What is IFS?
Internal Family Systems, or IFS, is a form of therapy that has been around since the 80s that is flexible, client-centered, and evidence based. IFS says that every one of us is made up of parts – multiple parts is normal – and those parts are interacting with each other just like individual family members might. Parts have their own feelings, thoughts, and quirks, and there are natural conflicts between some and alliances among others. For example, you might have one part who wants you to go to bed early so you feel good in the morning, and two more who keep you up for the quiet and productivity of late night when everyone else is asleep.
IFS also posits that we have an indestructible Self (the part who is not a part) who is sometimes obscured but is naturally curious, compassionate, and courageous. The goal of IFS therapy is to become “Self-led.” Even if you despise the part of you who feels FOMO and makes you go out when other parts would rather stay in, the Self can more cleanly negotiate what is best for the whole system and get buy-in from all parts involved.
Is IFS right for me?
You might choose an IFS therapist if:
- The concept of all people having parts just makes sense to you.
- You recognize that there’s maybe a part of you who, for example, feels left out or contemplates revenge or wonders if you’re in the right relationship even when things are clearly going well. It can be a relief to recognize that it’s “just a part,” not your whole being, who feels this way. It is normal for a part of you to be angry even when the rest of you understands the situation and has compassion for all involved.
- You’re feeling stuck, pulled between competing thoughts, beliefs, or ways of deciding (emotion vs. logic, for example).
- An IFS therapist can help you hear each part more clearly, discern underlying values and needs, and invite parts to be in relationship with each other and Self. When it becomes clear what each side is afraid will happen if they don’t do their job, sometimes the decision makes itself.
- You’ve got a trauma background and want a new approach to healing.
- IFS allows for internal trauma processing at your pace so that there’s less chance of re-traumatization. The concept of the undamaged Self provides hope for healing.
- You’re interested in growing your capacity for self-compassion.
- So many of us learned that being harsh with ourselves is the way to change the parts we don’t like. But what if the opposite is actually true, that it’s through understanding and compassion that we find the path toward change? IFS offers a way to be in relationship with your system that feels new and empowering. The therapist can show you how.
- You’d like to stop feeling guilty or embarrassed or ashamed over some of your thoughts, behaviors, or attitudes.
- It can be helpful to frame it as “just a part of me feels this way.” We can get curious about that part to discover its strengths, needs, and wounds. When your relationship with your parts changes, so do your feelings.
- You’re hurting and exhausted from beating yourself up. You recognize you need a different way of relating to yourself.
- Through IFS, we bring curiosity, compassion, even courage to how you feel about and act toward yourself. You can learn to relate to yourself differently. Your therapist will both model it and guide you through the process.
- You want to learn how to soothe yourself outside of your therapy hour.
- IFS invites us to go inside, notice our parts, listen to their feelings and concerns, and move into relationship with them. This isn’t always easy, but it becomes more so with repeated guidance toward appreciating the work our parts are doing for us.
- You want a therapist who provides some direction for the work you’ve come to do without telling you how to feel or giving you advice on how you should be living your life.
- Now, granted, I believe this applies to most therapists, not just IFS ones. The IFS therapist’s goal is to help you tap into your Self so that you increasingly trust your OWN skills, intuition, values, and priorities.
Internal Family Systems is a game-changer in the world of mental health approaches. If you are interested in learning more about it yourself, I recommend Richard Schwartz’s book, No Bad Parts, as well as his and others’ IFS meditations available on the Insight Timer app. I’d be delighted to talk with you about it, answer your questions, and see if this approach is right for you. You can reach me at Lalah@AmyRobbinsCounseling.com or 470-781-4589. ~Lalah