Telehealth sessions in Maryland and DC

What Is Internal Family Systems Therapy?

Have you ever heard of Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS)? It was developed by family therapist Richard Schwartz in the 1980s. At first, it was a type of therapy for people who suffered from eating disorders, but it is now considered helpful for a variety of people with different disorders, or even people with no diagnoses at all. It follows a non-pathologizing approach, which means it doesn’t really focus on any potential diagnoses a client may have.

This approach might be different from other types of psychotherapy you may be used to. However, that doesn’t mean IFS won’t work for you. The best way to know if it’s right for you is to know exactly what IFS is and what its aims are.

The Mind as a Family

IFS thinks of the mind as a family made up of different parts. This inner family is made up of the Self and many individual parts or sub-personalities. While the Self is the core of who you are, the different parts or sub-personalities all have their own role. These roles can change over time, they’re not static. While these roles can be beneficial, sometimes they can become a bit extreme and dysfunctional. And that’s where IFS comes in.

The Main Parts of the Mind

The mind’s parts or sub-personalities can be divided into three broad categories: managers, exiles, and firefighters. Managers are the parts in charge of making sure you can live your day-to-day life. They either suppress exiles or plan on how to avoid triggering them in any way. The thing about managers is that they can imitate the Self very well, to the point where it’s easy to confuse a manager part as your own Self, the core of who you are.

silhouette of personExiles are the feelings and memories that carry the weight of your pain and trauma. It takes a lot of energy to keep them from the forefront of your mind, and they are what the managers and firefighters try to keep hidden.

But whenever exiles demand attention, whenever they make their way to the forefront of your mind, the firefighter sub-personalities show up. They are in charge of distracting you whenever your pain becomes too strong, except their methods aren’t always ideal. Sometimes, firefighters push you towards dangerous or addictive behaviors, because they make for very compelling distractions.

The Self, as was mentioned before, is the core of who you are. According to IFS theory, it embodies your own compassion, kindness, curiosity, and other positive characteristics. It’s what helps you stay grounded, what helps you live a balanced life.

The Aims of IFS

IFS comes in when some parts of you start taking on dysfunctional or extreme roles. It helps you identify the Self and isolate it. It separates the Self from the sub-personalities that have become attached or fused to it. And then, IFS seeks to use the Self to regulate the other parts of your mind. The aim is to eventually have an inner family led by the Self. This would allow the Self to maintain the harmony between the different parts of you, like a mediator. It would give every part of you a beneficial role to follow instead of a dysfunctional one. It would help you feel more centered.

Is IFS Right for You?

While IFS has shown to be effective for a great variety of people, it might not be right for everyone. It might be less effective with people with schizophrenia in particular. But if this is something you might want to try, something that you feel might be right for you, then by all means schedule an appointment. Whatever your struggles are, it’s possible to get better. All you need to do is reach out to see if trauma therapy is right for you.