This blog is repurposed from the podcast episode Discover How To Help Clients Heal Through Parts Work, Inner Child Work & The Adult Chair Model: Interview with Jenny Jansen
Do you have clients who are overwhelmed by their emotions or stuck in repetitive patterns that seem to hold them back from living the life they truly desire? This model is more than just a theory. It’s a practical tool that empowers clients to heal wounds from their adolescence and childhood.
In today’s blog, we’ll uncover the adult chair model and learn about these key chairs of the child chair, adolescent, and adult chair. By becoming familiar with these and their dynamics, individuals can gain profound insights into their triggers, past wounds, and limiting beliefs.
This awareness acts as a catalyst for healing, growth. and a genuine sense of self-acceptance. It’s time to pull up a chair, metaphorically speaking, and embark on a journey of self-empowerment and transformation.
Jenny Janssen is a licensed independent social worker of clinical practice. She is a certified adult chair, master coach. She empowers her clients to find their truths, connect with their inner knowing, and confidently step into a grounded and conscious life of radical authenticity and meaningful connection with themselves and others. Get ready to unlock the doors. to your adult chair and unleash a potential within you.
What is the Adult Chair Model?
The adult chair, basically a model for living is your healthiest adult. It’s basically a manual to live in the healthiest version of yourself. And so the way that the model works is that she divides up your lifespan into three distinct chairs. So we have the child chair, the adolescent chair, and the adult chair.
What is the Child and Adult Chair Parts of this Model?
The child chair is ages zero to six, and that is when our core needs and our core emotions set. if you think about a baby first being born, they are vulnerable. They’re curious. They’re open. They’re playful. And they also absorb everything about the world without discernment because our brain’s not developed enough to know, Oh, this is right.
This is wrong. This feels good. This doesn’t, we just kind of take everything in as truth. And so during this time, a lot of times our core memories are formed. This is when we start to really learn about the world around us. Around the age of seven is when the adolescent chair starts. That’s when our ego starts coming online.
We start realizing that we’re a little bit separate. We realize that we live in the past and the future. We might live in stories and assumptions. We come to the idea of who do I have to be in order to fit in? Who do I have to be in order to be lovable? The whole job of the adolescent chair is to keep us alive, safe, and acceptable.
Many times the seed of addiction is born because we don’t want to feel our emotions. We want to cover the needs of the child because we don’t have time for that. We’re too busy trying to fit in. If I feel sad about something or I want the cookies in the store and I throw a tantrum and my mom gives me the look of death, I’m gonna be like, Oh, I’m not allowed to need that.
So let me shut my emotions and needs down. These are all things that happen very unconsciously in the adolescent chair. We live very unconsciously. We kind of get on this autopilot way of living. And so we might become people pleasers in order to fit in. We might become ragers because that’s the only way that we know to get our needs met.
We go through this life with masks. As well as unhealthy habits and unhealthy coping and we can’t many of us live this way, believe it or not, most of our lives. The adolescent chair technically ends around the age of 24, 25, because that’s when the prefrontal cortex comes online. And so biologically speaking, we turn into adults.
Many people become stuck in the child or Adult Chair
But many of us are stuck.
That was my question if, cause I was thinking like some people have got to still be on their child chair.
Many people do when we live unconsciously in that way. We are stuck in that adolescent stage, but really the adolescent’s job is to protect that inner child. Because the child, remember, is very vulnerable and the child is very free and curious and loving, but if that is not safe in their environment, then the adolescent creates these masks and personas in order to protect the core needs and core emotions of the child.
Now, what the adolescent doesn’t realize is that it’s probably doing more harm than good because you think about the adolescent chair has the emotional age of a 12 year old and people are living in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s with this road map that was created. And, uh, basically in childhood because that’s where we’re absorbing everything.
If the world doesn’t feel safe to a child, we develop masks in adolescence in order to navigate this quote-unquote unsafe world. And we live in that way, even as adults, when we have the capacity to keep ourselves safe as adults, we just haven’t updated that program yet. So if we had healthy models growing up, teaching us, you know, how to feel our emotions and how to express our needs.
