Internal Family Systems therapy (IFS) is a form of talk therapy in which sub-personalities or families are identified and addressed within the individual’s mental processing system. It is used to treat individuals who experience mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety and phobias, and it is also an effective method of family and couples therapy.
IFS is based on the idea that we have a core Self that is the essence of who we are. The Self is undamaged, but our life experiences have resulted in us losing faith in our core being and developing an increasing reliance on our sub-personalities, which are grouped into three categories:
- Exiles: the parts of us that have been damaged by trauma, abuse and other negative experiences
- Managers: elements that protect the Self by keeping the exiles suppressed
- Firefighters: elements that distract the Self from the pain of exiles that are not suppressed, or that are released
For example, your exile might be the anger stemming from a prior incident of abuse. The anger can be suppressed by managers for a period of time, but when it is released, the pain can be too overwhelming for you to handle, and a firefighter arises in the form of an addiction that prevents you from resolving the issues arising from the earlier abuse.
IFS therapy has three primary goals: to release the sub-personalities from their extreme roles, to enable you to develop renewed faith in your undamaged Self, and to allow the Self and the sub-personalities to work together in harmony, with the Self in charge. Over the course of therapy, you will learn to cope more effectively with issues arising from your past experiences, and you will have a greater ability to cope with future conflicts.
Alexandra Gusinsky is a a registered psychotherapist and counsellor for mental health in Toronto
, with training and experience in IFS therapy. To learn more about IFS and how it can help you, call her today.