Internal Family Systems Therapy - Find A Psychologist
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Internal Family Systems Therapy

What is Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy?


IFS is a therapeutic approach that helps people to better understand themselves, heal pain from the past and feel more at ease within themselves.
Often, we find that different parts of us want or need different things. When some parts take over, we can find ourselves feeling overwhelmed or disconnected; getting stuck in perfectionism and self-criticism; overworking or overdoing things; procrastinating or avoiding important issues; or relying on unhealthy coping strategies. This can lead to further problems and our underlying needs for care, understanding, safety and compassion can go unmet. IFS aims to help parts that are overworked or overwhelmed to feel safe, supported and valued. This empowers the person to make choices based on their parts acting as team members and advisors, rather than battling each other to be in the driving seat.


If you are interested in a consultation or to discuss Internal Family Systems Therapy in more detail, Dr Alice Liddell is an HCPC registered Clinical Psychologist and Internal Family Systems trained therapist who works from our Petersfield clinic and also offers therapy online.


What are ‘parts’ in IFS?


The underpinning assumptions of the approach are that everyone has different ‘parts’ of themselves (which is normal) and everyone has an underlying authentic ‘Self’ i.e. who they are when none of the parts are taking over. We might think of this as your ‘true self’ or ‘inner wisdom’. IFS identifies 8 ‘C’s of Self energy: calm, confidence, creativity, clarity, curiosity, courage, compassion, and connection. Accessing Self also gives us more choice. In IFS, there are no ‘bad’ parts, all parts are welcome and we listen to their needs from Self and try to help. Parts tend to carry burdens, such as emotional pain, a limiting belief or overworking. IFS helps people to access more Self energy, enabling them to alleviate these burdens and create more harmony in the internal system.

There are three main types of parts:

  • ‘Managers’ are proactive protector parts that aim to prevent difficulties from arising. They have learnt from past experiences what causes pain in the system and their motto is ‘never again’. They tend to have roles such as: controller/ organiser, judge, driver/ pusher, pleaser, perfectionist, critic, caretaker.
  • ‘Firefighters’ are reactive protector parts that come in if something becomes too emotionally overwhelming. They aim to distract or soothe by coming in very quickly to suppress or avoid strong feelings. They show up in coping strategies such as eating, drinking, addictions, obsessions, binging TV/ social media/ video games and in rage/ attacking behaviours.
  • ‘Exiles’ are often young parts that hold emotional pain, which can be experienced as overwhelm, intense fear, sadness, anger or a sense of not being good enough. Exiles hold qualities that were felt to be dangerous to the system and were therefore ‘banished’. Protector parts typically work very hard to keep exiles out of awareness. However, exiles also hold gifts such as playfulness, creativity and openness, which can be accessed when they are freed of their burdens.


How can IFS help?


IFS was developed to help people with attachment and relational trauma or abuse, based on what intuitively made sense to the client. It is a gentle way of approaching trauma and respecting parts that may feel unsure or unsafe about connecting with difficult experiences. IFS has also been used with people with anxiety, depression, Eating Disorders, addictions, complex PTSD and other areas.

IFS helps by bringing more understanding to each part and what they need to feel safe. By relating to parts from Self, the person has more access to their underlying compassion, courage, confidence and clarity. This Self-leadership, brings more harmony and balance to the internal system – much like having a supportive family or team. With Self in the lead, it’s possible to heal past wounds and navigate life’s challenges from a place of inner wisdom.