Roeland van Niele

internal family systems

internal family systems

Internal Family Systems

Self and protective parts

Internal Family Systems, is an integrative approach to individual psychotherapy developed by Richard C. Schwartz in the 1980s. IFS therapy is based on the belief that every human being has a Self that is calm, compassionate and curious. We also have protective parts, such as an inner critic, skeptic or rationalist. We can experience these parts in all kinds of ways. It can be as thoughts, feelings, sensations, images and more. All parts want to do something positive for us and will use different strategies to gain influence within the internal system. You can think of them as the members of a family, each doing their best and having a special way of taking care of the family system. Sometimes parts feel stuck in roles or strategies that are somewhat helpful but can also be problematic. The goal of IFS therapy is to help clients access their Self and discover how to relate to their parts in a way that supports healing and integration.

All parts are welcome

Sometimes the concept of Self and parts can be confusing. You might have questions like “is self me? and if so then what are my parts?’. “Are parts traumas?”. “Can we get rid of parts?”. “Is Self also a part?”. “I don’t recognise Self or my parts in myself. Can I still do IFS therapy?”. Some of these questions have straight forward answers others are more complex. What I think a lot of people will recognise is “a part of me really wants to do something and another part is scared to do so”. Or “whenever I do a presentation there is a voice commenting on what I’m doing”. It can also happen that we find ourselves in a situation where we are overwhelmed by thought and feelings and it is almost like we are momentarily someone else. Someone perhaps more angry, vengeful or withdrawn. Our bodies can freeze and it takes a long time before the dust settles and we can start “coming back”. In Internal Family Systems we refer to this as being blended with a part. In therapy we invite these parts. We listen to their stories so to speak. It is often very moving for a client to find out how this part has been working hard to protect other vulnerable parts from perceived danger. When such a protector builds a relationship with the clients Self, then it can often start to relax and change its strategy from overhelm to cooperation.