Acting OUT and Acting IN

This web site focuses a lot on actions we can take under our own steam. Pamela Levin’s model puts value on action when it comes to our physical, emotional and spiritual development.

At the same time, I want to be clear that actions, alone, are not always enough and sufficient.

This page is written to recognise some further complications about action; we can act out and/or we can act in.  The difference between the two infers a key question: what do we want to change?

  • To force change on the outside world? or,
  • To foster change within our own hearts and minds?

There are several psychological models that have something to say about this distinction.

I was reminded of this after reading around the Internal Family Systems (IFS) model and hearing a trainer presenting a brief introduction to this model of intervention. In my view, some modern models appear reluctant to acknowledge the ‘giants’, and the shoulders on which they are sitting.

Let me say more about this in order to integrate the valuable elements of IFS into older, established ‘schools’ of psychology such as Psychodrama, Gestalt Psychology and the long-established ‘Parts’ perspective.  I am familiar with ‘Parts’ work; from training with John Omah, a US practitioner who was at pains to acknowledge the work of Charles Tebbetts from the 1960’s and 1970’s. Also, John Omaha cites John and Helen Watkins, as well as Gordon Emerson as important sources.

I’ll make mention, also, of John Rowan and his work on ‘sub-personalities’. John Rowan’s material chimes well with Iain Stewart and Vann Joines’ Transactional Analytic study into sub-personalities. I had the good fortune to train with these practitioners during my years of professional practice so I am biased in seeing Transactional Analysis (TA) as a practical model well able to thinks in ‘parts’.

Furthermore, the world of hypnosis – with a history going into antiquity – gives more than a ‘nod’ to the issue of ‘Parts’. Tebbett’s and Roy Hunter’s work is located firmly in hypnotherapy. It may help to consider others as they all cast light on small, safe experiments you may be designing.

Psychodrama: for more information on this ‘school’,  do visit:

Psychodrama employs guided dramatic action to direct safe experiments, often within a group setting.

Through role-play, simulation and acting, this method offered new insights into the inter-play between cognition (thinking), affective responses (feeling), and sensations (our inner experiences).

Psycho-drama can enhance well-being by helping us to develop new skills through practice and rehearsal. Possible solutions to our problems are enacted,  rather than just talked about.

Psychodrama can be a complicated process so it is best worked on with an experienced and well-trained ‘director’, but there are safe experiments you can consider. The ‘Special Time’ experiment – under the heading “changing ways of talking to others”  located down the page  is, in part,  an example of acting differently. It requires two or more people to practise communicating, one with another, in a different way. Also, the ‘what might my friend say ….‘ safe experiment involves a dialogue and could add a touch of drama to your work.

Like most psychodrama events, this experiment is best done in short bursts of effort.

Can you see ways in which you may practise new roles safely? Who would you need to recruit to assist here and how would you go about getting an agreement to practise specific changes? Take a look at some ways of changing communications.

The aim would be to see yourself from the ‘outside’, and what better way than giving permission to some-one else to say what they are hearing and seeing. This is a form of the stepping back safe experiment; see Item 11 on page

That other person can support you in the exploration of new solutions to old problems, and they can share with you how they experience their relationship with you.

Gestalt work: for more information on this ‘school’, do visit:

In brief, Gestalt therapy is a humanistic approach conceived by Fritz Perls in the 1940’s. It integrates ideas from 20th-century psychoanalysis, psychodrama and the ‘encounter group’ movement that shone briefly in the second half of the 20th century.  It shares with psycho-drama a wish to look at the whole picture, and not just the detail. This is easy to say, and rather difficult to do – to hold a number dimensions at one and the same time, e.g. our sensory, emotional, intellectual, social and spiritual experience as they are felt in the body. Gestalt therapy was a central member in the Human Potential Movement of the mid-20th century and it placed emphasis on integration and self-realisation. This, in turn, related closely to Abraham Maslow’s ‘hierarchy’ of self-actualisation.

Gestalt is a therapy and a philosophy of life. As a precursor of ‘Mindfulness’, the gestalt perspective valued being in contact with the present moment.

This is an important position as the ‘small, safe experiment’ – like the Gestalt perspective – is more concerned with process (HOW we do things, bit by bit), rather than content (the WHEN or WHY of what we do).  The focus is not on “what happens to us?”, but “what do we do with what happens to us?”.

Elsewhere I have identified a Gestalt approach to the change process.

This model can provide a number of opportunities for safe experiments.

