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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 is more gentle and 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 Internal Family Systems Therapy Christchurch Bournemouth Pool Lymington
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