The Five Components and Four Stages of Healing from Dissociative Identity Disorder

The healing journey for dissociative identity disorder (DID) is often long and fraught with danger. In many ways, healing from this developmental disorder is like going to war on a battlefield; only the enemy is ourselves.

This article will focus on healing from dissociative identity disorder and the four stages that take place to accomplish it successfully.

Trauma-Informed Care

There can be no doubt; trauma is the number one cause of DID. Trauma-informed therapists use trauma-informed care to deliver mental health services that include understanding and awareness of the impact trauma can have on their client’s lives. Trauma-informed care sees trauma via a cultural and ecological lens to recognize how they play a role in how individual clients process trauma.

A trauma-informed therapist takes great care in anticipating and avoiding processes and practices that will re-traumatize clients.  A trauma-informed therapist will also understand the importance of client participation in the development and delivery of their therapy.  

A well-trained trauma-informed therapist will put themselves into the shoes of their client, allowing them to understand on a deep level the emotions and thought processes that are brought to their office. The therapist will show appropriate emotions such as weeping with their client; this allows their client to see genuine emotions concerning the feelings they may have on a subject. This is a clear signal that the therapist is genuinely listening and paying attention to the client’s needs.

This is a powerful tool and a necessary component if the client is to experience healing.

The Five Components of Therapy for Dissociative Identity Disorder

Therapy isn’t a linear process. Rather, healing takes place in jumps and starts.  Healing takes hard work and a lot of guts to face your past and who you are as a person head-on. However, the benefits far outweigh the pain and sorrow. With help, you can begin the arduous work of self-discovery needed to overcome whatever obstacles are holding them back from living a hope-filled and complete life.

This work will describe five stages. They are orientation, introduction, commitment, working, and resolution.

Orientation. This component is where the beginning of trust is established. The client identifies why they have gone to a therapist, and a rapport between the client and therapist is begun. Orientation begins when the client makes that first appointment, not really knowing what to expect from their new therapist.

Introduction. As the title suggests, this is the component where the client and therapist genuinely begin to get to know one another. It is crucial for the client to feel free to ask questions of the therapist and for the therapist to establish clearly defined boundaries as to what they will and will not disclose. It is during this component that goals are discussed. The well-trained therapist will not push their own goals onto the person seeking their help but instead will follow the lead of the client.

Commitment. Here the client commits themselves to the healing process of healing, and the therapist commits themselves to aid their client in every way they can. Both parties must make this commitment so that the client can make progress. This commitment maybe for a short time or may take several years. It depends on the needs of the client and the speed at which they can tolerate proceeding.

Working. This component is where trust has been established, and the hard work begins. The client begins to share the deep needs they have, and they feel that their therapist is on their side. This component may include telling the therapist some dark secrets that the client has never shared with anyone before and therefore is the most arduous part of therapy. The therapist aids their client by not giving advice, but rather by offering differing points of view on how a situation might be handled. The therapist’s goal is to help their client understand and change the ways they may be incorrectly seeing the world.

Resolution. In this final component of therapy, the client has decided that they have met the desired goal (reasons they entered therapy), and it is time to leave. Although this is a positive outcome, because of the intimate nature of the therapeutic relationship, the experience of fear of abandonment on the part of the client is natural. The strong emotion of abandonment can be alleviated by careful preparation. This involves talking about the impending loss of the therapist in the client’s life as well as a recounting of the positive changes that have occurred during the time the client and therapist have had together.           

The Four Stages of Healing from Dissociative Identity Disorder

Now that we have established the five components of therapy, we should examine together the four stages of the actual healing from dissociative identity disorder. Although I have defined them stages, the following are actually changes in behavior and thinking patterns that one gain from trauma-informed care.

It is vital to remember that, although I have listed the four stages described below in order, this order is not written in stone. Quite frankly, these stages may repeat over-and-over, may not occur at all, or there may be more stages in between.

The four stages of healing from DID are as follows:

  • Discovery
  • Chaos
  • Cooperation
  • Fusion

Discovery. This stage involves discovering there is something wrong. You may have known all your life that things were different for you than other people, but until you are ready, the memories of what happened remain deeply buried. Then one day, for some inexplicable reason, you begin to experience flashbacks and losing time. You might have wondered if you were insane and had become depressed and anxious. Perhaps it was for the depression and anxiety you sought help. Whatever the reasoning, you walked into your first therapist’s office, hoping to find relief.  

Unfortunately, on average, it takes eleven years for a person who has DID to receive the correct diagnosis. Many other diagnoses may have been given to you, such as borderline personality disorder or bipolar disorder, but none of your psychiatrist’s meds work correctly for you. Finally, the right doctor comes along, and you receive your diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder.

Chaos.  During your time waiting for the proper diagnosis, and years afterward, you enter a time in your healing where things are chaotic. The alters have become bolder in their assertions into your life, and you are literally fighting for your life. You spend your time thinking about your diagnosis and immersed in discovering what happened to you to cause you to form DID. In this stage, some personal growth happens, but not much. Some people get stuck in the chaos stage and never find their way out because chaos becomes their identity, and it is hard to give up the feelings of being special and unique.

While as an individual human being, you definitely are special and unique, identifying with DID as who you are is a mistake that I’m hoping to help you avoid. Escaping the mindset that you are, your diagnosis is challenging, but don’t be dragged down into the always sick mentality.

Keep in mind that your alters are NOT your enemies, even the ones who can cause havoc. They are hurting, wounded parts of you who deserved so much more when they were growing up than what they received.  

Cooperation. The cooperation I am speaking of happens internally among the different alters. First, one must learn to coexist with your others. These parts are not strangers threatening to take over your body; they are fragments of yourself looking for love and safety. When you begin to treat them with the respect and dignity they deserve, they will begin to become coconscious, where they are aware of the most of each other’s movements and behaviors.

Cooperation is a natural consequence of coconsciousness as the alters to make the decision to work together for the greater good.

Fusion. Since the “I” word, integration, frightens people, I have chosen the word fusion because it better describes the end result of working on issues related to dissociative identity disorder. Fusion does not, nor could it ever mean the death of your alters. That is impossible because even if only one of your alters die, you all do. You are one person. Fusion means the alters come together in an imperfect manner where they are all headed the same way and have the same goals.

Reaching fusion can take many years, and one should never rush it. Always keep in mind that your alters are you, and you are them. Only one person is reading this piece. One person whose personality never merged into one cohesive self.

Conclusion

Working with a therapist to heal from DID is an arduous task. Healing isn’t something you can go to a therapist once and accomplish; rather, it may take decades.

While the above statement is true, one must also remember that you have your entire life to dedicate to understanding and bettering yourself, and that should be your goal. There is no aha moment in DID healing where you suddenly can yell, “I am cured!” Instead, healing comes in small steps that lead to a better life.

Once the chaos has passed at the beginning of healing, life settles into a routine where you will be capable of taking your time to live. In other words, healing from dissociative identity disorder is an adventure where you can come to know yourself better than most ever will.

Healing for dissociative identity disorder is truly a journey, not a destination. You may always have problems under the right stress of dissociating into an alter who suddenly decides you cannot handle the situation. But this behavior does not mean you have regressed or lost the war; it only means that a new battle has begun.

We may stumble and fall but shall rise again; it should be enough if we did not run away from the battle. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Healing may not be so much about getting better, as about letting go of everything that isn’t you – all of the expectations, all of the beliefs – and becoming who you are. ~  Rachel Naomi Remen

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