Welcome to the IFS Blog

The IFS Blog is a place for the entire IFS community—experts, newbies, and everyone in between—to share knowledge, ask questions, interact around blog posts, and take part in the ongoing evolution of the IFS Model.

Our hope is that the IFS Blog will foster lively discussions and help grow a vibrant online community that reflects our vital and inspired real-world community. In the spirit of Self-leadership, and with the assurance that all parts are welcome, we invite you to join in.

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Many Minds One Self – Evidence for a Radical Shift in Paradigm

Richard C. Schwartz and Robert R. Falconer Many Minds, One Self

Available in our book store

In Many Minds, One Self, Richard Schwartz, the developer of Internal Family Systems SM, and Robert Falconer challenge the notion that we each have one mind from which emanate various thoughts, emotions, images, impulses, and urges. Although we were all raised in this mono-mind paradigm, it is an illusion because the mind is naturally multiple, containing an inner family of sub-personalities. Evidence for this comes from a wide variety of sources from thousands of years ago to the present. Each of us also contains an undamaged healing essence—the Self, which virtually every spiritual and shamanic tradition has discovered. Schwartz and Falconer chronicle this widespread evidence and present a compelling argument for the potential of this groundbreaking paradigm shift to bring harmony, connection, and positive leadership to the distresses of our planet. 296 pages.

You Are the One You’ve Been Waiting For

Schwartz, RC (2008). You Are The One You've Been Waiting For, Bringing Courageous Love To Intimate Relationships

Available in our book store

In this book, Richard Schwartz, the developer of the Internal Family Systems Model, applies the IFS Model to the topic of intimate relationships in an engaging, understandable, and personal style. Therapists and lay people alike will find this book to be an insightful exploration of how cultivating a relationship with the Self—the wise center of clarity, calmness, and compassion in each of us—creates the foundation for courageous love and resilient intimacy: the capacity to sustain and nourish a healthy intimate relationship. Self-leadership also allows us to embrace our partner’s feedback and use it to discover aspects of ourselves that seek healing. The book includes user-friendly exercises to facilitate learning.

Embodying Our Firefighters

By Mary Kruger, MS, LMFT

Moving into the new year, I have been focusing more on what actually is happening in the room with my clients and their parts, and the impact of the presence of others (therapist, group members, and family members). Experiential therapy has always been of great interest to me and has long been an important part of how I work with clients. In the 12 Step Programs, there is a saying that our greatest journey is the 18 inches from our head to our heart. IFS-informed experiential work has helped many of my clients to make their recovery journey, in a safer, faster, and easier way.

In parts language, we speak of fostering a Self (compassionate)-to-parts relationship. I often find that an intellectual manager is in charge and not so willing to allow access to other parts deemed too dangerous (firefighters) or too vulnerable (exiles). They are often more willing to allow access to a simple breath or a micromovement, draw or map a part(s), or witness/assist in another clients experience. I start by doing something simple, with the intentions of accessing more Self energy and engendering the trust of the protective system. Over time, we progress to more in-depth experiences.

Clients are often surprised that they can be with themselves (inside) in these ways. For people with addictions (extreme firefighters), most of the time is spent looking and being outside the body, avoiding parts that feel pain, shame, rejection, lack of love, and worthlessness. A client who engaged in an experiential piece around a family member and her triggered parts reported an amazing and unexpected shift. She had talked about this issue in past therapies with little resulting change. Through experience, the presence of others, and witnessing, she was able to unburden and experience a physiological shift.

At another time, my group was spending several weeks working with their angry parts. The first week, clients were asked to focus on their anger and describe it after a brief meditation. During the ensuing discussion, intellectual managers began to take over and speak for those angry parts, moving clients into the “safer” cognitive zone. The following week, I asked clients to break into dyads, embody their anger while being witnessed, and to then have their partner mirror for them while they witnessed their anger. This was all done without words. Clients were reported being deeply moved, there was a clear energy shift in the room, and the discussion following was more heartfelt.

I have had the privilege of guiding numerous clients who were stuck in cycles of addiction toward recovery using experiential IFS interventions. Many of our parts and experiences are beyond words, not reachable through traditional therapies. I continue to be curious about ways to move our clients into a place of true and compassionate healing.

