Synergy is the creation of a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts.

Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS)

spiral2grow Marriage Family Therapy in NYC, a top provider of Internal Family System Therapy in New York city, has IFS therapists that specialize in Internal Family System. The IFS Counselors and IFS Psychotherapist, are trained in in Internal Family System Therapy. spiral2grow Marriage Family Therapy, located in midtown Manhattan at 260 Madison #8023, New York, NY 10016, offers  IFS treatment solutions through individual counseling, marriage counseling, couples therapy, family therapy as well as relationship coaching. It is also used to address business and corporates challenges and bring a very comprehensive approach to solve business issues in a systematic and systemic way.

Internal Family System – IFS Overview

Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS) is comprehensive, integrative approach that was developed by Richard C. Schwartz. The system was originally develop in the 80s to treat trauma and other related symptoms, and later was enhanced to provide therapy guidelines for working with individuals, couples and families.

IFS is based on an integrative model. The approach combines established elements from different schools of psychology, such as the multiplicity of the mind and systems thinking, and posits that each sub-personality or part possesses its own characteristics and perceptions. IFS also brings together various strategies from the Bowenian therapy base as well as techniques from more traditional narrative and structural modalities. The different elements are united through the goal of understanding and effectively addressing the different parts of the mind.

IFS provides systematic, systemic and practical methods to recognize and access the Leadership Part of the Self to guide the different parts of the self to grow. the Self can guide the different parts to grow through an inner wisdom. In accessing the Self and compassionately accepting other parts of the Self, a greater level of harmony of the parts is established. The clients are not not pushed, rushed or imposed upon to “fix” things. The process allows the Self to unfold at its own pace, and according to its own challenges and patterns.

Internal Family Systems provides an opportunity to sit with the parts of us we seek to exile, understand their function, and to cultivate an attitude of compassion towards these parts and to release maladaptive beliefs about self- that are tied to these states.

System Parts and a Whole

Every system is comprised of part. So, it is the nature of the mind to subdivide into sub-personalities called parts. You can think of them as “little people” inside us. Each has its own perspective, feelings, memories, purpose, and motivations. We all have parts like the inner critic, the abandoned child, the pleaser, the angry part, and the loving caretaker. While all parts of good intentions, their limited perspective may harm the bigger picture of the Self.

All parts within the Self are valuable and want to play constructive inner roles, no matter how problematic it might be. From their subjective perspective they are pushed into extreme and destructive roles by external circumstances and by the nature of inner polarizations and imbalances. Once they “feel” valuable and believe that the system is safe, they will naturally return to a balanced attitude and establish a greater harmony with other parts of the self.

When clients understand that a part has a positive intent and accept it, they change their perspective and attitude toward that part. With compassion, they can better understand and appreciate that part, while taking the steps to accept and heal them. Usually when we become aware of a part, the first thing we do is evaluate it. Is it good or bad for us? If we decide it is good, we embrace it and give it power. We act from it. If we decide it is bad, we try to suppress it or get rid of it, however, this attitude doesn’t work as you can’t eliminate that part. When you try to do it, it simply pushed into the unconscious, where it will continue to negatively affect you, unfortunately, without your awareness. That is why it is important to recognized our unconscious parts and bring them to a conscious level, where we can them deal with them respectfully and gently.

Fundamental Assumptions of the IFS model

    • The mind has multiple parts and is subdivided into sub-personalities.
    • Each internal system has a leader. Similarly everyone has a Self, and the Self serves as the leader of the internal system.
    • All parts of the Self in its non-extreme form – balanced actions – are good. The intention of the parts are positive. Yet, when the intention is used out-of- proportion and in inappropriate way or extreme way, this part becomes destructive. As there are no “bad” parts within the self, the goal of therapy is to integrate all parts and help each part find their appropriate roles and function, rather than eliminate, deny or disown them.
    • As individuals grow and evolve, the different parts develop as well and create a more a complex system of interactions among themselves. Therefore, systems theory can be be very helpful and applied to the internal system. When the system is reorganized, parts can change rapidly, which lead to better functioning of the system – establishing greater level of harmony.
    • Internal changes impact external changes. In the same manner, changes in the internal system will affect changes in the external system and vice versa. The implication of this assumption is that both the internal and external levels of system should be assessed. Yet, the key is to focus on the internal as the internals are within your power while the external is not.

