I bring up this model of therapy quite a bit in conversation as it has worked wonders for me and still does.
What is so fascinating about this approach, as a psychic and medium, is that it literally feels like I am doing a reading on myself. Because I have trained myself to understand how discarnate souls communicate with us, I find this type of therapy is so useful to highly intuitive people, psychics, mediums, reiki practitioners and anyone who is already very self aware of the sensations in their body or very in tune with how mind, body and soul cooperate.
To be clear, the below is a cut and paste summary from Wikipedia and a bit from Psychology today. I simply organized the summary of this model in one place for you to review.
As always, I recommend looking for a licensed professional in your area if this is something you wish to pursue in depth.
These sub-personalities consist of wounded parts and painful emotions such as anger and shame, and parts that try to control and protect the person from the pain of the wounded parts. The sub-personalities are often in conflict with each other and with one’s core Self, a concept that describes the confident, compassionate, whole person that is at the core of every individual. IFS focuses on healing the wounded parts and restoring mental balance and harmony by changing the dynamics that create discord among the sub-personalities and the Self.
IFS posits that the mind is made up of multiple parts, and underlying them is a person’s core or true Self. Like members of a family, a person’s inner parts can take on extreme roles or subpersonalities. Each part has its own perspective, interests, memories, and vieszpoint. A core tenet of IFS is that every part has a positive intent, even if its actions are counterproductive and/or cause dysfunction. There is no need to fight with, coerce, or eliminate parts; the IFS method promotes internal connection and harmony to bring the mind back into balance.
IFS therapy aims to heal wounded parts and restore mental balance. The first step is to access the core Self and then, from there, understand the different parts in order to heal them.
In the IFS model, there are three general types of parts:
- Exiles represent psychological trauma, often from childhood, and they carry the pain and fear. Exiles may become isolated from the other parts and polarize the system. Managers and Firefighters try to protect a person’s consciousness by preventing the Exiles’ pain from coming to awareness.
- Managers take on a preemptive, protective role. They influence the way a person interacts with the external world, protecting the person from harm and preventing painful or traumatic experiences from flooding the person’s conscious awareness.
- Firefighters emerge when Exiles break out and demand attention. They work to divert attention away from the Exile’s hurt and shame, which leads to impulsive and/or inappropriate behaviors like overeating, drug use or violence. They can also distract a person from pain by excessively focusing attention on more subtle activities such as overworking or over-medicating.
IFS focuses on the relationships between parts and the core Self. The goal of therapy is to create a cooperative and trusting relationship between the Self and each part.
There are three primary types of relationships between parts: protection, polarization, and alliance.
- Protection is provided by Managers and Firefighters. They intend to spare Exiles from harm and protect the individual from the Exile’s pain.
- Polarization occurs between two parts that battle each other to determine how a person feels or behaves in a certain situation. Each part believes that it must act as it does in order to counter the extreme behavior of the other part. IFS has a method for working with polarized parts.
- Alliance is formed between two different parts if they’re working together to accomplish the same goal.
FS practitioners report a well-defined therapeutic method for individual therapy based on the following principles. In this description, the term “protector” refers to either a manager or firefighter.
- Parts in extreme roles carry “burdens”, which are painful emotions or negative beliefs that they have taken on as a result of past harmful experiences, often in childhood. These burdens are not intrinsic to the part and therefore they can be released or “unburdened” through IFS therapy, allowing the part to assume its natural healthy role.
- The Self is the agent of psychological healing. Therapists help their clients to access and remain in Self, providing guidance along the way.
- Protectors usually can’t let go of their protective roles and transform until the Exiles they are protecting have been unburdened.
- There is no attempt to work with Exiles until the client has obtained permission from the Protectors who are protecting it. This makes the method relatively safe, even in working with traumatized parts.
- The Self is the natural leader of the internal system. However, because of past harmful incidents or relationships, Protectors have stepped in and taken over for the Self. One Protector after another is activated and takes the lead, causing dysfunctional behavior. Protectors are also frequently in conflict with each other, resulting in internal chaos or stagnation. The aim is for the Protectors to trust the Self and allow it to lead the system, creating internal harmony under its guidance.
The first step is to help the client access the Self. Next, the Self gets to know the Protector(s), its positive intent, and develops a trusting relationship with it. Then, with the Protector’s permission, the client accesses the Exile(s) to uncover the childhood incident or relationship which is the source of the burden(s) it carries. The Exile is retrieved from the past situation and guided to release its burdens. Finally, the Protector can then let go of its protective role and assume a healthy one.
What to Look for in an IFS Therapist
Look for a licensed psychotherapist, social worker, counselor or other mental health professional with advanced training in IFS therapy. The Internal Family Systems Center for Self-Leadership conducts training programs. Look for a therapist with IFS training. In addition to licensing and educational credentials, it is important to find a therapist with whom you are comfortable working.