I have over 43 years of experience in the fields of mental health, addiction, trauma, and life-coaching.
Healing Dissociative Identity Disorder
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 condition has been dreaded for centuries. DID is not a mental illness, but rather a natural response and a reaction to repetitive, overwhelming, life-threatening events.
The label of DID carries with it a lot of stigmas as 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 on the complex condition.
Anyone who has received a DID diagnosis has felt extreme pressure, real or imagined, to hide their condition. Therefore, those who carry this condition experience feelings of blame, embarrassment, guilt, 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.
The Problem With Self-Discovery Treatment Methods
This type of therapeutic self-discovery can cause several side effects in patients. It may cause one to:
- Relive traumatic experiences
- Experience feelings of disloyalty
- Undergo dissociative episodes
- Experience shameful thoughts
- Undergo feelings of rejection
- Endure triggered, painful emotions
- Suffer severe emotional distress
This type of therapeutic course of treatment is extremely hard and time consuming for survivors with DID.
Traditional methods of treatment like integration, including medication, tend to cause abuse and trauma survivors to be retraumatized as a result and experience frequent relapses as well as regression periods. Conversely, the inner system of the individual views these types of treatments as an attack causes them to experience increased feelings of fear, retraumatization, and multiple episodes of switching between the parts.
A Refreshing View of DID
The brain is hardwired to survive no matter what. I believe creating a DID system is a normal defense reaction to experiencing horrible and repetitive life-threatening events. It is a natural defensive response to overwhelming traumatic experiences.
This life-saving separation of a whole self into a DID system appears to be a mirror of the human brain and how it functions. Think about this: Even though the brain is one organ, the brain operation, on the whole, is done via functional compartments. The brain governs the functions of both the body and the mind through different centers. Development of DID is an innate defense mechanism to protect the whole by forming compartmentalized, individually functioning “parts” or alters.
A Method of Survival
The ability to compartmentalize one’s identity to survive occurs on a symbolic level, not on a literal level. It is a symbolic inner restructuring that partitions off sections of the identity 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 the mind. Compartmentalization is completed instantly and silently, and it is accomplished internally within the victim 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 their system in a way that is also acceptable to the parts. This will move the whole person along the path to healing and recovery.
An Alternative Way of Healing DID: The System Unification Method
Dissociative Identity Disorder is a symbolic survival process in which the person experiencing trauma separates their identity into compartments that function independently within the brain. It appears that DID mirrors the brain, meaning the brain is one organ that totally runs the whole body in different connected compartments. If we take this premise as fact, then DID configuration changes occur within the brain and are not visible externally. Research has shown that changes to identity occur within the brain as a response to repetitive life-threatening experiences and are not visible to the observer.
Following along these lines, it makes sense that recovery should mirror how the brain is configured. It is considered one united organism with smaller compartments to ensure successful functioning. To facilitate healing, separated compartments should be united and function as one whole unit or one identity. Internally, the whole should continue to function as compartments, thus keeping the integrity of the system.
The System Unification Method or SUM is a unique, safe, protective, and symbolic protocol that reverses the survival process without removing or eliminating the parts, protective skills, or survival abilities.
Some of the benefits of completing the SUM protocol:
- Past emotional charge within traumatic memories in each compartment is eliminated.
- Triggers are disconnected.
- Hypersensitivity and hypervigilance is removed.
- Old, negative, core beliefs are removed (which formed during each life-threatening event).
- Old core expectations are shifted.
- Self-limiting, self-harming, and self-defeating messages are eliminated.
The SUM protocol allows the survivor to free their parts from past traumatic material and sets the stage for new growth. A positive side effect is the significant reduction of PTSD symptoms experienced by the DID system.
The System Unification Method is a significant improvement and upgrade of the extremely beneficial Incorporation Therapy (IT) which was developed in the 1990s and used successfully on thousands of clients to stabilize DID systems. For over 20 years, Incorporation Therapy was practiced in an inpatient psychiatric setting. 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 (Tollefson Enterprises; 2nd edition, 2004). Incorporation Therapy facilitated internal structure and symptom stabilization from chaos and crisis and reduced the intensity of PTSD symptoms.
