Internal Family Systems (IFS) is an integrative approach and sees the therapist’s job as helping the client to disentangle themselves from their parts and access the Self, which can then connect with each part and heal it so that the parts can let go of their destructive roles and enter into a harmonious collaboration, led by the Self.
The founder, Dr. Richard Schwartz, thought of the mind as an inner family and began applying techniques to individuals that he usually used with families.
There are three main types: firefighters, managers, and exiles.
- The firefighter parts are protectors that are activated when a trigger is present. An example of this might look like being reminded of a painful memory and using a behavior like substance use to put out the “fire” of the pain.
- The manager parts protect you by managing situations through intense planning to do whatever they can to avoid something that might bring you deep pain.
- Both the firefighter and manager, according to the theory, work to keep the exile from emerging and flooding you with memories of pain and trauma.
An IFS therapist will use a six-step process to help you find these parts and release their burdens.
First, you will be asked to turn your attention inward, possibly by starting with meditation. You will pay attention to the sensations in your body that come up to identify a part to work with.
If you’ve ever had an upset stomach because you were nervous, then you may understand how our mind and body work together on our emotions.
Next, you will be asked to turn your focus to this part.
Once you’ve found and focused on a part, it is time to flesh it out—to see what else you can learn about it. What emotions are associated with it? Is it a particular color? Does it represent you at a particular age?
How do you feel about this part? This will give your therapist an idea of how big or small of a role this part is playing in your life.
This may be one of the hardest steps—getting to know the part and seeing how it takes shape in your life. It involves a degree of acceptance of the part’s existence, but that doesn’t mean it needs to stay there.
Fear is the last F. In the process of befriending, you will discover what the fears are of that part of you. What are they afraid will happen without their presence in your life?
What IFS Therapy Can Help With
Though it is non-pathologizing (does not reduce a client to their diagnosis), it may treat several mental health issues and conditions.
- Major depressive disorder
- Dissociative identity disorder1
- Eating disorder2
- Substance use disorders
Promotes self compassion and self awareness. Self-awareness is the biggest step forward that you can take to improve your qualoty of life.