Warrior Wisdom uses an integrated approach to healing, drawing primarily from the modalities of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), the Right Use of PowerTM, contemplative psychotherapy, and Internal Family Systems (IFS).

According to contemplative psychotherapist and author Karen Kissel-Wegela, contemplative psychotherapy is a therapeutic orientation in which the therapist utilizes mindfulness to intentionally hold an attitude of curiosity and Maitri, or warm, open-hearted friendliness towards whatever arises in their work with clients. For psychotherapy to truly be contemplative, it is important for the therapist to have a consistent meditation practice, because it is through such practice that Maitri is cultivated and developed, along with an ever-deepening awareness of the patterns and behaviors of the mind.  With the support of Maitri, a contemplative psychotherapist trusts their client’s innate basic goodness and holds the aspiration to help their clients recognize and manifest the brilliant sanity which is innately present within them, perhaps, for example, by supporting them in developing their own capacity for and access to mindfulness, loving-kindness, and self-connection.

Sometimes called “Compassionate Communication,” NVC is a mindfulness practice and a style of communication that provides a practical pathway to cultivating present moment connection with self and others.  Developed by Marshall Rosenberg, the practice of NVC is rooted in concrete practices which support becoming mindful enough to begin noticing (without judgment!) reactive conditioned patterns which block connection and which do not serve life.  Once we are aware, NVC then provides a simple, elegant framework for connecting with self and others through developing curiosity for the feelings and needs alive in ourselves and others at any given moment.

In NVC,  “jackal,” a fierce scavenger associated with survival and competition, is used to symbolize disconnecting, harmful patterns of mind and communication which often unconscious; formed in the past by old wounds. Mindful and compassionate communication towards self and others is symbolized in NVC as “giraffe” consciousness.  Giraffes have the largest heart of all the land mammals, and have the height to see the whole picture with great perspective. NVC’s basic flow is that in a challenging moment, a person is encouraged to stick to expressing what happened through observations (O) rather than interpretations, and then invite curiosity in order to connect with the present moment feelings (F) and needs (N) of self and/or others before moving forward to making a request (R) (rather than a demand) that would enrich life. This 4-step process is sometimes referred to as OFNR.

The Right Use of PowerTM, developed by Dr. Cedar Barstow, is a dynamic ethical framework that cultivates awareness and understanding of the dimensions of power in a relational context.  It provides a language for understanding the intersectionality of different dimensions of power that enter into every relationship, and guides people in learning how to utilize their power “with heart”: responsibility, awareness, wisdom, compassion, and skill.

Core to RUP concepts is that power is defined as neutral; it is simply the ability to have an effect or influence. The main dimensions of power focused on within Barstow’s work are personal power, status power, and role power, though systemic power, collective power, and institutional power are also addressed and at present becoming more central to the ongoing work of the Right Use of Power Institute. Personal power is described as every person’s birthright–it is within each individual at all times whether it is recognized or not. Role power is that which is elected, awarded, assigned, or earned, is in addition to personal power, and can sometimes be taken off or put on like a scarf in different contexts, depending on the role. Status power is culturally conferred based on visible and invisible markers of identity such as race, gender, age, neurodiversity, ability, class, etc., is changeable at times depending on context and status, and is also layered on in addition to personal power.

Though NVC does have some awareness of systems of oppression built into its original form, its understanding of the dimensions of power is limited, especially on the interpersonal level. As a result, it can be too easy for someone to (consciously or unconsciously) misuse NVC, and cause great harm. The Right Use of PowerTM is an approach to ethics that supports bringing the practice of Nonviolent Communication–as well as any therapeutic or relational modality–into an ever-evolving anti-oppression attuned lens. RUP supports “decolonization” of Nonviolent Communication in a sense because it puts into explicit language and awareness what is implicit and usually unnamed in traditional NVC and in our culture as a whole; the dynamics of power. RUP explores the intersectionality of different kinds of power, how power is misused and abused, and how to begin to take responsibility for the power that each one of us holds with heart and intentionality. Power-Conscious Nonviolent Communication, or PNVC, supports interpersonal responsibility, repair, and practical training in deconstruction of the ways in which Settler Colonialism and all of its relics “destroy in order to replace” (Wolfe, 2006), even within close personal relationships. Click here for info and dates for the 12-week PNVC course.

