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Internal Family Systems - IFS

IFS - Internal Family Systems

“Part of me wants to, but part of me doesn’t.”  How many times have you heard someone say that?  How many times have you said that very thing or something like it yourself?  Now make no mistake, I’m not inferring that you have several completely independent personalities or identities roaming around in your mind, but for purposes of explaining things it’s sometimes easier to talk in such terms.  In fact if you’ve ever seen the movie, “Inside Out,” you’ve seen a pretty good graphical representation of the inner working “parts” of Internal Family Systems or IFS.  In fact, Richard Schwartz, the father of IFS so to speak has actually been in collaboration with Disney to create games and other tools to use “Inside Out” to teach children about how our emotions come into play in a healthy emotional model, something we advocate in Emotion Coaching: The Heart of Parenting.  

Now that’s not to say that Richard Schwartz was the first to come up with the idea of “parts.”  One of the things that attracted me to the IFS modality was my previous training in a parts therapy model that dates back to the early 1970s and was developed by Richard Bandler and John Grinder.  Having a strong background in clinical hypnotherapy I began using the parts therapies they developed as part of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) very early in my career with excellent results.   With that said, however, just as with any modality, there were times it worked better than others.  

Thousands of hours of training and practice using NLP both coupled with as well as independent of hypnosis gave me a very strong grasp of the underlying modality.  Then fast forward a couple of decades and I began to learn about Dick Schwartz’s work with “parts.”  Dick, a marriage and family therapist, was well trained in Family Systems, a method of working with families in conflict, but he was also counseling patients with eating disorders, a very difficult case load to put it mildly.  Reaching the end of his rope in some cases and not having any tools to help his patients, Dick began noticing the language patterns mentioned above.  Things like, “Part of me wants to stop,” or “Part of me wants to die.”  It was at this point that he began experimenting with the application of the Family Systems model as a way to work with these internal “parts.”  

As I began to follow Dick’s work I first saw the similarities between IFS and NLP, but very soon I also began to see how applying the Family Systems model to internal parts was also keenly different in a few key areas.  Not only was it different, it was polar opposite in some areas, and in these areas, the Family Systems model made it make sense.  

When looking at the way Internal Family Systems deals with the conflict in the mind I began to see things through a new lens, or to give a nod to Bandler and Grinder for their original contribution, I now had an “updated map of the territory.”  I began to see why at times in the past, parts therapy likely hadn’t worked.  You see, through IFS, we learn that all parts are not created equal.  Different parts have different jobs, and it’s important to respect both their job descriptions and their boundaries when working with past traumas, or anything else.  There are also some other key differences that are beyond the scope of this article, but the bottom line is that time and time again, IFS is proving itself to be one of the most powerful tools available for dealing with a wide range of issues.

If you're dealing with traumas from your past that you just can't seem to resolve, if you're dealing with negative self-talk, self-esteem issues or any other self-related issues that you just can't resolve, and you would like to learn more about IFS, call me.  I can be reached at 469-225-9040, or contact us online to talk.  The initial consultation is free.