Internal Family Systems Therapy
Updated: Sep 29
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 Internal Family Systems Therapy is 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 from IFS
IFS is talk therapy, where 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 Internal Family Systems 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 example, an exiled part may be the trauma and anger of earlier abuse, emotions that are suppressed by the manager, while the firefighter may be an alcohol addiction or behavior such as overeating that distracts the client from facing and re-experiencing those uncomfortable emotions. These parts can be healed, transformed, and better managed by the Self by achieving the three goals of IFS:
1) Free the parts from their extreme roles 2) Restore trust in the Self 3) Coordinate and harmonize the Self and the parts, so they can work together as a team with the Self in charge.
What to Look for in an IFS Therapist
Look for a licensed psychotherapist, social worker, counsellor or other mental health professional with advanced training in IFS therapy. The Internal Family Systems Center for Self-Leadership conducts training programs. Look for a therapist with IFS training. In addition to licensing and educational credentials, it is important to find a therapist with whom you are comfortable working.
Contact us to explore this topic further
If you or someone you know would like to explore this topic further, consider reaching out to me and my team via email at email@example.com or 647-296-923 and we will work to help you find a therapist to work with you. We offer a free 30-minute consultation via phone or video chat and we’re available for online therapy sessions using our secure online video platform across Ontario and for in-person sessions in select cities.