The Differences in the System Unification Method and Incorporation Therapy
The System Unification Method is a complete change from Incorporation Therapy. IT was designed to achieve stabilization only. Incorporation Therapy stopped the chaos, crisis, and fear cycle. Over time, it was found that the effects of IT waned with growth of the DID survivor and did not offer adaption skills and mechanisms in continued therapy.
The System Unification Method was designed to achieve a more complete healing of the whole person. It helps them to improve connections between the various compartments and gives them the ability to create a new identity, as well as adopt new life skills and growth mechanisms.
No longer is there a dome configuration, and internal mechanisms are different to ensure structural integrity. Specific differences between these two life-saving programs can be explained as follows:
- SUM puts more control into the hands of the client.
- SUM provides a gyroscope configuration to ensure system balance and stability.
- SUM addresses the client’s core belief wall.
- SUM explores the client’s core expectation wall.
- SUM gives the client greatly improved external and internal safety and protection mechanisms.
The Human Memory and DID
One of the worst symptoms that affects all DID survivors is reexperiencing traumatic memories 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.
Viewing Memory Symbolically
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 is the physical component, and the string is the trigger. The emotional component contains all the emotions that were too painful and overwhelming 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 the consciousness.
The emotional component (pain and hurt) is the most difficult to resolve. The remembered emotions of a past event always surface first, and a natural reaction by the survivor or part is to “shut down or numb out” the emotions. The survivor or part fears that, if felt again, the emotions will completely retraumatize the person. Even though there may have been many years between the event and the present day, without the acquisition of new coping skills, 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. Addiction, self-mutilation, and other self-harming behaviors are linked to an avoidance to relive the retraumatizing effects of the surfaced emotional component.
The emotional component overpowers the survivor and parts, as well, and causes the part to want to protect them, 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 original 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 function in their daily life.
Separation From Self
Another major feeling experienced by the survivor is a sense of emptiness or “separation from self.” The ensuing “relationship with self” becomes critical, negative, rejecting of self or parts, and damaging. In order to enter into a new relationship with self and one’s system as a whole, the survivor has to shift from a disease model mindset to a healthy/normal mindset and enter into the recovery/healing stage.
A Testimonial of the Success of SUM
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 quickly evaluate that some of my parts had left the dome (a part of the incorporating process) that unified us. The parts had left in order 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 a point of healing rather than just stabilization. He taught me how to draw on my pain without reliving or reexperiencing 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, find my strength and inner power, and understand my true self.
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 formed a new identity, a new sense of self. I don’t totally understand all that happened, but it worked. Since then I have embraced my differences as strengths, used creativity to live, and gained valuable survival skills. I see that these skills can be used for growth and adaptation to normal life. I thought my difference was an illness from the messages given during my awful abuse. This has been turned around to a positive 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.
A Presentation on Healing Dissociative Identity Disorder
Taking Back Control of Your Life
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 reactivity to a state of proactive involvement with life.
© 2014 Bill Tollefson
Courtney on August 05, 2019:
Is there a way to get trained in the SUM protocol? I am an EMDR trained counselor in Central Florida and am currently working with clients diagnosed with DID. Please inform :)
Bill Tollefson (author) from Southwest Florida on April 25, 2016:
Thank you for your comment and nice works about the article and WiTT.
I would be more to help you with your issues. SUM is a better and healing up date to Incorporation Therapy. My program is so much better than WiiT was and so much more helpful.
I look forward in hearing from you in the future.
I will be opening a new rehab program in the next four months in Florida. If you would send me an email to Tollefsonenterprises@gmail.com I will put you on the list when I make the announcement of the opening. I will be a very powerful program better than WiiT was.
Thanks again for reading this article. I hope you read more of my work. I will also send you a link to my free eBook when you send the email to me.
Pat on April 23, 2016:
Very interesting article. At some point in the future I would be interested in more info on SUM. With Carol's death date coming closer, May 3rd will be 1 year, I am dissociating daily. I know it because I am experiencing daily bouts of short term memory loss. I buy things online late evenings and realize it in the morning. Ugh!! At first I thought it was due to my medicine to help with nightmares, prozosin, but then I realized what was going on.
WIIT and being helped by yourself and the incorporation that Pat helped me through really helped a lot. However, I am experiencing a terrible decline mentally right now.
I'll definately contact you for more information as soon as I have the resources to work with you.
I am so glad that you are still helping people as you are an awesome kind man!!! Very knowledgable in the DID field and so willing to help those in need.
