Internal Family Systems



Internal Family Systems Therapy was developed by Richard C. Schwartz for the purpose of transforming inner lives. Internal Family Systems Therapy focuses on our psyche and the sub-personalities that are associated with them. Each of these personalities possesses feelings and desires. Internal Family Systems Therapy acknowledges the internal person within the patient referred to as a "family." All of us tend to contradict ourselves at times by wanting one thing and doing the opposite. By getting in touch with these contradicting selves we have the potential to understand them on a deeper level. Ultimately IFS is the practice of looking at the parts of our self that prevent us from forming relationships with other people and the parts of our self that have a negative effect on our lives.

Goals of Internal Family Systems Therapy

The goal idea behind Internal Family Systems Therapy is to find the core identity within each patient that is damaged and undamaged. The undamaged portion of their consciousness is the self that was apparent before the child experienced events or trauma. This is the core of their deepest identity. Experiencing this self means that everything the client is learning in the session is also unfolding. They begin to feel open and tranquil. IFS looks at how these self experiences are unfolding and how they affect the individual's personal life. The goal of Internal Family Systems Therapy is to "just be" with the self that we tend to lose along the way after we identify the core of it.

When is Internal Family Systems Therapy Used?

Internal Family Systems therapy is often used when trauma has played a part in the patient's life. The client may have been the victim of childhood sexual abuse or someone who has internal polarizations which build up over time and takes a toll on their relationship with others. IFS is used when a person may have been frightened or humiliated by something that has happened in their past. Since the incident they carry around these feelings or parts that are referred to as exiles. They usually want to keep these exiles out of consciousness because it makes them feel vulnerable. It's common that the affected are quick to act impulsive and disassociate with these feelings because it is uncomfortable to them. Clients are likely to binge on alcohol, drugs, sex or work. This method is used when the therapist wants to understand the client on all levels of intrapsychic. During the session techniques are used on each of the polarizations with the same principle to identify them and open up the "self."

How Internal Family Systems Therapy Works

Internal Family Systems Therapy is conducted when the therapist works to start lowering the client's shame toward the feelings that they've been repressing. From the moment the session begins the therapist will spend time getting to know the protectors that the clients keep when they are talking about something that may be embarrassing or shameful to them. These protectors may cause the patient to either shut down or not know how to respond. When therapy brings out these feelings it may seem counterproductive but it's an important part of the session.

Throughout the therapist begins to notice the parts of the client that do not want to be in therapy and those are the selves that need to be corrected. The protectors that come out are usually the result of the experiences that are being neglected and this can cause a swing in the patients focus or thought process. It's natural for the patient to feel uneasy about therapy but when they begin to acknowledge the protectors; eventually, it will begin to change the way that they see personal obstacles. The therapist allows the client to relax and realize that as the protectors come out it will cause extreme tension because the role of it is being transformed. The patient will learn how to connect with the therapist and talk about these selves.

The time that it takes for the individual to develop trust during the session will vary on their ability to help them with the situation. It may be 1-2 months before it allows the client to open up and feel comfortable. IFS may work on some people right away and they will begin to experience effective changes happening in how they are acknowledging the self. It is most effective when the patient is willing to be honest about the experience they are having and the discomfort that is associated with it.


Holmes, T. (1994). Spirituality in systemic practice: An internal family systems perspective. Journal of Systematic Therapies, 13(3), Retrieved from

Internal family systems therapy. (n.d.). Retrieved from

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