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What is Internal Family Systems Therapy Used For?

IFS thought process

Developed by psychologist Richard Schwartz in the 1980s, IFS combines elements of family systems theory and psychoanalytic techniques to help individuals improve their emotional well-being. Despite its name, IFS is not a form of family therapy; it's used for individual therapy, healing our internal family, or "parts".

Understanding the Internal Family Systems Model

IFS operates under the premise that every person has many different "parts" within them, each with their unique thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. These parts are often in conflict with one another and can lead to emotional distress and unhealthy coping mechanisms. The goal of IFS is to help individuals identify and address these internal conflicts to achieve a more balanced and harmonious inner self.

One of the unique features of IFS is its emphasis on the idea that each part has a positive intention and purpose, even if it may be causing harm. By understanding and communicating with these parts, individuals can learn to work together with them rather than against them to achieve overall healing and growth.

What are Parts?

The basic premise of IFS is that our mind is made up of different "parts" or sub-personalities, each with its own individual set of beliefs, emotions, and behaviors. These parts can disagree with each other and cause inner turmoil. In IFS, the therapist helps the client identify these parts and work towards understanding and healing them. These parts can be seen as distinct characters that make up the whole person. The IFS model believes that everyone has these parts, and they are not just limited to individuals with psychological disorders.

Parts are formed in response to experiences and events throughout a person's life. They are created as a way to protect the individual from overwhelming emotions or experiences. For example, a person may have a part that is very critical of themselves to avoid feeling vulnerable and being hurt by others' criticism. Another part may be constantly seeking validation and approval from others as a way to cope with feelings of rejection or abandonment. These parts can also be influenced by cultural or societal norms and expectations.

Differentiation of Parts in IFS

Parts can be differentiated by their functions and roles within the internal system. Some parts may be protectors whose main role is to keep the individual safe from harm. These protectors can manifest as control, perfectionism, people-pleasing, or even addiction. There are also parts called "managers" who try to prevent the person from experiencing pain by planning and anticipating potential threats.

On the other hand, there are parts known as "exiles" who hold painful emotions and memories that the person has tried to avoid. These exiles can be seen as wounded inner children who carry unresolved trauma and need healing. They can manifest as depression, anxiety, or other symptoms.

girl in IFS therapy

When Do Parts Appear in IFS?

Parts can appear at any time, but they are most likely to emerge when a person is faced with triggers or situations that activate their protective mechanisms. These triggers can be external events such as criticism, rejection, or conflict, or they can be internal experiences like overwhelming emotions or memories.

Parts can also appear in therapy when the client is exploring deeper underlying issues and working towards healing their inner wounds. In IFS, the therapist creates a safe and non-judgmental space for these parts to express themselves and be understood, which can lead to integration and harmony within the internal system. By acknowledging and nurturing all parts of oneself, individuals can achieve a sense of self-leadership and inner balance. So, parts play a crucial role in IFS therapy as they are the key to understanding and healing our complex inner world. Overall, the concept of "parts" in IFS provides a framework for individuals to better understand themselves and their experiences, leading to personal growth and transformation.

Can IFS Treat Trauma and Anxiety?

Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a psychotherapy approach that has been gaining popularity in recent years for its effectiveness in treating trauma and anxiety.

One way that IFS differs from traditional therapy approaches is that it focuses on the internal dynamics of the client rather than external factors. This means that instead of viewing trauma and anxiety as something to be fixed or eliminated, IFS helps individuals develop a better relationship with their parts and learn how to manage them healthily.

fireworks symbolizing self celebration and harmony from IFS

Internal Family Systems and its Effectiveness in Treating Trauma

IFS has shown great success in treating both trauma and anxiety due to its unique approach. By acknowledging that each part has a purpose and is trying to protect the individual in some way, IFS encourages self-compassion and understanding rather than judgment or avoidance.

Through IFS therapy sessions, individuals can learn to communicate with their parts and address the underlying emotions and beliefs that may be causing distress. This can lead to a sense of internal harmony and reduce symptoms of trauma and anxiety. IFS also incorporates mindfulness techniques to help individuals become more aware of their thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. This can be especially beneficial for those with trauma who may have difficulty regulating their emotions and connecting with their body.

Therefore, IFS offers a holistic approach to treating trauma and anxiety by empowering individuals to understand and heal their internal conflicts. Its effectiveness has been supported by research studies, making it a valuable tool in the field of psychotherapy. If you or someone you know is struggling with trauma or anxiety, consider exploring the potential benefits of IFS therapy.


Chateau Recovery is a renowned mental health treatment center that offers various options for aftercare. One of the most effective used methods at our facility is IFS. IFS stands for Internal Family Systems, it's an evidence-based approach that helps individuals improve their emotional well-being.

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