IFS therapy is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on a client’s “parts” to create healing and transformation. In IFS, the mind is considered to be naturally made up of multiple sub-personalities or “parts”.
These parts each have valuable talents and resources for us like playfulness, curiosity and creativity. But trauma and attachment injury takes them out of their naturally valuable state and forces them into roles to ensure our safety and survival.
The problem is that these defence mechanisms that were necessary to protect us when we were younger become destructive in our adult lives.
What is IFS therapy?
IFS is a non-pathologising approach to psychotherapy that emphasises the multiplicity of the mind. The underlying assumption of IFS therapy is that there are no bad parts, only parts that are forced into destructive roles.
This intuitive form of therapy helps clients to access the Self so they can heal their wounded parts and release them out of their roles. This brings the whole system into harmony and allows the person to be more Self-led and cultivate self leadership. The natural bi-product of IFS therapy is that it reduces self-destructive emotional and behavioural patterns.
IFS therapy advances the practice of therapy in a number of unique ways
1. By showing respect and appreciation for the client’s protective parts, it reduces resistance and backlash.
2. It helps clients to engage with their protective parts with curiosity and compassion, so that they tell us how they got into these roles.
3. When parts know they don’t need to take on roles anymore they can transform.
4. Whereas most therapy assumes that you “can’t change the past”, in IFS therapy you can enter the client’s inner world and the Self can witness the wounded child within and do what it needs to do to protect the child.
5. It helps clients to unburden the extreme beliefs and emotions gained from trauma.
6. Affect is regulated in a simple and effective way, so clients aren’t overwhelmed in sessions.
7. Because the client’s Self is leading the healing, clients feel empowered during therapy.
Core concepts of IFS therapy
IFS therapy consists of working with the Self and the client’s parts
The Self is the innate presence within each person that is the pure essence of who they are. The Self is inherently good and whole and it cannot be broken or damaged. When a person is Self-led, their system is in harmony. Sometimes, parts become blended and dominate the system, obscuring the Self.
IFS therapy encourages clients to differentiate the Self from the blended parts.
Accessing the self is the first step in healing and when a client is in Self they can access their parts. Being in Self is marked by the 8 C’s of Self-energy.
The second core concept of IFS therapy is the existence of multiple sub-personalities or “parts”. Each part has their own beliefs, thoughts and feelings.
A lot of the time parts are “frozen” in time of the trauma and they keep doing whatever extreme things they need to do to protect you when you’re young. So they carry “burdens” into adolescence, which are extreme beliefs and emotions that attach to these parts like a virus and dominate them.
Basically, when a part feels threatened and doesn’t trust the Self, they will act out to protect the system.
When parts are seen and heard for the first time through IFS therapy, they feel understood and appreciated and they can take on positive roles.
What kind of roles do these parts take on?
There are three distinct parts in the IFS therapy model: “exiles”, “managers” and “firefighters”. These are the roles that they get forced into from trauma.
Exiles are the parts that carry the most extreme memories and feelings. They often hold the experiences of abuse, neglect, abandonment, humiliation and shame. A part becomes and exile when the trauma has become so great that other parts will lock them away to ensure safety and survival. They are usually some of the youngest parts of the system.
Managers are the proactive protectors of the system and they use a lot of energy to keep the exiles at bay. The fear of most managers is that the exiled parts might come to the surface and overwhelm the system with the intensity of the memories and feelings they hold.
Firefighters are the reactive protectors of the system. They step in when an exiled part has broken through the managers’ defenses. Their goal is to stop the system from feeling the pain that exiles carry. This may initially start with less intense behaviors such as smoking cigarettes, seeking out adrenaline-producing experiences, or overworking. However, firefighters are often polarized with managers who despise the ways firefighters act out. This polarity can cause the tactics firefighters use to escalate to extremes such as binge eating, self-harm or suicide attempts, or drug use.
Can you give an example of how exiles and protectors might interact with each other?
If you’re rejected, neglected or abandoned from a caregiver, these parts take on the burdens of worthlessness, powerlessness, misery, emotional pain and terror. So we try to lock these parts away inside and they become “exiles” in an attempt to never feel the intense pain again.
And when we have exiles, we feel more delicate, hyper-sensitive or hyper-vigilant, because there are things that can happen that trigger those exiles into flames of emotion.