Internal Family Systems is a powerfully transformative, evidence-based model of psychotherapy, rooted in the belief that the mind is naturally multiple, and that is a good thing.  IFS posits that inner parts contain valuable qualities, and our core Self knows how to heal, allowing us to become integrated and whole. In IFS all parts are welcome. (From the Internal Family Systems Institute)

The basic premise of IFS is that all people have multiple parts within them,  and that all of these parts are good–they have talents and resources which support us; there is no goal to get rid of them. However, as people move through life, parts become burdened when they encounter harm or trauma. When this happens, the most vulnerable young parts– our tender inner children–become hurt, frightened, and confused, and exile themselves to the basement of our inner world to escape the pain of not belonging. Then, protector parts become burdened with the duty of standing sentry in order to keep the exiles safe. Protectors attack, defend, accommodate, or numb out when the pain of the belief of not belonging is too much to bear. 

The irony of all this is that though protector parts are working so hard to keep the inner children safe, the strategies and thought patterns the protector parts have adopted are often extremely harmful, self-aggressive, and disconnecting. Their strategies may keep child parts safe from outside harm for a time, and may have been brilliantly sane and the best option at the time when the initial harm occurred.  And, it is so often the case that the old, now unconscious, strategies of protector parts are not only no longer serving, but actually doing more harm than good. If parts are not unburdened, the people who are home to them will continue to experience life in deep states of suffering, confusion, and disconnection from themselves and others.

The good news is, no matter how deeply hurt and burdened parts become, they are inherently good and just doing their best. Though they are misguided in their strategies due to the harm in their conditioning, they never lose the genuine impulse to heal. With the guidance of Self-Leadership, parts can become aware of their outdated strategies, connect with their feelings and needs, and become unburdened of the extreme beliefs and emotions they latched onto at the moment of their trauma. It is through unburdening that parts transform back into their naturally valuable states, and our inner world of multiplicity becomes a place of collaboration and healing rather than of confusion and pain.

It is worth nothing that Contemplative psychotherapy and IFS are a natural fit because they share a core perspective that is often missing in the broader world of western psychotherapy: that all human beings have an innate healing capacity; inner wisdom that knows what is needed, and grounding in a deep understanding of the truth of inherent belonging. Contemplative psychotherapy has termed this aspect of consciousness brilliant sanity, while it is identified within the IFS model as Self-Energy.  Self-Energy is not a part, but rather, the conscious awareness within all people which is characterized by curiosity, compassion, clarity, connectedness, creativity, courage, confidence, and calm. Both modalities express that these relative terms are meant to point to the essence of who we truly are, and who we always have the potential to reawaken to in order to come home to our inherent belonging.

Power-Conscious NVC on its own is a powerful tool for supporting healing work within ourselves and with others. However, I have witnessed in my own therapeutic and facilitation work that no matter how much it is emphasized that the most important part of the practice is self-empathy, people often have the tendency to focus on the places where things continue to be difficult. We often have the story that the challenge is rooted in our own deficiency. We think: “I should be able to do better–I have a framework that supports connection–right? There must be something wrong with me.” This layer of self-judgment can sneakily masquerade as empathy for others. The impact is that it blocks precisely what the practice wants to support most: self-acceptance and deep healing.

When I recently began training in Internal Family Systems (IFS), I discovered a beautiful supportive dance between IFS and Power-Conscious NVC. It had an immediate and profound impact which  I witnessed time and time again in the people I was working with: it snapped people out of self-judgment, and into self-compassion and self-connection, or in IFS terms, “Self-Leadership.”  At times the impact was so profound, that a client would burst into laughter! This was laughter infused with profound clarity, self-acceptance, and a depth of compassion that had not been available to them before.

In IFS, like in NVC, it is understood that the judgmental, conditioned, reactive mind is a different aspect of consciousness than the compassionate mind that we are learning to connect with and act from in NVC.  In NVC, the conditioned mind is called “Jackal- Consciousness,” and the language of feelings and needs is referred to as “Giraffe-Consciousness.”  It is understood that Jackal is not moralistically bad, rather, it is simply doing the best it knows how in order to get needs met.