Biologically, we become full-fledged adults around the age between 25 and 30. And that’s when we can feel our emotions. We are in the present. We live in fact and truth rather than the stories and assumptions of the adolescent. What happens is that when we get stuck in that adolescent phase, we don’t know how to have healthy relationships, even though we actually have the capacity to do so.
We just have to update those programs in order to catch ourselves up. And part of that happens with. We have to awaken to the idea that we’re living unconsciously.
If you think about an adolescent, they’re very impulsive. They’re very reactive. You know, they don’t think before they speak or think before they act. You know, you think about somebody who’s drinking a bottle of wine every night or drinking two bottles of wine every night, there’s probably something that they’re trying not to feel.
And so sometimes when it comes to really connecting with those younger parts of us, why am I doing what I’m doing? We don’t know until we actually get into the root of that child’s needs. What is the inner child’s need?
Why it’s important to work with the inner child
That inner child, it’s like, it’s like the abandoned parts of us. How often are we told growing up you’re too much, you’re not enough, or you shouldn’t feel that way, or, you’re upset here, have a cookie or big girls.
Don’t cry. Boys don’t cry. Especially men have such a hard time with feeling their emotions. Really? Our emotions kind of get a bad rap because. They’re seen as a problem, but really the emotions that we carry and that we hold are our navigation system. It’s like, if you think about, you know, our core needs and core emotions being in the inner child, if I’m angry about something, or if I’m sad about something, that’s pointing me towards something that’s meaningful in my life.
It’s not a problem to feel sad. It’s not a problem to feel angry. It’s only when the adolescent chair gets a hold of those emotions and turns into rage or turns into depression, feeling like I’m never going to get out of this. But the emotions of sadness or anger or fear, they can flow through us within 90 seconds if we don’t attach a story to them.
When we don’t attach a story. The emotions that we’re feeling, they can flow through us in 90 seconds. I always say we re-traumatize ourselves. We re-trigger ourselves.
You can feel so sad about that and really get into the depth of the emotion. And then all of a sudden you have another thought, Oh my gosh, they’re never going to meet, you know, their grandchildren, or I’m never going to have this. And we go into these stories about the future or regrets of the past.
And then we re-traumatize and re-trigger ourselves and start crying all over again. But the emotion of sadness is actually a very healthy and cleansing emotion. And all of those emotions are seated in that inner child phase. Like we have to get in touch with those deeper feelings because otherwise they build and they build and they build.
I’m sure most of us can say when you let an emotion build, it’ll erupt like a pressure cooker. And so when we can actually create a relationship with this inner child and get in touch with what we’re feeling in each moment, then it doesn’t have to build. And we can then show up as the adult that we needed and nurture and love that inner child and let that inner child know I’ve got you.
It’s safe for you to feel your emotions. It is safe for you. I’m here. I’m listening because back when we’re children, we don’t have the tools to deal with our emotions, but as adults. We can learn and then we can form a relationship with this younger part of us so that we can heal and grow and move through our lives with a little bit more of a holistic perspective and with more consciousness and say, okay, this emotion doesn’t have to define me and it doesn’t have to dictate my life.
I find the adult chair model to be a little bit more digestible because it gives us a touchstone.
Oh, what chair am I in right now? You could have a person who is, I mean, I’ll say for myself, even if I’m sitting and I’m feeling an emotion and I’m crying and I’m in my head, Crying. I know I’m in my adolescent chair because I’m making up stories or I’m fearful of the future or I’m dreading or regretting the past about something, or I’m like, it’s always going to be this way.
I’m never going to get out of this emotion. It’s like, those are all stories and assumptions. But as soon as I drop into my heart, one of my favorite techniques for helping me, well, for me, myself, and cause I drink the Kool-Aid of course, but for helping clients is just put your hand on your heart and just say, I’m right here.
And you say that very slowly to yourself because there’s a wounded part inside of you that is crying. There’s a wounded part of you that is having an emotion. There’s somebody that’s triggered. There’s a part of you that’s triggered. And when you can say, I’m right here, you pull yourself back into that adult stage.
