Member spotlight: Francesca Starr.
Article Type: Interview
Subject: Medical centers (Officials and employees)
Pub Date: 09/22/2010
Publication: Name: Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association Publisher: American Psychotherapy Association Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 American Psychotherapy Association ISSN: 1535-4075
Issue: Date: Fall, 2010 Source Volume: 13 Source Issue: 3
Topic: Event Code: 540 Executive changes & profiles Canadian Subject Form: Medical centres
Persons: Named Person: Starr, Francesca
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 242897539
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From her practice nestled high in the Rocky Mountains, Francesca Starr accompanies clients around the world on their journeys of personal and professional growth. Starr--the founder and executive director of the Complete Life Center--has been using a method called Voice Dialogue for about 20 years and considers it the cornerstone of her work.

In addition to counseling clients in person or by phone, chat, or Skype, Starr trains other therapists in Voice Dialogue, conducts group workshops, and offers free monthly tele-classes. She has done radio segments and written a number of articles, many of which can be found on her Web site, www.completelifecenter. com. When she isn't working, Starr loves hiking in the mountains, skiing in the winter, reading and attending conferences for ongoing personal and professional growth, nurturing deep connections with her friends and family, and playing with her new Maltese puppies, Albion and Bach.

In a recent interview with Annals, Starr explained Voice Dialogue and recalled how she was introduced to it as the result of what she describes as a very profound personal experience.

Q: Your Web site states that you have been using Voice Dialogue for about 20 years. What attracted you to it?

A. I was at the time working on my dissertation and had been in practice for several years when I really crashed into a very dark night, a very dark depression. I had a lot of tools at my command, and I also had a tremendous network of professionals in the Bay Area that I could take advantage of at the time, and I did. I worked on all levels--mind, body, spirit--really for years. And I still could not break this almost inexorable pull into the darkness. I worked with cognitive behavioral therapy, with body-oriented therapy, Jungian analysis, breath work, meditation, medication, nutrition, exercise, really a tremendous diversity of approaches. And I was really almost at the end of my tether when a very dear friend of mine (she's also very well known in the human potential movement), Shakti Gawain, invited me to stay with her at her magnificent home on Kauai. We were lying on the beach together, and she turned to me, and she knew of my difficulties. And she said "Francesca, I know that you've been in this dark night for a long, long time, and I never want to intrude on people with my own experiences, but I really feel that I would like to ask you to consider doing Voice Dialogue. It's been extremely helpful to me, I've worked with hundreds of people, and it's an extremely powerful method that I think now would help you." I was at such a point where I just leapt at the opportunity.

And so right there on Kauai, looking out over the ocean, Shakti facilitated my first Voice Dialogue session ... After that session, I felt inside of me a visceral shift that was immediate, and it was like an opening--a feeling of spaciousness--that for almost 10 years I had not experienced. It was a sense of hope, and this was my glimpse of the power of Voice Dialogue. For me, it was like clear as a bell: Oh, this is something else.... Shakti called Hal and Sidra Stone, who are the creators of Voice Dialogue--she's a very dear friend of theirs--right there and asked on my behalf if they could work with me. Hal and Sidra agreed, and I went up to Mendocino immediately, and I was very lucky. I had five days going to their beautiful home every day for intensive Voice Dialogue sessions with each of them separately. And because of that, my depression of years began to lift, and my life has never been the same. And I've been on a tremendous road of growth, and my work has deepened, and I've just been passionate ever since.

Q: How would you describe Voice Dialogue to somebody who is not familiar with it?

A: There are many psychological theories and systems that discuss the human psyche, our inner world, and having different parts. Voice Dialogue is not alone in this. Freud divided the human psyche into the conscious and the unconscious, and he named at least three partitions: the ego, the superego, and the id. Jung came along and added untold numbers of parts to the psyche both that we know about, which are the conscious, and those that we do not know or will not know, and he called that the Shadow. He also introduced the concepts like complexes of different parts that have profound impacts on our lives, and he talked about archetypes (all of which find expression through our human experience.) Of course, there are many more current methods that work with inner parts: there's transactional analysis, Gestalt, Assagioli's psychosynthesis, hypnotherapy, psychodrama, etc.

Hal and Sidra Stone, the creators of Voice Dialogue, elaborated on these discoveries of substructures within the psyche. So for almost 40 years, through clinical practice and research, they mapped our inner world, and they discovered a treasure trove of totally distinct, colorful inner parts, sub-personalities--and these are within us, are born at different times in our lives, and for very different purposes. Each carries its own worldview, its own values, beliefs, and opinions. And they all have a job to perform in our lives, so unlike in many other systems, Voice Dialogue considers that these inner selves, or aspects, are real, that they are real people that live within us, and in the process of Voice Dialogue, we treat them as such.

So, very briefly, we develop some parts very young, and those are the parts that we develop in order to survive childhood and succeed in the world, and these we call Primary Selves ... It's who we think we are; it's what we call our ego. Now, if I got more love and attention because I was a good, sweet, pleasing daughter, and I got rejected or even judged or punished if I was more needy or wanted something for myself, then I made a decision very early that being the "good daughter" self was far more likely to be successful for me than being what my parents called the "selfish" self. So I locked that part away. And the parts that we lock away are opposite of our Primary Selves and we call them Disowned--we disown them.

Voice Dialogue is a very well-thought-out, safe, very structured pathway into direct communication with these different inner parts, both the Primary that we know and the Disowned that we sometimes don't even know exist within us. It gives them a voice. And one of the gifts is that while we appreciate and further understand our Primary Self, in order to become more whole, we give voice to the Disowned Self to discover we have lost all kinds of talent and skills, we've lost emotions, and even tremendous wisdom that comes from these parts of us that simply are undeveloped. They're latent; they're waiting to become a part of our lives.

The ultimate goal of Voice Dialogue is not just to get to know these pairs of opposites, the primary and the disowned, that live within us, and let them function independently of one another, but to develop a third force that serves as this "integrating factor" in the psyche. We call this the Aware Ego process. This Aware Ego develops this ability to sit between these powerful opposite parts within us; it does not judge one or the other, it doesn't make one right or one wrong, one good or one bad. Instead, if I for example am identified as a very responsible person who works very hard to provide for her family, and that's who I think I am, then the person who has an Aware Ego might say, "It's not that I am this responsible hardworking person, it's that I have parts of me that are diligent in doing things, being responsible, and taking care of business. But that's what they value. I also have an opposite part that brings with it the ability to relax, to not take on the burdens of the world, and really to make room for fun, and joy, and rejuvenation as an equally vital part of life." Both exist, and both are equally necessary for a full, whole, balanced life. Therefore, Voice Dialogue with this Aware Ego process that is separate, disidentifed from both, but yet very appreciative and respectful of both--that's the part of us that begins to develop the ability to choose.

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