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Melbourne Integrative Psychotherapy & Counselling

Internal Family Systems

Internal Family Systems (IFS) is an evidence based model founded on systems theory and non-judgmental internal inquiry which was developed by Dick Schwartz. IFS seeks to understand all levels of human organisation - intrapsychic, family & culture with the same systemic principles, and to intervene holding a gentle compassionate inquiry to these parts (sub-personalities) that function as part of the whole system. 

Complex trauma creates 'parts' i.e. fragments of the once unitary mind are shattered resulting in extreme and polarised network of internal systems- it is difficult for any one part to change without the transformation of other parts in the system.

IFS integrates four theoretical models:

* Ego states

* Self (leadership - agent of psychological & spiritual healing) 

* Systems theory (context & patterns)

* Family therapy (intergenerational & interpersonal dynamics)

IFS Parts (Exile, Protectors and Firefighters)

Exiles - represent the younger parts that have experienced distress and/or trauma they are isolated from the rest of the system and they carry the emotions, memories, sensations of the pain and shame and are often stuck in the past. Exiles remain in exile until the managers and firefighters see some virtue in them, instead of them staying away.

Managers - as protectors are often proactive found in caretaking roles, the 

inner critique and self censoring (self/others) is to suppress vulnerable parts showing up, rather they serve to impress, being perfect so that you are never rejected and have power of others. They maintain the interactions between the 'parts' by numbing sensations disconnected from emotional feelings. Protectors don't trust Self to lead, they fear losing control over other parts, believing that exiles will be harmed or firefighters will take over.

Firefighters - extinguish the 'fire' danger by dissociating through addictions, substance abuse, impulsivity - self harm or suicidality, or compulsive behaviours when exiles (wounded parts) are activated in an effort to distract-deflect-deny intense emotional feelings. Firefighters are unable to become less impulsive or reactive until they don't have to struggle with managers for their right to exist and until exiles are less vulnerable. 

The IFS Model provides a map to navigate the different parts in the system, to understand the inter-relationships between parts and the interactions with the Self.  The therapeutic processes involves locating a part, understanding the characteristics, qualities, and features of that part whilst ascertaining the core sense of self being present and/or either the protector being present, then asking them to step back to allow the wounded younger part (exiles) to express itself without fear that other parts will step in to either manage or to extinguish that part which is attempting to reveal their woundedness.  Engaging in a dialogue or having a conversation with the different parts allows a deeper understanding of how they function in the system with the intention to unite the sub-personalities into a healthy unified whole system towards more of an integrated Self.

  • all parts have positive intentions & integral part of the system 

  • assist all parts to unburden with a focus to reveal their potential

  • focuses on accessing and working with the Self part 

  • considers internal relationships as the source of healing

  • create a new network of harmonious relationships among transformed parts to embody more of authentic Self 

  • create more Self-to-Self relationships with others

Sharon has clinical family therapy experience in an outpatient mental health clinic. Sharon has undertaken further training in Internal Family Systems and Trauma.

Sculptures in Rows
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