About IFS

The Internal Family Systems Model (IFS) is an integrative approach to individual psychotherapy developed by Richard C. Schwartz PhD. It combines systems thinking with the view that mind is made up of relatively discrete sub-personalities each with its own viewpoint and qualities. IFS uses family systems theory to understand how these collections of sub-personalities are organized.

The IFS Model views a person as containing an ecology of relatively discrete minds, each of which has valuable qualities and each of which is designed to – and wants to – play a valuable role within. These parts are forced out of their valuable roles by life experiences that can re-organize the system in unhealthy ways.

IFS is a model of psychotherapy offering a non-pathologizing, and empowering method of understanding human problems.

 

What Is Internal Family Systems Therapy?

Internal Family Systems (IFS) is an approach to psychotherapy that identifies and addresses multiple sub-personalities or families within each person’s mental system. These sub-personalities consist of wounded parts and painful emotions such as anger and shame, and parts that try to control and protect the person from the pain of the wounded parts. The sub-personalities are often in conflict with each other and with one’s core Self, a concept that describes the confident, compassionate, whole person that is at the core of every individual. IFS focuses on healing the wounded parts and restoring mental balance and harmony by changing the dynamics that create discord among the sub-personalities and the Self.

When It’s Used

IFS therapy is used to treat individuals, couples, and families. It is an evidence-based approach that has been shown to be effective for treating a variety of conditions and their symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, phobias, panic, and physical health conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, as well as improving general functioning and well-being.

What to Expect

IFS is talk therapy in which you work with a therapist to identify and understand the specific sub-personalities or families that make up your internal mental system. Once you identify these parts, the therapist will help you acknowledge your feelings about these suppressed emotions, learn how to release these feelings so you are freer to address the actual problem, and ultimately find more positive ways to manage conflicts on your own. The therapist may suggest certain tools to help you do this, such as relaxation exercises, visualization, keeping a journal, and creating a chart that illustrates the relationship between Self and the different parts of you.

How It Works

IFS was developed in the 1990s by family therapist Richard Schwartz, Ph.D., who developed the concept of an undamaged core Self that is the essence of who you are, and identified three different types of sub-personalities or families that reside within each person, in addition to the Self. These include wounded and suppressed parts called exiles, protective parts called managers, that keep the exiled parts suppressed, and other protective parts called firefighters, that distract the Self from the pain of exiled parts when they are released.

For more on IFS please see the Center for Self Leadership’s website