Internal Family System
Internal Family Systems was created by family therapist Richard Schwartz in the mid-1980’s. Like Schema Therapy, IFS views the self as having multiple parts(modes). You may have a part that wants to work, but you may have another part that wants to go out and relax. You may have a part that is playful and compassionate, yet at times you may have a part that is irritable and cranky. We may dislike parts of ourselves, the part that is shameful and self-critical. How we flow throughout our daily life depends on how we manage our parts, our internal system. In IFS, very similar to Focusing, we listen to our parts, which may be expressed in thoughts, bodily sensations, memories, if we acknowledge this and befriend these parts of ourselves, we may be able to manage day-to-day experiences.
I came to know about IFS through my training in Accelerated experiential-dynamic psychotherapy (AEDP) which is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on healing-oriented techniques and was developed by Diana Fosha. It seems all of the AEDP therapists I met were also trained in IFS. I read various IFS books and realized how similar IFS was to AEDP, Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy, and to Schema Therapy.
First, I want to share some of IFS basic assumptions. These assumptions here come from one of my favorite books, and they are as follow which I often share with most of you:
1. All parts have good intentions, even those who misbehave. Therefore, we begin therapy with a radical invitation: all parts are welcome.
2. When vulnerable parts are wounded other parts step into protective roles.
3. Protective parts behave in predictable ways, some of which look pathological.
4. A disrupted inner system can become balanced once it is in relationship with the client’s Self.
5. The Self is neither created nor cultivated and cannot be destroyed but present from birth.
6. Every person has a Self, and the Self can be accessed for healing in every person.
Anderson, Frank; Schwartz, Richard; Sweezy, Martha. Internal Family Systems Skills Training Manual: Trauma-Informed Treatment for Anxiety, Depression, PTSD & Substance Abuse (p. 10). PESI Publishing & Media. Kindle Edition.
“The total possible consciousness may be split into parts which coexist, but mutually ignore each other, and share the objects of knowledge between them.”
William James, 1896
IFS GOALS AND STEPS
Every step of IFS therapy has a goal. I help you to help your parts. First, I help you get to know your parts, and to separate from the protective parts. Second, I help you befriend your protective parts, ask permission to help wounded parts. I also help you develop a positive relationship with your wounded parts, witness their experiences and help let go of extreme beliefs and states so that they can begin the healing process. All of this starts to make room for healed parts to reintegrate with the Self as leader of the inner system.
The first three steps (find, focus, flesh out) involve helping parts to unblend, very similar to Focusing, I will ask you to (1) Focus and I may ask, “Who needs your attention right now? And Where do you notice it? I may ask you to scan your body and notice where you feel the present issue or concern.
Then I will ask you to (2) flesh it out, I may ask you to turn your attention inside and to let your awareness be in the place where you located your anger, or sadness and to just notice it. There is this mindful quality of attention like I discussed under Mindfulness and again like in Focusing, I may ask you if there are words, thoughts, feelings, images, or memories that come up when you focus on it.
Then we (3) Flesh it out, “Can you see it or experience the part? What is that like? And how close are you to it? (4) Next I might ask you, “How do you Feel towards part of you?” (angry, sad, disgusted). Ths begins the mindful state of self-observation and the beginning of separating “you” from the part that we are observing. If you have a strong reaction to this part, like “I don’t want it” or “I want to get rid of it”, this means that there is nother protective part blended with the Self and I may say something like, “See if the part that wants to get rid of it can step back.”
And always the protective part is welcome and thanked for its protective stance and assured that it can return at any time if need be. However, if the protective part is willing to step aside, then the next question will be, “How do you feel toward the part now?” that is the part we were working on.
You may gradually become curious or compassionate towards it, and in this case we continue to move on because now we are able to move forward to get to know this part better by (5) befriending it, here I may ask such questions as “How old is this part?” and “How hold it thinks you are?” and “how did it get this job?” and If it didn’t have to do this job, what would it rather do?” and lastly, we ask this part (6) What does it FEAR? As well as “What does it want for you?” and “What would happen if it stopped doing this job?”.
In the end, all of this begins a compassionate dialogue with all the parts, and this inner dialogue lowers the temperature of extreme behaviors from the Protectors(known as Managers/Firefighters) as well as being to heal the hurt and traumatized vulnerable child parts (known as Exiles). In the end there is an unburdening of the pain, the heavy sorrow carried for so long.
Internal Family Systems is a powerfully transformative, evidence-based model of psychotherapy. We believe the mind is naturally multiple and that is a good thing. Our inner parts contain valuable qualities and our core Self knows how to heal, allowing us to become integrated and whole. In IFS all parts are welcome.
And always the protective part is welcome and thanked for its protective stance and assured that it can return at any time if need be. In the end, all of this begins a compassionate dialogue with all the parts, and this inner dialogue lowers the temperature of extreme behaviors from the Protectors(known as Managers/Firefighters) as well as being to heal the hurt and traumatized vulnerable child parts (known as Exiles). In the end, there is an unburdening of the pain, the heavy sorrow carried for so long.
Parts work like in IFS is not new. They are not the only therapeutic modality that recognizes that we all have subpersonalities, there is Focusing, Voice Dialogue, Ego States therapy, and Schema Therapy. In addition, From the beginning of therapy, every major school of psychology has recognized that we have different parts, the ego, the id, and superego of psychodynamic psychotherapy for example.
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