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Internal Family Systems

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.


Have you ever said, “A part of me wants to do this, and another part of me is scared” or “A part of me is disappointed while another part is relieved”? If so, you’ve already experienced what Internal Family Systems is all about. 

What is Internal Family Systems (IFS)?

IFS was developed by psychologist Richard C. Schwartz in the 1980s. It is an integrative approach to psychotherapy combining systems thinking and family systems theory with the notion of multiplicity of the mind. It assumes that it is the nature of the mind to be subdivided into many different subpersonalities or parts and a Self. All parts are good and have natural talents and resources, however past traumas and attachment injuries caused these parts to shift from their natural, valuable states into more extreme roles.

Goal of IFS

  1. Liberate parts from their extreme roles so they will lend their natural talents and resources.
  2. To achieve balance, harmony and wholeness within the internal system.
  3. To differentiate and elevate the Self in order to restore trust in Self-Leadership.
  4. Bring more Self energy to external systems, parts will provide input to the Self while respecting Self as the ultimate decision maker.

8 qualities of self-leadership (“8 C’s”)

  • Curiosity
  • Compassion
  • Calm
  • Confidence
  • Courage
  • Clarity
  • Creativity
  • Connectedness

Conceptual framework for the parts of oneself in IFS

Consider two classifications of parts: protective parts (Managers, Firefighters) and vulnerable parts (Exiles).

Vulnerable parts

Vulnerable parts (Exiles) hold painful emotional states and negative beliefs about themselves that originated in past traumatic experiences and attachment injuries. Vulnerable parts are stuck in the original wounds. These vulnerable parts want love, care, sense of safety and security, understanding and compassion.

Protective parts

Protective parts (Managers and Firefighters) are pre-emptive and are tasked with warding off danger. They are the first line of defense protecting vulnerable parts from being activated and overwhelming the system by the pain that these vulnerable parts hold. Examples: Inner Critic part, Perfectionist part, Pusher/Productivitiy part, Timer Keeper part, Financial Manager part, Catastrophizing part, Anxious part. Firefighter parts are the emergency back-ups in the system. They are triggered when someone (including you) gets too close to the pain held by vulnerable parts. These parts are often pathologized medically and psychologically. Examples: Addict part, Rage part, Self-Harm part, Eating Disordered part, Narcissist part, Suicidal part, OCD part.

Who is a good candidate for IFS?

IFS is an evidence-based psychotherapy model used to treat a range of mental health disorders including anxiety, depression, PTSD, substance misuse, eating disorders, OCD, chronic pain, and so on.  It can be beneficial for a wide range of individuals, and particularly effective for those who:
  • Struggle with inner conflicts, feeling torn between different thoughts, emotions, or behaviours
  • Have a history of trauma
  • Seek self-awareness and self-improvement
  • Want to work on relationship issues
  • Experience symptoms of anxiety or depression
  • Desire personal growth, self-development, and self-leadership
  • Are open to a holistic approach

How to get started with IFS at IBFM?

Once you click Get Started, we will create a chart for you and you will receive instructions on how to book for psychotherapy.  Upon booking, you will receive a pre-appointment questionnaire to help the psychotherapist get more out of your 1st appointment.  During the 1st appointment you will set goals and begin the IFS exploration using Parts Mapping.  The frequency of sessions may vary depending on your needs and progress. 

Between therapy sessions, consider practicing IFS techniques and exercises, as developed by you and the psychotherapist to reinforce your progress and self-awareness.  Be patient and open to the process; IFS therapy may take time as you explore and work with your inner parts.

Internal Family Systems offered in...

psychotherapy, IBFM Institute for Behavioural & Functional Medicine Ontario, Canada


Getting your mind in line with what you want