It seems like everyone’s talking about it, but what is IFS?
If you follow any mental health social media accounts, you may have heard the term “internal family systems.” More likely, though, you have stumbled across the less formal phrase or invitation to “heal your inner child.”
Internal family systems, or IFS, is a therapeutic approach that’s become increasingly popular amongst academics and clinicians in recent decades. More and more therapists are seeking out advanced training on the topic to assist with healing their clients.
If you’re considering therapy or are in the early stages of your search for the perfect match, you may feel overwhelmed. Therapist directories like Psychology Today and Therapy Den are incredible tools for helping you connect with local therapists, but scrolling through a list of unfamiliar treatments such as dialectical behavioral therapy, EMDR, or internal family systems can leave you feeling hesitant about whether you’re moving in the right direction. Learning the basics about different approaches can be a useful way to narrow down your therapist search and inspire a greater sense of confidence as you seek help.
What is IFS?
Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a model of therapy that provides a framework to help you heal from pain and feel a greater sense of wholeness within yourself. It offers a path to safely explore the ways in which your past experiences and relationships have shaped your thoughts, beliefs, and actions today. Additionally, IFS understands you as a highly unique and complex person. It acknowledges multiplicity within the self. This means it recognizes you as composed of many parts, all of which have positive intentions.
A core assumption of IFS is that, as humans, we have difficulty operating as our highest or most intuitive selves. Growing up having to navigate environments that felt threatening, we adapted and played roles that made sense to us at the time. We carry these parts with us as we continue through life. While they are functional, we may not need them anymore. In fact, at any moment we have the opportunity to bring these parts to light and let them heal. IFS allows us to do just that. Thus, we can more effectively access our inner selves and engage life with a greater sense of confidence.
Who is IFS For?
IFS is an evidence-based practice used commonly with clients who have a history of trauma, anxiety, depression, chronic stress, eating disorders, addiction, and more. However, IFS has the capacity to be profoundly healing for anyone. A core assumption of the framework is that everyone has parts within themselves that feel pain and parts that want to protect them from feeling that pain. In this way, IFS is both a universal yet highly personal approach.
Further, IFS is useful for those seeking a holistic approach to therapy. This methodology does not look to manage or treat symptoms, but rather engages all parts of you and utilizes your inner self-energy to facilitate healing of your deepest wounds.
What are the Goals of IFS?
The goals of IFS are many, though they are all interconnected:
- To become self-led in your healing process.
- To integrate parts and restore a sense of balance within your system.
- To safely interact with your pain.
- To give your younger self what they needed yet may not have received.
- To enable self-awareness and self-acceptance.
- To reduce the power of guilt, shame, and fear in your daily life.
- To heal.
How Do I Use IFS to “Heal my Inner Child”?
While your therapist will be able to explain IFS in greater detail and help facilitate the strategies outlined below, there are a few things you can keep in mind as you begin your healing journey.
The first thing you will likely do is work to develop awareness of your parts. You will explore how they relate to each other. You will create trust among them. For example, say you are experiencing stress at work. One part of you may want to express frustration and communicate assertively with your boss, believing this is what you must do to stand up for yourself and enact change. At the same time, another part may feel hesitant, worrying about the outcome if your message isn’t well-received. IFS acknowledges this dialogue and validates both perspectives.
The 6 F’s
Strategies to engage with your parts and get to know them better involve the 6 F’s:
Find and name your part. Is it an anxious part? A judgmental part? Maybe it is angry. Focus on it and begin to flesh it out. Then, identify how you feel toward it. Maybe you are frustrated with it, or maybe you feel guilt or shame and want to hide it. Instead, befriend it. Approach it and communicate with curiosity and compassion. Ask it what its Fears are.
In parallel, you will likely also be working to develop greater body-based awareness. Building awareness of what is going on inside your body and how it responds to difficult memories will ultimately allow you to interact with your pain in a safe way. This means you will be able to recognize if you are feeling flooded or overwhelmed in response to a painful memory or emotion. At this point, you can take the necessary time and space to pause and ground. Your therapist is trained to guide you through this process and can help you observe and recognize these moments too.
Finally, some common exercises used in IFS to facilitate healing include guided visualization, journaling, grounding, and mindfulness.
Ready to get started in internal family systems therapy?
By no means is IFS the only evidence-based therapy used by mental health clinicians. In fact, many choose an eclectic approach, incorporating aspects of IFS or other therapies. However, if you feel drawn to the core principles of IFS, which are grounded in exploration, compassion, and acceptance, it may be a beneficial path to continue down.
If you have additional questions or would like to set up an appointment with one of our Charlotte counselors today, click here or call us now at (704)-800-4436.