You pull yourself into the adult as the nurturer, as the caretaker. of all of your inner parts. It doesn’t matter how old they are. It doesn’t matter. I mean, I’ve had parts come up. It’s like, why do I feel like I have this like sea urchin spiny thing in my stomach? I don’t know. Like I’ve had parts that are not even human.
And so it’s like the sea urchin spiny thing that’s living in my stomach. What, what do you need me to know what’s going on? And that’s how we kind of form a relationship with all of our parts is we go right into it. So often we want to avoid. The things that are uncomfortable, but that’s not how, I mean, I hate to say it very simply.
How can we build a relationship with our inner child
There’s a lot of different ways that you can do it. One of my favorite things to do is get like an old photo if you have one and just sit and look at the photo of who you once were.
And like, this is that little me and just one of my favorite things to do. I just look into the eyes or have my clients. I do this a lot. I want you to look into the eyes of your little girl or little boy. I want you to feel into what they need, what they need to hear. I mean, you could have had, you know, and quote unquote normal childhood, but we all have things that we needed to hear.
We all have things that we wish were different. One of my favorite things to do again, like I said, is to get a picture. I’ve written letters to my inner child and sometimes, you know, I will, or clients will pick an age that is of significance where maybe there was a traumatizing event, but sometimes it is just like, I just want to get to know you.
I want to know who you are. I want to know what do you feel like doing today? That’s another thing to connect with your inner child is. Ask your inner child what it wants to do. There were times, I remember going on a swing. I was like, I feel like swinging today. I’m like, I’m going to go find a swing and I’m going to go swing with my inner child.
You have to be open to listening as well
Not all children are so like, Oh my gosh, you’re here. It’s so excited. Some of them were like, who are you? I don’t trust you. You left me. And so sometimes we have to build a relationship with these parts of us.
Oftentimes if we had issues in childhood that maybe we weren’t attuned to, or we have limiting beliefs about I’m not lovable or I’m too much, I don’t matter. Nobody cares about me. It’s like sometimes inner children are a little skeptical of grownups. And so a way that I work with clients, especially in session is we’ll do like a guided meditation and I will help bring them back to meet their inner child.
Sometimes it’s in a traumatic situation. Sometimes it’s not, and we’ll guide them back. It’s like, I came all the way back in time to meet you. You know, I’m X number of years old. And if it’s a traumatic event, you can say, wow, like I’m here to tell you that we make it and I’m here to, I’m here to protect you.
I’m here to give you what you need and using it to kind of rework some traumatic events we can. But sometimes it is just about learning how to cultivate vulnerability. It can be learning how to cultivate play and fun and creativity. You know, if a client comes to me, it’s like, I just have no passion for life, or I don’t know what I even want.
First thought is inner child work, because that’s where our core needs and our core emotions are. And so what am I feeling? What do I need? Go to the inner child. And it seems kind of counterintuitive because we’re adults. And it’s like, how, why is it important for me to like, I’m going to listen to a five year old to tell me what to do with my life, but it’s creating this beautiful container for all of your parts to exist.
Live from the inside out, because so often when we become adults and when we are living behind these masks of the adolescent chair, we’re like, who does that person want me to be? Who do I have to be in this situation? Oh, I’m going to be the people pleaser over here. But when it comes to dealing with my, you know, alcoholic brother.
I’m going to shut my emotions down. I’m going to shut down and avoid because that’s who I need to be to be safe over here. And so when we can cultivate a relationship with our inner child and get to know what we feel, and then we understand the defenses of the adolescent chair, say, I get why you’re here.
I get why you’re doing what you’re doing, but I’m here to tell you that I’ve grown up and I have some different tools and techniques that we can use. I don’t need you to protect us anymore. And so sometimes when I say, I know originally when we were talking, you’re like, you know, how do you work with the inner child?
Sometimes you have to get past an adolescent part because those adolescent parts came on really early when there were no adults. to protect that inner child. So sometimes we do have parts that are pretty strong and not really willing to let go. So that’s where that relationship is so important to say, I’m here now, you know, I’m 40, 50, 60 years old, and this is my coach.
I’m working with her. I’ve got this beautiful family. I’ve got some great friends that are supportive of me. We don’t live in that house anymore and it’s safe. You can go hang out with your friends, go for a joy ride if you want. Or go play video games. Because oftentimes these adolescent parts don’t like their jobs anyway.
