What Parts Play A Role In IFS Therapy?

Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, developed by Dr. Richard Schwartz, is a powerful therapeutic approach to help people understand and harmonize the different parts of their psyche. Parts refer to the various sub-personalities of the self that each person possesses. These parts develop as a means to protect and manage the person’s psyche, especially in response to past traumas and life experiences. 

IFS was first developed for those who suffer from dissociative disorders and post traumatic stress and emphasizes that there are no multiple personalities but multiple inner parts that work together. This therapy can be complex to understand at first, but statistics show that it works. 

Here’s a breakdown of the primary parts in IFS therapy:

1. Exiles

Exiles are parts that hold painful memories, emotions, and traumas from the past. Often formed during childhood, these parts carry intense feelings of shame, fear, and vulnerability. They are called “exiles” because they are pushed away from conscious awareness to protect the person from overwhelming emotional pain.​  

2. Managers

Managers are proactive parts that try to prevent the exiles’ pain from surfacing by managing the person’s interactions and behaviors. They maintain control and keep the person functioning in daily life. Managers can display positive behaviors, such as organizational skills, or negative behaviors, like perfectionism and over-controlling tendencies​. 

3. Firefighters

Firefighters are reactive parts that respond when the exiles’ pain threatens to break through. They attempt to extinguish this emotional distress through immediate, often extreme actions, such as substance abuse, overeating, or self-harm. Their goal is to provide quick relief from the exiles’ pain, even if their methods are ultimately harmful​.

4. The Self

The Self is the core of a person’s personality. It has qualities like compassion, curiosity, calmness, clarity, courage, connectedness, confidence, and creativity. The goal of IFS therapy is to restore the Self to its natural leadership role within the internal system and use it as a guide for the various parts​​ within you. 

a person sitting in a chair talking to another person

How does IFS therapy work? 

IFS therapy has a step-by-step approach where your therapist or mental health professional will ask questions and help you identify the different parts of your psyche. Here’s what can typically happen during an IFS therapy session:

1. Setting the Stage

In therapies like IFS, trust between the therapist and client is everything. You must feel comfortable exploring your inner parts with the therapist. My first IFS session begins with a brief questionnaire about your current mental health, any immediate concerns, and what you’d like to achieve during the sessions.

Then, I walk you through the role of the Self and the various parts (Exiles, Managers, and Firefighters) and how they influence you and interact with each other. 

2. Exploring the Parts

In the next session, together, we’ll identify different parts within you, which can be done through  guided imagery, visualization, or simply discussing the emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. It can also be something simple as voices, feelings, or personas in your mind. 

Once parts are identified, your therapist will help you begin a dialogue between the client’s Self and these parts. It can take time, so make sure you don’t overwhelm yourself. 

3. Integration and Healing

After unburdening, your therapist will help reintegrate healed parts and feel whole. You’ll sense healthier internal relationships and create supportive agreements that promote the well-being of your Self. 

If you’re interested in knowing more about IFS therapy and are located in Ontario, connect with me today.

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