Realizing the Self in Internal Family Systems

In IFS therapy, the Self represents the seat of consciousness, the leader and what each person has at the core. The Self demonstrates many positive qualities such as acceptance, confidence, calmness, wisdom, compassion, connectedness, leadership and perspective. Unlike visible parts, the Self is never seen. It is the witnessing “I” in the inner world—this aspect of an individual does the observing.
The IFS approach is designed to differentiate the Self from the other parts (managers, firefighters, and exiles) making up a person’s inner world. The main purpose of IFS is to unburden or restore extreme and wounded parts and establish a trusted, healthy, harmonious internal system that is coordinated by the Self.
Once in a state of Self, individuals in treatment will know what to say to each part in order to promote internal system harmony. IFS therapists therefore try to help people achieve and maintain a state of Self so they can become counselors to own internal families. This increased internal harmony often results in positive thoughts and behaviors in the external life of the individual.

General Groups of the Parts Within the Self


    • The “Managers” have management and supervision role. They exhibits roles such as an inner Intellectual, Judgmental, Critical, Pleaser, Organizer. The Managers work hard to figure out and anticipate what others need and want from the self when they feel anxious because they are criticized, rejected or abandoned. Managers prefer to keep us in line and in top form with their ambitions, goals, requirements and lists.
    • Managers include parts that operate the day-to-day activities.
    • Managers desire to keep the individual in control of every situation and relationship in an effort to protect parts from feeling rejected or hurt.
    • Managers utilize variety of ways to achieve its goals through a combination of parts – striving, controlling, evaluating, caretaking, terrorizing, and so on. At times, in can be manipulating ways- again with good intentions.


    • The “Exiles” are often infantile-child parts. These exiles are stuck in the past – an earlier time, frozen in the pain and fear of those experiences.
    • Young parts that have experienced trauma and often become isolated from the rest of the system. There isolation is designed to protect the individual from feeling the pain, terror, fear, and so on, of these parts.
    • When part is exiled, it becomes increasingly extreme and desperate in an effort to be cared for and tell their story.
    • Exiles can leave the individual feeling fragile and vulnerable.


    • The “Firefighters” role is to react quickly to defend, protect and rescue. They serve as defensive parts since their tendency is to urgently guard from threatening situations. The quickness in which they appear and arrive to rescue is their signature – As such, their tendency is to be strong, powerful and aggressive. While they share the same goal as the Managers (to protect exiles), these parts are often associated with impulsive and addictive behaviors. Whenever unbearable feelings come up, a Firefighter suddenly show up with strategies involving a quick escape (which not always beneficial).
    • Group of parts that react when exiles are activated in an effort to control and extinguish their feelings.
    • Firefighters use multiple ways of protections, including addiction, drug or alcohol use, self-mutilation (cutting), binge-eating, sex binges
    • Firefighters have the similar goals as managers (to keep exiles away) but different strategies.

Therapy’s Goals of Internal Family Systems

    • The goal behind Internal Family Systems Therapy is to find the core Self of the client. The idea if is to unfold and cover the Self to include the damaged and undamaged parts. The undamaged portion of their consciousness is the self that was apparent before the child experienced events or trauma. This is the core of their deepest identity.
    • Uncovering the parts of the Self and the intention and responsibility of each part is key element of the process. Thereafter the integration and acceptance of all parts in its non-extreme way is promoted to reach tranquility and balance.
    • To achieve balance, harmony and equanimity within the internal system.
    • To differentiate and elevate the Self so it can be an effective leader in the system.
    • When the Self is in the lead, the parts will collaborate and provide input to the Self. Also, each part will respect other parts and will respectfully accept the leadership and final decision of the Self.
    • All parts will lend its talents that reflect their non-extreme intentions.

Read more about other therapeutic modalities by spiral2grow.

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