Internal Family Systems Therapy

Experience a personalized journey to understand and harmonize the diverse parts of your psyche, fostering deep self-awareness and emotional well-being.

sketch of a person's open head revealing small figures representing various emotions, or the parts of one's self, as conceptualized in the Internal Family Systems Therapy Model.

What is Internal Family Systems Therapy?

Understanding Your Inner City: The Basics of IFS

Imagine your mind as a bustling city, with different neighborhoods representing distinct parts of your personality. Each neighborhood has its own unique character, beliefs, and motivations, just like the different parts of your inner world. Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy is like a skilled urban planner who helps you understand and connect with these different neighborhoods within your mind. It’s about recognizing that each part, even those that may seem disruptive or troublesome, has a positive intention and plays a role in protecting you from emotional pain.

Accessing Your Core Self in IFS Therapy

In IFS therapy, you’ll learn to access your Self, the wise and compassionate core of your being. The Self is like the city hall, overseeing the entire city and guiding it towards harmony and well-being. By connecting with your Self energy, you can navigate the complexities of your inner city with greater clarity and understanding. Many people describe this state of mind as “being in flow or having internal peace.” It’s the feeling of quiet serenity when all the noisy voices step back or take a break, an energy space that is very difficult to access on our own.

Uncovering Root Causes of Emotional Distress

As you connect with and understand your different parts, you’ll begin to uncover the root causes of emotional distress, unresolved trauma, and unhealthy patterns of behavior. More often than not, what we find is that the protective strategies that helped us survive in our family systems (i.e., people-pleasing, withdrawal, dissociation, caretaker, etc.) are the very behaviors that are no longer serving us as adults. It’s like identifying the underlying issues that are causing certain neighborhoods to become troubled or dysfunctional and teaching them new ways of operating.

Unburdening Deep Insecurities Through IFS

IFS therapy helps you unburden your deepest insecurities, the parts that hold onto negative core beliefs and emotions about your self-worth related to traumatic experiences. These inner child parts are like the neglected areas of the city, carrying the weight of past hurts and injustices without any way of coping with their experiences. By unburdening them, you can release the burdens that have been weighing you down. You can think of this therapy as journeying back to the memories that are frozen in time and learning new ways to parent your inner child in the ways he/she/them needed at the time.

Journeying Towards Empowerment, Self-Discovery, and Healing

Empowering your Self is like revitalizing the city center, restoring its vitality and bringing harmony to the entire system. As your Self energy takes charge, you’ll experience greater self-compassion, resilience, and personal growth and healing.

IFS therapy is a journey of self-discovery and healing, empowering you to become the architect of your own inner city, creating a harmonious and thriving community within your mind. In addition to what we’ve summarized about IFS therapy below, you can also check out the IFS Institute’s website for even more information on this unique and transformative therapeutic model.

Who Can Benefit from IFS Therapy?

IFS therapy can be beneficial for individuals and families struggling with a wide range of issues, including:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Trauma and abuse
  • Major life transitions
  • Addiction
  • Relationship distress
  • Eating disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Low self-esteem

Core Concepts of IFS Therapy

  • The Self: The Self is the core of each individual, representing their true essence, wisdom, and compassion. It is the part that guides and directs the system toward harmony and well-being similar to a teacher guiding a classroom of toddlers to focus on the common goal.
  • Parts: Each individual has a multitude of parts, subpersonalities, or inner managers, firefighters, and exiles. These parts have developed in response to life experiences, both positive and negative, and play a role in protecting the individual from pain and vulnerability.
  • Burdens: Burdens are negative emotions, beliefs, or memories that are held by our inner children, often stemming from traumatic experiences we endured with our caretakers when we were younger. These burdens can weigh heavily on individuals and contribute to emotional distress and unhealthy communication patterns in adult relationships.
  • Healing Process: IFS therapy aims to help individuals access their Self energy, connect with their parts, and understand the positive intentions behind their behaviors. By unburdening our inner child and empowering the Self, individuals can achieve greater self-compassion, inner harmony, and personal growth.

IFS Explained By The Founder Of the Model

In the video below, Dr. Richard (Dick) Schwartz, the pioneer of IFS therapy, gives an overview of the model in his own words.

Dr. Richard Schwartz explains Internal Family Systems (IFS)

Stepping into an IFS Therapy Session

The following outline will show you how IFS therapy unfolds with the help of an IFS therapist. Largely mirroring what I wrote above, this will better explain the process in a practical approach.

Creating a Safe and Empathetic Space

From the moment you step into an IFS therapy session, you enter a safe, supportive, and non-judgmental environment. The therapist, like a seasoned guide, welcomes you into a space where every aspect of your inner world is respected and valued. Often we reference the idea that there are “no bad parts or that all parts are benevolent in nature” meaning often they are not trying to sabotage us. In fact quite the opposite. They are trying to help us yet in doing so they cause the very thing they are trying to avoid. For example, a people pleasing part might work tirelessly to make someone else happy but at the expense of self-abandonment. Together we will witness your fears, empathize with your parts pain, and allow you to explore and connect with your own psyche in safe and non-threatening ways.

Meeting Your Parts

The journey in IFS therapy starts with identifying and acknowledging your different parts. Imagine a gentle process of uncovering the layers of your personality, akin to peeling an onion. The therapist guides you to recognize and understand these parts of yourself each with their own stories, emotions, and perspectives.

Dialogue and Discovery

Central to IFS therapy is the practice of engaging in dialogues with your parts. Through guided introspection, you’ll learn to communicate internally, giving voice to each part . This process is akin to conducting interviews within your mind, where you’ll discover the unique roles, concerns, and histories of your parts. It’s a fascinating exploration that often leads to profound insights and revelations about your inner dynamics. If you’re thinking this seems overly esoteric or spiritual, we can understand this entirely. We encourage you to explore the diverse methods available within this framework, viewing IFS as a foundational step towards deeper internal integration.

The Role of the Self: Leading with Compassion

A key aspect of IFS therapy is helping you access your Self. The therapist assists you in stepping back from the immediate influence of your parts, helping you connect with the compassionate, curious, and calm core of your being. From this place of Self leadership, you can understand and relate to your parts with empathy and clarity, paving the way for deep healing and transformation.

Unburdening and Healing

As you grow more attuned to your parts and their burdens, the therapist supports you in the process of unburdening. This is where the transformative healing occurs. You’ll learn to release the pain, trauma, and negative beliefs held by your inner children, facilitated by the strength and compassion of your Self. This unburdening is often experienced as a profound relief and a significant step towards emotional well-being.

Empowerment and Growth

Throughout the sessions, you’ll develop skills to manage your inner system more effectively. The therapist empowers you to become the wise, compassionate leader of your inner city. This newfound self-leadership fosters resilience, self-understanding, and a greater sense of harmony within.

A Journey of Continuous Discovery

Each session in IFS therapy is a unique journey into your inner world. The therapist adapts the process to your pace and needs, ensuring that every step on this path is taken with care, intentionality, and consideration. As you progress, you’ll notice shifts in your self-perception and in your external life, reflecting the internal changes and growth.

Is IFS Therapy Right for You?

IFS therapy is more than a treatment; it’s a journey of self-discovery and an empowered way of living. If you’re seeking a therapy that acknowledges every facet of your being, provides tools for deep self-exploration, and empowers you to be the architect of your inner harmony, IFS therapy could be a perfect fit. We invite you to book a consultation to explore how this transformative approach can support your path to healing and personal growth.

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A deeper exploration of the layers of self and Internal Family Systems therapy

We write articles regularly about themes surrounding IFS and other therapy topics. We invite you to read some of our recent articles below.

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