This is the final installment of my four-part series on internal family systems (IFS) therapy. This evidence-based approach to therapy is founded on the concept that our mind (internal system) is made up of many parts (family members) besides our inner Self. At first glance, this may sound odd or unnatural. Quite often, folks think this idea is referring to multiple personality disorder.

On the contrary, IFS therapy acknowledges that each person has internal psychological parts that can get out of balance. When that happens, they overwhelm your core Self and cause emotional dysfunction and distress. An IFS therapist is uniquely skilled in helping clients reconcile their parts in a healthy way.

What Happens in IFS Therapy?

Your therapist is there to guide you on a journey of discovery. You learn how to identify your sub-personalities. From there, you can begin discerning which of these parts is currently in need of attention. In IFS terms, it might be damaged and thus, is throwing off the typical internal cycle.

Some of the tools and coping mechanisms you may learn and use include:

  • Journaling
  • Visualization
  • Breathing exercises
  • Sketching out diagrams to better understand how your internal parts interact

middle aged man looking at camera with slight smile on his faceA Visualization Example

To give you a clearer idea of IFS therapy in action, consider the following visualization exercise.

  • While in a comfortable position, the client is guided into deep, slow breathing. As they settle into a calm state of mind, they are encouraged to imagine meeting up with their inner parts. You then tell these sub-personalities that you have to take a trip but they cannot join you.
  • The therapist will inquire about how the parts react. Do they want to go? Are they insulted, nervous, or perhaps relieved? After discerning these reactions, you are to visualize taking your solo trip — keeping an eye out for which parts came along with you anyway.
  • Stop walking and ask them again to stay behind before you continue. Keep repeating this until all of the inner parts are removed. You should then be able to move forward with just your core Self — feeling lighter and more aware. Enjoy the journey and, when you’re ready, use your breathing exercises to bring you back to the present moment.
  • With practice, you will be able to call on these skills in real-life scenarios when you sense your sub-personalities behaving in a counterproductive manner.

In the end, the client is very much in the lead during IFS therapy sessions. This keeps things safe and user control. In prior installments of this series, I discuss other aspects of IFS treatment.

What Can IFS Therapy Help With?

Internal Family Systems Therapy is effective in a broad range of applications and with a wide range of populations. Your therapist can help you just as effectively if you have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or are working to achieve personal development. Because IFS therapy aids you in comprehending your deepest Self, it is helpful in many, many ways.

To be specific in terms of mental health conditions, IFS Therapy is now widely used to treat issues like:

  • Trauma
  • Generalized anxiety
  • Depression
  • Outcomes caused by physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Attachment issues
  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder
  • Phobias
  • Panic attacks
  • Stress or burnout
  • Compulsive behaviors
  • Substance dependency and addiction
  • Body image issues
  • Some physical ailments like chronic illnesses and pain
  • Self-actualization and personal growth

Is IFS Therapy Right for You?

With its stellar track record and broad scope of applications, internal family systems therapy is certainly worth exploring. If any of this four-part series has piqued your interest, I would love to talk with you about IFS Therapy.