IFS is an approach to psychotherapy was developed in the 1990s by family therapist Richard Schwartz, Ph.D., who developed the concept of an undamaged core Self that is the confident, compassionate, whole person that is at the core of every individual. IFS identifies three different types of sub-personalities or families that reside within each person’s mental system. In addition to the Self, these sub-personalities include wounded and suppressed parts called exiles, protective parts called managers, that keep the exiled parts suppressed, and other protective parts called firefighters, that distract the Self from the pain of exiled parts when they are released. For example, an exiled part may be the trauma of earlier abuse, emotions that are suppressed by the manager, while the firefighter may be an alcohol addiction or behavior such as overeating that distracts the client from facing and re-experiencing those uncomfortable emotions.
Internal family systems therapy is used to treat individuals, couples, and families. It is an evidence-based approach that has been shown to be effective for treating a variety of conditions and their symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, phobias, panic, and physical health conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, as well as improving general functioning and well-being.
An example of an internal family system might be someone identifying a part of themselves that’s always trying to please others (a “pleaser” part), a part that gets angry when it feels neglected (an “angry” part), and a part that tries to keep peace among all the other parts (a “peacekeeper” part). In IFS therapy, the individual would work with the therapist to understand and heal the relationships among these parts.
IFS identifies three types of parts: exiles, managers, and firefighters. Exiles carry the traumas and painful emotions from the past. Managers try to keep control of the system and protect the individual from feeling the pain carried by the exiles. Firefighters act out (through behaviors like addiction, overeating, or aggression) to distract from the pain when exiles threaten to break out.
The length of IFS therapy can vary widely depending on the individual’s needs and goals. Some people may find improvement within a few months, while others may engage in IFS therapy for a year or more.
IFS therapy can be beneficial for individuals dealing with a variety of mental health conditions, including trauma and PTSD, anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. It can also be helpful for anyone seeking to better understand themselves and improve their inner peace and self-confidence.