What Is IFS Therapy And Why Is It Helpful?
Internal Family Systems (IFS) uses the perspective that we are born as “Self,” however, as we go through life, there are moments in which we feel unsafe, in conflict with others, or out of place. In especially painful or stressful moments, “parts” of us are created. These parts, called exiles, are left feeling wounded, afraid, or traumatized, and in need of protection.
In order to endure, move on, or survive, “manager” or “protector” parts must then take over. These protectors begin to proactively perfect, perform, achieve, and criticize—all to avoid ever feeling helpless or alone again.
Life, unfortunately, has a way of triggering old memories and activating the injured parts. When that happens, other, more reactive parts of us (or “firefighters”) take control of the system to quickly numb or dampen the pain in ways that are often not helpful.
When any part exists in an extreme role, we experience inner and external chaos—which is where IFS therapy can help. Therapy, through the lens of Internal Family Systems, looks at the interplay between parts with the goal of healing those that are wounded, finding more helpful roles for protectors, and reintegrating all parts so that they can exist in harmony.
Who Can Benefit From IFS Therapy?
Founded in the 1980s by Richard Schwartz, Internal Family Systems therapy started as an effective approach to treating eating disorders. Over time, IFS was also discovered to be a powerful treatment method for addressing a diverse range of personal challenges and mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, identity, maladaptive attachment styles, substance abuse, and PTSD.
In a 2021 IFS pilot study focused on survivors of multiple childhood traumas, research showed a significant reduction in PTSD symptoms and various co-occurring problems.* Numerous other studies have proven IFS to be a comprehensive model of therapy for treating all dimensions of the traumatic experience from a mindful and compassionate perspective.**
Parts work helps restore balance to the system and empowers clients with the self-awareness and tools to consciously regulate how they think, feel, and respond to challenges. That’s one of the reasons why IFS therapy has become a go-to treatment model for everything from grief and loss to trauma and self-harm.
How Internal Family Systems Works And What Therapy Sessions Look Like
Our approach to IFS involves five goals:
First, we want to help identify the client’s individual parts, their roles, and how they are creating dysfunction. As people begin to recognize and acknowledge previously unfamiliar parts of themselves, it creates a comforting and transformative experience. Clients begin to see themselves as someone other than the person who entered the room, so they feel more at ease, unburdened, and self-compassionate.
We also want to teach clients how to honor their protectors for the supportive role they have played in the past.
Introducing one’s “Self” as the ideal driver of the system is another goal. At the end of the day, therapy is about working back toward the Self—back to the essential part of one’s being that is compassionate, curious, creative, confident, and caring.
“Exiles” are the wounded, traumatized parts that people keep hidden away from the world—the parts that protectors watch over.
IFS unburdens those exiles, increasing their feelings of safety and acceptance and helping them to change negative beliefs and release fear and wounding.
In IFS therapy, a person isn’t viewed as depressed, bipolar, angry, or bitter as those are just parts of a system defined by extreme roles. Internal Family Systems stabilizes these parts so that they do not have to function in maladaptive ways.
What Make IFS Therapy And Parts Work Unique?
Unlike other therapy models, Internal Family Systems focuses less on pathologizing and more on building an inclusive relationship with all of one’s parts, including those that are in conflict. IFS is deep and intense work that can quickly transform self-criticism and shame into curiosity and compassion. That, in turn, creates an alternative perspective that leads to greater confidence and a new sense of independence and self-reliance.
We can also implement other therapeutic strategies to supplement the IFS approach to healing. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), EMDR, and mindfulness strategies to name a few combined with the application of values and beliefs work help clients embrace their emotions and personal uniqueness. We also find that mindful self-compassion and its use of meditation in grief and loss work complement IFS very well.
As therapy progresses, clients gain new ways of thinking about themselves and their environment that transcend mere symptom management. They begin to look compassionately at their responses to triggers with a greater understanding of themselves. And they learn how to regulate their behaviors, thoughts, feelings, and stressors, especially when interacting with the external world.
Exploring those fragmented parts of the self rather than hiding them in the closet creates a transformative experience that follows people for a lifetime.
Let Us Help You Come To A Place Of Peace And Balance
Our team of therapists has helped countless individuals and couples improve their lives, and IFS has been an integral part of our work. So if you’re ready to connect with your true self and want to transform the way you see yourself and the world we live in, Key Counseling Group can help!
We offer free, 15-minute consultations online, by phone, or in person. Please call 678-400-9477 or email us today to set up your consultation or first appointment with one of our IFS therapists. We would love to field any questions or concerns you may have about our approach to IFS therapy and how it can help free you.