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INTERNAL FAMILY SYSTEMS

IFS model of psychotherapy offers a clear, non-pathologizing, and empowering method of understanding human problems.

IFS uses family systems theory—the idea that individuals cannot be fully understood in isolation from the family unit—to develop techniques and strategies to effectively address issues within a person’s internal family. This evidence-based approach assumes that each individual possesses a variety of sub-personalities or parts, with each part serving a particular role. Often, these internal parts are produced by the individual psyche in response to traumatic experience.

These parts attempt to control and protect from the pain of the wounded parts and are often in conflict with each other and with one’s core Self. This undamaged core Self is the essence of the Self and represents the seat of consciousness with many positive qualities such as calmness, compassion, consecutiveness, confidence and leadership. 

For example, in alcoholic families, children often take on protective roles because of the dysfunction in the family. Some children may also take on maladaptive roles, such as the mascot, lost child, or scapegoat. In all of these cases, these roles are not the true nature of the children. These children are adapting to the chaos and upheaval that is common in the alcoholic family.

 

A similar process occurs with internal families, where internal parts take on extreme roles caused by traumatic experiences. IFS can help transform these parts into positive internal family members.

There are three distinct types of parts in the IFS model:

Managers are responsible for warding off painful experiences and emotions in order to function in everyday life. 

 

Exiles are often in a state of pain or trauma, which result from childhood experiences. Managers and firefighters exile these parts and prevent them from reaching the conscious level.

 

Firefighters distract the mind when exiles can no longer be suppressed. In order to protect from feeling the pain of the exiles, firefighters make a person act impulsively and engage in behaviors such as addictive, abusive or self-harming such as alcohol, drugs, sex, or even work.

 

Managers and Firefighters play the Protectors role, while Exiles are the parts needing protection (The Center for Self Leadership, 2018).

Dr. Richard Schwartz Interview

Dr. Richard Schwartz earned his Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy from Purdue University and is the founder of the therapeutic modality Internal Family Systems. Dr. Schwartz is also the founder of the Center for Self Leadership where professionals and the general public can attend workshops and trainings. Dr. Schwartz is the author of Family Therapy: Concepts and Methods, the most widely used family therapy text in the US. Dr. Schwartz is also the author of Introduction to the Internal Family Systems Model. Dr. Schwartz has also released a new audiobook, Greater Than the Sum of Our Parts: Discovering Your True Self Through Internal Family Systems Therapy. 

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