Internal Family Systems (IFS) is an evidence-based approach used to treat various issues and mental health conditions, including trauma-related symptoms, depression, anxiety, perfectionism, low self-esteem, shame, self-harm, and more.
What's the theory behind IFS?
IFS was developed in the 1980s by Dr. Richard Schwartz and is based on the belief that our mind is made up of multiple parts rather than a single conscious entity. Some people worry that the idea of having different parts of one’s personality is an indication of “Multiple Personality Disorder” (now referred to as Dissociative Identity Disorder). While some people with dissociative disorders do have sub-personalities, IFS is a non-pathologizing approach, meaning that it sees the presence of parts as a normal human experience rather than a mental illness. These parts serve various important functions but are often in conflict with each other, which results in distress.
What are parts of the personality?
According to IFS, everyone has a core Self that should lead the internal system and that is characterized by such qualities as compassion, perseverance, creativity, playfulness, curiosity, confidence, courage, patience, calmness, perspective, connectedness, clarity, and presence. However, the Self can become “blended” with parts known as Exiles, Managers, and Firefighters. Exiles are young parts that we often refer to as an “inner child”, that hold the painful, overwhelming, or traumatic emotions, memories, and beliefs from our past. Managers, on the other hand, are protective parts that control the day-to-day aspects of a person's life in an effort to prevent you from feeling the emotional wounds held by the Exiles. Firefighters are reactive parts that get triggered whenever Exiles are activated. Like Managers, Firefights want to extinguish painful feelings, but their methods of coping are more extreme and can lead to behaviours such as substance use, binge eating, self-harm, and anger outbursts.
What are the goals of IFS?
IFS is strengths-based, meaning that there are no bad parts - just parts that are working hard to cope and protect you, that parts can shift into more positive and healthy roles, and that regardless of what you've been through, the core Self is resilient and undamaged. The goal of IFS is to help people identify and understand their parts through a lens of compassion and curiosity, to reduce inner conflict and achieve harmony within the internal system, and to elevate the core Self to a leadership role. Overall, IFS is a powerful and effective approach that can help people heal wounds from the past and better understand and manage their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Clients with and without dissociation can benefit from IFS and our compassionate and skilled therapists are here to help!