What is IFS therapy?
Internal Family Systems (IFS) is an integrative, systems-thinking informed psychotherapy developed by Richard Schwartz, Ph.D. in the 1980s. As of 2015, IFS is considered an evidence-based psychotherapy as designated by the National Registry for Evidence-based Programs and Practices.
The theory behind IFS posits that clients experience parts – subpersonalities – that can come into internal conflict when dealing with challenges, crises, and everyday life stressors. IFS organizes and likens these parts to an “internal family” living within the client.
Each part, like each member of a real family, has roles to play, preferences, and extremities of personality when under duress. IFS believes that every part is ultimately attempting to do its best and serve us in some way and through integration, dialogue, and contact between all these parts, we can achieve more psychological integration, balance, and well-being.
How does IFS therapy actually work?
Utilizing the principles of IFS, the therapist will help the client begin to get to know the various parts and subpersonalities, learning more about how and why each part exists, what they need, what they fear, what age the part represents, and more.
The therapist will help the client “befriend” these parts, even the disliked and “exiled” parts, and integrate all aspects of self into one, more cohesive whole to enhance vitality and choice for the client.
Sessions don’t necessarily have a particular structure, but an IFS-informed therapist may work with the distress a client presents on any particular day as a portal into discovering parts at play and then leading the client through exercises designed to help both foster understandings of that part while reducing distress and creating more mental flexibility about the current, presenting trigger.
Sessions may include journaling, creating a graphical representation of the parts, imaginal exercises to foster connection, and more.
Why is IFS therapy effective at treating trauma?
IFS hinges on the principle that we contain many parts, many aspects, each with its own attendant responses to the world because of life experiences we lived through.
If some – or many – parts have been impacted by lived-through trauma experiences, IFS supports the process of getting to know these parts, expressing the feelings contained by these parts, and safely cognitively processing the beliefs, introjects, and narratives of these parts.
In doing this work, it can lead to a greater sense of safe embodiment, a more cohesive narrative, grief processing, and more flexible thinking and behavior patterns – fundamental trauma recovery principles.
Because talking about trauma memories is often contraindicated in trauma recovery therapy, IFS presents an opportunity for clients to effectively feel and express aspects of the lived-through traumatic experiences (as expressed by parts) without having to recount the trauma memories explicitly.
What issues can IFS therapy address?
IFS can effective in treating a broad range of issues, including:
- Attachment Trauma
- Betrayal Trauma
- Birth Trauma
- Childhood Trauma
- Complex Trauma
- Developmental Trauma
- Eating Disorders
- Emotional Abuse
- First Gen Trauma
- First Responder Trauma
- Grief and Mourning
- Intergenerational Trauma
- Medical Trauma
- Military/Combat Trauma
- Narcissistic Abuse
- Pre- and Post-Natal Trauma
- Racial Trauma
- Relational Trauma
- Relationship Strain
- Religious & Spiritual Trauma
- Sexual Trauma
- Vicarious Trauma
- And more...
FAQ’s about IFS:
No, not necessarily. While complex trauma can predispose some individuals to a more significant structural division of the personality into discrete parts (this is often the case in diagnoses of dissociative identity disorder), IFS doesn’t consider “parts” in the same way or acuity that “parts'' might be at play with those aforementioned diagnoses. IFS believes everyone – including those who are mentally well and psychologically robust – contains parts insomuch as we all have aspects of our persona. Seeking out IFS and identifying parts within you does not necessarily mean you have “multiple personalities'' at play.
Here at Evergreen, our therapists customize interventions for every therapy session. What this means is that, even if your therapist is trained in IFS and uses it to help treat your case, they will likely draw from other interventions and methodologies to help achieve your clinical goals, too.
It’s not possible to guesstimate how long clinical treatment will take without insight into your case. That’s why it’s best to schedule a complimentary 20-minute consult call with our clinical intake coordinator to get matched to a great fitting therapist who can offer more insight into your question about the treatment timeline after they get to know you, your case, and your goals better.
What if I’m Not Ready?
If you don’t feel quite ready to book a complimentary consult call yet, that’s completely fine.
We don’t want you to feel pressured and we know that the choice to seek out therapy can feel difficult.
Part of you wants to do it, and another part of you is, perhaps, scared to begin because of the feelings you might have to finally feel.
Or a part of you questions whether or not you can even be helped at all.
Whatever the reason, no matter how ready or not ready you feel to begin therapy, we want you to have the information you need to make an informed choice.
So, to that end, please explore the additional information below to learn more about us and how we can help you.
We’ll be here whenever you’re ready to reach out for support.