New to Internal Family Systems (IFS)? Here are the Basics …

Image: Internal Family Systems Institute Website

IFS was developed in the 1980s by family therapist Richard Schwartz, Ph.D., when he noticed eating disorder patients were referring to the relationship between different parts of themselves in ways that mirrored how families organize themselves in systems thinking. He built the IFS model based upon his success applying concepts from structural, strategic, narrative, and Bowenian schools of family therapy to patients’ internal worlds.

Internal Family Systems (IFS), also known as “parts work,” is a holistic, evidence-based approach to psychotherapy that identifies and addresses multiple sub-personalities or families within each person’s mental system, each with its own viewpoint and qualities.

Images: Internal Family Systems Institute Facebook Page

IFS sees consciousness as composed of a central self with three types of subpersonalities or parts: managers, exiles, and firefighters. It assumes that everyone is born with a core Self that is inherently calm, compassionate, confident, curious, creative, courageous, clear, and connected. In a balanced person’s system, the Self is the conductor of an orchestra of parts that help us survive and thrive: helping parts, striving parts, discerning parts, organizing parts, and danger-detecting parts. When we are Self-led, we respond to life with the aforementioned qualities, mindfully leveraging the appropriate parts to collaboratively play the called-for notes in various situations.

Image: Internal Family Systems Institute Facebook Page

According to the IFS definition, the Self is always present. But often it gets overtaken by sub-personalities that take on extreme roles—for example, a highly critical part, a raging part, an addicted part—to protect our most vulnerable, wounded parts, which become exiled in our bodies. These exiled parts develop in childhood when the Self, in its natural state, is overtly or tacitly rejected, shamed, or criticized. When triggered, protective parts step in to protect the exile, either by controlling a situation or distracting us because they fear the person can’t handle the emotional intensity of these wounds.

A core tenet of IFS is that every part has a positive intent for the person, even if its actions or effects are counterproductive or cause dysfunction. This means that there is never any reason to fight with, coerce, or try to eliminate a part; the IFS method instead promotes internal understanding, cooperation, and harmony.

IFS therapy combines somatic and talk therapy, through inquiry and dialogues with parts, to treat individuals, couples, and families. Healing happens by freeing parts from extreme roles, restoring trust in the adult’s Self energy and developing a cooperative Self-to-part relationship, with the Self in charge.


The Psychotherapy and Spirituality Institute (PSI) is thrilled to have Richard Schwartz, PhD, as this year’s keynote speaker for its annual conference:

Exploring the Inner Addict in the Time of COVID:

Addiction, Spirituality, and Internal Family Systems

Friday, September 25, 2020
Online Event
10:00 am ET – 5:30 pm ET

5.5 Continuing Education Credits and/or Units (CEUs) are available to LMFTs, LMHCs, LCSWs, LMSWs, and LCATs.

PSI is proud to partner with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, the Interfaith Center of New York, The Internal Family Systems Institute and Trinity Church Wall Street.

Psychotherapy & Spirituality Institute
50 Fulton St 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10038

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