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Internal Family Systems Therapy

What is Internal Family Systems Therapy?

IFS - Internal Family Systems

Definition - Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy is a type of psychotherapy that identifies and addresses multiple "parts" within each individual's psyche. This therapy aims to promote healing by fostering a harmonious relationship between these parts and the individual's core Self.

Internal Family Systems - An Introduction

In life, we occasionally encounter challenges of internal conflict that feel like knots, intricately tied and seemingly impossible to unravel.

These knots can reside deep within us, intricately woven into our experiences.

Internal Family Systems Therapy is a unique approach to untangling these knots and fostering a harmonious sense of self.

This article delves into the realm of Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, an innovative and transformative model of psychotherapy. If you're asking, "What is Internal Family Systems therapy, and how can it benefit me or my loved ones?", you've landed in the right place. Whether you're a seasoned therapist, a psychology enthusiast, or someone simply curious about new pathways to personal growth, we welcome you warmly!

When did Internal Family Systems Therapy Start?

Developed by Richard Schwartz in the 1980s, IFS provides a compassionate, inclusive framework for understanding our internal world. It’s like having a roadmap to the diverse community residing within each of us—a community comprising our core Self and a variety of sub-personalities, or 'parts.' This groundbreaking approach has brought about healing and change for many individuals, couples, and families worldwide.

What is Internal Family Systems Therapy?

Internal Family Systems or IFS is a transformative instrument that envisions every individual as an assembly of defensive and hurt internal components, directed by a central Self. We uphold the idea that the mind is inherently multi-faceted, and that's beneficial. Similar to family members, internal components are compelled from their valuable states into extreme roles within us. Self resides in everyone. It's invulnerable to harm. It possesses inherent healing capabilities.

Frequently, IFS is employed as research-backed psychotherapy, aiding individuals in healing through accessing and mending their defensive and hurt inner components. IFS fosters inner and outer interconnectedness by assisting individuals in accessing their Self and, from that core, gaining understanding and healing their parts.

However, IFS extends beyond being non-stigmatizing, research-backed psychotherapy intended for clinical settings. It also offers a perspective for understanding personal and intimate relationships and embracing life with the following 8 Cs of the core Self:

- Calm

- Compassion

- Clarity

- Curiosity

- Confidence

- Courage

- Creativity

- Connectedness

Professionals from diverse fields including, but not limited to, legal mediation, school administration, life coaching, and religious leadership, can utilize IFS as a resource to inform and guide their work. We are continually expanding our range of educational programs with an aim to cater not only to therapists but also to the broader public and other professions.

The IFS Institute's mission is to promote more Self-leadership across the globe.

How Is Therapy Structured Using IFS?

Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, is structured around a few key principles and steps:

1. Recognition of Parts: The first step in IFS therapy is to recognize and understand the "parts" or sub-personalities. This involves mapping the parts, getting to know their roles, their intentions, and how they interact with each other.

2. Developing Trust and Relationship: The therapist helps the client develop relationships with their parts. This involves creating trust and rapport between the Self (the individual's core or center) and each part.

3. Unblending: This refers to the process of distinguishing the Self from the parts. The Self is considered the confident, compassionate, and calm core of the individual. The goal is for the Self to lead the internal system, not the parts.

4. Accessing the Self: The therapist supports the client in accessing their Self, which is believed to have inherent healing capabilities. This step is crucial for facilitating understanding and healing of the parts.

5. Working with Protectors: In IFS, there are protector parts that prevent access to exiles (parts that hold extreme emotions or memories, often from traumatic experiences). The therapist helps the client gain permission from the protectors to access the exiles. This is done by ensuring the protectors that they won't be eliminated, but their roles can be transformed.

6. Healing the Exiles: Once permission has been gained, the therapist supports the client in helping their Self connect with and heal their exiled parts. This involves witnessing the memories or burdens carried by these parts, offering comfort, and unburdening the pain or negative beliefs.

7. Integration: After the exiles are unburdened, the therapist assists the client in integrating these healed parts back into the internal system. The protectors can then adopt new, healthy roles, and the entire system can function more harmoniously with the Self in leadership.

Throughout this process, the therapist provides a non-judgmental, empathetic, and safe environment for the client to explore and heal their internal system. Each person's journey through IFS therapy may be unique, reflecting their individual needs, experiences, and pace.

