Art Beat: Charting Our Inner Voices

Sep 27, 2018

Art from the cover of "Parts Work"
Credit Sharon Eckstein / Winged Heart Press

When Tom Holmes offered a class in holistic healing, using a "modality" called Internal Family Systems, he sometimes had trouble getting his students to visualize the many inner voices, or parts, that guide us every day of our lives. But one of his students, artist Sharon Eckstein, had a solution. Their collaborative effort became Eckstein’s InnerActive Cards, a deck of 75 illustrated cards, and Holmes’s book, Parts Work: An Illustrated Guide to Your Inner Life (Winged Heart Press, 2011).

Sharon Eckstein earned an MFA in art and taught art at Western Michigan University for five years before turning to psychology. “I went back to school around 2000,” she says. “I was about 49 years old then, so I thought, if I’m going to do this, I’m going to have to do it now. And that’s when I met Tom.”

Holmes adds, “I give this assignment all the time in my holistic health class. All of a sudden, these images of these amazing replications of her (Eckstein's) inner system, and I thought, wow! I was having a hard time teaching this model without images, so I asked Sharon if she would be willing to make illustrations for me so I can use them in my lectures. It completely changed the class. People could understand this whole model. In five or ten minutes they could grasp the basic concept, where before it had been difficult.”

Tom Holmes and Sharon Eckstein
Credit Zinta Aistars / WMUK-FM

What began as a teaching aid eventually blossomed into an illustrated book with the accompanying cards.

“I thought we’d sell maybe 500 or 1,000 when I got the book for our workshop,” Holmes says. “We sold maybe 25,000 or 30,000 in the United States and another 30,000 in Germany. And it’s now been translated into Korean, Italian. Now we have a first volume coming out in Arabic and a woman in Israel wants to translate it into Hebrew.”

Holmes and Eckstein say the images translate well across cultures, although Eckstein will be making some culturally appropriate changes to some of her cards. While Holmes has retired from teaching at WMU, he still teach courses internationally and train psychologists to use the cards. He says they are especially useful when working with refugees because of their universal nature. Eckstein also uses the cards and book in her practice.

The concept behind the Internal Family Systems, or IFS, is to become aware of what people tend to compartmentalize inside, and to gain a deeper understanding of behavior. Holmes and Eckstein say people get a better connection between their inner and outer worlds through IFS, leading to healing and general emotional well-being.

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