFS right from the get-go. The receptionist will say, I guess there's a part of you that's happy to be here. Maybe there's a part of you that isn't. So, they get invited into parts language right away. And then the other techniques they work with, biofeedback and neurofeedback, are also incorporated with the model. So, that was exciting. Next month, I'm back in Toronto. I'm teaching 80 Social Workers. I've been invited to teach these social workers for a day and a half. They work in family violence and sexual assault. So excited to work with them because these mainly women are at great risk for vicarious traumatization if they're working from their empathic parts. So, I'm going to help them, I hope, to understand there's a possibility of not needing to work from their empathic parts, which can get overwhelmed, but work more from compassion. My intent is to have them bring their compassion to their empathic parts, which I think is tremendously exciting. So, I'm just being invited various places and I'm pretty available. I can just respond to those requests very positively. So, it seems that by just holding the integrity of the work and promoting the work, I'm not quite sure where I'm going next. I love the retreat center. I love running courses out of there. And it's nice to have a home base. The main working space there has, I think seven couches in it, and it feels like a great big hug. And when you look outside and there's at least cedar trees, you can go for walks in the woods and the people stay over, there's a campfire. So, it's a very nurturing environment in which to learn the works.
Aníbal: And I can see you are enjoying it very much.
Derek: Oh, immensely.
Tisha: Do you have a vision for the future of IFS itself?
Derek: I do.
Tisha: Yes. What would you like to see?
Derek: When I came across this model, 15 years ago, I said to Dick "You know, this is both revolutionary in terms of psychotherapeutic paradigms - once the psychospiritual paradigm is built - revolutionary and evolutionary.
So, one thing I'm working on at the moment, which is a long project, is a series of videos for parents, because we know as therapists, if the parent had said to the child at some point, I'm sorry, I overreacted. Just that. Half of the people that we're seeing in our practice, we wouldn't be seeing, right? So, from an evolutionary perspective, I think if parents can recognize that they have parts, recognize that their parents had parts, recognize that they've internalized some of those messages which may not benefit their children, for example, shaming, shaming is a very effective behavior control tool because a child will do anything to avoid it. And shame is one of those core exiles that we all carry. We all have parts that hold shame...
Aníbal: It is.
Derek: If parents can be invited to not shame their children and to recognize the impact of shame in their own systems, then we have more opportunity for children to be raised in a way that's Self-led. So, Self will look at my child and say "Who are you? How are you unfolding? What beautiful parts are you presenting to the world? What gifts to you bring?" And then when that child grows up with more of a sense of Self-energy, they will repeat that with their children. And so, I believe this is an evolutionary model. I believe we're coming now more from a heart centered space. And at this time, when I look at the global crisis around climate change, I think the only thing that's going to help us to get through the next few decades, is a compassionate response. If I have enough food and you don't, do I hold up food very tightly to me and put armor around it from a part that's enmeshed in lack? Or do I realize I could go a little bit hungry if you can eat as well? And those are some of the very real decisions, I think, that we face.
Aníbal: That we face, yes.
Tisha: Yes, I love your vision for the future of the model. Yes, it is about the children growing up with more Self in the family.
Derek: Yes. It's about the evolution of our species, I believe, of our consciousness. So, there was a time before Freud, nobody knew what the unconscious was. Nobody...Can you imagine? Never attributing unconscious motivation to anything.
Derek: Now the unconscious is of course, how we understand much of our lives. It's the same with multiplicity. Hopefully in a generation people look back and say “Can you imagine? There was a time when people tried to fit all of that into one thing called the personality. How do they do that? Oh, Yes, they had to say things like, oh, I was acting out of character or oh, that was not me.” People literally say it. Because they are trying to fit.
Aníbal: We were there Derek.
Derek: That it's right, we all were.
Aníbal: Derek, you just showed us another of your passion, the Self-led parenting that I hope can lead us to sit again together for another episode for you to show more of this passion of yours on Self-led parenting.
Tisha: Aníbal wants to keep the conversation going.
Aníbal: I do.
Aníbal: So, for now, thank you so much for having us. It was a joy to be here with you and Tisha. And I hope we can keep meeting and keeping our conversation open and sharing this model and our work and our lives.
Tisha: Thank you so much. This has been a wonderful conversation.
Derek: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Tisha: This was an IFS talks episode, an audio series to deepen connections with the Internal Family Systems model.
Recorded 2nd January 2020
Transcript Edition by Carolina Abreu