Internal Family Systems

Internal Family Systems (IFS) is an approach to psychotherapy that identifies and addresses multiple sub-personalities or families within each person’s mental system. These sub-personalities consist of wounded parts and painful emotions such as anger and shame, and parts that try to control and protect the person from the pain of the wounded parts. The sub-personalities are often in conflict with each other and with one’s core Self, a concept that describes the confident, compassionate, whole person that is at the core of every individual. IFS focuses on healing the wounded parts and restoring mental balance and harmony by changing the dynamics that create discord among the sub-personalities and the Self.

IFS was developed by psychologist Richard Schwartz. In his work as a family therapist, Schwartz began to observe patterns in how people described their inner lives: “What I heard repeatedly were descriptions of what they often called their “parts”—the conflicted subpersonalities that resided within them,” Schwartz says. He began to conceive of the mind as a family, and the parts as family members interacting with one another. Exploring how these components functioned with one another was the foundation for IFS and the idea of the core Self.