What Is IFS Therapy And Who Can It Help?
Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy, sometimes referred to as parts work, is based on the concept that we, as individuals, are comprised of many different pieces. We often think of ourselves—our identity—as just one thing. However, each one of us is made up of many different parts, sides, and elements that can all be operating at any given moment. Sometimes, as multifaceted beings, those parts may dismiss, override, or come into conflict with each other. That’s why we can think and feel and experience life in so many different ways simultaneously. It’s also why, despite our best intentions, we often behave, feel and think in ways that conflict with who we want to be.
Therapists have long talked about the varying sides of the psyche and the functions they perform. Internal Family Systems uses that knowledge to create a unique approach to healing that takes into account all the different elements that make up a person. IFS is particularly effective for treating trauma and PTSD. However, it’s also a powerful intervention for a number of other issues—from anxiety and depression to relationship problems and self-esteem issues.
In fact, IFS theory was originally a method of treating bulimia and anorexia when it was developed by Richard Schwartz in the 1990s. Over time, IFS evolved with Schwartz integrating elements of other well-established schools of psychology into the model to create a comprehensive and transformative approach to healing. Today, you can find numerous studies and hundreds if not thousands of scholarly articles supporting its efficacy.
You May Be Wondering, What Are IFS Therapy Sessions Like?
Typically, we’ll spend a few minutes at the beginning of sessions choosing a starting place—a thought, an emotion, a physical response, or even an external challenge you’re facing. What we are looking for is a trailhead for gaining access to the self and the individual parts of your makeup. Once we choose an issue to discuss, we’ll spend the session clarifying perspectives as if untangling a knotted thread so we can see how each part of you thinks, acts, and feels. We’ll also examine your belief systems, goals, and how you handle adversity.
Right now, it probably feels like you keep stepping into a room with a thousand voices all shouting over top of one another. The goal of Internal Family Systems is to help you sort out those voices, listen to them, and learn from their messages. I want to help you resemble a good leader who understands where each “person” on the team is coming from and who uses that insight to make choices and navigate uncertainty. In some ways, it’s like you have a family inside of you, and you are trying to give each member a chance to be heard, understood, and valued so that no one part is getting all of the airtime. And just like in a family, when everyone gets a voice, the family runs much more smoothly!
IFS is incredibly versatile, meaning that almost anyone can benefit from it. It’s effective for resolving early trauma related to abuse and neglect as well as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. IFS can also help treat phobias, compulsive behaviors, and stress-related physical issues, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Research on Internal Family Systems has been very positive. It’s even been shown to offer relief for arthritis, immune deficiencies, and chronic pain!
To illustrate how your parts can affect you as a whole, let’s look at trauma and PTSD. If you’ve been through a traumatic experience, parts of yourself can get trapped in the past. As a result, you may be constantly reliving the moment in your head or preparing for something just as terrible to happen again. That’s because the parts of you that were wounded have gone into overdrive, carrying the thoughts and feelings of the past into the present. And while one part may be ready to move on, another equally powerful part of the self may not be.
Similarly, you may wonder: Why am I so depressed? Why am I anxious when there’s nothing to be afraid of? Why do I feel worthless despite my accomplishments? These questions indicate that there is crucial information missing from the puzzle—information that explains motivations for the way you think, feel, and behave. IFS, however, can fill in the blanks and help you gain greater perspective, make conscious decisions, and deal with what is actually going on.
Ultimately, the IFS model helps you develop a sense of self that is independent of—yet informed by—the various parts of you. As a result, you can experience a greater sense of calm, clarity, and compassion toward others as well as yourself. And with decreased emotional reactivity, you can feel more confident and safer, both physically and emotionally.
Why Is IFS Therapy Preferred Over Other Approaches?
Many therapeutic models strive for the same goals. However, some interventions seek to fight or eliminate aspects of the self, in essence staging a war within. Therefore, if you are depressed or anxious, you may take medication, hoping that it will silence the part of you that is distressed. But there is a reason for the way you feel, and you have to grant an audience to that in order to understand the function of your thoughts, what their goals are, and the needs that are being communicated. By using insight that other approaches overlook, IFS Therapy can achieve healing that brings peace without waging a war against yourself.
Everyone’s experience with therapy is different, so I like to employ a variety of modalities to complement and individualize treatment as needed. For example, like IFS, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy is an effective technique for addressing trauma—particularly single incident trauma—without further harming individuals in the process. I also offer Sensorimotor Therapy and integrative, somatic-oriented therapeutic strategies for identifying ways in which pain is stored in the body. Using this insight, I can help you release that energy and calm the nervous system for greater physical/emotional stability.
Another option I provide is Neurofeedback and Quantitative Electroencephalogram (QEEG) Therapy. These involve mapping brainwaves in real-time so we can then use therapeutic interventions to target issues at the source of the problem. Whatever your needs are, together we can work to make the unconscious conscious, and in the process, unlock the secrets that your mind and body have been trying to tell you for so long.
All too often when considering therapy, people tend to set small goals that merely focus on symptom management because they can’t imagine that recovery is possible. However, Internal Family Systems offers a chance for healing that goes beyond traditional talk therapy and coping skills. Even if you are dealing with a number of personal challenges, IFS can help untangle all the contributing elements to create clarity and reveal solutions.
I’ve been helping individuals reclaim their lives from pain and suffering since 1992, and I know that true healing is possible. As one of the few therapists in the Bay Area who are certified in IFS, I have extensive experience treating even the deepest, most enduring wounds. So whatever you are going through, I can help you gain a deeper understanding of yourself that will ultimately empower you to heal, find balance, and move forward in your life with confidence.
Let Me Help You Get To Where You Want To Be
If you are ready to stop managing symptoms and achieve real internal healing, I would be honored to help. If you have any concerns about billing, scheduling, hours, or any other logistical details, please visit my practice page for an answer to all of your questions. Once you feel that we are a good fit, please call 415 828 3943 for your free, 15-minute consultation or schedule your first online therapy session.