What Is Internal Family Systems Therapy?

butterflyInternal Family Systems (IFS) is a therapeutic model that focuses on internal awareness in an effort to better understand the “parts” that we are made up of. In IFS, there are differing “parts”—containing our emotions, thoughts and lived experiences—and the “Self.” By becoming aware of and attuning to our authentic Self, we can begin the process of healing.

The History & Development Of IFS

IFS was developed by family therapist Dr. Richard Schwartz, PhD beginning in the 1980s. Working originally from a family systems model, Schwartz focused on the individual, whom he recognized as being made up of differing and sometimes conflicting parts—much like a family unit.

Unlike many predominant therapeutic models of the past, Schwartz developed IFS therapy to be non-pathologizing. In other words, rather than treating clients in terms of symptoms and diagnoses, the intent of IFS is to create awareness. Thoughts, feelings, and beliefs are not viewed as being “good” or “bad” but instead as an intricate system that navigates the various parts that our psyches have developed to protect and keep us out of harm’s way. 

Because of this, IFS can be useful for addressing a wide range of challenges—from surface-level struggles with anxiety to deep seated traumas that may have been affecting one’s perception for years. Through IFS therapy, clients get directed toward their own felt experiences, thereby facilitating a deeper sense of healing and understanding.

How Does IFS Work?

the word trust in sandThe first step of IFS is getting curious about what your mind and body are trying to convey. Working together, we will explore—and befriend—your many parts, paying attention to the protectors that are keeping you away from the wounded parts underneath-the parts known as exiles. We will explore the different functions of these parts and why they show up in your life as emotional activation, distress, and worry. 

Throughout this process, the intent is to develop a sense of trust in Self that will guide you in interpreting your body’s messages. This trust will help your protective parts practice becoming comfortable enough to step aside and allow more vulnerable parts to surface. Oftentimes, the most vulnerable parts are the ones that have been buried and obscured for years, but IFS therapy seeks to illuminate them so they can be understood, updated, and healed.

When paired with meditation and mindfulness practices, IFS can be extremely effective in slowing down emotional escalation and reactivity. By creating awareness around each and every component—and not just the loudest, most obvious parts— IFS therapy can aid you in effectively releasing hurts and outdated beliefs that no longer serve you.

How Does IFS Differ From Other Forms Of Counseling?

sunset on the oceanInternal Family Systems is not an intellectualized therapy model, which means it’s not centered around thinking through problems. Instead, IFS takes cues from the deepest reaches of the body, offering insights and perspectives that are not as readily accessible through traditional, surface-level forms of talk therapy. 

My History With IFS Therapy

I first learned about the Internal Family Systems model when I was pursuing my degree in Marriage and Family Therapy at Antioch University. Despite being trained in a wide range of therapeutic modalities at that time, I remember thinking that I had finally found a model that made sense to my approach and philosophy. When I completed my Level 1 training through what’s now known as the IFS Institute, I really started to grasp how I could put this model into action with my clients.

Since then, I have pursued advanced training in IFS therapy, completing Level 2 and a Level 3 training as well as being a Program Assistant for Level 1 students.

two lawn chairs in front of a lakeAwaken, Become Aware, And Find Presence

As a long time meditator and spiritual seeker, I believe that IFS therapy is one of the most effective blueprints for nurturing internal awareness. To find out more about my approach and if IFS can help you, contact me.