Internal Family Systems Therapy: A Holistic Approach to Healing
Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS) is a popular therapeutic approach that has gained considerable recognition in recent years. It is a type of psychotherapy that draws upon different psychological theories and techniques. IFS is founded on the idea that every individual has a system of internal parts or sub-personalities that interact with one another. Each part has its unique personality, values, emotions, and behaviours, and each serves a particular purpose or function. IFS aims to help individuals understand and heal their internal parts, leading to greater self-awareness, self-acceptance, and emotional stability.
History of Internal Family Systems Therapy
IFS was developed by Richard Schwartz, Ph.D., in the 1980s. Dr Schwartz was a family therapist who became interested in the concept of internal parts and sub-personalities while working with clients struggling with eating disorders, depression, addiction, and trauma. He observed that individuals often had conflicting beliefs, emotions, and behaviours that could not be easily resolved through traditional therapy approaches. He also saw that some patients had voices in their heads that seemed to represent different aspects of themselves, and that these voices could be worked with to promote healing and integration.
Dr Schwartz developed IFS based on his observations and developed new techniques to help clients work with their internal parts. He proposed that every individual has an “Internal Family,” consisting of various personalities or sub-personalities that interact with each other. This Internal Family can be mapped out and visualized, and each part can be addressed and worked with to promote healing and integration.
Principles of Internal Family Systems Therapy
IFS is based on several principles that guide the therapy process. These include:
1. The idea that every individual has an Internal Family: As noted, every person has various sub-personalities that make up their Internal Family. These parts are not “multiple personalities” but rather different aspects of the self that have their unique purposes, beliefs, emotions, and behaviours.
2. The notion that every part is valuable and has a positive intention: Even parts that are labelled as negative or problematic have some positive intention or purpose. For example, the part that engages in self-destructive behaviour may do so to protect the individual from emotional pain or trauma.
3. The belief that every part has an emotional state or feeling, and they need to be acknowledged and validated: IFS focuses on helping individuals connect with their parts’ emotions and feelings, even if they are uncomfortable or painful. By acknowledging and validating these emotions, individuals can learn to accept and integrate their parts, leading to greater self-awareness and emotional regulation.
4. The principle of Self-leadership: IFS proposes that each individual has a “Self” that is the core or essence of who they are. This Self has qualities such as curiosity, compassion, and courage and is capable of leading and uniting the Internal Family. The goal of IFS therapy is to help individuals access their Self and use it to lead and heal their Internal Family.
Techniques Used in Internal Family Systems Therapy
IFS uses various techniques to help individuals access and work with their Internal Family. These include:
1. Mapping: Mapping is a process of visualizing the Internal Family and its various parts. A therapist may ask a client to draw a diagram or use toys or objects to represent different parts. Mapping helps individuals identify their parts and understand their relationships and interactions with one another.
2. Dialogue: Dialogue refers to a conversation between a client and their parts. A therapist may guide a client to talk to a specific part and help the client engage in a dialogue with the part. This can help bring to the surface the part’s emotions, beliefs, and behaviours, and contribute to greater self-awareness and acceptance.
3. Experiential techniques: IFS uses experiential techniques, such as imagery or bodywork, to access parts’ emotions and sensations. These techniques aim to help clients explore and understand their parts’ experiences and feelings, leading to increased self-compassion and emotional integration.
4. Dealing with Trauma: IFS also has a specific technique to address trauma called Co-Regulation. Co-Regulation refers to the process of the therapist helping the client access their internal parts to work through the trauma. The therapist helps the client regulate their parts, enabling them to process the trauma in a safe and effective manner.
Benefits of Internal Family Systems Therapy
IFS offers several benefits for individuals seeking therapy. These include:
1. Increased self-awareness and self-acceptance: IFS helps individuals understand their Internal Family and the different parts that make it up. This can promote greater self-awareness, self-reflection, and self-acceptance.
2. Improved emotional regulation: By learning to understand and accept their parts’ emotions, individuals can improve their emotional regulation skills. This can lead to greater emotional stability, reducing the risk of mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.
3. Better relationships: IFS can help individuals understand and work through conflicts in relationships by helping them identify their parts’ needs and wants. This improved insight can lead to stronger, more satisfying relationships.
4. Reduced symptoms of mental health conditions: IFS has been shown to be effective in treating a range of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction.
Internal Family Systems Therapy is a powerful therapeutic approach that can help individuals understand and work through their Internal Family’s sub-personalities. By promoting greater self-awareness, self-acceptance, and emotional regulation, IFS can contribute to improved mental health and better relationships. Through its various techniques, IFS supports clients in accessing and working with their parts, leading to increased integration and healing. Overall, IFS provides a holistic, empowering approach to healing that can benefit individuals seeking a more comprehensive therapy experience.
What is Internal Family Systems Therapy?
Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS) is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on the internal family system of an individual. The therapy aims to help individuals access and heal the different parts of themselves that may be problematic, conflicting, or causing distress. The approach sees our internal life consists of multiple parts that can be acknowledged, separated, and brought into harmony.
What to Expect During an Internal Family Systems Therapy Session?
During an IFS therapy session, you will work with a therapist to identify the different parts within yourself that exist. The therapist may help you recognize parts that are causing you suffering or that you wish to improve. You will be guided through exercises to understand and communicate with each of your parts. The session will be structured towards healing and reconciliation among your parts.
Who Can Benefit from Internal Family Systems Therapy?
IFS can be beneficial to anyone who is seeking to resolve inner conflicts and understand their inner world more fully. People who have experienced trauma or abuse can benefit from IFS as a tool for healing. IFS can also help those who struggle with anxiety, depression, relationship difficulties, or self-esteem issues. Anyone who is interested in improving their relationships, self-awareness, and inner growth can benefit from IFS Therapy.
1. Aubrey, J., & Marmarosh, C. (2017). Internal Family Systems Therapy for Trauma-Related Disorders: A Review of Clinical Effectiveness and Guidelines. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 62(11), 761–770. https://doi.org/10.1177/0706743717729611
2. Schwartz, R. C. (2012). Internal Family Systems Therapy. New York: Guilford Press.
3. Nafisi, N., Shanehsazzadeh, B., & Mashhadi, A. (2013). A Comparison between Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy in Treating Patients with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 7(4), 305–316. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbs.2013.08.002