There is so much more because we all come into relationship with our own inner children.W hen it comes to like partners or friendships or any kind of relationship, we’re meeting e ach other in sumo suits and we’re trying to have this intimate relationship. And we keep bumping up against all of the padding that we’ve created over time to protect that inner self.
It’s like relationships may not have been safe. Solet me put on this layer of protection. And then let me put on this layer of protection. If we’re going to have intimate and, or meaningful relationships with anybody, whether it be an intimate partner or not, it’s like, we have to be willing to go to those deep places and strip down our defenses.
Part of that is getting to know what those defenses are. And then bring to light what’s underneath, which is the true vulnerability and the intimacy and the passion and the love of that. Some of the powerful experiences that I’ve had with clients through this work, because so many times clients don’t, they feel a little bit itchy about.
Getting into their inner child work. We have to understand that we’re, we’re all made up of parts. It doesn’t mean that I have multiple personalities or that I’m going crazy. It just means that we have, we’re all made up of different parts, like a big puzzle. And so you might have a part of you that is feeling angry.
Children are very simple. Children are very, you know, minimalistic, if you will. It’s like, I just need a hug. So hugging your inner child. And then they’re like, okay, cool. I’m going to go play now. And that’s
And it’s like, okay, is there anything else you need from me? No, I’m good. I just need to know that you’re here. I need to know that you’re that I love or you love me. You know, I need to know that I matter. So you just reiterate all of these limiting beliefs that we carry into our adulthood.
Oftentimes when we have problems in adulthood, it’s rooted in childhood. I know that’s like kind of the umbrella term, it’s all rooted in childhood, but really a lot of things are based on these parts of us that got stuck in time. We have to go back and understand where these parts came from, what they actually need.
And then be the healthy adult in our own life, in our own lives and reparent that part and say, I know that you may not have heard this when you were growing up, but I love you and I want to be here with you and you matter to me and it’s like you and me against the world. I’ve got you. I’ve got you. I’ve got you.
Another one of my hand on heart statements is I’ve got you. It’s all good.
Ask yourself, am I living from the healthiest version of myself? And if not, what’s blocking me? What is keeping me from living from the healthiest version of myself? So for example, let’s say you’ve fight with your partner all the time.
And you realize like, I don’t want to be fighting with my partner all the time.. That is not living as the healthiest version of myself. What is keeping me from living from the healthiest version of myself in this situation? Well, my partner doesn’t understand me or my partner keeps pushing my buttons.
If my partner keeps pushing my buttons. That means that I have buttons to be pushed. what is it within me that is getting triggered and what is the true need that I have underneath? I need, I want to be understood. Before we can allow another person to understand us, we first have to understand ourselves.
And that again involves kind of peeling back those layers and saying, who am I at my core? And then how do I communicate that from a place of, I truly want to be understood. I really want you to understand me.
What do you notice in your body and what comes up?
I’ll say something like, I’ve got this pit in my stomach. Oh my gosh. Like when I think about this, I’m like, okay, so let’s go to that pit. There’s a part. Let’s go to that pit. Tell me about it. What does it look like?
How deep is this pit? What is it made out of? Is it quicksand? Is it a Canyon? And then it’s like, Oh my gosh, it’s, you know, this big and it’s this deep and I can hear myself. And so often I will say to him, how old do you feel right now? When you sit with this pit, I feel like I’m seven years old. Hmm.
Interesting. And so then we go back to seven years old. Did it, is there anything significant that happened when you were seven or is seven years old when this pit It came into your life. Has this tip been around since you were seven? Why did it come on? And we have an open dialogue with this pit because our parts can talk to us even if they’re inanimate.
It’s like it’s working with energy and it’s working with, you know, the unconscious mind. What we’re doing is we’re bringing the unconscious to the conscious. And that’s where we get the imagery and not everybody’s visual. Sometimes, sometimes it is very sensory. Sometimes it’s all just words. I don’t, I don’t see anything, but I can hear.
