IFS is an experiential therapy. I use IFS to help evoke self-understanding through experience, and combine this therapy with other approaches that use existential-humanistic and rational meaning-making talk therapy to make sense of what was experienced, to make change.
Although many theories see the human as embedded in multiple systems and contexts, Internal family systems (IFS) views the person as a system themselves. In IFS, one imagines and experiences themselves as having numerous internal, connected parts. Sometimes these parts can be conflicted or seemingly at odds with each other but they are still a piece of the entire person; one can think about competing desires, ideas, feelings, and actions that are seemingly discrepant, or that create a sense of conflict within us. Our many perceived parts form what we can imagine is an internal family, and an IFS approach to therapy helps us to come to understand, and care for, every part of ourselves.
As one thinks of a system, and one sees its many parts, we envision how each contributes to the whole. The human is an incredibly complex system that contains many systems within and around it. As Richard Schwartz, creator of IFS explains, “Each person contains a multitude of cybernetic subsystems, from those that regulate blood sugar levels to those that regulate expression of feelings” (Schwartz & Sweezy, 2017 p. 26). In IFS, the internal psyche is viewed as a system that seeks to regulate itself and ultimately achieve harmony, balance, leadership, and development (Schwartz & Sweezy). The psyche and human is seen, in IFS, as having many interconnected parts that form identity. Throughout our lives, there are parts of us that would have, in the most ideal surroundings, perhaps achieved harmony, balance, leadership and full development. However, instead we may have confronted difficulty that creates burdens that these parts of us are doing our best to deal with, and not always, successfully. So, parts of us may be holding anxiety, shame, depression, anger, despair, numbness, or any other states or emotions we are struggling with. IFS supports people to understand what is challenging for various parts of our system, and supports healing and transformation.
In working with IFS, clients will hear the term, and may experience states of what is called Self or Self energy (similar to the term 'essence' or 'being' or 'wiser self' or 'higher self' or 'oneness'). In IFS, Self is seen as a state of being that all humans are at their core, although sometimes, parts get activated in a way that can make it hard to get the sense of Self that is there. When in a state of what IFS practitioners call Self, a person may feel calm, curious, confident, compassionate, courageous, patient, loving, clear, creative, and light.
As an existential-humanist therapist who is trained in Internal Family Systems (IFS) I use components of IFS often but not exclusively. Blending my approaches helps me provide therapy that is always moving between the internal (intrapsychic) and external (interpersonal/contextual/ environmental) systems, and experiential and meaning-making experiences that impact our well-being.
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Carla Duda, M.C. (Couns. Psych.), R.C.C. Copyright © 2022 Valhalla Therapy - All Rights Reserved.