Internal Family Systems (IFS)
The Internal Family Systems (IFS) model, is an empowering, non-pathologizing approach to psychotherapy that cultivates and draws upon the intuitive wisdom and spiritual dimensions of both the client and the therapist. Developed by Richard Schwartz, Ph.D., IFS is gentle and respectful while working toward healing on a deep level. Since the IFS model closely matches my understanding of human psychology, I’ve described a few basic tenets in a brief overview below.
If I could just get my selves to agree!
For most of the last century, the field of psychology held the belief that the mind, or psyche, was unitary – one self, one me, one I. But that notion has been replaced by our current understanding of the natural multiplicity of self – many selves, many me(s) many I(s). This is something we all know on an experiential level.
Consider how often we hear ourselves or someone else say, “part of me feels this, while another part of me feels that.” In many big and small ways, we experience conflict within ourselves, not just with other people. And think about how often we find ourselves thinking, feeling or behaving in ways that surprise us: “Gee I don’t know where that came from. I was feeling fine and then suddenly I (felt furious or my eyes filled with tears or became numb and spaced out, etc).” Rather than experience these shifts inside us as confusing or unpredictable weather fronts, IFS teaches us a rich yet simple way to understand and navigate our internal landscape.
The core self
In IFS, the “Core Self” is the natural leader of our “internal system” – the internal system being the many parts of us that assume different roles and have different points of view. Similar to the spiritual notion of the “soul,” or the state of being sometimes called “flow,” or intuition, the Core Self is the place within us that is unharmed by the experiences of life. Over time, however, we are faced with many unavoidable life challenges and experiences that we must cope with or adapt to. And as we do, we develop parts that begin to block the Core Self and dominate the internal system in a well-intentioned but often misguided attempt to protect us.
Let the healing begin
The process of IFS therapy focuses on understanding and appreciating our parts from their own point of view while helping them to relax their historically necessary, but now, habitual ways of experiencing life. This allows more and more access to the “Core Self,” which creates the ability to see our lives with greater clarity and discover new ways to respond to the reality of the present moment. For a detailed explanation of the IFS model and IFS therapy, read The Internal Family Systems Model, an easy-to-read paperback book written by Richard Schwartz, Ph.D., available through the IFS website, www.selfleadership.org.
The Internal Family Systems approach to psychotherapy is a simple yet powerful integration of the best that many other approaches offer. Both IFS and my approach to psychotherapy have elements of insight-oriented modalities, trauma treatment, family systems theory, body-centered techniques, visualizations, hypnosis and spirituality. Upon entering therapy, you can discuss this approach with me and decide whether you’d like to try working with the IFS model or would prefer to work in another modality.