What is Internal Family Systems Therapy?
Internal Family Systems is a talking therapy approach that focuses on the different parts of everyone, including the individual’s self and how they interact with each other. These subpersonalities are unique to each person, and they all take different responsibilities such as containing difficult feelings and critical or protective roles.
IFS approach believes that we all have a healthy self, so we need to be able to access it to heal the wounded parts and reach a balance. The goal of the therapy is to become self-led.
What can IFS help with?
In Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS), issues such as depression, anxiety, and OCD are considered as emotional issues triggered by the unconscious parts.
- Eating Disorders
- Substance Abuse
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
What are parts of Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS)?
All parts are natural, and we are born with them. There are no bad parts, each part plays an important role to be discovered. They are initially there to guide us, support us, protect us and they are the source of resilience. If they are forced out by a traumatic experience or an attachment injury, they might need to work in a more protective way and go to the extreme. When the trauma or the burden of the part processed, it becomes unburdened so it can go back to its original state. If not, they tend to operate in a quite rigid and outdated manner. The part once had a protective function might become the source of mental health problems, because it got stuck in a past difficulty. It cannot progress to adapt to the needs of our changing lives. The IFS approach avoids labels and does not name each part. It creates space for discovery and understanding without pathologizing.
We all have different parts. A part of you might want to finish reading this blog post while the other part of you urges you to do something different. Parts are also named as subpersonalities or families. There are three roles of the parts which are managers, exiles, and firefighters. Each part might have its own gender, age, thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. All parts have their own agenda to bring something positive to the individual’s life. As a result of the life experiences, parts cannot trust the self to take the lead which creates a conflict or being stuck.
The parts are usually frozen in the past which the injury happened, and they did their best to protect us. This is how they are carried out to teenager and the adult years. They don’t have to stay young because they were frozen in the past. They are more likely to be originated from that experience and stayed with us up until now. They are unaware that we are now adults, and we can cope with the situations in a more flexible and creative way. The parts when they have past burdens, usually have extreme beliefs, ideas. They would also struggle with emotion management because they are the source of the difficult feelings.
Exiles are parts which have been traumatized, abused, dismissed and neglected in childhood.
Exiles might not be readily available in our consciousness because they are banished by the protectors with the purpose of them not to overwhelm us with great emotional pain. When the exiles take over, we might experience a great deal of emotional pain. That is why we spend energy to keep the exiles away from our awareness with the help of the protectors. The exiles when locked away feel stuck and helpless and try to keep coming to tell their story. When you have a few exiles, there is a risk of getting triggere. Then, the exiles are surfaced back to the awareness which would create feelings of hurt, pain, and vulnerability.
Protectors help the internal system not to get exhausted. They are named as the managers or firefighters because they work for the same goal with different strategies. They work towards the individual not to feel much, and especially avoid feelings of rejection and hurt. Their positive contribution is to run the daily tasks.
If your exile has a fear of rejection, you might try to do your best to look perfect to avoid it. If your exile deals with the feelings of worthlessness, you might need to be a high achiever in life not to face the worthlessness. Some of the protectors have taken the role which your parents were unable to support you in. Children who did not receive adequate and appropriate guidance from their families might try to find their way in life by themselves and just focus on surviving such as getting admitted to that school. Some managers try to protect the person but does not know what to do rather than being punitive. These are the roles which the managers are forced to make sure that life could go on regardless of what went wrong or what was significantly missing.
Firefighters have a common purpose with the managers which is to exile vulnerability and block emotional pain. On the other hand, they work more like emergency support. When the exiles get strong enough not to listen the managers and flood by causing severe emotional pain, they use extreme measures with the goal of soothing the person. Examples of firefighters are but not limited to alcohol and drug abuse, binge eating, binge watching, self-harm, suicidal attempts, and risky sexual behaviour.
Managers have a proactive coping approach which help with learning, stability, and preparedness. They focus on preventing the exiles to take over the internal system by getting triggered and exhausting the person with emotional pain. They try us to keep organized, they are task oriented and use a variety of techniques such as being demanding, criticizing, shaming, determined.
Everybody has a self which is not a part but bigger, better, and different than the parts. It sees all the parts, and is aware of the interactions between the parts, and it has an opinion about the parts. The self should be separated and empowered to act as a leader of the system. The other parts could share their ideas and feedback but the right for decision making stays with the self and the others parts respect it.
Why Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS) is a good approach to therapy?
Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS) perceives a person as a system while focusing on the self and the parts. It does not reduce human experience into pathology and symptoms and aims at full recovery of the system.
It also has a positive view of human nature and believes that everybody is born with a good capacity which is the self, as well as skills and resources to cope with the challenges which are the parts. All that is needed to be done in psychotherapy is to restore the system, which used to be in a much better shape before the difficult experiences.
