Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS) is a relatively new and innovative form of therapy, developed by psychotherapist Richard Schwartz, that has been gaining increasing popularity in recent years. This approach to therapy helps individuals to understand and resolve the inner conflicts and traumas that exist within their mind, soul, and body.
What is Internal Family Systems Therapy?
There are two core beliefs or concepts underlying Internal Family Systems Therapy. The first is that the mind is multifaceted and has many “parts” which can be in conflict with one another. These adaptive parts are thought to have developed as a means of protecting the individual from harm or stress, but over time, they can cause inner conflict, leading to feelings of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.
The idea of having multiple parts to the mind can be a difficult concept for clients who are new to IFS to understand. Some confuse it with having multiple personalities, however we talk in parts language all the time but likely never notice it. Take these examples:
– “Part of me wants to go out for dinner tonight because I miss seeing my friends, but another part of me wants to stay home and just relax.”
– There’s this part of me that really wants to write a book, but another part of me that is afraid of failure.”
– “Every time I consider moving to the coast I feel excited, but then another part of me feels sad and knows that I will miss the city.”
It is in exploring these parts that we come to know our complexities and understand why we can experience such polarized opinions and emotions within our one mind.
The second key concept of IFS is that at the core of every individual is a Self that is loving, compassionate, wise, kind, creative and much more. You may notice this core Self being present when you are enjoying time with a loved one, pursuing something creative and feeling in a state of flow; when you are in nature; or when you are simply enjoying the present moment and neither looking to the past or the future. The core Self is always available to us, however we spend a lot of time living from our parts and allowing them to take over our whole system, rather than living in the truth of who we really are. IFS helps clients to become Self-led rather than led by their parts.
What Does a Typical IFS Therapy Session Look Like?
IFS is an inter-relational therapy that looks at the relationship between the closely connected parts of the mind. With the help of a trained therapist, Individuals develop relationship between their Self and their parts, coming to understand when and why their parts were formed, and the role those parts now play in the individual’s system.
As they come to learn more about their parts, clients will discover that some of their parts have assumed a managerial role, some a more reactive role, and some parts are wounded, or “burdened.” The parts that carry deep wounds or traumas were often formed in childhood and need to be healed, but they can only be healed through relationship to Self.
During an IFS therapy session, the therapist and client work together to identify the different parts that exist within the individual’s mind. The therapist may also use visualization and mindfulness techniques to help the individual access and understand their inner world. The client will not be invited to do anything more in a session than to explore whatever parts may be coming up for them and to get to know the role they are playing in the system. A part may make itself known in the form of an image, an emotion, thoughts, or often, a combination of all of these.
What Makes IFS Therapy Work So Well?
One of the key truths that makes IFS work so well is the accessibility of the Core Self. The Self has always been there in all of us. However, imagine that it has been like the sun high above the dark clouds on a rainy day: always there but hidden by the clouds. Once we accept our core self as our essence—the person we are without our trauma, conditioning and adaptive ways of coping— we can begin to allow that authentic self to be in the driver’s seat of our life. From there, we are able to view life and our circumstances through the lens of a loving compassionate self, rather than the lens of a protective, reactive part.
We can look at IFS as a more layered and intricate form of inner child work, which may be a more familiar concept for some.
If you are interested in exploring IFS therapy, contact us to book a session or consultation.