Richard Swartz developed IFS after Graduate School while studying how to understand families using Family Systems theory, which he found did not, in fact, work. There have been predecessor ego state therapies, Psychosynthesis and Transactional Analysis, both of which I studied and used effectively prior to IFS becoming more available. Dick writes “Internal Family Systems (IFS) involves helping people heal by listening inside themselves in a new way to different ‘parts’ - feelings or thoughts - and, in the process, unburdening themselves of extreme beliefs, emotions, sensations, and urges that constrain their lives. As they unburden, people have more access to Self, our most precious human resource, and are better able to lead their lives from that centered, confident, compassionate place.” (Schwartz, 2008)

IFS allows us to pinpoint parts that help protect us, and parts that hold painful memories and feelings. We can befriend these parts and help to unburden and heal them from the pain still locked inside. There are strong research studies going on right now to show the effectiveness of this therapy technique. It is aimed at empowering you to become the main force in your life for healthy choices and healing, and, like other therapies, IFS aims to avoid pathologizing human distress and suffering, but to instead help make sense and aid in healing to wholeness.

There are five basic assumptions of the IFS model

  1. It is the nature of the mind to be subdivided into numbers of sub personalities or parts.
  2. Everyone has a Self, and the Self can and should lead the individual’s internal system
  3. The intention of each part is something positive. There are no “bad” parts. The goal of therapy is not to eliminate parts but instead to help them find their non-extreme role
  4. As we grow, our parts develop and form a complex system of interactions among themselves; when the system is reorganized, parts can change rapidly. 5.Changes in the inner system will affect changes in your external world and vice versa.

The goals of therapy are

  • To achieve balance and harmony within the inner system
  • To differentiate and elevate the Self so it can be an effective leader in the system
  • When the Self is in the lead, the parts will provide input to the Self but will respect the leadership and ultimate decision making of the Self.
  • All parts will exist and lend talents that reflect their non-extreme intentions.

I have found identifying parts as the most effective way to process trauma and build and empower the authentic self. Often parts had to overshadow our Self to survive situations and build protective barriers against emotional and physical situations where we did not have sufficient support. Parts and our authentic selves get stuck in these networks of internal reactions, presumptive reactions and beliefs outside our conscious awareness. IFS is a tremendous help in slowing down and ending cycles that do not represent the goals and needs we have now. IFS can help us to attain the freedom to become what we can be and heal our wounded selves.