And sometimes these parts will come up and it’s like, whose voice is that? Oh, that’s the voice of my grandfather. Okay. Is that a part that you want to bring into your healthy adult? And if not, can we send it back to him? Can we send his opinion back to him? And so it’s really just almost getting a map, getting an open dialogue with all of these parts and saying, who belongs here and who doesn’t, who’s outstayed their welcome and who’s needed.
Because sometimes these parts that came on and they are doing the best that they can to keep us alive, safe, and acceptable. But if you think about it, if we keep using the same coping tools that we did when we were teenagers, you know, we’ve evolved. it’s like getting curious as the clinician then too.
A lot of it is just asking the right questions and helping the client to go deeper. She calls them unwinding questions. Let’s unwind that a little bit more and just keep going deeper. And my biggest thing, cause so many clients feel resistant to this.
Like I can’t go there. And I always say to my clients, I’m right there with you. And I said, I want you to feel my energy with you. I do all 98% of my sessions virtually, and we will, I will sit there with them. And it’s like, I’m right here with you. I want you to imagine as you close your eyes and imagine yourself sitting with your inner child, for example, I want you to imagine I’m right there with you.
If she doesn’t trust you, Is it okay if I speak to your inner child and I tell her what I know to be true about you and I can help facilitate energetically to formulate this relationship and then give them homework to kind of keep, keep that nurturing relationship going.
They don’t have to do this alone.
From that healthy adult perspective, we can observe all of these parts and say, wow. I understand why you came online adolescent and why you started people pleasing, but we don’t need to do that anymore because I’m an adult and I know how to set healthy boundaries and I know how to tolerate if somebody is upset with me and it’s the learning.
I think a big part of this work, I mean, for me personally and for others is to learn how to not abandon yourself and not abandon your parts because there’s no bad part. Even the ones that rage, even the ones that drink too much, even the parts that get defensive. It’s like they’re all serving a purpose and we just have to get to know them and figure out what the need is underneath.
Parts of ourselves we reject are called exiles in IFS
So when we reject : a part of ourselves, in IFS they call it an exile. It’s like the lost inner child. Yeah. You know, it’s all those parts, like when we’re children and we think, Oh, this part’s not acceptable or I can’t be this I’m too much. But I think of : what that does inside of you when you reject a part of yourself, it causes a lot more distress.
. And then it comes out sideways and relationships that comes out sideways and patterns. In our lives, because we’re living through that lens, if I have a belief somewhere buried deep inside of me that I’m too much, I’m not going to ask for the raise that I deserve. I’m not going to take the risk to, you know, engage in an intimate relationship or to start something new because I want people are going to think I’m just too much.
And so I should shut that part of me down. It’s like, it stops us from dreaming and it stops us from living wholeheartedly because. We’re living in fear. The adolescent chair lives in fear and conformity. We’re trying to conform and we’re trying to stay safe emotionally and or physically. And so if there’s anything that is going to threaten our belonging or our attachment, then we’re going to mask it up and pretend to pretend to be whoever we need to be in order to fit in.
Jenny Jansen: It is. Yeah. And I think when we learn how to embrace all of the parts of us, you know, especially in heal and forgive and nurture the parts of us that didn’t get nurtured in childhood.
Or in adolescence, really, it’s like, I see you, and I’m so sorry that this happened and I want to know how I can make it better. Like, I’m here now, I want to get to know you and I want to be able to help you and they might not trust again, like I said before, because. A lot of times those inner children are like, well, you’re a grownup.
I don’t trust grownups. That’s okay. Is it okay if I just sit here with you for a little bit? And then they might still not talk. It’s like, okay, well, I’m good. I’m going to come back tomorrow. And over time, this inner child will learn that you are trustworthy. I had one part, it’s a personal story that was so angry at me.
I was in a meditation one morning and she was just like screaming all of the four letter words. I hate you. Who are you? Get away from me. And I was like, well, hello. Like I did not know this part existed, but I have a very angry part. So I was like, okay. And so I kind of like, it’s like, you need a break. So I pulled myself out of meditation.
