Internal Family Systems (IFS)

Use of the IFS Model and Techniqueyousef-espanioly-790837-unsplash

At Self-Awareness Counseling, I draw on many therapy models to tailor the therapy process co-creatively with each client. The psychological theory and technique that most often lays the foundation for my work is the Internal Family Systems (IFS) model (not to be confused with Family Therapy). This method has so impressed me for its immensely safe and gentle, yet profound healing power, that I have studied it extensively and am a certified IFS therapist. Additionally, as of 2015 it is now approved as an Evidence Based Practice (EBP). Thanks to research produced by the Foundation for Self Leadership showing its effectiveness in Rheumatoid Arthritis patients for improving functioning and self-compassion.

IFS is an individual psychotherapy method honoring that we all have a multiplicity of inner “parts”. This “family” or collection of inner parts are very often in conflict with each other.  This inner conflict creates many of the painful emotional states and self-sabotaging behaviors that plague people and bring them to therapy.

IFS holds that by getting to know each of these parts we can come to understand, and then offer, the healing that each part needs. The work itself brings reconnection with your authentic Self, which allows your true Self to lead your life. This frees up the wounded, scared or controlling parts from having to lead so they can receive healing and return to functioning in ways they are best at. The healing process brings about inner accord allowing life to flow with more emotional ease, cognitive clarity and effectiveness.

Typically, IFS sessions yield surprising new insights and healing momentum to even very old themes and wounds.

Some Advantages of IFS Therapy:

  • Safe and deep therapy for HSPs—effective & appropriate for trauma.
  • Decreases negative & critical self-talk.
  • The IFS process itself creates brain integration. An important step in healing trauma. 
  • Less jolting to the nervous system after a deep session than some other experiential methods.
  • It honors ALL parts, it does not label some as less desirable or bad—it stays curious and open to hearing what parts are trying to do and helps them shift into their more preferred states.
  • It’s elegant and thorough in its distillation of the key components involved in psychological healing.
  • It is a flexible method and blends well with other therapeutic approaches. We can explore parts by way of drawing, writing, collage, or movement.
  • It’s principles are very clear so it’s easily adapted to meet each client right where they are.
  • It can be learned as a self-help modality and offers tools to take with you.

Understanding Our Parts

ashlyn-gulbranson-763897-unsplashHave you ever felt that one part of you wants one thing while another part wants the complete opposite? Has one part of you ever enthusiastically RSVP’d “YES” to a social event that you truly are looking forward to, but when it’s time to go, another part of you desperately wishes you’d sent a “NO?”

Or maybe this has happened: one part of you, feels a creative impulse bubbling up, gets out your supplies and prepares the space for work. You’re all set, but then another part of you goes blank, as if the muse had never visited! Or perhaps you’re familiar with an internal battle between parts that want to get work done, or stick to healthy routines, and others that want to do anything else.

Perhaps in all these examples there are still other parts that jump in and criticize: “You always do this—what’s wrong with you!?? When are you going to get it together!?”

This kind of internal conflict is human!

We all have many inner voices in dialogue with one another. We truly are, a multiplicity of parts. When we talk to ourselves, either silently or out loud—we are engaging our parts. This seems to be the way different areas of the brain work together. When you can identify the voices of an inner “critic”, “saboteur”, “cheerleader”, “pacifier” or “minimizer” (to name just a common few) you are hearing from different parts.

This is the natural state of the mind–not a mental disorder. It’s only at the most extreme end of the mental disorder spectrum (when the the psyche splits into distinctive identities functioning independently of one another) that it is diagnosed as Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). We all experience our parts, but in those who have experienced profound abuse and trauma, their parts may have had to become more individualized and isolated in order to survive. IFS can be particularly helpful with this degree of severity.

Even when our internal parts are in conflict at a level far from that extreme, their fighting can be crippling.  These inner clashes can make us freeze in the middle of a conversation or performance, hamstring us with indecision, shame or guilt, and plague us with inner criticism and low self-esteem. In some case, these internal wars can bring a person’s life to a grinding halt through overwhelming emotions, avoidance and self-destructive patterns. IFS is highly effective treatment for any degree of battling parts.

IFS honors that all of your parts have important contributions to make, but sometimes, because of past woundings, parts need help finding new ways to express. This method offers a way to work safely and thoroughly with all of your parts (even the ones you might think of as negative or dangerous) in order to help them heal and function in their best form.

Coming Back to Self

delfi-de-la-rua-106046-unsplashIn spite of this inner turmoil, perhaps you also have a sense of, or a longing for, what we might call your essential or authentic Self. That inner, aligned sense of connection with pure YOU. Maybe you have only a wispy memory of feeling centered in this sense of Self. Or maybe it comes to you periodically but inconsistently. Either way, you know that you want to find your way back to it. You can sense what it would be like to live in that centered and calm and alive place of Self—authentic YOU—rather than being hijacked by the inner skirmishes and difficult emotional states.

When there is inner accord we flow along and tend not to notice the different parts contributing to our ease. Our parts are engaged in their prefered tasks and ways of being. We have a sense of our aligned center. We feel calm, present, and compassionate. When we are here we are “sitting in Self.”

To learn more about the IFS Model and Methodology, follow this link to the Center for Self-Leadership.

Ways We May Work

There are many ways that we may work with the IFS model. Sometimes we get to know the parts by talking, writing, drawing or collaging about them. Often though, in our sessions we focus on the healing of a certain parts. It is then we engage in the IFS process of inner work. In this regard IFS is an experiential therapy or a mindfulness-based therapy as opposed to so-called “talk therapies”. That means that in addition to talking about what is troubling you in your counseling session, IFS offers a way to directly work with the experiences you are having in the moment (images, sensations, emotions, thoughts, impulses, memories, etc.) as you bring to mind the problem situation.

We work this way, so we can identify and honor ALL the parts involved and hear directly from them about their concerns and needs. This allows your parts themselves, to tell us about their needs for safety and healing rather than spending our counseling time exclusively analyzing your situation and hypothesizing about what might work to change it. By contacting your experience with curiosity and openness, we help your parts enter into the healing process.

For More Information:

Click on the images below  (or on the right), or see the pages under the “Specializations” and “About Counseling” menus.

Back to Top ~