What is an Example of an Internal Family System?

The Internal Family Systems (IFS) model sees the human mind as composed of relatively discrete subpersonalities, each with its own viewpoint, interests, memories, and perspective. These subpersonalities are called "parts."

Here's an example:

Imagine a person named Alex. Alex might have a part that is constantly worried about performance at work, and this part might push him to overwork.

We'll call this part the "Perfectionist."

Alex might also have another part that is a "Critic."

This part continuously criticizes him for not doing enough or not being good enough, often causing feelings of inadequacy.

Yet another part might be the "Procrastinator," which seeks to avoid the pressure imposed by the Perfectionist and the Critic by delaying tasks or seeking distractions.

In a stressful situation, the Perfectionist and the Critic might dominate, causing Alex to feel stressed and anxious.

The Procrastinator might then step in to provide temporary relief by urging Alex to delay work or engage in an activity like binge-watching a TV series.

Aside from these parts, Alex has what IFS refers to as the "Self."

The Self is the core essence, embodying qualities of confidence, calm, compassion, courage, creativity, clarity, curiosity, and connectedness. It is viewed as the seat of consciousness and is not one of the parts.

The Self is the core, and from the Self, one can confidently and compassionately interact with each part.

In IFS therapy, Alex would learn to engage with each of these parts from the standpoint of the Self — understanding their fears, their intentions, and their roles.

This approach might help Alex to alleviate the extreme roles these parts have taken on, allowing him to feel less stressed, approach his work with balance, and ultimately feel happier and more fulfilled.


What are the Benefits of IFS?

Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy can provide numerous benefits depending on your specific needs and circumstances. Here are a few ways it could help:

1. Enhanced Self-Awareness: IFS encourages you to explore and understand the different "parts" that make up your psyche. This increased self-awareness can help you understand your thoughts, emotions, and behaviours better.

2. Improved Emotional Healing: By identifying and addressing past traumas and emotional wounds, IFS can help you to process and heal from these experiences.

3. Better Relationship Dynamics: IFS can help improve your interpersonal relationships by assisting you in understanding how your internal "parts" influence your interactions with others.

4. Stress and Anxiety Management: By promoting inner harmony, IFS can help reduce feelings of anxiety, stress, and overwhelm.

5. Personal Growth: By fostering a healthier relationship with yourself and your "parts", IFS encourages personal growth and the development of constructive coping strategies.

Remember, every individual's experience with IFS therapy will be unique, and the benefits you receive may differ based on your personal situation and therapeutic goals. Always consider seeking professional advice when deciding on a therapeutic approach.

What is the Difference Between IFS and EMDR?

Internal Family Systems (IFS) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) are both therapeutic approaches used in psychotherapy, but they have different methodologies and focuses.

1. Theoretical Foundations and Techniques:

- IFS: This approach, developed by Dr. Richard Schwartz, views the mind as composed of different "parts" or sub-personalities. It aims to cultivate a healthy relationship between these parts and the Self, the core essence of an individual embodying qualities like compassion, curiosity, and calm. The therapy helps individuals access and heal their parts, leading to improved self-awareness and self-healing.

- EMDR: This method, created by Dr. Francine Shapiro, is specifically designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories. EMDR uses a structured eight-phase approach that includes elements such as eye movements, tapping, or auditory tones (bilateral stimulation) to help the brain reprocess traumatic memories and reduce their long-term effects.

2. Primary Focus:

- IFS: The focus of IFS is on the internal system of parts within each individual, understanding their roles and relationships, and helping the Self lead the internal system. It's used for a variety of mental health issues, not solely trauma-related disorders.

- EMDR: EMDR primarily focuses on the reprocessing of traumatic and distressing memories. It's often used for conditions like PTSD but can also be used to treat anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues where distressing memories or experiences play a role.

3. Process:

- IFS: Therapy is typically a dialogue-based process between the individual, their parts, and the therapist, aiming to build trust, unburden parts carrying distress or trauma, and restore mental balance.

- EMDR: Therapy involves recalling distressing events while receiving bilateral sensory input, such as side-to-side eye movements. The process is less conversation-based compared to IFS and more structured around the eight-phase protocol.

Both therapies can be effective, depending on the individual's needs, the nature of their distress, and their personal preferences. Some therapists may integrate elements of both approaches into their work, depending on their training and the needs of the client.

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