What Is IFS (Internal Family Systems) Therapy?

Louis Laves-Webb

August 23, 2022

Internal Family Systems Therapy, also known as IFS therapy, is a form of psychotherapy focusing on the inner “Self” and “parts” of an individual. IFS practitioners understand and work with the natural multiplicity of the human mind. The various parts or sub-personalities serve different roles, including holding pain and trauma and protecting from these vulnerable experiences and feelings.The ultimate goal of IFS therapy is to help individuals access their “Self” so they can heal the parts of their minds that make them feel negative feelings like shame or anger. As an evidence-based practice, IFS has been used to treat several mental disorders, like anxiety, PTSD, depression, addiction, and eating disorders. In this post from the Louis Laves-Webb, LCSW, LPC-S blog, we’ll discuss what IFS is, and how it’s an effective form of psychotherapy.

What Is Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy?

IFS therapy is an approach to psychotherapy that focuses on the naturally different parts of the mind. Within IFS, the main assumption is that there are no bad parts of the mind, and those that would be considered bad parts have been put into an extreme role. The ultimate goal is for a client to access their “Self” which allows them to reprocess and heal trauma, free protective parts from their extreme presentation, and allow the individual to be more self-led. This healing results in a reduction of symptomatic or otherwise problematic behavior.

IFS Therapy Core Concepts

IFS therapy consists of working with the “Self” as well as three distinct parts known as exiles, managers, and firefighters.

Self

Perhaps the most important concept of IFS is the existence of the Self. This is an innate presence within a person that is the true essence of who they are. Inherently, it is good and whole, incapable of being corrupted or broken. Ideally, a person can be Self-led, allowing their mental system to balance with all aspects working in harmony with each other.There are 8 C’s that characterize Self-energy:

  1. Calm
  2. Clarity
  3. Curiosity
  4. Connectedness
  5. Confidence
  6. Courage
  7. Creativity
  8. Compassion

When an individual is truly in Self, it’s typical for them to describe feeling one or more of the 8 c’s of Self-energy. When in Self, an individual can effectively communicate with their parts.

Parts

The other core concept of IFS is the parts of the mind. Sometimes referred to as subpersonalities, each part has its own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. These parts can differ between the age or gender of the client. It’s important to note that despite sometimes contributing to a person’s suffering, parts are well-intentioned and often protective in nature.

Exiles

Exiles are parts that carry vulnerable feelings and memories. These tend to be the youngest parts of the system. Exiles hold experiences of neglect, abuse, humiliation, and shame. A part turns into an exile when the vulnerable feelings are too great, are underreported in the case of neglect, or are threatening. These feelings, thoughts, and beliefs get locked away or suppressed until conditions for healing are present.

Managers

Managers are proactive protectors of the mental system and are typically well-liked by other people These can include people pleasing, staying organized, anxiety, and depression. The goals of managers include keeping the system stable, aware, and prepared. In most cases, managers look for ways to gain control of the system, keeping exiled parts out of awareness. Most managers fear that the exiled parts may bubble to the surface, overwhelming the system with feelings and memories that may be locked away.

Firefighters

Firefighters are reactive protectors of the mental system. These firefighters step in when an exiled part breaks through the defense of the manager. Firefighters ultimate goal is to stop the pain felt from experiencing an exile. This may lead to behavior like smoking, adrenaline seeking, overspending, or dissociating.

What Can Be Treated with IFS Therapy?

IFS was originally developed by Dr. Richard Schwartz in the 1980s to help patients suffering from eating disorders. Since then, IFS has evolved to treat a wide range of mental health issues, as well as non-clinical issues. IFS therapy can help with things like anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts, and can also assist individuals with issues regarding anger, shame, self-esteem, and more. IFS is a method for treating events and complex trauma related to repeated childhood experiences of neglect and abuse.

For IFS Therapy in Austin, TX, Trust Louis Laves-Webb LCSW, LPC-S

At Louis Laves-Webb, we can help people connect with their true self through our trained and experienced IFS practitioners We have helped countless individuals come to terms with the trauma and pain that they feel daily through this groundbreaking form of therapy. To learn more or to schedule an appointment, contact us online or give us a call today.

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