And then I tried again the next day, still very, very angry. And, but over time, it probably took about a week. And then eventually my, my dog was funny. She were laying in bed and she rolled over. And so my dog came into my meditation and then my part was like, okay, I still don’t like you, but I’ll pet your dog.
what about people though, who say they can’t connect to the inner child or the adolescent
Sometimes you do have these very, very strong protector parts to use the IFS language.
They’re navigating and trying to manage everything. And so sometimes we aren’t able to access our feelings because we’re so walled off and we’re so defensive that it’s likelet me get to know this defense. Let me get to know this rage part. Let me get to know this people pleaser. Let me just acknowledge who’s here, what parts are here and need a voice and seeing what their purpose is, is a really big thing.
I’m here because if I’m not here to keep you tamed down, you’re going to make a fool of yourself. Or if I’m not here to get along with everybody and be the people pleaser, then you’re going to end up all by yourself and all alone. And so it’s like, Oh, You actually have a really functional part.
You’re doing a great job and I don’t need you anymore.. And so oftentimes when we clear out some of those defenses, then we’re able to really get down into connecting with the inner child. And sometimes, like I said, not everybody’s visual, not everybody is auditory even, but even just asking the question, what am I feeling?
What am I truly feeling can be a gateway to the inner child. So just starting there, getting into the body, because I often say the adolescent chair lives in the brain and in the mind, because that’s where all the stories and assumptions are, but the inner child is more grounded and it’s more in the body.
Sometimes when we feel like in the heart, especially, I don’t know, my inner child lives in my heart. Some people experience it in different places, but when we can really just connect and slow down and quiet the mind and open the heart, oftentimes the inner child is ready, Oh my gosh, you’re finally here.
Other ways to connect to your inner child
Another way to connect to the inner child might be to go do something fun or write a letter, find a way to connect like, Hey, inner child, you know, my name is ___. I’m X number of years old. I really want to get to know you. And then sometimes people do alternate handwriting, like writing back with the left hand, just to cross over those sides of the brain, to really access that creative part, even doing something that your inner child might like to do.
Like I’m going to go get some ice cream, or like I said before, I’m going to go swing or kind of go take a walk in nature, or I’m going to go pick some flowers and just doing something that an inner child might like to do.
Everything that we need is within us. It’s just been buried over time. You know, if you think about that, like when we’re children, we’re born as these pure beings. You know, very vulnerable, very full of life and essence.
And then over time, the world kind of throws its crap all over you. And so, you know, so we just get down to the core of who we’ve always been before the world told us who to be and learn to live from that place.
Have you been wanting to integrate breathwork into your sessions? Are you needing more continuing education credits? I know shifting from traditional talk therapy to using more holistic modalities can bring some feelings of uncertainty and fear, and this is understandable.
But I’m here to tell you that this is within your scope of practice. In my many years of experience and training, I have found breathwork to be one of the most powerful holistic modalities therapists can use in session. And I’m now offering a recorded training you can watch on your own schedule so you can be prepared to facilitate breathwork with clients safely and ethically.
So join me and you can get. 1. 5 continuing education credits from NBCC. Go to hcpodcast.org/breathworkcourse
MEET Jenny Jansen
Jenny Jansen is a Licensed Independent Social Worker of Clinical Practice (LISW-CP) and Certified Adult Chair® Master Coach. Jenny received her Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of South Carolina and worked in community mental health, later obtaining her coaching and master coaching certification in The Adult Chair® model. Jenny has always had a passion for helping and relating to others in vulnerable and meaningful ways. Walking through her own journey of healing and self-discovery, she considers herself a student of life and the love child of all she has learned and encountered, understanding each experience as a gift for her soul’s unique purpose. She truly believes we were never meant to do life alone, inspiring her to demonstrate unconditional acceptance and emotional safety for all she meets. She uses a unique blend of tools and techniques, both from her mental health and coaching backgrounds, to help individuals gain self-awareness and courage to release unhealthy patterns and guide them home to their soul’s purpose. She empowers her clients to find their truth, connect with their inner knowing, and confidently step into a grounded and conscious life of radical authenticity and meaningful connection with themselves and others. Jenny is the owner of Conscious Living Therapy and Coaching practice and sees individuals, couples, and families virtually on the local and international levels. She currently lives in South Carolina with her dog, Abby.