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Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy

There is a comprehensive and growing body of evidence for the effectiveness of IFS across a broad range of personal and emotional difficulties. However, it is supremely suited to help with the particular experiences of people with addiction and compulsive behaviours. One key reason for this is that it explicitly appreciates the conflicting and contradictory nature of these difficulties and understands how this inner conflict can lead to the person feeling so stuck. IFS aims to bring an ‘inner harmony’ to your system so that you return to being in a position to make wise choices for yourself. It does not add further oppression, bullying, judgement or conflict. In summary, IFS is an evidence based, compassionate and empowering therapy that has its foundations in neuroscience and is also in line with how we experience the world. Throughout our lives, our brain works constantly to protect us. Based on the experiences we have, particularly - but not exclusively - in childhood, it develops networks of thought, feelings, beliefs and predictions of how to stay safe and connected. In IFS we recognise these networks as ‘parts’ or ‘sub-personalities’, because that is exactly how we experience them. And in precisely the same way that in a family, each member has a different personality, this is how it is with our ‘Internal Family’. In a real family, Dad might want to go to the pub while Mum might want him to stay at home and Auntie is giving Dad a hard time for drinking so much. While all this is going on, there may be a small child feeling very unsafe because the grown-ups he relies on are in conflict with one another. Likewise, in our ‘Internal Family’ one part of us might want to drink while another wants to stop and yet another is criticizing our inability to cut down. And underneath all this conflict is a vulnerable part of feeling unsafe, confused and helpless. In our inner world, all of these parts came into being for a good reason – discovering those reasons is a significant part of therapy. This is because, while the reasons will have made sense in the past, there is every likelihood that you are now in different circumstances and those original reasons no longer apply. So your inner parts need ‘updating’ with new information that will help them to now feel safe and therefore relax their behaviour. As in so many real families, our internal family has often lost touch with its leader. In previous times of extended families often an elder grandparent, with a bigger perspective, would bring arguing family members together around a table to all have their say and give their point of view. Everyone would be listened to and the wise grandparent might make a decision on what was best for the family-at-large based on current circumstances. Similarly, in an internal family, your Core, or True Self – who has maybe not been heard from for a long time amongst all the conflicting inner voices – learns to step forward and be the caring, confident guide for your troubled parts. Your parts start to realise that the ‘head of the internal family’ is back in their rightful place. Your parts had believed that they needed to protect the system all on their own, but now start to see that they can trust your Self to bring kind and wise decisions for the system while respecting the needs of all the parts. Because, at the end of the day, all parts and Self just want the system (you) to be safe and well. In this way, harmony and cooperation comes back into your inner world; parts feel safe and supported and no longer need to behave in extreme ways. In IFS we learn to welcome every one of our parts. Yes, all of them. This is because the indisputable truth is that they all hold positive intentions for you - even those that seem to be leading you to harm. And, on reflection, we can see how that must be true. Even though we use terms like, for example, ‘self-sabotage’, it does not make evolutionary sense that we would intentionally harm ourselves unless we thought the benefits outweighed the costs. IFS is novel in both its philosophy and its application. Its stance is uniquely compassionate and therefore calming and soothing. And, perhaps most importantly, clients can learn to apply the model for themselves and therefore continue work in between sessions and ongoingly after therapy sessions have ended.

Further information on IFS

Of the many descriptions of IFS on the internet, the trusted online magazine, Psychology Today, gives a succinct overview.  This link will take you there:

An excellent book that you might find helpful, written by the founder of IFS, Richard Schwartz , is No Bad Parts:  Healing Trauma and Restoring Wholeness.  (Published by Sounds True inc.)

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