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Internal Family Systems


Internal Family Systems Therapy is aimed at healing the wounds associated with traumatic situations and is applied in family, couple, and individual situations. This technique combines two established methods: multiplicity of the mind and systems thinking. Internal Family Systems Therapy brings together various strategies from the Bowenian therapy base, as well as from more traditional narrative and structural modalities. The different elements are united through the goal of addressing the sub-personality. In this type of therapy, a person is guided to realize their inner self through the use of practical applications. A person progresses on their own healing path according to their unique design without external urgency or persuasion. Internal Family Systems Therapy was developed by Richard C. Schwartz, Ph.D.

Internal Family Systems Therapy Model

Internal Family Systems Therapy is based on an integrative model and believes that each sub-personality of the mind possesses its own characteristics and perceptions. This therapy technique sees each level of consciousness as having these sub-personalities, or "parts," and each plays a distinct role in achieving self-preservation for the client as a whole. Every part within a person is responsible for warding off any behaviors, actions, or reactions that can result in dysfunction or disharmony within. In this type of treatment, each part is validated and recognized as significant because of its primary function. Parts can be identified as having either healthy, productive roles or extreme roles. The latter category is made up of parts that require transformation or alteration through the therapeutic process.


Types of "Parts" in Internal Family Systems

There are three distinct types of parts in this model:


  • Managers: These parts are responsible for maintaining a functioning level of consciousness by warding off any unwanted or counterproductive interactions, emotions, or experiences resulting from external stimuli. 
  • Exiles: These parts are most often in a state of pain or trauma, frequently resulting from childhood experiences. Managers and firefighters exile these parts and prevent them from reaching the conscious level so that preservation is preserved. 
  • Firefighters: These parts serve as a distraction to the mind when exiles break free from their suppression. In order to protect the consciousness from feeling the pain of the exiles, firefighters prompt a person to act on impulse and to engage in behaviors that are indulgent, addictive, and often times abusive. In addition, firefighters redirect attention to other areas such as sex, work, or food.



Resources Related to Internal Family Systems Therapy:

The Center for Self Leadership

Wikipedia's Page about Internal Family Systems Therapy


Therapist Resources


Last updated: 05-02-2014


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