What is Internal Family Systems (IFS)?

Have you ever wondered what your therapist is doing or how they are trying to help you? Do you know what modalities they are using? Can they explain them to you? Are there resources available for you to learn more so you can be more engaged in the process?

These are questions you may have asked, or possibly you haven’t thought to ask them. At Heartswell, we want you to have tools. We want to help you become the leader of your own healing. One of the modalities that we employ in helping you is Internal Family Systems (IFS). Two of our practitioners have the status of IFS Informed and our yoga teacher, Jennifer O’Sullivan, is an IFS practitioner. But what does this mean? 

If you ask ChatGPT you will learn the following: 

Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a therapeutic approach and model of psychotherapy developed by Dr. Richard Schwartz in the 1980s. IFS is used to help individuals understand and work with their inner psychological system, which is often described as consisting of various “parts.” The central idea behind IFS is that individuals have different parts of themselves, each with its own beliefs, emotions, and motivations. These parts can sometimes conflict with one another, leading to inner turmoil and emotional distress.

Key concepts and principles of Internal Family Systems include:

  • Parts: In IFS, “parts” are distinct aspects of an individual’s personality or psyche. These parts can be thought of as sub-personalities, and they each have their own feelings, thoughts, and desires. Parts can be protective, wounded, or carry specific roles and functions within the inner system.
  • Self: The Self is considered the core, true essence of an individual. It is often described as the seat of wisdom, compassion, and inner peace. The goal of IFS therapy is to help individuals access and connect with their Self, which can then take on the role of healing and harmonizing the various parts.
  • Exiles: Exiles are parts of an individual that hold painful memories, trauma, or unresolved emotions. These parts are often hidden or suppressed by protective parts to prevent the person from experiencing further emotional pain.
  • Managers: Managers are parts of the inner system that aim to protect the individual from experiencing pain or vulnerability. They often act as controllers, trying to maintain order and control in the person’s life.
  • Firefighters: Firefighters parts are responsible for managing emotional crises when they arise. They do so by engaging in impulsive or distracting behaviors, such as overeating, substance abuse, or self-harm, to numb or avoid the pain.

IFS Goals

The primary goal of IFS therapy is to help individuals achieve greater harmony and balance within their internal psychological system. This is often accomplished through:

  • Identifying and understanding the various parts within oneself.
  • Developing a compassionate and curious attitude toward these parts.
  • Facilitating communication and cooperation among the parts.
  • Working towards healing and integrating exiled and wounded parts.
  • Allowing the Self to take on a more central and guiding role in one’s life.

IFS has been used successfully to treat a wide range of mental health issues, including trauma, anxiety, depression, and relationship problems. It is considered a non-pathologizing and client-centered approach that respects and honors the complexity of an individual’s inner world. It is often practiced by trained therapists like ours but can also be used for self-help and personal growth.

We hope this helps and we encourage you to learn more about IFS.

More IFS Resources

We’re here to help. You are never alone. To book an appointment send us a message and use the form below to book a consultation. 

from the journal...

yoga nidra group
Yoga Nidra at Heartswell: A Holistic Approach
Expanding Mindfulness with Yoga Nidra About 5 years ago I was looking for training to improve my mindfulness. When I put feelers out someone mentioned ...
Keep Reading
Holding Space for Big Emotions
Emotions Are Messengers They carry important information about things that we value, things that are sacred to us, and things that matter. In many cases, ...
Keep Reading
What is Self-Led Decision-Making?
In a nutshell, Self-led decision-making involves making decisions from within our core (values, dreams, strengths, wisdom) rather than external influences (social pressures, family expectations, putting ...
Keep Reading

Ready to Get Started?

Couples & Individual Therapy - Virtually or In-person in Arlington, VA

We are glad you are taking this next step to see what Heartswell can do for you.

Schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation here:

We typically respond within 1-2 business days.