Healing Techniques for Multiples
Scrapbook Therapy–An Overview
by Anne McKenna
The concept of scrapbook therapy is to use art to allow your alters or inside people to express themselves. (This method can also be used to help recover dissociated memories whether or not you are a multiple.) You can use your own art if you’re artistically inclined or your alters can draw, color, or paint. Or, you can do what I do–cut out pictures and/or words from magazines. I had no idea just how expressive my alters could be through pictures. Each person’s system is going to be different, but I’ll share with you how I use this method of healing.
Originally I set up a binder with a section for each alter as I located that alter. (I soon became a magazine addict.) In the beginning, when I saw a picture or cluster of words that I was supposed to cut out, I just knew it from a feeling inside me. I realized quickly that when I did this activity, everyone inside me participated. Initially I had no idea what the pictures meant or who they belonged to, but the answers did come. Patience is necessary and is a matter of safety. My system didn't let me know the meaning of the pictures until I was safe to know. I believe everyone's system will do this.
I was soon able to see that certain patterns developed in the pictures, and I was able to separate them into groups. I learned that one of my alters seemed to cut out pictures of hearts. Most of her pictures were black and red. Another little saw herself as a skeleton...I knew that pictures with little skeletons were Audrey’s. I also had a group of pictures I thought all represented my father. I thought each alter saw my father in a different way. It didn’t occur to me that I had more than one abuser until my memories progressed. The day I went to tape the scary daddy pictures into the album, I spread them out on the coffee table. I was able to see clearly for the first time that they fell into different categories. It took me a while to figure out which scary daddy pictures went with which alter, but those answers eventually came. After the mind control memories, when I began to find the people who had abused me, I could clearly see which alters had memories of those people.
The amazing thing about my pictures is that my alters had a way of communicating with me that made it easy to match what went together...like a puzzle. They used many symbols. I still don’t know what all of them mean, but for some memories, all I had to do was put together the pictures with a common symbol. For one memory, that symbol was a cigarette...for another, a person blowing a bubble with pink bubblegum...yet another had a drain in the sidewalk as a common element. I have learned that, for me, that common symbol is a critical piece of the memory–yet some still remain a mystery to me. My alters use symbols for people and abusers too. Sometimes I have several symbols for the same person because I’m getting pictures from different alters. The important thing is that my insiders are able to give me pictures of what they remember of their abuse experience in a very detailed manner. Putting together the scrapbook helped me get to know each alter’s personality and symbols. I could also see which alters had similar memories. After the mind control memories, which came about three months after I had started the scrapbook, I realized I had set up the scrapbook exactly as my brain was set up: divided into alters. In reality, a complete memory includes several alters (because of switching from the trauma), so I rearranged the scrapbook to represent memories by combining the collages of alters with similar memories.
On a conscious level, I put the pictures together in collages in a way that seemed to make sense to me. But obviously, someone else inside was putting the pictures and words together. I am thoroughly convinced that everything that happened to me has already been documented in my pictures. My system just hasn’t completely disclosed to me what it all means.
Words on or near the pictures as well as any writing and pictures on the backs of pictures count too. Your system will let you know what applies. I usually have a highlighter while reading and whoever is "out" highlights certain words which will help me later when I have a memory.
When I started getting too many pictures at once, I first advanced to larger collages. From there, when a pattern started to emerge, I would place the clues into a large envelope. When my system was ready, I would empty the contents on the coffee table and see what I had. You don’t necessarily need a scrapbook, but to protect you from memories until your system is ready, you may sometimes find that you have pictures for a certain memory spread throughout all the envelopes. That’s happened to me several times. It forces me to pace myself in piecing the memory together.
I don’t know what will happen for another individual, but using pictures gives my alters total freedom of expression, since so many of us were threatened if we ever told of the abuse. No one ever said anything about cutting out pictures. Even preverbal and mute alters can tell what happened. While I have used a variety of magazines, Communication Arts (www.commarts.com) has pages of amazing photos, illustrations, posters, and advertisements. That magazine has provided me with the unusual images that best express the complexity of what my alters remember.
Magazines such as GQ and Town & Country, that are filled with great fashion ads, provided the faces for many of my alters. Understand that your alters will show you what they look like–and you give them the choices of models and celebrities. I also purchased magazines that featured pictures of children to provide my littles with ample choices. Sometimes who the alter chooses to represent herself or himself may be a clue to your past. In many cases, my littles were the children shown on Anne Geddes cards. If you find yourself staring at a face and/or feel like the person in the picture or ad is literally looking back at you, chances are an alter is identifying with that picture.
When I started remembering electricity and learned I might I have robotic components, I purchased an audio/electronics magazine. When I had memories of lighthouses, I found Coastal Living magazine. Anything is fair game. And don’t underestimate the power of a little and a box of crayons!
There are no rules to scrapbook therapy. Your system will guide you as to how the pictures will best work for you. And since there are no rules, remember to include the whims of littles. You may just find yourself with a few bottles of glitter and packages of colorful stars or Winnie the Pooh stickers adorning your pages. If you are not a visual person as I am, this method also works quite well just using words and phrases you find in magazines or other printed materials.
My sincere wishes to you for strength and support while you work your way through the horror we must each remember to heal.
An Alternative to System Maps
Early in my recovery from learning I was a multiple, I read many books including some for therapists. It seemed much information encouraged multiples to do a system map of their alters. I found this to be very triggering. I can’t take credit for this suggestion, but I was extremely grateful for this alternative. The objective in healing is to find the alters, acknowledge their existence, and allow them to heal. Usually this happens when you understand the alter’s purpose in the system. Each alter has a job. The first alters I found were related to emotions. One had the job of feeling pain, another feeling sadness, another to feel anger.
An alternative to a system map is to get a project board. I purchased a tri-fold science project board from an office supplies store. Then I purchased colorful Post-It™ Note strips (about 3 inches wide by 1-1/2 inches high). You can also just write directly on the cardboard. As I found an alter, I wrote his or her name on a Post-It™ note and placed it on the board. If I knew the alter’s job, I also wrote that down. It doesn’t matter if you know when the alter was created or who created the alter in your system. It only matters that they are acknowledged by placing their names on the board.
There are no rules in "mapping" your system this way–except one. Don’t count. Sometimes it can be overwhelming to count the number of alters you find. Just stay focused on finding who is in your system so they can heal. It’s that easy.
Note: I have made every effort but have not been able to successfully contact Anne McKenna to secure permission to use this article. Her original website and its contents are no longer on the Internet.