The human mind is made up of many parts. It’s a complex system that, when clicking on all cylinders, is remarkably effective. However, if any of the parts are damaged or wounded, all of the parts are impacted. Think of it like a family. It only takes one family member to throw off the synergy and cause dysfunction. The other members are forced into roles for which they are not ideally equipped.

The above analogy is a good way to begin understanding Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS). Such an approach encourages people to assess the parts that make up their larger Self. This process begins when you connect with an IFS therapist.

How IFS Works

You have a core Self. Orbiting around this Self are other parts of who you are. These parts are like the family members described above. IFS guides us to tend to the Self as a path toward healing the other parts and getting them back to playing their proper role. This enables all parts of you to work as a unit in the service of harmonizing the Self.

The Self is your core. The rest of you is made up of parts that generally fall into these three categories:


These are parts that usually date back to your childhood. They can contain some intense emotions and memories. In a sincere effort to protect the Self, exiles will repress such feelings to avoid being overwhelmed by them.


Think of a manager as a protector at all costs. They’re the ones pushing down the exiles and, in the process, they behave like a strict parent or boss.


Inevitably, exiled parts sneak past the managers. That’s when firefighters are called into action to distract the Self from the pain being released by the exiles. This usually takes the form of unhealthy coping mechanisms like binge eating, substance abuse, overworking, and self-harm.

If this sounds a little on the abstract side, fear not. That’s where the IFS therapist enters the picture.

young afriican american woman smiling at something off cameraHow an IFS Therapist Can Help

Since IFS is a form of talk therapy, you’ll work together with your therapist to:

  • Identify the sub-personalities of your internal family
  • Understand their roles
  • Recognize and release the emotions that are being suppressed
  • Develop healthy ways to manage future internal conflicts

Let’s say you endured abuse as a child. One of your exiles could be trauma. Thinking it’s helpful, your managers prevent you from dealing with it. So, your firefighters could include angry outbursts, unhealthy eating choices, or social isolation. Meanwhile, your core Self is obscured by all this internal subterfuge and you lose touch with your deepest essence.

Your therapist seeks to help you break free of the cycle. This can begin, for example, by literally charting out the interactions between your sub-personalities and your core Self. Techniques like journaling, relaxation exercises, and visualization are common when starting this work.

Since no two people have the same sub-personalities, IFS therapy is highly individualized. The general process, however, remains the same. Many sessions will begin with the client being asked, “What part of you needs attention today?”

What Can an IFS Therapist Help You With?

IFS therapy has been found to be effective when treating a wide range of conditions and issues in individuals, couples, and families. While a handful of mental illnesses are not helped by describing the person as having parts (e.g. psychosis or paranoia), IFS can help with:

  • Substance use
  • Anxiety, panic, and phobias
  • Depression
  • Trauma

IFS is also useful for some physical health conditions (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis) and addressing anyone’s general well-being. I recommend you reach out to learn more about how IFS can help you.