Jul

1

2024

Internal Family Systems: What’s all the fuss about?

We are delighted to present this new blog post, ahead of our upcoming online CPD: *Internal Family Systems: An Introduction* with Liz Martins on Friday 8th November, 10am to 4pm via Zoom, with catch-up available. 

Richard Schwartz developed the Internal Family Systems model in the 1980s and has been doggedly promoting the model ever since. But only fairly recently has the approach gathered so much interest that, as at the time of writing, it is almost impossible to get a place on the IFS Level 1 training, either in the UK or the USA.

This apparent sudden surge in interest in IFS therapy can possibly be attributed to several converging factors, such as the evolving landscape of mental health awareness, the growing acceptance of holistic and integrative therapeutic approaches, and the increasing empirical support for the efficacy of IFS. So, what is IFS all about?

Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a transformative therapeutic approach developed by Dr. Richard Schwartz some 40 years ago. IFS views the psyche as being made up of multiple sub-personalities or “parts,” each with its own perspective, desires, and memories.

The defining and possibly most innovative aspect of IFS is its systemic view of these parts and its emphasis on the Self as an innate core of wisdom and compassion that can lead the internal system. By fostering a harmonious relationship among these parts and the Self, IFS aims to promote psychological healing and personal growth. Let’s dig a little deeper.

How IFS is structured

Parts

In IFS, the mind is seen as an internal family of parts, each with its distinct roles and characteristics. These parts can be categorized into three main types:

1. Exiles: These are parts that hold onto pain, trauma, and negative emotions. They are often suppressed or hidden because their experiences and feelings are too overwhelming.

2. Managers: These parts strive to maintain control over the internal system to keep the exiles from surfacing. They adopt roles such as the inner critic, the perfectionist, or the caretaker, often driving behaviours aimed at preventing distress.

3. Firefighters: When exiles break through the managers’ defences, firefighters spring into action. They seek to quickly numb or distract from the painful emotions, sometimes through impulsive or destructive behaviours like addiction, binge eating, or self-harm.

The Self

Central to IFS is the concept of the Self. The Self is considered the core of an individual’s consciousness, embodying qualities like compassion, curiosity, calmness, and confidence. Unlike the Parts, the Self is not a fragment but a holistic entity capable of providing balance and healing to the internal system.

The Process of IFS Therapy

IFS therapy involves several stages aimed at fostering a relationship between the Self and the parts, ultimately leading to internal harmony. The process typically includes:

1. Identifying Parts: The therapist helps the individual identify and understand their various parts, acknowledging their roles and the emotions they carry.

2. Witnessing and Unburdening: The individual, from the perspective of the Self, witnesses the stories and feelings of the parts, particularly the exiles. This compassionate witnessing allows the parts to release their burdens, which are the extreme beliefs and emotions they have been carrying.

3. Developing the Self-Parts Relationship: The Self engages with each part, assuring them of safety and support. This relationship fosters trust and cooperation among the parts, reducing internal conflict.

4. Integrating Parts: Once unburdened, parts can take on healthier roles within the internal system. The therapist helps facilitate this integration, leading to a more cohesive and functional psyche.

Unique Features of IFS

IFS can be used to help clients who present with a wide range of issues. This includes:

1. Trauma Work: IFS is effective in healing trauma, as it allows individuals to safely engage with and heal their traumatic memories. By accessing the Self, clients can approach their trauma with compassion and strength.

2. Working with Addiction Issues: The model’s understanding of firefighters and their role in managing pain makes it well-suited for addressing addictive behaviours. By unburdening exiles and finding healthier ways to manage distress, clients can achieve lasting recovery.

3. Couples and Family Therapy: IFS helps individuals within relationships understand each other’s parts and the dynamics between them. This understanding can lead to deeper empathy, improved communication, and more harmonious relationships.

4. Personal Growth: Beyond clinical settings, IFS is used for personal development, fostering self-awareness and emotional intelligence.

And There’s a Growing Body of Research

The research base for IFS shows very promising results. Studies have shown that IFS can lead to significant improvements in symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and overall psychological well-being. The model’s effectiveness is attributed to its holistic and integrative approach, addressing not just symptoms but the underlying internal dynamics.

And Finally…

There has been a growing movement shining a light on self-care, compassionate inquiry, and personal growth which has contributed to the popularity of the IFS model. Its emphasis on understanding and harmonising internal parts, aligns well with our growing need to pursue comprehensive self-improvement and emotional resilience.

The shift in the last 20 years or so in therapeutic thinking towards a more body-mind approach is echoed in the IFS acknowledgement of the mind-body connection, and the recognition that emotional and psychological experiences are embodied.

Upcoming Workshop with Liz Martin

Want to explore more? Join us for our upcoming workshop – *Internal Family Systems: An Introduction* with Liz Martins on Friday 8th November, 10am to 4pm via Zoom, with catch-up available. 

This workshop is suitable for any counsellor or psychotherapist who is IFS-curious and wants to find out more about the model. In this one-day workshop you will receive an introductory grounding in the principles and practice of IFS. As well as providing foundational theory, the workshop will offer experiential exercises, a video or live demo of IFS in action, and plenty of time for questions and discussion.

Join our Therapy Community on Facebook

We have recently created a private Facebook Group for therapists which might be of interest to you if you are on social media? You will need to answer all 3 Joining Questions and agree to the Group Rules to join the Group!

Click Here to Join *The Therapy Partnership* Facebook Group – Be Part of the Therapy Community!

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