Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy is one of the fastest-growing approaches to psychotherapy. It has developed over the past twenty years into a way of understanding and treating human problems that is empowering, effective, and non-pathologizing with an understanding that symptoms are actually the coping mechanism of Parts (sub-personalities/ego-states) trying to protect us from pain. IFS is a powerful model of therapy that enhances mindful awareness and self-compassion through getting to know our Parts in a methodical yet intimate way.
The IFS Model represents a synthesis of two already-existing paradigms: systems thinking and multiplicity of the mind. A key aspect of the IFS Model is the belief that, in addition to working with Parts, everyone has at their core a Self-Energy containing many crucial leadership qualities such as perspective, confidence, compassion, and acceptance.
In this inner system, some Parts take on protective roles in response to relational injury in order to protect a vulnerable or injured Part (Exiles). Protective pro-active Parts (Managers) focus on learning, functioning, and being prepared preventing Exiles from being triggered. Manager behaviours can include inner critics, controlling self/others/the environment, perfectionism, risk avoidance, caretaking, worrying, striving, pleasing, denial, displacement, projecting and intellectualising. The reactive protective Parts (Firefighters) get activated after an exile has been triggered. They try to distract the client from pain. Examples of Firefighter behaviour include dissociation, fantasising, somatising, anger/rage, addictions, eating disorders, panic, obsessions, compulsions, hoarding, NSSI and suicidality.
At the outset of therapy an IFS therapist hears the client’s presenting complaint as one Part speaking. The IFS therapist witnesses this Part acknowledging how it is trying to help the client and then seeks permission to hear from all Parts involved in the issue. The IFS therapist supports the client to unblend or differentiate from each Part and enter an internal dialogue. Clients learn to listen inside themselves with self-compassion and curiosity (Self), and, in the process release beliefs, emotions, sensations, patterns and urges that have constrained their lives. As Parts are witnessed, they become more flexible in how they respond to the world as well as with each other. The central healing relationship in IFS is between the Self of the client and his/her Parts.
The Benefits of IFS for therapists:
a. The IFS therapist is not required to diagnose, interpret or pathologise but to facilitate the development of a relationship between the Self of the client and their Parts.
b. IFS therapist welcomes the client’s symptoms upfront as an introduction to protective Parts showing them respect and appreciation thereby reducing client resistance.
c. IFS give therapists practical ways to understand and work with transference and countertransference through recognising the interaction of client and therapist Parts.
IFS advances treatment by:
d. Working with ambivalence and polarisations.
e. Recognising how to work with ‘resistance’ productively.
f. Regulating affect in a simple and effective way so clients are not overwhelmed during sessions.
g. Supporting the development of mindful self-awareness and self-compassion.
h. Encouraging clients to attend to Parts between session improving Self-leadership and self-efficacy.
CPD Hours: This event counts as 7 hours of category A CPD for PACFA’s membership renewal requirements.
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