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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Healing Dissociative Identity Disorder

Have you been labeled with Dissociative Identity Disorder or DID and felt like it meant you were weak? If so have you felt that way you might think everyone around you is scared of you because you are not like them? Maybe it is time to change and take on a whole new mindset and viewpoint.

Over decades Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) has been a very misinterpreted, underestimated, misunderstood and feared diagnosis for both survivors and many members of the therapeutic community. The Dissociative Identity Disorder client has been dreaded by professionals because they don't know how to work with them. 

The label DID carries with it a lot of stigma because of the way they are depicted in movies and television. Societal beliefs, religious beliefs, and science do not cast a favorable view of Dissociative Identity Disorder. Some professionals, particularly psychiatrists, do not even believe DID is real, and others are not trained to assess or conduct therapy in such a complex condition. Anyone who has received a DID diagnosis has felt extreme pressure, real or imagined, to hide his or her status. Therefore, those who carry a diagnosis of DID experience feelings of blame, embarrassment, emptiness, guilt, rejection, shame, and humiliation. Survivors with DID really think they are damaged inside or crazy because many survivors do not understand the symptoms they are having at the onset.

Traditional types of treatment do not seem to be effective with survivors who have a diagnosis of DID. Conventional accepted therapies focus on past life experiences by looking for the specific “event” that caused the “problem.” Once the problem is found, a diagnosis has to be given. Then treatment is done by the correct protocol connected to that diagnosis even if the problem is misdiagnosed.

Maybe the answer is not found in psychology but rather in teaching the survivor to live a new way with new skills. Much like a coach teaching an athlete to become more skilled and more confident. 

Adverse Effects of Therapeutic Process 

This type of therapeutic self-discovery can cause re-living experiences, very frightening events, feelings of disloyalty, dissociative episodes, shameful thoughts, rejection, extreme triggering, and can be emotionally devastating … to name a just few of the potential side effects. The course of treatment above is laborious and time-consuming for survivors with a DID as well as the professional. 

Traditional methods of treatment like integration, including medication, tend to cause abuse and trauma survivors to be re-traumatized. Conventional methods can result in frequent relapses and more intense PTSD symptoms as well as regression periods. Conversely, the inner system views these types of treatment as an attack resulting in increased experiences of fear, multiple episodes of switching and re-traumatization.

Different Perspective of DID

I believe the creation of a DID System is a healthy and natural reaction to experiencing horrible, repetitive life-threatening events. It is a natural defensive response to overwhelming traumatic experiences.
This life-saving separation of the whole self into a DID system is actually a mirror of the human brain and how it functions. 

Think about this … even though the brain is one organ, the brain operates the whole body by way of functional compartments. The brain governs the functions of both the body and the mind through different centers. The development of a DID system is an innate defense mechanism to protect the whole self. The intricate forming many compartments is a lifesaving process, so the entire person will not be captured or destroyed. This process is innate and a miracle.

Process of Surviving

The ability to compartmentalize one’s identity to survive occurs on a symbolic level, not on a literal level. It is a symbolic inner re-structuring that partitions off sections of the character into independent parts of the whole. The only way a human can escape or dissociate from an overwhelming painful and life-threatening experience when trapped is to do so symbolically in mind. Compartmentalization is completed instantly and silently, and it is accomplished internally within the victim's head during an attack.

So it would only make sense that if the process of surviving multiple threatening events happens on a symbolic level, then wouldn't healing occur on the same type of symbolic level utilizing the same successful path? Therefore, an alternative method or symbolic protocol is needed to safely assist survivors with DID to restructure and balance his or her system. This balancing and teaching of new skills are more acceptable to the internal parts. This will move the whole person along the path to healing and recovery.

Alternative Way of Healing DID

A life coaching approach to reverse the compartmentalization that counteracted the trauma was needed because other therapeutic and medical models methods were not working. 

What was needed to be developed for DID clients to become healthy was a symbolic method that was safe and protective which worked for achieving a healthy sense of living? That method is System Unification Method or SUM. System Unification Method is an update of the widely successful stabilization method called Incorporation Therapy. SUM actually reverses the survival process without removing or eliminating the parts as well as protecting all character skills and the survival abilities of the inner parts. Also, the mindset associated with SUM is one of health, positiveness, productiveness, and normalcy.  

The SUM method utilizes the system’s strengths, creative abilities and inner power to unify the system, without decreasing his or her individual characteristics while strengthening the integrity of the core. SUM guides the survivor to create a structure of symbolic “wholeness” and increase coping skills.

Some other benefits of completing the SUM protocol:

1. past emotional charge memories are eliminated

2. emotional triggers and situational are disconnected

3. negative and self-limiting core beliefs are removed

4. new coping and life skills are acquired

The SUM method allows the survivor to free his or her parts from past traumatic fears and victim skills while setting the stage for new growth. A positive side effect is the significant reduction of PTSD symptoms experienced by the DID system as a whole.

SUM’s History

System Unification Method is an improvement or upgrade of the extremely beneficial Incorporation Therapy (IT) developed in the 1990's and used successfully with thousands of clients with DID to stabilize their DID systems. For over 20 years, Incorporation Therapy was practiced in an inpatient psychiatric setting and taught to hundreds of professionals. 

Incorporation Therapy was designed as an alternative method to integration therapy. Incorporation Therapy’s effective principles were chronicled in the book Separated From the Light: A Path Back from Psychological Trauma (Tollefson Enterprises; 2nd edition, 2004). Incorporation Therapy facilitated internal restructuring and symptom stabilization as well as reducing the intensity of PTSD symptoms. 

