Internal Family Systems
The Internal Family Systems Model (IFS) is an integrative approach to individual psychotherapy developed by Richard C. Schwartz. It combines systems thinking with the view that the mind is made up of relatively discrete subpersonalities, each with its own viewpoint and qualities. IFS uses family systems theory to understand how these collections of subpersonalities are organized.
IFS sees consciousness as composed of a central self with three types of subpersonalities or parts: managers, exiles, and firefighters. Each individual part has its own perspective, interests, memories, and viewpoint. A core tenet of IFS is that every part has a positive intent for the person, even if its actions or effects are counterproductive or cause dysfunction. This means that there is never any reason to fight with, coerce, or try to eliminate a part; the IFS method promotes internal connection and harmony. Parts can have either extreme roles or healthy roles. IFS focuses on parts in extreme roles because they are in need of transformation through therapy.
IFS also sees people as being whole, underneath this collection of parts. Everyone has a true self or spiritual center distinct from the parts. Even people whose experience is dominated by parts have access to this Self and its healing qualities of curiosity, connectedness, compassion, and calmness. IFS sees the therapist’s job as helping the client to disentangle themselves from their parts and access the Self, which can then connect with each part and heal it, so that the parts can let go of their destructive roles and enter into a harmonious collaboration led by the Self.
“As a young, fervent family therapist I began hearing from my clients about their inner lives. Once I was able to set aside my preconceived notions about therapy and the mind, and began to really listen to what my clients were saying, what I heard repeatedly were descriptions of what they often called their ‘parts’ – the conflicted subpersonalities that resided within them. I also learned that these inner roles and relationships were not static and could be changed if one intervened carefully and respectfully.” – Dr. Richard Schwartz, developer of IFS