Internal Family Systems

"IFS is more than a therapeutic technique. It's a conceptual framework and practice for developing love for ourselves and others."
--Richard C. Schwartz

Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS), developed by Richard C. Schwartz, is the backdrop for everything I do. IFS is a psycho-spiritual, empowering, non-pathologizing approach to psychotherapy.

The central tenet of IFS is the existence of a core Self that is eternally healthy and can never be damaged or destroyed. This Self is clarity, love, and inner power. It is from the core Self that we can heal the other psychological aspects of ourselves.

These other aspects Schwartz calls simply "parts". He categorizes them into three groups: exiles, managers and firefighters.

Exiles are parts that have often developed in childhood or early in life. Called "exiles" because we try to keep them locked away or repressed, they are the painful emotions that we don't like to feel, based on distressing incidents in our lives.

Managers are protective, pro-active parts. Since it is so painful to feel the exile emotions, we unconsciously develop other parts to keep us from feeling the pain. These parts, which Schwartz has dubbed "managers," try to manage our lives in such a way that we will never feel pain.

Firefighters are parts that try to soothe or numb our painful feelings. Their methods include all of the addictions, such as compulsive overeating and other eating disorders, alcoholism, excessive shopping, compulsive overworking, etc, as well as getting into trouble on a regular basis, shutting down, dissociation, suicidal thoughts, and more.

All your parts are trying to help you be happy, even though the help may only be short term. Even the "inner critic" with its harsh self-judgment has good intentions, believe it or not. It's trying to get you to be perfect so that you will be protected from others' judgment. (I won't encourage you to take any ideas of "I'm not okay" seriously, however. You are okay. You are very okay!)

Managers and firefighters both tend to become very active when emotional pain of the exiles gets triggered. The goal of IFS therapy is to heal the exiles' pain, thus allowing your other parts to relax and begin to come back into their natural balanced, healthy state.

Your core Self then begins to have increasing influence in your internal life, and you begin to develop greater confidence and empowerment in your exterior life. Through this process, you eventually transform your life.