We develop other parts that are forced into these protective roles to try and keep the exiles contained. So we create “managers” that try to manage your life so that no similar trauma or injury happens.
How can IFS therapy help me?
IFS therapy helps you to unload these extreme beliefs and emotions and as such resolves emotional pain or internal conflict. The most profound element of IFS therapy is that if you can get these parts to open space inside there’s a new person or “Self” that gets released.
The Self, is the essence of who we are and it exists in all of us. When we can access the Self we can have curiosity and compassion for those wounded parts and those parts can let go of their roles, because they trust the Self.
The Self can be seen as our inner parent and it can be our primary attachment, so that we have a safe haven to turn to whenever we feel upset or triggered.
Can you give an example of how you’d work with these parts?
Let’s say you have an inner critic that is holding you back from feeling confident. IFS therapy would be about helping you to speak from that part and then opening up the space for the part that dislikes the critical part.
In IFS therapy, we’d go to the protectors first to show them respect and appreciation for doing their service and protecting you. It’s not about getting them to change or stop them from what they’re doing, but it’s about having empathy and compassion for the role they’ve been playing. And then to learn about what they protect and negotiate permission to go to the exiles they protect.
Then we will go through the steps to unburden the exile and release the intense emotions and beliefs it carries. When we have unburdened the exile, we can come back to the protector who now can see that the exile doesn’t need protection.
We can ask the protector what it wants to do now and it’s usually the opposite of what it’s been doing. So for example, the inner critic will often become your inner supporter.
Is the essence of IFS therapy to acknowledge the parts of ourselves we usually ignore?
One aspect of IFS therapy is acknowledging the parts that we often ignore. So this requires us to separate ourselves from thoughts and emotions and see that we are separate from these parts. So instead of seeing ourselves as anxious, depressed or suicidal, we see that we have an anxious part, a depressed part and a suicidal part.
The next stage is to get to know these parts, to listen to them and help them feel seen and heard. As you do that they start to tell you what they’d like you to know of what happened to them in the past and how it made them feel. This might bring up intense emotions, so you can become a compassionate witness to your own history, which can be emotional, but an essential process to heal the emotional pain.
The essence of IFS therapy is that we’re letting those wounded parts of us feel seen and heard and tell us how bad it was. And we keep doing that until the part feels fully witnessed.
When we’ve done that, we will help unburden this part, so that it isn’t still living back in the time of injury or trauma. So we would go back into the scene where that little child needed somebody. And they might have to end up talking to their parents for them or deal with the bully. We do that until the part feels fully cared for and is able to trust you to take care of them.
What issues can IFS therapy treat?
IFS therapy is used to a variety of emotional and behavioural problems, trauma and attachment injury:
- Abandonment issues
- Suicidal thoughts
- People pleasing
- Low self esteem
- Emotional abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse
- Self doubt
- The inner critic
What happens in an IFS therapy session?
A session of IFS therapy is a form of talk therapy, where we will focus on your internal environment and help you to connect different parts to Self.
So for example, if you have anxiety, we would ask you to relax, take a few deep breaths, and try to feel the part inside that feels anxious.
I’d then ask how you feel about that part and you might feel shame, disgust and anger towards it. We’d work together to find out the reason behind the part’s role, often encouraging you to “turn down the volume” of any shame, disgust and anger towards that part, so that it can communicate.
When that part feels safe, it will explain why it acts in the way that it does to help you deal with difficult problems. We’d engage with that part with curiosity and compassion, so that part can relax. At this point, we’d ask if that part would be willing to let go from it’s role if it knew that other more effective coping mechanisms can be used instead.
This part might strongly doubt that there are any other methods that will help you to cope, but it will be curious to try these methods as there is nothing to lose. So with your permission, we’d help you to deal with these issues in a healthy way.
What is the investment for IFS therapy?
I recommend 90 minute sessions to allow for sufficient depth and emotional healing.
£90 for a 90 minute session
£340 for 4 sessions
£790 for 6 sessions
£880 for 10 sessions
Typically, clients work with me for 3-4 months but you might want to work with me for longer if you need deep healing. You can pay after each session or you can pay in bulk.
If you are interested in booking a session but have questions, get in touch and I will offer a phone consultation to answer any questions.