Bill Tollefson (author) from Southwest Florida on March 13, 2016:
The only place you can experience System Unification Method for DID is participating in Post Trauma Coaching with me. I developed System Unification Method or SUM in 2009. It is an outgrowth version of Incorporation Therapy method for DID which I developed in 1997 and thousands & thousands of survivors with DID experience at my treatment cent "Womens Institute For Incorporation Therapy which closed in 2010. You get more information on the foundation of System Unification Method by reading my first book "Separated From The Light" paperback - http://www.amazon.com/Separated-Light-Psychologica...
You can email me at Tollefsonenterprises@gmail.com if you would like a free 30 minute introductory session to learn more about SUM.
Blessings, Dr. Bill Tollefson
nico on March 13, 2016:
I have been searching the web to look for ways to obtain SYSTEM UNIFICATION METHOD treatment, and I cannot find any. Please tell me how to find this help.
Bill Tollefson (author) from Southwest Florida on January 27, 2016:
Thank you for reading everything on SUM. SUM is a approach I use with my private coaching clients with DID.
I don't know what you mean by "how to become a part of it". You can call me and set up a free 30 minute session to understand more of how DID can be healed through SUM.
Thank you for your comment and interest.
Shannon.email@example.com on January 26, 2016:
How do I get more info on SUM..? I have read everything but have not found out how to become a part of it. I need help! Thank you
Bill Tollefson (author) from Southwest Florida on June 13, 2014:
Thanks you for your comment. I developed this SUM method for survivors of repetitive abuse and trauma that have a diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder or DID. I guide clients through this method on Skype after setting the foundation of education, inner communication and increased relationship with their system.
But it is important that it is the client that does it themselves with their own strength, intelligence, skill and power. Many survivors with DID have begun to heal and grow after completing the protocol.
Email me if you want more information on this post trauma method.
Dorie M. on June 13, 2014:
Dr. Bill, I have been in hospitals on meds. Off meds.
Thank.you for help I didnt know I needed. This is alot of reading and comprehensive to do. Thanks for the link. What I really wont to know is this l system with a therapist or is this self?
My symptoms are out of control. Concentration is very difficult right now. Thanks Dorie
Bill Tollefson (author) from Southwest Florida on June 06, 2014:
SUM is an better procedure than Incorporation Therapy. It a coaching method that can be done right over Skype to help you unify your DID system leaving all your defensive and survival skills in tact while getting rid of the formed core beliefs that still trouble you. Many have found SUM growth producing and has opened a path to real healing . A secondary gain is it reduces all your PTSD symptoms.
If you aren't able to do SUM with me in coaching with me you can take my 30 Day Challenge on my website http://www.makingapositivechange.com/ and it will clear away all those core beliefs, core values and core expectations you accumulated during your abuse. It is a great tool.
Thanks for reading and making a comment. Hope you are well.
Blessings, Dr. Bill
Linda on June 05, 2014:
So what about those of us who didn't actually go through Incorporation? Is the SUM process an inpatient thing like WiiT, or is it through your life coaching? One thing that helped me at WiiT was getting past my coping mechanism, but I don't think I ultimately did too much to overcome the trauma....
Bill Tollefson (author) from Southwest Florida on May 30, 2014:
So nice to hear from you. I really appreciate you wonderful comments and complements and coming from you is a real honor.
I also beleive this is ground breaking method and it is very successful for survivors with DID.
I and my family are doing well and very busy. Hope you are your family are also.
Blessings and warm wishes to you.
Gail Sobotkin from South Carolina on May 30, 2014:
Hi Dr. Bill,
I found this article very informative. You have taken a difficult subject and broken it down into terms that a lay person can understand. I particularly liked the balloon analogy.
You have also showed the way your own knowledge of how to help those who suffer from DID has grown through your years of professional experience and research and in doing so, you offer a new method that promotes healing rather than just stabilization.
Sheri's story was an excellent example of how this works.
Thanks for posting this ground breaking work.
Hope all is well with you and your family.
Sending Blessings & Love Your Way,
Bill Tollefson (author) from Southwest Florida on May 28, 2014:
Thank you for your very nice comment on my HUB article. I am glad you enjoyed it and got something out of it.
Audrey Howitt from California on May 28, 2014:
Just an excellent article--both on DID and on SUM.