TIST Skills: Language Techniques for Complex PTSD

Academy of Therapy Wisdom

Key Points

  1. Developing fluency in the language of parts is vital for supporting clients in the unblending process, fostering mindful focus and boosting prefrontal cortex activity.
  2. Reframing distressing emotions as parts and practicing separation from them is a fundamental technique that enables clients to respond to distress more effectively.
  3. Encouraging curiosity, interest, and empathy for the parts is essential for clients to understand the value and significance of each part in their survival and emotional experiences.
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Fluency in the Language of Parts

An essential step in TIST treatment involves assisting clients to develop fluency in the language of parts, supporting the unblending process through a change in discourse. The therapist acts as a simultaneous translator for numerous sessions to foster this fluency. The shift in language use lets clients recognize and differentiate between their feelings and those of their parts. The intensive use of such language accelerates the learning process.

For the client “D”, attaining fluency in the language of parts was particularly critical. She was progressively unable to function due to parts activation, needing intensive work on her language skills. Her nervous system calmed down as she began to recognize and separate from her parts. Employing this language also boosts mindful focus, resulting in increased activity in the prefrontal cortex and an associated reduction in autonomic dysregulation.


Despite seeming simple, mindfulness has profound effects on the brain. Straightforward yet potent mindfulness and somatic techniques, such as recognizing bodily reactions to feelings, are pivotal in therapy. Such techniques maintain the activity of the prefrontal cortex, which is essential for learning by acquiring and encoding information, particularly in trauma cases.

Noticing and Mindfulness Techniques

The therapist encouraged “D” to observe her reactions, stating, “Notice that pushing away.” When the sad part surfaced, the therapist guided “D” to identify her physical response: “Do you lean toward her? Pull away? Do you tense up?” “D” acknowledged tensing up in response to the sad part, intensifying the sadness.

They then explored the impact of physical relaxation on the sad part. “What happens if you feel the sad part and relax your body? Is that better or worse?” “D” discovered that relaxing her body improved her emotional state. These exchanges illustrate the application of mindfulness and somatic techniques, promoting awareness of reactions to different emotional parts and exploration of alternative responses.

Reframing Distressing Emotions as Parts

Encouraging clients to perceive distressing emotions as parts allows them to pause, step back, and observe. This reframing is crucial for learning to separate from parts and respond to distress more effectively. Despite her intelligence and accomplishments, “D” instantly blended with her parts. Her treatment focused on translating into the language of parts, aiding her in practicing feeling distress, pausing instead of reacting to it, separating from it, and noticing it.

Encouraging Curiosity and Empathy

Fostering curiosity, interest, and empathy for the parts is as vital as separating from them. The therapist’s display of curiosity and interest is fundamental for the client to also develop these characteristics. This approach helps clients comprehend that each part holds valuable information, whether as a feeling memory or a survival defense, and represents different aspects of their existence.

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TIST Skills: Language Techniques for Complex PTSD

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