What is Internal Family Systems Therapy?

Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy is an innovative and evidence-based approach to psychotherapy that recognizes and addresses the multiple sub-personalities or "parts" within each individual. Developed in the 1980s by Richard C. Schwartz, IFS is grounded in the concept that the mind is naturally multiplicitous and that a core self exists within each person that is inherently whole and healing. This therapy model suggests that psychological health is predicated on the balance and harmony among the internal parts and the self.

Core Principles of IFS Therapy

1. The Multiplicity of the Mind: IFS posits that the mind consists of distinct parts, each with its own perspectives, feelings, memories, and goals. These parts are categorized into three roles: managers (protective parts that control the individual's interaction with the external world to prevent harm), exiles (vulnerable parts that carry pain and trauma), and firefighters (parts that distract or numb the individual from the pain of exiles).

2. The Self: Central to IFS is the belief in a core Self that possesses qualities such as compassion, confidence, calmness, and curiosity. The Self is the essence of who an individual is, distinct from the parts, and is capable of leading the individual's internal system in a healing direction.

3. Healing Through Self-Leadership: IFS therapy aims to foster a relationship in which the Self assumes a leadership role among the parts. Through the Self’s compassion, understanding, and curiosity, the parts can be unburdened from their extreme roles, allowing for healing and reintegration.

The Process of IFS Therapy

The IFS therapy process involves identifying, understanding, and transforming the parts within an individual’s internal system. It encourages the person to approach their parts with an open, curious, and compassionate attitude, facilitating self-awareness and self-healing.

1. Identifying Parts: The therapist helps the individual identify and acknowledge their parts, understanding the roles and burdens that each part carries.

2. Building Relationships: The individual, guided by the therapist, learns to build a relationship between the Self and each part. This involves listening to the parts’ stories, understanding their intentions, and validating their experiences and feelings.

3. Unburdening: Through the Self’s leadership, parts are encouraged to let go of their burdens, such as pain, trauma, or extreme beliefs. This unburdening process allows the parts to assume healthier roles within the internal system.

4. Integration: The ultimate goal of IFS therapy is the integration of the parts into a harmonious whole, where they can contribute positively to the individual’s well-being and no longer need to engage in protective or destructive behaviors.

Effectiveness of IFS Therapy

IFS therapy has been applied to a wide range of psychological issues, including trauma, anxiety, depression, and relationship problems. Research and clinical practice have shown IFS to be effective in improving mental health outcomes, enhancing self-awareness, and fostering greater harmony within the internal system of individuals.


Internal Family Systems Therapy offers a compassionate and empowering approach to psychotherapy, emphasizing the natural multiplicity of the mind and the healing potential of the Self. By fostering self-leadership and helping individuals understand and transform their internal parts, IFS facilitates profound psychological healing and personal growth. Its inclusive and holistic nature makes it a versatile therapy model suitable for addressing a broad spectrum of psychological issues.