With Halloween just around the corner, I got to thinking about why I, as a therapist, love this holiday so much.
I love it because, let’s face it, seeing my Facebook and Instagram feeds flooded with kids in their costumes is adorable.
I also love it because the roots of the holiday lie in the ancient Pagan festival Samhain in which the Celts would light bonfires and wear costumes to both placate and scare off the malevolent spirits and ghosts that were be walking the Earth (given that the veils between worlds were thinner at that time of year).
Imagine that, an ancient party to placate and protect – pretty interesting!
But mostly I love Halloween because of a modern-day concept it champions – costuming and letting yourself be a different character for one night – is, to my mind as a therapist, therapeutic and something we could all stand to learn and benefit from more.
Keep reading about what I see as the “therapeutic” aspect of Halloween and, when we weave this more into our lives, how we can benefit psychologically.
Why Is Halloween Potentially Therapeutic?
As I mentioned, while Halloween is firmly rooted in its Pagan past of Samhain, Halloween as we know it today in America typically involves pumpkin carving, trick-or-treating for candy, and costumes.
And it’s the costume piece that I personally think has therapeutic potential.
Because Halloween is a very distinct and discreet time of the year when it’s “socially acceptable” for us to bring out one of the many “parts” inside of us by stepping into a costume, a guise, another persona.
Halloween is a time when we’re “allowed” to step into a character that’s probably unlike anything we typically embody in the other 364 days of our year.
No matter how elaborately or what you dress up as, Halloween allows us an appropriate and safe outlet for creativity, self-expression, and spontaneity — psychologically healthy impulses.
It also allows us to give space and voice to aspects of ourselves that perhaps don’t get a chance to be conscious in other realms of our lives.
Which, in essence, is akin to the therapy tool of “parts work.”
How Halloween Invites Us To Practice Parts Work.
What do I mean by “parts work”? As a therapist, I believe that we all contain “parts” – aspects of ourselves that formed in response to life circumstances, viewpoints, and qualities.
Parts work was promoted by various therapy modalities such as Voice Dialogue, Gestalt Therapy, Internal Family Systems Therapy and, to a certain extent, Carl Jung’s understanding of the complexity of the psyche which premises that a healthy, functional conscious personality is made up of many subpersonalities (parts).
While each school of thought has its own methodology, parts work, as I define it and use it in my therapy room, is a therapeutic lens that assumes that each of us has many different parts to our minds and psyches.
Each of these parts (or subpersonalities) has unique needs, wants, and beliefs which may be conscious or unconsciously playing out, helping or harming us as we move through our days encountering different situations, triggers, and scenarios.
The discovery of your own parts is a lifelong journey unique to every individual. No one can tell you exactly what your own parts work process or results will look like (though a good therapist can skillfully help you access this).
So how does this relate back to Halloween?
Well, I personally think that Halloween lends us a veritable permission slip to practice “parts work” and show us that it can, frankly, feel good to bring forth different parts of us.
Please don’t mistake me: I’m not saying that wearing a costume alone is necessarily therapeutic (though for some, it might be!). Rather what I’m saying is that the process of allowing yourself to get in touch with different aspects of yourself and express them safely and appropriately (aka: parts work) is the potential therapeutic value that Halloween shows us.
Tools For Doing More Parts Work:
There are many ways to continue practicing “parts work” in your life outside of Halloween (which may or may not involve continuing to wear costumes!).
In bringing awareness to and giving voice to your inner parts, we could then imagine utilizing this self-awareness to help you problem solve and work through issues you face in your daily life.
You can begin to work with parts that you identify alone or with a therapist through the following exercises:
The Inner Conference Table Exercise.
Imagine that you have an inner conference table running a meeting all day long inside of you.
Think about who is sitting in the chairs of that conference table. A rigid dictator? An emotional middle school girl? A brave adventurer? In your daily life, begin to notice which “part” seems to be speaking up the most and what they have to say.
Begin to notice if that feels helpful or if it may feel more constructive to allow other parts of you to step forward and grab the microphone at the conference table more often.
When we pay attention to who’s piping up most at the meeting, welcome all perspectives, and invite the different parts to speak to each other, we create a rich, expansive conversation where more helpful, previously inaccessible solutions to situations in our life might be found.
A classic, Gestalt therapy exercise, Pillow Work invites us to put a various “part” of ourselves on a real or proverbial pillow (or couch cushion, or chair, whatever works for you) and begin a dialogue with this part of you.
For instance, if there is a deeply angry, embittered old woman that you have identified inside of you, put her on the pillow and allow her to speak. Ask her why she’s angry, what she may need and want from you, dialogue with her and see if any surprising or new information comes up for you and how that feels.
Reconnect Back to Old Hobbies.
Recall your big interests at different points in your life.
At age 8 did you like to create little imaginary worlds for yourself to play in? Do you want to do that more today? Did you use to love international travel but haven’t done it in years? What would it be like to start saving for that and allow that part of you to come out more?
We may not be consciously aware of the various parts inside of ourselves, but when we reconnect back to hobbies and activities we once loved, we open the door to allow these parts to surface again. So perhaps parts work for you might look like reconnecting back to a very old hobby you’ve tucked away. In reconnecting back to it, notice how it feels and what information may still be there for you.
Draw/paint/write/sculpt it out.
If you are aware of different aspects of yourself that you would like to express but don’t know how or what this may look like in real life, I think that using art as a vehicle for these parts can be really effective.
Aware of a hugely angry, potentially destructive aspect of yourself? Paint it wildly and boldly. Know of a tender, fragile young aspect of yourself? Sculpt it and see how that feels. It may feel hard to imagine how to give an outlet to some of the more “taboo” parts within ourselves, so there is where art can become such a helpful tool.
Literally costume yourself more.
The literal costuming and dress up that supports parts work doesn’t have to just end with Halloween.
Some people participate in a variety of events, festivals, and activities throughout the year that allows them to continue this. Whether it’s attending ComicCon, a Renn Faire, playing role-playing board games, going to masked balls or murder mystery birthday parties, see if it feels exciting or helpful to you to imagine participating in events like these so that your various “parts” can continue to have costumed outlets.
Wrapping this up.
I truly believe that there can be a lot of healing when we allow ourselves to acknowledge and express the many parts inside of ourselves.
When we reclaim aspects of ourselves that may have been tucked away due to trauma or shame, cultural “taboo” or unconsciousness, we can better integrate all aspects of ourselves and help ourselves live a more creative, spontaneous, emotionally rich and fulfilling life.
So take the big lesson from Halloween – that it’s safe and OK to bring out different parts of you in appropriate ways – and recognize that this is actually key therapeutic work. And get curious about how you can weave this into your life more.
And until next time, take very good care of yourself and have a truly wonderful Halloween!