The multiverse is the idea that there are multiple versions of our universe, meaning multiple versions of ourselves in alternate realities. By exploring alternate selves and versions of events, we can find and unlock trapped feelings, bringing them to awareness. Cognitive rigidity can lead to mental health symptoms and relationship problems.
You’ve probably heard the term “multiverse” in the latest Marvel films, or certainly with the recent big Oscar-winning film “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once.” In fiction, going back to a Marvel comic book from the early 1960s, the multiverse is understood to mean the idea that there are multiple universes beyond our own, and, in fact, multiple versions of our universe, meaning multiple versions of ourselves in alternate realities. In fact, many current physics theories actually support the idea.
While theories of different selves and universes are purely theoretical in physics, they have real consequences in our brains. By exploring alternate selves and versions of events, we can actually find and unlock trapped feelings, bringing them to awareness, and offering real therapeutic change.
How Does “Multiverse Therapy” Help?
A key mental health issue that leads to depression, anxiety, and relationship and self-esteem problems comes from cognitive rigidity and getting “stuck.” You draw conclusions: about what past events meant, about who you are and what it means for your life. Thoughts and feelings lead to conclusions about the present, past, and future that can leave you feeling hopeless or dejected with what seems possible and impossible. This stuckness and rigidity leads to disharmony and symptoms.
“Multiverse techniques” (I just made that term up, but stay with me) are incredibly efficient and powerful ways therapy can help break through that stuckness and access your ideas and feelings about who you would be and what you would do if you could break out. It can help one overcome procrastination, improve motivation, set limits with problematic behavior, and get past emotional detachment.
Unlike in the movies, to access the therapy multiverse, you don’t have to chew old gum you found under a desk, staple your forehead, or talk to Dr. Strange. You can just go to therapy or buy a journal, and the adventure begins!
5 Elements of the Psychotherapy Multiverse
The big multiverse movies involve characters who find a portal to other universes and connect with alternate versions of themselves to get support. The therapy multiverse is really no different. Like a superhero, you can find alternate outcomes for yourself and versions of yourself for help. The key is using your imagination in radical ways, which opens the following options:
- Talk with you from your past: The most common version of this exercise is connecting with memories of yourself as a child, which can become entering a memory or scene and spending some quality time with childhood you.
- Change past events: Imagine going back in time and changing how you acted or changing the outcome. While this isn’t actually literally possible, with rescripting, you make neurological changes happen when you imagine a better outcome of past events, so memories feel different.
- Explore different outcomes of future events: If you are stuck with a major life decision, you can talk to the two versions of you who result from each side of the decision and explore the feelings that come up.
- Talk with alternate versions of you: If there were versions of you who had more self-confidence, assertiveness, or creativity, what would they say and do differently?
- Talk with parts of your personality: If you have a strong inner critic who undermines your self-confidence, it can be transformative to have a little chat with that voice.
Therapy Techniques That Harness the Multiverse Imagination
Parts work: Parts work is the idea that our personality is made up of different parts or voices and that we can engage them in dialogue.
Imagery and rescripting: Imagery is using the imagination to conjure images and sensory experiences that you can enter. Rescripting is going into an image or memory and changing the outcome.
Chairwork: Chairwork is using a second chair in the therapy space (either in-person or online) to imagine another person or part of the self sitting before you for dialogue. It can incorporate parts work.
There are several different schools of psychotherapy that are training therapists to competently use these techniques. What I call “self-talk therapy” incorporates elements of all of them, including the following:
- Schema therapy: Integrates chairwork, imagery rescripting, and parts work (schemas and modes).
- Gestalt/chairwork: Works with all of the multiverse options I list above, with a focus on the element of using an additional chair in the room and either imagining a person or part of the self in the chair.
- Internal family systems: Uses parts work and chairwork.
- Trauma-informed stabilization treatment: Incorporates trauma-informed parts work and elements of chairwork.
- Dialogical self-therapy: An open-ended theory of the self as made up of parts (I-positions) that help to manage inner conflicts as well as the work of finding a place in one’s sociocultural space.
2 Steps to Home-Practice Multiverse Skills
Before getting to activities you can practice on your own, it’s important to remember that these aren’t a replacement for consulting a trained mental health professional, which may be advisable, depending on what you’re coping with.
- Self-talk journaling: This is the skill of using journaling to have a dialogue with the self that engages your brain in ways that mimic real dialogue, making the talk more effective. You can learn more on this technique here. Once you can have a self-talk dialogue, you can use the next step.
- Imagination: Be as creative and open as you can in selecting a version of yourself to talk with to break out of stuckness. Once you pick the self you want to see, use self-talk journaling. Some examples include child-you who dealt with bullying, child-you who wanted to be an artist, future-you who has gotten training at the job you’re considering, future-you who continues to avoid dating, the part of you who is afraid of dating, the part of you who wants to date. You get the picture. Sit down and imagine having a chat with this multiverse you. You can learn other self-talk skills from my book.
Remember, nothing replaces the actual experience of self-talk. It doesn’t work to just think about—you have to have the experience of doing it for it to work. So give it a try!