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Friends by the Lake

Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS)

What is Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy? 

It is an evidence-based model of psychotherapy and is powerfully transformative. It has shown to be effective for treating a variety of conditions and their symptoms, such as:

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Phobias

  • Panic

  • Physical health conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis

  • Improving general functioning and well-being

This type of therapy was developed in the 1990s by Dr. Richard Schwartz, Ph.D. He listened to people in therapy spontaneously speak about inner parts within themselves. He began to visualize the human mind as an internal family and applied in treatment the techniques he had learned as a family therapist. In doing so, he found that clients could make changes that they hadn’t been able to make before; and get unstuck. 

What happens in IFS therapy?

Through talking with your IFS therapist, you will identify and understand the various aspects of yourself, also known as “parts” that make up your internal mental system. These aspects of your mind are made up of wounded parts and painful emotions such as anger or shame and the parts that try to protect you from being hurt or wounded or being immobilized by the hurt of these wounded parts. Just as a good family therapist knows that individuals cannot be fully understood in isolation from their family or community – an IFS therapist develops techniques and strategies to effectively address issues within a person’s internal community or family. Your IFS therapist will assist you to get to know each of these parts better in order to achieve healing.


What are these "parts” of mind in IFS?

IFS works with the concept of an undamaged core Self that is the essence of who you are, as well as three different types of “parts” that reside within each person, in addition to the Self. 

The three distinct types of parts in the IFS model are:

  1. Managers. Managers are protective parts that are responsible for maintaining a level of psychological functioning in daily life by warding off/preventing any unwanted or counterproductive emotions or experiences. Managers are proactive. They prevent painful feelings from getting stirred up. 

  2. Exiles. Exiles are most often in a state of pain or trauma, which may result from childhood experiences. Protective parts such as managers (and firefighters), exile these parts and prevent them from breaking through into our conscious mind.

  3. Firefighters. Firefighters serve as a distraction to the mind when exiles break free from suppression. In order to protect from feeling the pain, the firefighters prompt a person to act on impulse and engage in behaviours that may appear indulgent or addictive. These parts often engage in behaviours that we or others dislike, in their attempt to “put out the fire” of the painful feelings. Firefighters are reactive. They react once painful feelings get stirred up. 

IFS Therapy focuses on healing the wounded parts and restoring a balance by changing the dynamic that created discord among the parts. These parts can be transformed, healed and managed by Self by achieving three goals:

  1. Free the parts from their extreme roles

  2. Restore trust in Self

  3. Coordinate and harmonize the Self and the parts, so they can work together as a team with the Self in charge















IFS Therapy is used to treat individuals, couples, and families.

(Adapted from: 

Design Book
Recommended reading: 
No Bad Parts by Dr. Richard Schwartz
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