• Jade

Working With Multiple Systems

These are just some thoughts off the top of my head, as to how to work with a multiple and their system.  I’m writing this for therapists, counselors, and/or anyone else (even friends) who attempts to relate to or work with a multiple and their system.  As always, this is not meant to be exhaustive, and these things are purely my opinion based on experience as to what works well. With everyone being so different, the best resource you have is the multiple themselves!

Here are some important things to know when working with a multiple system.

Inside People/Entities

Every single entity on the inside is valuable, and they exist for a reason.  Even if they initially come across as rude, threatening, bullying, demanding, pacifying, or anything else you may not have been expecting, treat them with honor and respect.  Thank them for the way they’ve helped your client survive things s/he would never have otherwise survived.  This is the absolute most important thing to remember no matter who you’re talking to:  everyone is valuable, and everyone has a purpose.  Even if their purpose is to distract, that is still a job and at one time it was extremely important to carry out.

There may be entities in a system that believe themselves to be non-human.  They may believe themselves to be an animal, an alien, a mythical creature, or a stationary object.  Prioritize being kind to them, just as you would any other inside person.  They’re taking a risk by letting themselves be known, so giving them the same honor and respect you’d give to human insiders is crucial to building a relationship with them. For those with special needs –such as deaf or mute or blind insiders, or those who speak other languages – no one can be expected to know enough to communicate in the preferred style of every single inside person.

This just isn’t possible.

But what you can do, is ask the system for help.  Do not try to force the insider to become something they are not, unless or until they are ready to make that choice for themselves. A lot of these inside entities are going to be very young, and they are the way they are for good reason.  If they don’t talk, ask if they can write, or draw.  If they are too young or too scared to do that, ask if they have an inside friend or helper who can come forward and speak for them, so you can know how to help them.  Multiples have survived by being the ultimate in resourcefulness.

Use this to your advantage.  If you meet an inside entity who has an issue that you just can’t figure out how to work around, address the entire system and ask the question “Does anybody have any ideas for how to help us communicate?”  You may be surprised with the creativity and flexibility expressed in finding a solution.


The best way to learn how to tell when your client has switched is practice and experience.  Switching isn’t the same for all multiples.  I wish I could tell you what to look for, but some systems are more obvious than others, and some systems can do it faster than others.  And even within the same system it can vary from individual to individual, depending on who is coming and going.

Get to know your client.

If you have a good, solid relationship with them, and your client trusts you, politely ask if some of the “main” inside people – meaning the ones who already commonly talk to you – could help you learn about switching and let you know when a new person has appeared.  Just during the learning period.

Pay attention to body language, facial expressions, and mannerisms.  As in almost every situation, the system itself is going to be your most valuable source of information.  Assuming you’ve done the work to establish a strong relationship with the client, ask questions.  Most systems are more than happy – relieved, even – to answer questions that are asked with good intentions.  Most people want desperately to be understood, noticed, validated.  Ask questions and request clarification for anything that seems unclear.

System communication

Sometimes – depending entirely upon how your client’s specific system is designed – you can talk to the system as a whole.  The only way to find out whether this is possible or not is to ask.  It need not be complicated.  You can ask whoever is currently present, “Can everyone inside hear me right now?”  If they say “Yes,” you can proceed and say, “Great. I just want to let everyone know…{insert message}.”  And if they say “No,” you can still proceed but instead say, “That’s okay.  I just want to tell everyone who is listening right now…{insert message}. And if there’s anyone who wasn’t listening to me right now, but decides later that they want to know about it, if you guys could please help them by telling them what I said and helping them understand, that would be great.”

Whether you can address the entire system all at once or not, it’s a good idea to just assume that more than one person is listening inside at a time.  Unless the client specifically tells you that so-and-so is absent, don’t make any assumptions about who is around and who is paying attention.  A lot of times insiders are watching and listening to you, who you may not yet know, because they’re sizing you up.  They’re trying to determine if they can trust you or not.As far as communication with the individuals in a system, it’s not much different than communication with any other person in the outside world, if they don’t have any special needs.  If the system is comfortable with telling you individuals’ names, and there is a good level of trust established, you can often ask specifically to speak with an individual by name.  But ask first, if this is okay.  Some systems are shy about giving names because the insiders’ names were used to force them out even when they didn’t want to be out.  So ask if requesting specific people by name would be okay.

I like to try to provide as much info as I can, when the topic is something that expands beyond personal opinion.  So here are a couple other resources you may find helpful:

Working Within the Multiple System from

Developing Internal Communication – a blog post from a blog called “Discussing Dissociation” by a trauma therapist…I’d recommend also going to the front page of this blog and clicking the link to the right called “List of All Articles…” and browsing… some good articles here!

Please note the age of these resources and note the broken links throughout both. This is another reason I’ve started this blog; because a lot of the common or popular info about dissociation and multiplicity on the internet is dated and the links are broken.

I’m not saying info always has to be new and changing in order to be relevant, but I am saying that with such dynamic conditions as dissociation, DDNOS, and D.I.D., the understanding of the general public has a long way to go to catch up, and even our own understanding of it probably can’t possibly stay stagnant over the years if we (as a community) are going to grow in awareness and healing. Cheers. ~J8

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