What is Internal Family System?
When you say " a part of me says that..", you have already embraced the basic idea of the Internal Familiy System (IFS) approach.
IFS is a transformative, evidence-based model of understanding how we function - developed by Dr. Richard Schwartz. The fundamental idea behind IFS is, that our minds are made up of distinct, often conflicting, parts or sub-personalities, each with its own unique thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. These parts are often organized around specific roles or functions and can influence our emotions, actions, and overall well-being.
At the heart of IFS is the experience that there is a calm, compassionate core ‘Self’ within each of us that cannot be damaged. IFS places great emphasis on supporting a relationship between your ‘Self’ and the many parts that make up our system. Self is described via the following descriptors - 8Cs:
However over the course of life this ‘Self’ gets obscured by difficult unprocessed emotions and self-believes, that we experience as a result of challenging situations (such as feeling sad, anxious, unworthy, unlovable), and we lose access to our calm and courageous qualities innate in us. Within IFS we call these painful parts ‘exiles’, as the rest of the system would do anything to keep the pain of these parts away.
In order to accomplish that, we have two types of parts that protect us from this pain:
‘Managers’ are the protective parts of us that can work really hard, be perfectionists, constantly evaluate, analyse or judge and criticize – as they believe that through achieving, overcompensating and control we will try even harder and it will protect us from the exiled pain of not being ‘good enough’. Other managers might live in denial and block any uncomfortable emotions and sensations.
If the managers don’t succeed, we might get ‘flooded’ by underlying sense of sadness, emptiness or brokenness (feelings that are carried by our exiles) and that’s when the ‘firefighter’ protectors kick in in a form of soothing, numbing or distracting behaviours. These can often be various binging and compulsive behaviours in relationships with food, alcohol or other substances, but also compulsive working, shopping, activity addictions or just scrolling through social media for hours.
Bringing more curiosity and compassion into our system allows us to more clearly identify the defences and protections that have built over time. We believe that every part has a positive intention, and by increasingly getting to know those parts’ innermost motives, they can gradually start to relax, feel less intense and wounds can be healed.
IFS is more than just a therapeutic model - it can be helpful in daily life, in relationships of any kind:
When we really know that we and others tend to act from parts of us that are not the whole of us, it allows for the possibility of acting from our compassionate, calm core 'Self' instead
Richard Schwartz, founder of Internal Family System, explains his approach in his own words:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
There is a field. I'll meet you there.
How does IFS Therapy work?
I see my role as an IFS therapist as a guide and companion into your internal system, helping you explore the various parts of yourself with curiosity and compassion. Through a collaborative and non-judgmental process, I can assist you in identifying, understanding, and integrating these internal parts. The beauty of IFS lies in its emphasis on the so-called 'self-leadership' – empowering you to become the expert of your own inner world. If you're seeking a transformative journey towards self-discovery, healing, and personal empowerment, IFS Therapy may be right for you.
My IFS Training and Qualifications
Level 1, 2 and 3 (=highest level of training)
I am regularly assisting as PA on L1 as well as L2 as I enjoy accompanying new IFS therapists on their learning journey.
Further IFS Workshops:
Transcending Trauma - Frank G. Anderson
IFS and Attachment Trauma - Osnat Arbel
Compassion for Addictive Process - Cece Sykes
Somatic IFS - Susan McConnell
IFS and the Polyvagal Theory - Alexia Rothman and Deb Dana
Befriending Difficult Protectors - Mike Elkin
Direct Access - an essential IFS Skill - Fran Booth
'Introduction to Internal Family System'
'No bad parts'
Richard Schwartz latest book on IFS.
'You are the one you've been waiting for'
Applying IFS to intimate relationships
“Trauma blocks love and connection, and healing our wounds provides access to the love and goodness that is inherent in us all.”
FRANK G. ANDERSON, MD
IFS - THE SCIENCE
IFS is an evidence-based practice. Despite being a relatively new therapeutic approach, recent meta-analysis found that IFS therapy effectively reduces symptoms of depression, as well as anxiety and trauma-related disorders. The study also found that IFS therapy was more effective than traditional talk therapy in reducing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy is gaining recognition for its effectiveness, and there is a growing body of research supporting its benefits. While the field of psychotherapy research is complex and continually evolving, several studies and theoretical connections with neuroscience contribute to the understanding of how IFS may be beneficial:
1. **Neuroscience and Parts Work:**
- IFS theory aligns with the understanding of the brain's neural networks and how different parts of the brain are associated with specific functions. Brain imaging studies, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), have shown that different regions of the brain are activated during emotional processing, and interventions like IFS can potentially influence these neural patterns.
2. **Polyvagal Theory:**
- The Polyvagal Theory, developed by Dr. Stephen Porges, is closely related to IFS. It explains how our nervous system responds to stress and trauma. IFS emphasizes creating a safe and connected therapeutic relationship, which aligns with the Polyvagal Theory's emphasis on promoting a sense of safety to support healing.
3. **Embodied Cognition:**
- IFS recognizes the interconnectedness of mind and body. Research in embodied cognition suggests that our thoughts and emotions are not isolated in the brain but are influenced by and influence the entire body. IFS's focus on understanding and integrating emotions aligns with this holistic perspective.
4. **Trauma Research:**
- Many individuals seeking IFS therapy have experienced trauma. Research in trauma and its effects on the brain supports the idea that traumatic experiences can lead to the fragmentation of the psyche into different parts. IFS's approach to working with these fragmented parts and promoting integration aligns with trauma-informed therapeutic practices.
5. **Effectiveness Studies:**
- While research on IFS is still emerging, some studies suggest its effectiveness. A study published in the Journal of Psychotherapy Research in 2020 found that IFS was effective in reducing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. Other studies have explored its efficacy in treating eating disorders and anxiety.
6. **Mindfulness and Brain Plasticity:**
- IFS incorporates mindfulness practices, and research on mindfulness has shown changes in brain structure and function, particularly in areas related to self-awareness and emotional regulation. The practice of mindfulness aligns with IFS's emphasis on self-awareness and connecting with the core Self.
While more research is needed to establish a robust scientific foundation, the theoretical underpinnings of IFS align with contemporary understandings of the brain and trauma. The integration of neuroscience, trauma research, and psychotherapeutic practices like IFS reflects a holistic approach to mental health that considers both psychological and physiological aspects of healing.
My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.