Often, as a therapist that works with the Internal Family Systems (IFS) modality, I get asked by new clients, "What exactly is IFS? How does it work?"
And I could go on for hours. There are lots of books about IFS- most of my clients know I highly recommend No Bad Parts by Richard C. Schwartz. But sometimes it can be nice to just have something short, sweet, and succinct. This blog is my attempt at that.
So here's a brief overview of IFS, what it looks like in therapy with me, benefits of IFS therapy, and even a one-page infographic that provide a super-simplified look at IFS in therapy.
Have you ever felt like you're at odds with yourself? You know, that tug of war between wanting success but fearing failure or craving a healthy relationship while shying away from intimacy? It's completely normal, but it can also be incredibly frustrating. Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a form of therapy that can help you untangle this inner web.
Created by Richard Schwartz in the 1980s, IFS acknowledges that we're complex beings with multiple internal "parts." These parts often clash, leading to issues like anxiety, depression, and conditions that conventional views of human suffering would call bipolar disorder and eating disorders. But here's where one of the big differences lies between conventional therapies and IFS: your challenges are not seen as disorders, or things that are "wrong with you." Rather, IFS sees our challenges as ways that our parts are trying to protect us and keep us safe...it's just sometimes they don't actually help us in the way they intend to. It's a compassionate perspective.
Meet Your Internal Parts
IFS sees each person as a system of parts of a whole, rather than a single whole. The "parts" are the different aspects of you, such as your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Some parts can feel positive and helpful, while others can feel negative and can cause harm in one’s life. There are various kinds of parts...
Protectors are the parts that shield you from emotional turmoil or past traumas. If you've been hurt in a relationship, a protector may pop up, telling you to avoid intimacy to dodge the hurt.
Managers are protector parts that plan and prevent future harm, while Firefighters are reactive parts that jump into action when distress is already underway.
An important note here is that protectors do what they do because they feel they have to. They do not exist only to protect, but rather took on protective roles when we were hurt in the past. Often, they'd rather return to what they used to do before you were hurt. This is an important point that will be addressed later in this post.
Exiles are the parts that carry intense emotions or traumatic memories, often kept hidden by protectors to prevent them from overwhelming you. These parts may hold onto unresolved emotions and a sense of responsibility for past traumatic events. They are often-but not always-young and stuck in the time where the bad thing happened to you.
Along with your parts, is YOU. Your Self (with a capital S). This is who you are at your core. There are various words people use to describe their Self: soul, essence, authentic Self, true Self. Your Self can never be diminished, though it may be more obscured by parts doing what they have to do in protection mode or in exile. It isn't something that has to be developed. It's been within you from the beginning. In IFS, this is the place within you that always holds compassion, creativity, curiosity, courage, calm, connection, curiosity, and clarity.
In IFS therapy, I help my clients to identify and understand the different parts that make up their personality. We'll start by exploring the managers and firefighters, and learning how they try to keep you safe. I help you understand what parts are doing, why each part does what it does, and how the parts are working together or in conflict and how that impacts your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. I’m basically a parts detector.
Once the parts are understood by you, I help you learn how to bring relief to your parts, so they don't have to protect so fiercely and can work in greater harmony and balance with each other, leading to greater peace and clarity.
Where does the Self fit into this? As I am helping you connect with and help parts, I’m also helping you connect with your core Self, so that you can begin to lead your parts and help them work together. Because remember those qualities that Self holds: compassion, connection, playfulness, presence, confidence, clarity, curiosity, courage, calm, perspective, understanding, and creativity? Those are the qualities that become more integrated in your life and with your parts as you heal and lead with Self.
IFS therapy with me is a collaborative process between the two of us. I help you get to know your parts and help them, and because I’m helping you do that, you’re also practicing it yourself and learning how to do it on your own. You are the biggest factor in your healing process and I am here to support you along the way.
IFS therapy offers several benefits:
Is IFS Therapy Right for You?
If you're struggling with inner conflicts, relationship issues, depression, anxiety, trauma, or other mental health challenges, IFS therapy could be the perfect fit. It offers a unique and effective path to self-discovery and healing. In IFS therapy, we work together as a team. You're in the driver's seat of your healing journey, with me as your therapist there to provide support and guidance every step of the way.
Here's an infographic that gives a visual view of IFS therapy and how it works:
Are you a Texas resident interested in IFS therapy, but want to know more about it or me?
Reach out and schedule a free 20-minute consultation with me!