Internal Family Systems Therapy in Richmond, VA

What is Internal Family Systems Therapy? 

A road map for understanding your inner system and easing inner conflict – Dick Schwartz, a Harvard Psychologist, founded Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy. He was a systems person looking for patterns in client work and found a significant distinction. Certain parts of a client, often very young, vulnerable, and sensitive, are most hurt by trauma. These parts bear the brunt of the pain, feeling frightened and worthless.

Many people have walked the world experiencing solely the clouds. The clouds are fine, but they’re not the SUN.

-author unknown.

We Are All Multiple

In IFS, what those with multiple personality disorder call alters, are referred to as parts. Everyone has these sub-minds that constantly interact inside us. IFS helps pay attention to these parts, turning you into the inner leader your system needs.

 According to IFS, parts tend to play three common roles:

Managers:  “Never Again.” They aim to prevent wounds and vulnerability, often being responsible and proactive but can also be controlling or perfectionistic.

Firefighters: “When all else fails!” They react when wounds are triggered, engaging in impulsive behaviors. They can bring fun and excitement but may resort to harmful behaviors.

Exiles: “Don’t forget me!” Embodies sensitivity and vulnerability, carrying memories of painful events. They feel alone, unlovable, and worthless. They are not the burdens they carry but are vital to our humanity.

8 C’s of Self IFS posits that, in addition to conflicting parts, everyone has an innate, indestructible Self – a compassionate holder of clarity and calmness. Reconnecting with this inner state is a goal in IFS therapy, fostering healing and a more fulfilling life.

Watch Dr. Schwartz: Short Introduction

Healing In IFS Therapy

IFS makes intuitive sense, with some seeing similarities to “Inner child” work. The key difference is IFS works systematically, addressing protectors’ concerns first. As protectors feel understood, Self energy becomes available for healing exiles.

IFS Therapy’s View of “Out of Control” Behaviors

Behaviors Addictive/compulsive behaviors are a painful manifestation of parts at work.

The most painful way we experience parts at work is with addictive/compulsive behaviors. We will often hear ourselves saying, “I don’t know why I get so angry/eat so much/started this affair.” We have been trying, sometimes for years, to “understand” why we are engaging in compulsive or self-destructive behaviors. In IFS therapy, we would say we are blended with “extreme firefighters.”

Since the worthlessness or self-loathing that the firefighters are so busy protecting remains firmly exiled “behind the scenes,” there’s a tug of war that exists between these extreme parts and a more acceptable image ruled by often critical or conflict-avoidant managers constantly pushing for a more acceptable self-image.

While therapists are usually recruited to support clients’ manager parts, it’s the firefighters that we often need to work with and gain their trust first.

The damaging consequences of FF behaviors beget more blaming and shaming, both from our inner managers and from the people around us. This adds to the burden of shame our exiles are already carrying, making them more vulnerable to being triggered. And so the cycle goes on and on.

IFS’s aim is to first slow down, offering a vision that exiles can heal, which will allow the FFs some “time off.” And allow the energy and strength contained in the FFs to be transformed into a healthy, strong, and viable joy in living.

Watch lead trainer Cece Sykes: IFS therapy and addictive processes

An IFS View of An Addictive Cycle

Addiction, in the context of Internal Family Systems (IFS), is not isolated to a specific addictive part but emerges as a consequence of a systemic, repetitive inner power struggle. This struggle involves the interplay between two markedly opposing aspects or parts within an individual’s personality. The fundamental aim of each “side” of this polarity is to shield the person from the perceived threat of emotional overload.

The intensity of this power struggle is driven by the person’s profound fear of their perceived weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and the potential revelation of emotional pain. In the IFS framework, addiction is thus understood as a complex process rooted in the dynamics of these internal conflicts and the protective mechanisms deployed to navigate emotional challenges.

Are you seeking Internal Family Systems Therapy in Richmond, VA?

You’ve searched for “Addictive/Compulsive Behavior Treatment” so many times you can recite the list, and now you’re here, ready to embark on a journey towards feeling better. Asking for help can be vulnerable and confusing, so let me simplify the process for you:

  1. Send us a message to introduce yourself and schedule a free consultation.
  2. “Meet” me to learn more about my practice in Richmond, Virginia.
  3. Begin your transformation with Internal Family Systems Therapy today and embrace a healthier, stronger, and more joyous self.

Other Services at Life Cycles Counseling

Internal Family Systems therapy isn’t the only service we provide in our Richmond, VA counseling practice.

We know life can be hard sometimes and you may be struggling with more than one issue. At Life Cycles Counseling, we have a variety of specialties to meet your needs.  We can meet you in our office in Richmond or online anywhere in Virginia. And with our hypnotherapy specialty, we can meet you online anywhere in the United States.  Some of our specialities include substance abuse counseling, eating disorders counseling, anxiety treatment, obsessive compulsive disorders, anger management, and therapy for men.