I went into grad school to be a couple’s therapist. In the therapy world though, you are required to get training in therapy overall before you can really specialize. I went through the motions and eventually was told that my school ran this additional training program for something called Internal Family Systems (IFS). Being the overachiever that I try to be, I signed up and even got a discount for being a student!
IFS is an evidence-based model of therapy developed by Richard Schwartz that recognizes that our minds are naturally multiple and divide into parts, which you can think of like mini-personalities. These parts take on different roles for us throughout our life dependent on external events. Some may do amazing things, like keep us motivated, and others may cause some difficulty, like causing us to lash out. The overall belief of IFS though, is that all parts are good. The IFS therapy model also believes that each person has a Self, the essence of a person that acts like a compassionate leader for our system and assists us in healing these parts.
When I first began IFS training, I was uncomfortable and questioning my decision. We did meditations and it felt like we were talking to ourselves (which we actually were!). I was raised in science and have never been a very spiritual person, thus IFS was feeling a little too woo-woo for me. I hung in there and we eventually got to the experiential portion which has the student’s practice being the therapist and the client. It was here that things changed for me.
As the client, I had the same part come up for me that I see in many of my clients when we begin IFS. It questions everything, wants to know the right answer, and keeps a person in their head instead of their body in the present. I always picture the scene from anger management where Adam Sandler tensely says, I don’t know what you want me to say!? In that session, I was able to work with that part and get it to step back and trust the process even though the unknown is scary. I have seen a few therapists throughout the years and that was the most effective and quickest change I have experienced. This does not mean that I never question things, but I was able to open the door to change enough to continue the journey.
I have used IFS with clients struggling with depression, anxiety, PTSD, physical pain, disordered eating, sexual dysfunction, and couples. It may not be an immediate fix (though for some things, it can be quite fast!) but it allows me to offer other options than being dependent on medications and is a whole new way of being that follows us through life.
If you’d like more information (as a client or other practitioner), check out my website or reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Facebook and Instagram (@PillowTalkTherapy). You can also find additional information and resources at ifs-institute.com.