What Is Internal Family Systems Psychotherapy?
You’ve taken the essential leap and made the important decision that it’s time to seek help. Maybe you’re tired of struggling or suffering in silence. Perhaps you’re looking for support and encouragement during a difficult time or transition in your life.
When considering your mental health treatment options, there are many different types of psychotherapy to choose from. In fact, the options may seem overwhelming!
Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy is a dynamic approach that can help navigate the different parts of yourself. Through this navigation and reconciliation, you will learn healthier ways to restore trust in the self.
Understanding the Basics of Internal Family Systems Therapy
Family therapist Richard Schwartz developed IFS after theorizing that the core self defines the essence of who you are. However, the core self is not always obtainable. Other parts can distract, block, and suppress the self, which can result in emotional distress.
In IFS, the idea is that we all are composed of several parts. Sometimes, these parts can be helpful, but they can also be destructive. By raising awareness of these parts and improving communication between them, you can grow and heal.
Exiles are young and vulnerable parts that have undergone a trauma or other similar pain. As a result, they tend to be desperate and extreme. When these parts are in charge, the individual may feel weak, susceptible, and overall emotionally unstable.
Firefighters literally attempt to ‘extinguish’ or remove certain feelings. Because these feelings are so painful, they try to suppress them. Common extinguishing strategies include substance use, compulsive overeating, and self-harm.
Managers control and supervise the individual’s daily functioning. They try to shield and protect the other parts from experiencing pain. In doing this, they strive to control, predict, and take care of others in various situations.
The goal of IFS isn’t to remove these parts. It’s to provide them with healthier ways of coping and existing. By doing this, you can attune to your core self. When separated from the rest of the parts, your core self is secure, compassionate, worthy, and loving. Thus, the main goal in IFS is for you to find, harness, and cultivate your core self. In doing this, you can feel more confident and balanced in your relationships and overall well-being.
Who Benefits From IFS?
IFS is an evidence-based treatment, which means that it has been proven to be an effective psychotherapy model. IFS can treat a variety of issues including:
- Complex and acute trauma
- Mood disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Compulsive behaviors
- Family and relationship stressors
IFS can be beneficial for individuals who have previous histories of psychotherapy. Likewise, it can also be helpful for those who have never sought therapy in the past.
What to Expect in an IFS Session
IFS is a form of talk therapy, which means that you will be sharing your thoughts and experiences with your therapist. However, it’s different from other forms of therapy, in the sense that your therapist will instruct and encourage you to examine and speak to your internal parts.
Connecting with these parts may not happen automatically. Your therapist may use meditative techniques to better help you access particular parts. You may reflect on a specific image or sensation that depicts the nature of that part.
After attuning to the part, you will explore what that part actually feels like inside you. You’ll process the emotions and thoughts that arise. Your therapist will help you identify the purpose of that part. In identifying its purpose, you will learn how to practice more compassion and understanding (rather than anger and dread).
Your therapist may engage in a variety of different IFS techniques to help you understand your parts and your relation to them. These techniques may include journal exercises, artwork, guided visualization, and meditation.
There is no set timeline for IFS. Like with most therapy models, each individual will progress at different paces. The length of treatment depends on several factors including:
- Sense of safety and rapport within the therapeutic relationship
- Ability to access the parts
- Other co-occurring issues
- History of IFS treatment in the past
Internal Family Systems therapy can help deepen your self-awareness and expand the way you perceive both yourself and the world around you. By connecting with your parts, you can learn to practice more innate compassion. In doing so, you learn how to live in your true and authentic self.
Are you interested in learning more about how IFS can help you? Contact me today to get started!