The added gift of IFS is in depersonalizing and unlocking more of the why of Jackal consciousness through a multiplicity perspective.  In IFS, it is understood that each of us is made up of “parts,” rather than existing as a singular, monolithic being. Not only is this an anti-oppression perspective (supremacy culture and whiteness swallow up complexity, diversity, and multiplicity), but it naturally and almost effortlessly helps people to create space around their reactive habits. It helps them depersonalize unskillful behaviors and enables them to unhook from the shame that so often freezes them and blocks choice. Thus, when people see their Jackal reactions as “protector parts,” they have an easier time with self-compassion.  It becomes immediately clear that their reactivity was born of suffering, and their protectors have been doing the best they can to attend to their needs from their relative places of unconscious wounding.

The arc of human history and the advancement of technology up to the present moment has led to a time in which most of those who live within the confines of modern society have become so cut off from the rhythms of the earth, from one another, and from their own inner worlds, that there is a deep forgetting of the true interdependent nature of being. It is possible in modern life to live in relative physical isolation in ways that it never was before, and so many do. Thus, the only reality the vast majority of people alive today easily recognize is the most immediately physically evident one: the relative truth of embodied separation (Shepard, 1995). This separation from self, others, and the earth is an enormous trauma, and an ongoing one. This trauma has led most humans in the modern world to unconsciously move through their lives operating from the most wounded parts of themselves. This is a life lived in a constant state of painful reactivity, rather than choice, without access to any awareness that any other option is possible. 

These wounded parts have come to believe that their painful strategies are the only way to ensure survival. Self-acceptance, collaboration, and collective care are often not available or even conceivable to the traumatized survival brain of hurting parts. This fragmented inner experience creates a limited worldview that may be a natural, blameless result of the advancement of technology in the modern era. However, it has a high cost, because the basic truth of interdependence is that what occurs at the intrapersonal level is mirrored at the interpersonal and collective levels. When the psychosocial development of enough of the community is curtailed by isolation in its early stages, unhealed fearful protector parts reign. These protectors, operating from dualistic, survival-based thinking, are the ones who have built the structures, norms, and values of modern culture. This is how binary thinking has come to be the dominant and pervasive worldview.

What began as a necessary understanding of that which harms or helps the body, through the trauma of the delusion of separation and the resulting forgetting of interdependence has devolved into pervasive moralistic protector-held beliefs of good and evil, right and wrong, us and them, and so on. Over time, the deeply hurting protectors within each individual create and reinforce enemy images, self-hatred and self-aggression, gender-based violence, racism, supremacy, colonization, war; immense incalculable suffering. To quote Dick Schwartz, the founder of Internal Family Systems Therapy, “When we go to war with parts, we go to war with people” (2019).

As time marches on and separation from the earth and each other deepens, if parts are not unburdened, their beliefs and wounds are passed on from generation to generation.  As the Buddha taught, it is this fragmentation, which he explained as the belief in a separate self as the ultimate and only truth, which is at the root of all suffering. It is only from a belief in separation that it can be possible for human beings to collude in the harm being done to themselves, to one another, and to the earth. Healing, both at the individual and the collective level, lies therefore in waking up to nonbinary ways of thinking: multiplicity; nonduality; the relative, and the absolute truth.

When the inner family system is healed, the external system is also healed. As transformative justice practitioner Kazu Haga said in his 2021 keynote address at Naropa University, “Change is fractal; what works at an interpersonal level works at the global level. Trauma is at the root of all conflict. Until we heal the core trauma of an individual, an organization, an institution; the country, we will continue to be in an endless game of whack-a-mole, treating the symptoms instead of the core wound.” It becomes clear once again that both interdependence and relative separation are inherently true and inherently necessary to the very existence of life on the earth. We must heal our individual inner multiplicities to heal our outer ones.

Awakening to the truth of who we are, including and beyond our fragmented wounded parts, is what is needed if we are to continue to live on this earth as a species. IFS provides a framework for understanding our multiplicity and wounding in simple intuitive terms. Contemplative psychotherapy complements IFS in that it develops incredible capacity for attunement to and acceptance of whatever is happening in the inner world. Power-consciousness provides important layers of understanding of the relative truths that have been built into our fragmented modern world and which are influencing our relationship with ourselves and others, and it provides language to make the implicit explicit. NVC is a tool that cultivates connection to personal power and facilitates healing by helping people get underneath the stories their burdened parts are telling them, in order to connect with what they are feeling and needing.  When these modalities are combined, they have the power to slice through the delusion and suffering of separation and bring us home to the Truth of belonging. When we are able to come home to ourselves, we are cultivating collective liberation: for what we wake up to and heal within ourselves, we also become aware of and begin to heal in others.