Memory and DID

One of the worst symptoms that affect all DID survivors is re-experiencing traumatic memory and flashbacks. Not only does the “host” have a memory bank, but each part also has its own memory bank which stores the memories it recorded when it was active. For safety reasons, each memory bank is not connected, so each part does not know the memories of the others.

Since the DID structure is symbolic, memory in the system should be viewed in the same way. To help view memory symbolically, picture a balloon with a string. The inside of the balloon is the Emotional Component. The outside skin of the balloon is the physical component, and the attached line is the trigger. The feeling elements contain all the emotions that were too painful and overwhelming the victim to deal with at the time of the event. The outer covering is the physical component which contains what the part saw, touched, smelled or heard. The string is the trigger that ties the memory from the dissociative storage area to consciousness. 

The emotional component (pain and hurt) is the most difficult and essential to make a closure on. The remembered emotions of a past event always surface first. As a result, the natural reaction by a survivor or part is to “shut down or numb out” the emotions to protect the whole. The survivor emotions are felt again, the feelings will completely re-traumatize the whole system. Even though there may have been many years between the event and the present day, the survivor still remains unable to face the painful emotions which surface when triggered. 

The defense against these intrusive, painful emotions has been reactiveness (acting out), denial, numbing out and/or rationalization. Addictions, self-mutilation, and other self-harming behaviors are linked to avoiding re-living or re-traumatizing effects from realizing the emotional component.

The emotional component overpowers the survivor and parts, as well, and causes the inner portion to want to protect the whole, even if the fear of possible trauma is imagined. The emotional charge in this component throws the survivor into a reliving of the experience. In reliving a traumatic memory, the emotions are just as painful as the first emotions and sometimes even more intense. The survivor feels the original fear, terror, and anxiety, as well as the sense of being trapped. These overwhelming feelings inhibit the survivor's ability to stay in the present, process closure of past events, or how they function in their daily lives.

Other Experiences

Another essential feeling experienced by the survivor is a sense of emptiness or “separation from self.” The ensuing “relationship with self” becomes critical, cynical, rejecting of self or parts and damaging. To enter into a new relationship with yourself and your whole system, the survivor has to shift from a disease model mindset to a healthy/normal mindset and enter into the recovery/healing stage.

 A Story of  DID Unification

“My name is Sheri, and I went through the Incorporation Therapy years ago. Years later I hit a wall and began to feel stuck. I did not know why. I had experienced a couple more traumatic events after incorporation and felt like I had lost my connectedness to my system. It seemed like I ran out of skills and nothing was working. I contacted Dr. Bill again who was no longer associated with the WiiT program where I had been incorporated. He was able to evaluate quickly that some of my parts had left the dome (a part of the incorporating process) that unified us. The parts had left to help us survive the traumas and did not know how to return. Dr. Bill stated that he no longer was doing Incorporation Therapy with DID systems, and he had improved the process which was now called System Unification Method. The experience of SUM was immediate and added so many more improvements. I learned that I need more skills to get to the point of healing rather than just stabilization. He taught me how to draw on my pain without reliving or re-experiencing it. I was able to connect with my uniqueness, heal my wounds, and truly unite with my parts. In the process, he guided me to gain and accept my creativeness, change my mindset to be more positive about the DID system, characteristics strength and inner power, and my difference as a person. The process took away old beliefs that had limited me and self-defeating thoughts and behavior. I finally feel balanced. After I was done, I had a formed a new identity. I don’t entirely understand all that happened, but it worked. Since then I have embraced my difference as a strength, creativity to live, and survival skills. I see that these can be used for growth and adaptation to a healthy life. I thought my difference was an illness from the messages given during my awful abuse. This has been turned around to a decisive point and has enhanced my life.

To understand that my DID was a natural response and not a mental illness allowed me to like myself rather than think of me as “crazy” which is what I had been told ever since my symptoms first surfaced. My life has been transformed thanks to SUM.”

After Thoughts

The System Unification Method session was designed to help re-fold, restructure and unite the host with the parts safely and protectively. The SUM experience assists the survivor in taking back control of the whole and achieving balance.  SUM allows the brain to move from a state of being reactive to a state of proactive involvement with life.

To learn more about healing DID through Trauma Coaching.  
Please visit my website

          Coach Bill


  1. Dr. Bill Tollefson is a most remarkable human being and has the only clear understanding of dissociative identity disorder I have ever come across in my lifetime, even working years in the field of mental health. Every mental health practitioner that deals with PTSD or individuals that have suffered great trauma has much to learn from him. And The System Unification Method works!

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Anonymous

      I want to thank you for your validating words about my work and my passion to help survivors with DID. I have dedicated my work to understanding and helping many to understand that DID is not a weakness of character but an inner strength. Healing can happen. Healing is within all of us once we are given the right tools to make it happen.

      I really appreciate your comment.
      Blessings, Dr. Bill

  2. God are amazing and such a gift to all of us!

    1. Dear Gretchen,

      I am very grateful for your kind words about my work. Helping survivors with DID is my passion. I have been very blessed to be able to watch very many stabilize and then heal. When he or she truly accept his or her system is the most wonderful experience to view.

      Thanks again for your warm heartfelt words.

      Blessings, Dr. Bill

  3. This is my story

    1. Thank you for commenting and letting me know my blog emotionally reached you. True is true. Now create a positive narrative for yourself. Healing is possible.

  4. Very interesting and informative. I am thankful for my healing journey. and in reading your story I came to understand my own journey to wholeness. I am Karen Overhill of Switching Time.

    1. Dear Karen Overhill,

      Thank you for you comments. I am happy that my blog helped you to become mindful of your own journey to wholeness. Wholeness is possible. Glad you shared.

      Blessings on your journey, Coach Bill