There is space for creativity in the IFS which the parts are not predefined, although their common roles are known. It is not limiting and leaves a big space for exploration and discovery of past burdens and mental health challenges in a way that would be helpful to find out whatever the burden is to unload it.
How does IFS lead to healing?
Giving the self the leadership of the system to make decisions and solve problems restores the balance in the system and make way for a harmonious life.
Life isn’t easy. Everybody is born with the self and the healthy parts which are the cornerstone of psychological resilience. No part is going to be eliminated, all parts are welcome because they bring certain skills. Parts which have become extreme carry burdens of the past. They encountered neglect, abuse, abandonment, trauma, lack of guidance or attachment injuries. When each part pushes for its own agenda of bringing happiness to the individual’s life, polarization might occur which parts clash with each other.
The parts emerge as a result of difficult experiences, and they do not know how to let go of them without the help of the self. They can learn to unburden and go back to their original helpful state. When they are brought back to the surface, they can unload the difficult experiences, feelings, thoughts, memories and go back to their original, positive state. They give up their extremist attitude and agree on working towards balance. The self can operate independently in a more centred way from different parts, or the self can work together with the parts which the parts blend in and give up their extremist roles.
The self has so many positive qualities which all start with C which are courage, creativity, commitment, caring, compassion, calm, curiosity and clarity. Although, the self also gets hit from the difficulties in life, it can be restored more easily with the IFS compared to the other therapy approaches.
A Short History of Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS)
Internal Family Systems Therapy, or in short IFS, was created by Dr Richard C. Schwartz, who was a young family therapist in the 1980s. Dr Schwartz developed the approach while he was working with eating-disordered adolescents who were referring to the different parts they had and having internal conversations. He realized that the different parts were acting like sub-personalities of the same person and reacting to each other in a similar way that the family members interact. Once the sub-personalities developed compassion and understanding towards each other, the healing process accelerated, and the parts became integrated with the self in a healthier way.
Although the IFS has been around for more than 40 years, it has recently gained so much popularity. It incorporates mindfulness and meditation into the practice. The effectiveness of meditation and mindfulness for mental well-being is well established, and many clients see a positive impact when mindfulness is a part of their therapy journey.
It is not an approach based on diagnosis and is far from focusing on the symptoms with a heavy solution-focused agenda. It does not reduce people’s experiences into diagnostic criteria and views the person and the parts which create mental health struggles as a working system. There are no bad parts. In this way, the client is no longer with borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia. The focus is on the parts, the function of the parts and how the parts interact with each other. Healing takes place once they can further learn to interact with each other in a peaceful way.
IFS - Internal Family Systems Therapy Therapist in London
BA Psychology, MA Clinical Psychology
CBT Therapist, Accredited Schema Therapist
Accredited Member of BACP
I am an accredited counsellor, CBT, Schema Therapist and IFS Therapist. I mostly work with people who had a difficult childhood such as experiencing trauma, being bullied, or lacking emotional support and now experience depression, panic and anxiety, difficulties in relationships, low self-esteem, borderline personality disorder, eating disorders and body image issues.
I help people with a wide range of psychological problems at my private practice in central London and offer online sessions, if you are unable to attend in person.
Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS) FAQ
How do I arrange an IFS consultation?
You can arrange an IFS consultation session by using our contact form and we aim to get back to you in 48 hours. Please share some brief information about your therapy needs. In-person meetings take place in Central London and virtual meetings are offered via Skype.
How much does IFS therapy cost?
Each session fee is between 80£ to 90£.
How many sessions will I need?
IFS is a long term therapy approach and there is no limit to the number of sessions you might have. It would depend on your needs and expectations from therapy.
Is IFS the right psychotherapy approach for me?
IFS is a comprehensive approach that might help with a variety of the issues. It does not focus on the symptoms or do not reduce our struggles into pathology. It tries to capture our strenghts as well as limitations and their interactions. If you are interested in a flexible, long-term approach that would create life transformation, IFS might be the best fit.
What Our Clients Have Said Following Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS)
“IFS helped me with my long term eating disorder. I was battling with myself before and now feel like I am in control. “
“IFS sessions with Tennur was quite helpful. I started to understand the reasons behind my actions and found the strength in me to change my unwanted habits.”
“I was struggling with chronic stress and burnout. Therapy helped me to see what was causing the issue and brought balance back to my life .”
IFS Therapy Available In Central London
Find IFS therapist in London
My psychotherapy practice is easily accessible from Farringdon Station which is a 5-minute walk. It is within easy travelling distance of many areas of London such as Angel, Hackney, Camden, Euston, Fitzrovia as well as Liverpool Street Station.