Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy conceptualizes the personality as comprised of multiple subpersonalities and a core Self. All of these parts of the personality are understood to have positive intentions for us; they all want to help us be accepted, loved, successful, and safe. Even the parts of us that seem problematic or self-destructive are simply trying to help us survive, and don’t know any other way to do it. Some of them are “frozen” in time as a result of various kinds of stress or trauma, and hold rigid beliefs and fears that helped us survive difficult environments when we were young, but are now interfering with living a healthy life as adults.
As we mature, these parts develop into a complex internal system of relationships and protections. Because they are deeply entrenched on a subconscious level of the bodymind they are very difficult to access and change with cognitive and behavioral therapies. We can try to address addictive, compulsive, anxious parts of us all day long on a “head” level, but we must get down into that “gut” level to effect real change.
Because this inner system can feel quite vulnerable, and accessing these deep levels of feelings and beliefs can trigger fearful, addictive, or self-harming parts, the therapist must have solid knowledge and training regarding how to manage this process safely. It also requires a great deal of patience and compassion to gain the trust and collaboration of very anxious, protective parts of the system in order to access and heal the most hurt, vulnerable parts.
There are other therapeutic modalities that use subpersonality work (e.g., Ego State therapy, Gestalt, various sorts of Inner Child work), but I have found that IFS therapy is the most comprehensive, elegant, safe, and effective. I have had many clients who have told me, “I’ve been in therapy my whole life, and this is the first time I’ve felt like I’m actually getting somewhere.”
For more information about IFS therapy and how to find an IFS therapist in your area click here.