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The Internal Family Systems Model (IFS) is an integrative approach to traditional psychotherapy. It is a powerfully transformative, evidence-based therapy modality. IFS practitioners ask clients to personify their inner parts, compartmentalizing different aspects of their personality into individual elements. Once the parts are identified and separated off, a “Self” emerges that is calm and compassionate.  Through the “Self,” clients can unburden their parts and find a new sense of agency in their lives. 

IFS teaches that within us, there are no bad parts. Instead, parts of us have been forced into poor roles from trauma, through society, or other life experiences. IFS offers a protocol for releasing mental burdens that can heavily impact the way we go about life. 

What is the “Self”?

Uppercase “S” Self is also known as our authentic Self, one that is inherently good and whole. Everyone has a Self, a pure essence of who they are, separate from their parts. Our identities set us apart from one another, as we have each learned conditioned responses to situations and traumas that are subjective to us. IFS focuses on connecting to your deep inner Self and encourages self-compassion and positive self-talk.

What are “Parts”?

One of the core concepts of IFS is the existence of internal parts. Traditionally, multiplicity is pathologized in psychology, but IFS practitioners argue that speaking in “parts” is natural. Everyone can recall a time when they felt torn about a decision they had to make, thinking, “part of me wants this, but another part of me doesn’t.” Clients who use IFS are encouraged to get as clear a picture as possible of their own parts to help understand how they behave and interact with one another.

Parts can be thought of as sub-personalities or members of a family. Each part holds its own unique set of thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and other behaviors. All of our parts have good intentions, but they can sometimes be misguided. There are no bad parts. Instead, there are simply parts who have poor coping mechanisms or who operate out of fear. When a part of us feels threatened, it may act out to protect its identity. When a part of us trusts the Self and feels understood, it takes on a more positive role that contributes to the good of the whole. 

Three Types of Parts

There are three main categories of parts: exiles, managers, and firefighters. 

Exiles are parts of us that carry the most intense and emotion-laden memories. They hold on to experiences of trauma such as abuse, neglect, and shame. A part develops as an exile when trauma becomes so severely experienced that all other parts of our mental system are put on hold entirely to prevent overwhelm. Exiles often appear as younger versions of a client and make up some of the youngest parts of the IFS system. 

Managers are the protectors of our individual systems. They work to keep the system balanced and free of chaos, especially from exiles. Managers fear the emotional outbursts of exiles and work proactively to keep those feelings at bay. To keep the family system in balance, managers often take the form of a critical parent or boss.

Firefighters are our defenders. They start working reactively when an exile has already overwhelmed the system. Their main goal is to stop the entire system from experiencing feelings of pain that the exiles carry with them. The firefighter is solely concerned with providing immediate relief. This often comes in the form of distraction or fleeing from one’s experience. Firefighters mirror our coping skills, whether they are healthy or unhealthy.

What is the Goal of IFS?

The main goal of IFS is to help individuals access their Self and understand and befriend managers and firefighters within themselves. Once the Self is accessed, the client is taught to access exiled parts within themselves and heal them with mindful psychotherapy. IFS increases self-awareness so that a client can better connect with their inner core identity and move forward. The entire therapy experience aims to help clients reach personal goals, such as decreasing anxiety, fixing relationships, or healing from trauma.  

IFS addresses the multiple parts within us that have developed throughout our lives. Many of our parts have developed through responses from trauma or other challenges. As these responses may have helped us survive the trauma, they may no longer serve us and cause extended feelings of pain and suffering. IFS helps identify these conditioned responses or parts of ourselves that were once helpful, acknowledging how they protected us in the past and teach us to move beyond these parts. We are uniquely made up of many parts, and every time we acknowledge a part of ourselves that is rooted deeply within us, we become more self-aware. 

Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a transformative psychotherapy practice that helps clients understand and acknowledge the many parts within themselves.  In the IFS model, three types of parts exist: the exiles, managers, and firefighters. IFS has the primary goal of assisting the clients in accessing their Self while befriending their inner parts simultaneously. IFS works with mental health conditions of all kinds, offering anxiety management, fostering healthy relationships, and healing clients from trauma along the way. Deep within each of us is our own ability to heal, and it is vital that we learn how to access it. West Coast Recovery Centers focuses on many different forms of treatment for mental health and substance abuse. With a variety of traditional and holistic treatment options, there is a program for everyone at West Coast. For more information about the resources that we offer, please give us a call at (760) 492-6509.