AN EXPERIMENT: jot down the answers to these questions as honestly as you can:

AM I ready for change [or do i need to wait and see a bit longer]

WHAT might I consider as possible changes? [brain-storm all ideas using the method described at the bottom of this web page]

HOW might I consider some specific changes [chose a small number of possibilities]

I AM STARTING to do something [these are the actions I have designed and I am now implementing]

HOW can i keep things going [what do I need to do about STOPPERS]

Can you see a connection here to the Discount Matrix as a device for finding out where to focus your energy so that change can happen? This is safe experiment that will benefit from a return visit – not once or twice,  but a few times. Such re-visiting may help to cast light on the ‘scenic route‘ that you are now following!!

Transactional Analysis (TA)

Well, there is so much I could say here, and it’s not easy to know where to start!  So I am going to leave you to do your research around the topic. There are several web pages to Transactional Analysis at the bottom of this page!

Elsewhere, I have touched on Iain Stewart’s work for The Berne Institute , but the whole TA model is about ‘parts’ – primary and secondary ego states.

My second illustration, here,  invites you to consider which part within you is talking to what other part – a conversation within us (acting in) or between one of your ego states and an ego state within another (acting out).

John Omaha’s Parts Therapy can be found at

My one reservation is that John has joined the crowd and invented yet another ‘school’ or model. He calls it Affect Centered Therapy (ACT).  How come do we keep doing this!

However, as a Systemically-trained Hypnotherapist, with an interest in EMDR, I do find that John’s work translates several areas of psychotherapy into practical steps: attachment theory; human growth and development, affect regulation and neurology, to name just a few. It is good on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s) without saying so.

Also, John acknowledges his ‘giants’ Sroufe, 1977 and Schore, 2004. As he points out on his web site, “deficits in the dyadic relationship result in failures of affect regulation“, that is, problems in relationships make it difficult to manage our feelings. Sadly, this observation attracts the dubious title of a ‘deficit experience’. True, ‘problems’ create vulnerabilities but healing can build the internal resources without ‘problematising’ the experience.

Now let’s see how Internal Family Systems model can add a further dimension to all the notion that there are parts of us we could attend to a little bit better.

Internal Family Systems (IFS)

Internal Family Systems (IFS) seeks to promote compassion between our ‘parts’.  As a training manual says, “the relational stance between client and parts proved crucial to healing”.

The goal of IFS appears to be to heal our injured parts so that we can live in our world with greater confidence and curiosity.

As i understand it, the theoretical intention of IFS is to integrate ‘parts’ in such a way that a strong Self emerges; one well able to attend to the parts and work with them. This is similar to the Transactional Analytic (TA) notion of the “Adult being in the Executive”, with the difference being that TA sees the Adult as a structurally separate Ego State.

IFS, by contrast, sees the Self as taking a position as leader in order to and works with the parts to heal and restore internal harmony. IFS seeks to converse with aspects of ourselves in conflict; to listen to our internal dialogue. That way, we can calm our extremes and foster playfulness. In the move to calm severe inner turmoil, IFS seeks to pay less attention to symptoms and problems as do many modern models of therapy.

In my view, IFS pursues this central tenet of the Self as an “essence” of our being, following in a 20th century tradition of analytic schools.  In this regard, the model suffers the limitations of other spiritual and religious models by supposing some entity it cannot truly reveal.  Despite its claim to be an evidentially-based model, IFS has a fundamental weakness at its core; one long questioned by both cognitive and existential models of therapy.

I prefer the Dan Siegel perspective fostering the view that the story of our life, or Script,  emerges from a conversation between ‘parts.  Indeed, the conversation is not necessarily just an internal dialogue. Dan Siegel’s view of the ‘mind’, as i understand it,  is that ‘Mind’ is not simply our body,  integrated with our brain, but with our surrounding relationships (helpful or otherwise). My own view, put over in this web site is that our place-in-time is a key dimension of ‘mind’, as well.

All this makes it more of a federation, rather than a hierarchy, and certainly not a leadership role or a Command and Control relationship.

All that said, the IFS view of the ‘conversation’ can become a safe experiment; such as using the metaphor of a Parliament, with its Speaker to explore how my internal dialogue is proceeding. Is it a Friday afternoon event, or a key Brexit debate!! This experiment promotes discussion between sessions by encouraging us to listen in and write up our own Hansard record.

If it helps, the IFS Skills Training manual does offer a number of practical exercises that can be integrated into the design of some of your safe experiment.s. This manual is a 2017 publication by PESI, a training establishment with UK and US centres.


Return to:



What is a nudge

Transactional Analysis (TA)

More TA – Drivers and injunctions

Changing the Script

The Discount Matrix

Models of Therapy

Fitting models together