Internal Family Systems Model of Psychotherapy – IFS
by Richard C. Schwartz, Ph.D.

(deutsche Version)
foto-dick-portrait-swThe Internal Family Systems Model (IFS) has evolved over the past thirty years into a comprehensive approach that includes guidelines for working with individuals, couples and families. The IFS Model represents a new synthesis of two already existing paradigms: systems thinking and the multiplicity of the mind. It brings concepts and methods from the structural, strategic, narrative, and Bowenian schools of family therapy to the world of subpersonalities.

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Managers, Firefighters and Exiles

Are there common roles for parts across people? After working with a large number of clients, some patterns began to appear. Most clients had parts that tried to keep them functional and safe — tried to maintain control of their inner and outer environments by, for example, keeping them from getting too close, or dependent on others, criticizing their appearance or performance to make them look or act better, and focusing on taking care of others‘ rather than on their own needs. These parts seemed to be in protective, managerial roles and therefore are called the „managers.“

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The Self

There is one other key aspect of the IFS Model that also differentiates it from other models. This is the belief that, in addition to these parts, everyone is at their core a Self that contains many crucial leadership qualities like perspective, confidence, compassion and acceptance. Working with hundreds of clients for more than a decade, some of whom were severely abused and show severe symptoms, has convinced me that everyone has this healthy and healing Self despite the fact that many people have very little access to it initially. When working with an individual, the goal of IFS is to differentiate this Self from the parts, thereby releasing its resources, and then in the state of Self, to help parts out of their extreme roles.

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The Self-Led Person

I was also finding that the Self wasn’t just the passive witness state. In fact, it wasn’t just a state of mind, but could be an active healing presence inside and outside people. It wasn’t only available during times when, in therapy or meditation, people concentrated on separating from or witnessing their thoughts and emotions. Once a person’s parts learned to trust that they didn’t have to protect so much and could allow the Self to lead, some degree of Self would be present for all their decisions and interactions. Even during a crisis, when a person’s emotions were running high, there would be a difference. Instead of being overwhelmed by and blending with their emotions, Self-led people were able to hold their center, knowing that it was just a part of them that was upset now and would calm down eventually. They became the „I“ in the storm.

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Qualities of the Self

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I don’t know the whole answer to that question. After twenty years of helping people toward that Self-leadership, I can describe what my clients exhibit as they have more Self present. As I sifted through various adjectives to capture my observations, I repeatedly came up with words that begin with the letter C. So, the eight Cs of self-leadership include: calmness, curiosity, clarity, compassion, confidence, creativity, courage, and connectedness.

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