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What is Internal Family Systems Model?

Internal family systems (IFS) or “parts work” is a holistic and evidence-based approach developed in the 1980s by Dr. Richard Schwartz, a licensed marriage and family therapist. Building on the fundamentals of systems thinking and family systems theories, the IFS model views people as having many different parts or sub-personalities within them (Schwartz, 1987). Dr. Schwartz conceptualized the model while working with clients who suffered from eating disorders, especially bulimia. Schwartz found that various parts of clients would surface in therapy, often conflicting with one another, highlighting the inner turmoil clients experienced on a daily basis (Anderson et al., 2023). Through observation and tracking, Schwartz found that these internal parts assumed unique roles and formed inner relationships, creating an internal system of their own (Anderson et al., 2023). Helping clients meet their internal system and learn how it interacts with and reacts to other people’s systems can assist them identify root causes of conflicts, manage and diffuse complex emotional reactions, and achieve inner balance and ultimately their life goals (IFS, 2018).

How can IFS help me?

The goal of IFS is to restore harmony and balance within the internal system by helping the parts find their nonextreme roles and reembrace their true nature and qualities (IFS, 2018). The latter is achieved through a process called unburdening (IFS, 2018). This process highlights the relationships between the parts because parts cannot heal in isolation.

Once the parts are in their nonextreme roles, the internal system is back to being led by the Self (Klinger, 2020). The parts respect and follow the Self’s decision-making, so reorganization of the internal system occurs and harmony and balance within the individual are achieved (IFS, 2018).

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