The Dissociative Table

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The first time I heard the phrase “dissociative table” I was having dinner with another survivor/therapist. He asked whether I was familiar with the technique and I stared down at the dining room table and went blank. All I could think was that people dissociated, not tables. I covered my confusion by truthfully answering. “No, I’m not familiar with it.”

The dissociative table is a technique developed by George Fraser in 1991. It consists in inviting a group of alters, or inner people, or parts, or ego-states, or self-states, or whatever you like to call them, to come gather around an internal table and sit down and talk. Fraser’s goal is to get to know the alters and the system they belong to with the aim of eventual fusion into one state. With the information gained about the alters, he can help with memory retrieval work and, later in the process, allow alters to merge temporarily so that they can see that they do not die, that they live on in a new state.

I would be tempted not to embrace Fraser’s goal, but to aim to increase communication between alters, to have them get to know each other, and to have them develop social skills. With practice, alters with different points of view can learn to negotiate and reach a compromise. The goal is not integration, but increased communication and harmony. Partial or full integration may occur, if parts want it, but the desired end is simply greater cooperation and diminished chaos.

I would set up rules in advance, like only one person at a time may talk, people take turns talking by going around the table or passing a talking stick, no throwing chairs or other forms of violence by anybody, including me, etc. Once the alters are used to the set-up, I could invite all alters who were interested in a particular topic to come to the table and discuss about it.

I can also imagine people doing it themselves, as a form of self-guided imagery. It sounds like a simple technique, right? Well, a warning – even simple things can quickly get complicated. Think, for example, what it might be like if three adults, twelve littles, six robots, and a tiger all sat down at the same table, especially if not all of them knew English. You would need a way to gracefully end the meeting until you figured out how to handle such a diverse group. Better to prepare for problems in advance, rather than having to think on your feet!

Before starting, you could say, “Let me know if any part of you is uncomfortable with something I suggest. I can always think of something else.” For example, Fraser realizes that some people might have bad associations to sitting at a table and, if so, he substitutes sitting around a rock at the beach or meeting in an open field. If tables are okay, a round one might not be, but a rectangular or oval table might be fine.

Taking turns can be encouraged by passing around a microphone or a talking stick. If a part can’t communicate but has something to say – perhaps it speaks a foreign language, or is preverbal, or is non-human – there may be an interpreter present to help. Pre-verbal parts may be encouraged to draw. If a part doesn’t want to talk, you can give assurance that, although it isn’t yet ready, it can have a turn later on.

If you do want to try this by yourself or with a client, I strongly recommend you read all of Fraser’s article carefully. “The Dissociative Table Technique: A Strategy for Working with Ego States in Dissociative Disorders and Ego-State Therapy.” Dissociation, Vol. 4, No. 4, (Dec. 1991) pp. 205 – 213. You can download it for free at https://scholarsbank.uoregon.edu/xmlui/handle/1794/1467   There is also an updated version of the article, “Fraser’s ‘Dissociative Table Technique’ Revisited, Revised: A Strategy for Working with Ego States in Dissociative Disorders and Ego-State Therapy.” Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, Vol. 4, No. 4, (Jan. 2003) pp 5-28. I haven’t been able to locate a free copy, only an abstract.

Fraser draws from different schools of hypnosis and often uses forced choices (“Would you like to speak to me with your eyes open or closed?”) He incorporates imagery that was widely used at the time and may still be in wide use in these days of Dialectical Behavior Therapy. He has the parts notice that there is a movie screen or a TV monitor in the room and invites people to project their memories onto the screen. This allows a measure of distance and also lets everybody else see what is being shown and described. And there is a remote with stop, pause, and rewind buttons to give control over the pace of sharing.

If there is a child in the movie who is in distress, he may ask the part who created the movie to step into the movie and comfort the child or confront the person who is hurting the child.

Fraser also suggests that there is a stage, with a mirror, near the table. A part can go there and change its age or gender, if desired. The new identity can be seen in the mirror. Fraser has alters fuse (what other therapists call integrate.) He can have two alters join in a partial fusion (that is, only a small part of the system fuses, not all the parts in the system,) and the others, who are watching, can see that nobody dies or gets hurt in the process. He can ask parts to consider temporary fusion. “I will assure them that they do not have to stay fused forever if they do not like it, but they should at least give it a chance for an hour or a few days, and then come apart and decide for themselves the advantages of fusion.”

The whole work of therapy has been done in this one internal room. And, at the end of therapy, all alters are fused and there is no more need for the room with the table, and stage, and movie screen.

 

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2 thoughts on “The Dissociative Table

  1. Greetings! Dr Rea used this technique with us. We had a counsel. It consisted of the leader of each “section” of alters. EX- Josh was for the 6-9 age group, Matron was for the babies, etc. Each “leader was to go to the meetings and take whatever was said back to his group. When you deal with over 100 alters, it seemed a smarter way to go. We sat up around my collar bones, in a wide horse shoe shape. Use of the screen, imagery were incorporated.
    Sadly, with my defensive system, it didn’t work very well. The communication wasn’t given to the rest of the alters. Some thought it as stupid. They always found an excuse or I didn’t follow thru.

    I’m hearing ,” We’re losers. Never gonna beat this.’ . I tend to believe it as it hasn’t worked in years.

    We haven’t seen Dottie in over a month, due to both of us canceling. I feel we need someone new, but then again, as many people have said to us, why do we need to dig this stuff up, haven’t we had enuf?!

    I had a marvelous couple of hours with my g ranbabies and daughter n her husband Saturday. First time seeing them in a year! It was great. We went to the playground and noticed how much of my inside children have become a part of me. We sang on the swings going really high, did the jungle gym……….and no-one would have known my alters were so present. We smiled for hours after they left to go home to Georgia. Really good day.

    Signing off
    Blessings
    Tracy &Co

    Like

    1. When I was in grad school, they taught us that the client never fails, never is resistant – it’s just that we didn’t know enough and so couldn’t figure out what to do. Not much consolation tho cause even if it wasn’t your fault it didn’t work.

      I still vividly remember my T telling me to imagine walking down a path and finding the child I was back then. What would I say to her? What would I do? Well, I screamed: “Mike, get me out of here! I want to tie her to a tree and burn her!!!” Poor guy, poor me, poor little girl lost in the woods. We took it easy on the guided imagery after that.

      So glad you had a great day with your daughter and grandkids. I wish that could happen more often.

      Like

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