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Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy

Internal family systems therapy was developed by Dr Richard Schwartz, a systemic family therapist and academic. As he was working with individuals in therapy, he made the observation that people tended to talk about different parts of themselves, with different opinions, motivations and needs, in much the same way as different family members. While previous therapeutic approaches had also identified parts of the self, Dr Schwartz’s approach added to these conceptualisations by bringing a family systems approach to the relationship between these different parts.

The assumptions of IFS therapy are:

  • It is natural and healthy for the mind to be subdivided into a number of different parts, which all have a positive intention for the system as a whole (the person)
  • Everyone has a ‘self’, which is the essence of the person unburdened by the adverse experiences of their life
  • The ‘self’ has the qualities of feeling competent, secure, compassionate, relaxed, open and curious, and should be the leader of the internal system

When people have experienced a relatively happy and healthy life, they tend to be self-led by default. However, if a person has experienced trauma or other challenges during their development, their parts can take on more extreme roles, which can take over the leadership of the system at different times.

The overall goal of IFS therapy is to help the patient to understand their internal family system and how their parts relate to one another, identify their ‘self’, and unburden the parts holding traumatic experiences. Once unburdened, these parts can then function as they were originally intended to function, for example as young, playful parts rather than frightened, ­­isolated parts.

Further information about IFS therapy can be found at:

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