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Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS)

Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, developed by Dr. Richard Schwartz, is a psychotherapeutic approach that conceptualizes the mind as composed of multiple subpersonalities or "parts," each holding distinct roles, memories, and emotions. In neuropsychological terms, these parts are akin to the concept of memory files or neural networks that hold information about our experiences. Central to IFS is the notion of the Self, representing the core compassionate, curious, and confident aspect of an individual's identity. The Self cannot be physically damaged by trauma, however it can be obscured and therefore hidden by networks or parts, which formed from adverse experiences - and this is what in IFS is perceived as the source of psychological imbalance.

IFS can be helpful for most psychological problems, however a good example application of IFS could be in the treatment of a person with PTSD. The individual may have an 'exile part' that holds the traumatic memories and associated pain, a 'manager part' that tries to prevent these memories from surfacing by being hyper-vigilant or controlling, and a 'firefighter' part that distracts from the pain through distraction and substance abuse.

As neuroscience has proven, it is possible for networks of neurons to be accessed and modified through purposeful interactions with them. The therapy's goal is therefore to identify and connect with these parts, particularly the wounded exiles, protective managers, and reactive firefighters, to foster healing and restore internal harmony. This is achieved when the client and the therapist work together to unblend from these parts, enabling the Self to approach each part with compassion and understanding. By doing so, the client can process and heal the traumatic memories held by the exile, reduce the need for extreme protective behaviours of the manager and firefighter, and achieve a more balanced and harmonious internal state, ultimately alleviating the psychological symptoms.

This process is not unlike EMDR or Brainspotting in its ability to reach, process and modify networks, however it leaves the client in complete conscious control of the process. The natural side-effect of this healing is a reduction in symptomatic behaviour and a deeper sense of Self.

In addition, IFS therapy explicitly recognizes the spiritual nature of the Self, allowing the model to be helpful in spiritual development as well as psychological healing. 


In 2015, the National Registry of Evidence-Based Practices and Programs (NREPP) recognized Internal Family Systems Therapy as an evidence-based psychotherapy model. In their independent, rigorous review NREPP found IFS to be an effective treatment for improving general functioning and well-being in regards to clients with chronic pain. It also found that IFS has promising outcomes for clients experiencing anxiety, depression, issues with self-concept, and physical health conditions. 

I am very passionate about IFS and for many years now it has been my main modality and leading life philosophy.

“IFS can be seen as attachment theory taken inside, in the sense that the client’s Self becomes the good attachment figure to their insecure or avoidant parts. "

- Richard Schwartz,

founder of Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS)

IFS EMDR Therapist London, York, Lisbon

Have you considered combining IFS Therapy with Brainspotting?

Combining Brainspotting (BSP) with Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy can create a synergistic and comprehensive approach to addressing trauma and emotional distress. Here are the key benefits of integrating these two therapeutic modalities:
 

1. Enhanced Trauma Processing

  • Brainspotting (BSP) -  Focused Trauma Resolution:
    BSP uses the direction of the client’s gaze to access and process deeply held trauma and emotional pain, often tapping into unconscious or somatic memories.

  • IFS - Internal System Mapping:
    IFS identifies and works with various parts of the client’s personality, particularly those that hold trauma (Exiles) and those that protect the client from re-experiencing trauma (Managers and Firefighters).

     

Combined:

  • Comprehensive Healing: BSP’s ability to target specific, somatically stored trauma combined with IFS’s understanding of internal parts results in more thorough and holistic healing.
     

2. Increased Safety and Stability

  • IFS- Self-Leadership:
    IFS emphasizes fostering the Self, the core compassionate and non-judgmental part of the personality, ensuring a stable and supportive internal environment.

  • BSP - Somatic Grounding:
    BSP helps clients stay grounded in their bodies during processing, which can enhance feelings of safety.

 

Combined:

  • Balanced and Safe Processing: Using IFS to maintain Self-leadership during BSP sessions provides a strong foundation of safety, enabling clients to navigate intense emotions and somatic experiences more effectively.

 

3. Holistic Understanding of the Client’s Experience

  • IFS - Internal Dynamics Insight:
    IFS provides a detailed map of the client’s internal parts and their relationships, offering deep insights into behaviors, emotions, and protective mechanisms.

  • BSP - Direct Access to Trauma:
    BSP directly accesses and processes trauma stored in the body and brain, often bypassing cognitive defenses.


Combined:

  • Integrated Insights and Processing: The combination allows therapists to address both the specific traumatic experiences and the broader internal system that governs the client’s responses, leading to more integrated and lasting change.
     

4. Synergistic Therapeutic Techniques

  • BSP - Focused Processing:
    Brainspotting’s use of eye positions to locate and process trauma can rapidly access deep emotional and somatic experiences.

  • IFS - Part Dialogues:
    IFS facilitates communication and understanding between different parts of the self, promoting internal harmony.

     

Combined:

  • Enhanced Processing: During BSP sessions, IFS techniques can help clients maintain access to the Self and support the parts involved. This integration can enhance the effectiveness of the processing and reduce overwhelm.
     

5. Empowerment and Self-Compassion

  • IFS - Empowering the Self:
    IFS therapy empowers clients by helping them connect with their Self, leading their internal system with compassion.

  • BSP - Symptom Relief:
    BSP can provide quick relief from the distressing symptoms of trauma, which can be empowering and build self-efficacy.

 

Combined:

  • Building Self-Compassion: The combination of symptom relief from BSP and the empowerment and self-compassion fostered by IFS can enhance clients’ overall sense of well-being and resilience.
     

6. Tailored and Flexible Therapy

  • IFS - Adaptable Framework:
    IFS is highly adaptable to the needs of individual clients, allowing for a personalized therapeutic experience.

  • BSP - Structured Yet Flexible:
    BSP provides a structured yet flexible approach to processing trauma, adaptable to the client’s responses and needs.

     

Combined:

  • Personalized Healing Journey: Integrating the adaptable nature of IFS with the structured focus of BSP allows for a flexible yet comprehensive approach, tailoring therapy to the unique needs of each client.
     

Conclusion

Integrating Brainspotting with IFS therapy offers a powerful and holistic approach to trauma treatment. By combining the focused, somatic processing of BSP with the comprehensive internal understanding and integration provided by IFS, therapists can facilitate deeper and more lasting healing for clients. This combination ensures targeted trauma processing, nuanced insights into internal dynamics, increased safety and stability, and the promotion of empowerment and self-compassion.

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