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Ego-state therapy is a psychodynamic approach to treat various behavioural and cognitive problems within a person. It uses techniques that are common in group and family therapy to resolve conflicts that constitute a "family of self" within a single individual. Although covert ego states do not normally become open and observable except in true multiple personality disorder, they are hypnotically activated and made accessible for communication with by a therapist. Various psychodynamic techniques such as behavioral, cognitive, analytic, or humanistic techniques may then be employed in a kind of internal diplomacy. This approach has demonstrated that complex psychodynamic problems can often be resolved in a much shorter period than with analytic therapies.

The concept of segmentation of personality has been around for many years. The creation of ego-state therapy is attributed to John G Watkins.

Psychological Process

In the development of the human personality, there are two processes that are essential: integration and differentiation. Through integration a person learns to put concepts together, like a shirt and a pair of trousers, to build more complex units known as clothes. By differentiation the person separates general concepts into specific meaning, such as the differences between a comfortable shirt and an uncomfortable shirt. Such differentiation allows humans to experience one set of behaviours in a different situation to another.

Psychological processes do not exist on an either/or basis. Things such as moods and emotions like depression, anxiety, and fear exist on a continuum with differing degrees of intensity. It is the same with differentiation-dissociation. Disorders such as multiple personality disorder are often in the extreme end of the continuum that begins with normal differentiation. It is a matter of intensity. Therefore, the general principle of personality formation in which the process of separation has resulted in discreet segments, called ego states, with boundaries that are more or less permeable.

Ego states exist as a collection of perceptions, cognitions and affects in organised clusters. An ego state may be defined as an organized system of behavior and experience, whose elements are bound together by common principle. When one of these states is invested with ego energy, it becomes "the self" in the here and now. This state is executive and experiences the other states which are then invested with object energy.

Ego states vary in their volume. A large ego state may include all the various behaviors activated in one's occupation. A small ego state are the behaviours one experiences in a simple action, such as using a mobile phone. They may represent current modes of behavior and experiences or, as with hypnotic regression, include many memories, postures, feelings, etc that were apparently learned at an earlier age. They may be organised into different dimensions. For example, an ego state may be built around the age of 10. Another one may represent patterns of behavior toward a father or authority figures and thus overlap with experiences from the age of 10. Behaviors to accomplish a similar goal may be uniquely different from one ego state to another, especially in true multiple personalities.


Hypnosis is a process to assist focus and dissocociation. Through hypnosis, the therapist can focus on a single ego state or segment of personality and dissociate other parts. Many practitioners today are hypnotically activating covert ego states and announcing that they have discovered another multiple personality. Although multiple personalities are usually studied through hypnosis, they should be diagnosed only when the ego states can become overt spontaneously and when the main personality is generally amnestic to what occurs when the alter is overt and executive. When a covert ego state can be induced to emerge only through hypnosis, we do not consider this as a true multiple personality, and it should not be diagnosed. Ego states are commonly found through student volunteers for hypnotic studies. Because hypnosis is a form of dissociation, it is not suprising to find that good hypnotic subjects often manifest covert ego states in their personalities without being mentally ill.

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