Internal Family Systems (IFS): How IFS Can Help You Heal
We all have different ‘parts’ or subpersonalities that make up who we are. For example on Friday afternoon a part of you thinks it is a good idea to leave work early even though you haven’t finished a report. Come Monday morning, you wonder what you were thinking and there is a part of you that is angry with yourself.
The idea that our minds are made up of many different distinct feeling states referred to as parts or sub-personalities has been around for a long time in many psychological and spiritual traditions. Modern neuroscience has confirmed the idea that we are all made up of multiple minds or multiplicity. Rather than seeing the self as an ‘unified being’, it is increasingly shown to be more helpful to acknowledge the different (and sometimes competing) parts and personalities that make us who we are.
Sometimes it may seem that we make our life harder than it has to be. We may have an inner critic that constantly criticizes us depleting our self esteem. Or maybe we have an inner slacker who talks us out of following through on goals. Or an inner child who can easily have their feelings hurt leading to us lashing out saying mean things to those we love.
IFS offers a new way of working with these various parts or subpersonalities. Rather than try to extinguish parts that seem to be sabotaging us, we work to gain insight into the parts intention. It is helpful to recognize that none of these parts are inherently “bad”, rather most come from a place of positive intention. For example the Friday afternoon inner slacker may be trying to help insert some play and spontaneity in your life after a busy demanding week. Or the part of self that reaches for the Ice Cream is trying to help you numb out because there are so many emotions inside that feel unmanageable.
By building a relationship with your different subpersonalities, IFS works to help you gain insight into their motivations and needs so that you can help your internal system to work together more effectively. In doing so, we strengthen our Self – which is understood to be a state of consciousness from which it is possible to heal mental health issues. Some clients refer to Self as their Wise Self, or their Higher Self. The centerpiece of the IFS model is the Self. In addition to liberating parts from their extreme roles and helping them harmonize with one another, the goal of IFS Therapy is to develop Self Leadership.
The IFS model presents a path toward becoming more whole and authentic by healing the disconnection between your inner-world and your consciousness. In so doing, we are able to heal past wounds, and create balance and harmony between the parts that make up your whole Self. Our work is to build a relationship with our parts so that we are better able to understand ourself and take care of our emotions and our needs. We learn to take care of our vulnerable parts of self – or our inner children.
The beautiful gift of working in this way is that we build more kindness and compassion for ourselves, and we understand ourselves and our motivations better. We have less struggle in our lives. We are better able to find and use our voice and allow people to see our true selves. We have more peace and contentment in our lives. We treat ourselves with love and respect.
IFS is an evidence-based practice used to treat a range of mental health disorders including anxiety, depression, PTSD, substance abuse, and eating disorders. In addition, I have found IFS helpful for clients who are struggling with procrastination, self-sabotage, explosive anger, abandonment driven behaviors, fear of rejection, being over controlling, avoiding commitment, etc.
I have been using the framework of parts/subpersonalities for the past five years, completing training with Dr. Janina Fisher in 2018. I am trained to be an IFS informed therapist. This means that I have completed several levels of training with Internal Family Systems Canada (IFSCA) and Internal Family Institute (US) (refer to my CV for details). I am working to become a certified IFS therapist.
Putting the Pieces Together: Self – Leadership (chapter 17). In The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (2015). By Bessel van Der Kolk M. D.
You are the One You’ve Been Waiting for: Applying the Internal Family Systems to Intimate Relationships (2023). By Richard Schwartz, PhD.