Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy

Internal Family Systems (IFS) psychotherapy uses a non-pathologizing approach to healing. It is based on the idea that we all contain different parts within us and that every part carries positive intent for us. IFS asserts that each of us has the capacity to heal ourselves by tapping into our inherent resources and wisdom. The IFS model is very respectful of the pain or trauma that we all carry. Even though IFS goes deeply into our psyche in powerful ways, it never tries to barge past defenses or dive too quickly into deep issues.

Our internal parts

We Are Made Of Parts

People are multifaceted – they have different aspects, sides, parts, or facets of their personality. For example, you may have a part that loves a person and another part that hates that person. Each part serve a different function. It may want to protect you from harm or help you feel good about yourself. It may want to keep you from feeling pain or make other people like you. Despite their best intentions, these parts don’t always act wisely. They might keep us stuck in negative patterns and have a destructive impact on our lives. Even if a part sees the present accurately, it may have a faulty strategy for helping you. However, underneath the surface, they are always doing what they think is best for you.

How Does IFS Therapy Work?

IFS therapy model was first conceptualized over 30 years ago by Dr. Richard Schwartz, a family systems therapist. In IFS therapy, we become aware of our parts that may appear as feelings, beliefs, thought patterns, images, sensations, fantasies, or behaviors. We welcome all of them with compassion and curiosity. We seek to understand each part, connect with it, and appreciate its efforts to help us, while noticing how it might also cause problems for us. By developing a caring and trusting relationship with each part, we can take steps to heal it and enable it to function in a healthy way.

Overview Video of IFS

This short video (2 minutes) provides an overview of Internal Family Systems therapy:

This 9-minute video explains how our parts function and what Self is:

Articles explaining Internal Family Systems therapy can be found here.

Examples of Parts

Pixar’s movie “Inside Out” provides a wonderful insight into how our parts interact with each other:

In this 15-minute video Dr. Tom Holmes, one of the authors of a wonderful book “Parts Work: An Illustrated Guide to Your Inner Life” describes how his parts respond to coronavirus:

IFS and Brainspotting

Internal Family Systems therapy and Brainspotting therapy are both non-pathologizing approaches that allow the clients to lead the process of healing themselves, with the therapist providing necessary support along this journey. Partspotting, an advanced Brainspotting technique, allows the therapist to engage gently and safely with client’s parts by helping the client connect their focused gaze with the internal sensation representing the part. In Brainspotting, where we look affects how we feel. By working with the client and identifying the Brainspot for the part, we enable the brain to process the experiences held there in a calm and grounded way that leads to systemic healing.

How Elaine Can Help

In my practice, I love to integrate IFS (parts work) with Brainspotting therapy to help clients address deeply-held shame, grief, self-esteem and other distress, in a gentle, efficient, and non-invasive way. In my private practice in SW Portland and via online therapy, we explore and address complex issues and emotions that manifest when clients encounter external and internal stresses that impact their emotional well-being.