Internal Family Systems
Internal Family Systems-IFS
The basic premise of Internal Family Systems is that our conscious minds are made up of multiple sub-personalities or “parts”. Because our systems are so incredibly powerful and adaptive, each “part” develops its own perspectives, interests, memories, and viewpoints to protect the “self” in different ways.
Understanding IFS Therapy
Trauma, difficult events and relationships cause the system to develop protective “parts” that step in and take over as needed. We develop a part that has a coping strategy that works at the time. Many “parts” are useful and help us to manage our daily life. Think of all the roles that you might play as made up of parts – parent, friend, employee, spouse-each role is managed by a part of you that knows how to do that role.
Over time, “parts” get layered and more complicated, especially if healthy coping skills have not been learned. When one protector part after another is activated (and they start to conflict with each other), it takes over the system causing stagnation, dysfunctional behaviors and internal conflicts. IFS supports deepening self-compassion and managing the “inner critic(s)” that live within each of us so that they don’t interfere with us reach our goals.
Frank Anderson, a senior IFS teacher, states in a study of IFS and trauma that; “IFS therapy focuses on enhancing ability to attend to difficult and distressing internal experiences (i.e. “vulnerable parts”) mindfully and with self-compassion (i.e. from the Self), in order to increase capacity to successfully “be with” or tolerate and process traumatic material. A core goal of IFS is to foster specific mental states during the therapy session that support engagement of the client’s compassionate Self, which fosters a safe internal environment that enhances processing of traumatic memories and promotes healing, including curiosity, calm, clarity, connectedness, courage, creativity, and compassion.”
Internal Family Systems
Basic Assumptions of IFS Internal Family Systems Therapy
IFS therapy is based on these basic assumptions:
- The mind is naturally subdivided into multiple “parts”.
- The parts are connected to the core “Self”, and Self leads the internal system that’s made up of parts.
- There are no “bad” parts of you. IFS does not pretend to eliminate any part, but rather learn about how they work in your life and help them find a non-extreme role that does not impact the whole system.
- Parts develop as you grow, forming complex interactions among themselves. But systems can be reorganized, and when this happens, parts and interactions change, too.Internal (self) and external (environment) systems affect each other, so when one changes, the other one will tend to do so too.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Internal Family Systems (IFS) is an inclusive form of psychotherapy that can transform you and help you know yourself better. The goal of IFS therapy is to heal past wounds and bring your mind and emotions to a more compassionate, stable place. If you’re looking to resolve intense emotions or heal from your past pain, this may be a good therapy approach for you.
IFS is used to treat many kinds of mental health diagnoses and emotional challenges. It provides a way to regulate your emotions and improve your problem solving skills, which has implications in every area of your life from relationships to job and career performance. It was developed originally to treat severe mental health issues of trauma and abuse and is effective to address these and other mental health issues such as trauma and PTSD, phobias, anxiety, and depression.
IFS can be used to address a specific, current issue like making a decision about a career or relationship. IFS can help them with recurrent patterns that affect many areas of life.
IFS focuses on developing an awareness of your parts and their roles and focuses on diminishing their extreme roles so the parts function more harmoniously together, reducing internal conflicts.
During each IFS therapy session, you and your therapist will use different techniques, such as:
- Body awareness
- Guided imagery
- Mindfulness-based practices
- Imagining the future
- Exploring the past
For example, your therapist might guide you to pay attention to what you’re experiencing in the moment. You might notice a physical sensation like a knot in your stomach, a thought that keeps circling in your mind, or a feeling that’s causing distress.
Your therapist works with you to identify the part(s) associated with these experiences. From there, you’ll explore what this part of yourself needs and what function it serves. By doing this, you can better address the needs of this part to reduce your distress.
The short answer is that it depends on what your needs and goals are. Our goal is to help you
heal as soon as possible. How long you will need therapy depends on your personal goals for
treatment. If you have a symptom that you want to improve it may be a short treatment, say
one to three months. If you have symptoms that are more complex it can take much longer and your
quality of life has been impacted for years. Our work will be tailored to your needs at a pace
that feels comfortable and safe for you. We will work with you to design a plan that helps you
meet your goals in a time frame that will work for you.