At Esalen with Together Beyond Words

By Susan McConnell, MA, CHT, “The Internal Family Embodied” Topic Expert Contributor

I just returned from Esalen, where I had the privilege of doing a workshop with the Israeli and Palestinian women from Together Beyond Words. This nonprofit organization promotes “the empowerment of women, the healing of emotional wounds and traumas and the undermining of prejudice as a path towards building a just and peaceful society.” The women of TBW deeply impacted all of us—Esalen staff, guests, workshop leaders—with their heart and their courage.

TBW_Susan_smallWhen I heard about this group of Jews and Arabs and learned that they were finding IFS helpful for their peace-building efforts back in Israel, I felt a strong calling to be involved with them. Dick taught them some IFS at Esalen for a few years and then recommended me to work with them when they came to Alabama at a time when he wasn’t available. Sharing a farmhouse and a rich mixture of eating and sleeping, dancing, crying, laughing, learning, and healing together was a remarkable experience. So when Nitsan invited me and Beth to bring Somatic IFS to the TBW group at Esalen this year, we were delighted and honored.

Sitting in the circle of women with the Pacific pounding the shores of the cliff outside our room, Beth and I know only Nitsan from TBW. I look around the circle. We are a diverse group. We are different ethnicities, religions, cultures, and languages. We are Buddhists, Jews, and Muslims—including Bedouins and Druze. Hebrew, the Palestinian dialect of Arabic, and English are spoken. The language of the body is shared by all of us. Some are trained in IFS; others hadn’t heard of parts until they got to Esalen. Some are longtime close friends; others had not met before they arrived. All of us are leaders. All of us are committed to peace and justice and healing personal and societal wounds. By the end, we have become a sisterhood.

As I give a brief overview of the five tools of Somatic IFS, I realize they already effectively use these tools, especially movement and touch. Rooted in an expressive cultural heritage, they break into dance and song at every opportunity. They are eager to heal their burdens and to learn new skills. As trust grows, they share many stories—stories of displacement, of terrors of bombings, of huddling in shelters, of being both oppressor and oppressed, of victim and perpetrator, and of issues common to all women, such as the desire for freedom and satisfying relationships.

They tell their stories first in words and then choose people to embody their experience and act out the stories. They bring their understanding of the IFS Model into their work with Playback Theater. They present their theater to the larger group at Esalen in the evening, facilitating small groups of the audience to share their reactions to the theater. They experiment with using Playback Theater with their parts and with their relationship issues with each other. Their time at Esalen prepares them for interactive Playback Theater performances and follow-up workshops throughout Israel to audiences of women and girls—at least 30 performances to 2,500 people in 2013–2014.

I am inspired and touched in more ways that I can speak about yet from this experience at Esalen. I am particularly touched by the courage of the Arab women. Palestinian Arab women face double discrimination as both Arabs within the Israeli state and as women within the Palestinian society. Some of the Arab women at Esalen had never before left their village, let alone flown in an airplane. They risk disapproval from family and community in order to heal and develop their skills as leaders in their communities. I learned that many forces make it difficult for Arab women to form close friendships. At Esalen, and in the TBW organization, they have the freedom to forge and strengthen their bonds and get support for these crucial connections.

My heart opens as I witness the deep, embodied experience of connection between the Jews and Arabs. They consider themselves daughters of Abraham: Arabs descended from Ishmael and Jews from Isaac. The sense of sisterhood—of mothers, daughters, and sisters whose hearts ache for themselves and each other—is a strong basis for building peace in the world. They feel that many of the efforts to build peace in the Middle East have been on the shoulders of the men, and that it is time for women to stand up and bring their gifts to the effort. Together we celebrate our embodied Selves and commit anew to peace in the world.

Witnessing the Nonverbal Story with Somatic Awareness

By Susan McConnell, MA, CHT, “The Internal Family Embodied” Topic Expert Contributor

The following session is an example of how the tool of Somatic Awareness can translate the nonverbal narrative of sensation and integrate it with the verbal narrative. The client’s parts, speaking only through sensation in her head, are welcomed and witnessed. We bring Somatic Awareness not only to the parts that were “speaking” but also to those that were silent—to her largely disembodied lower body.

Rachel suffers with chronic migraines. She has been doing some good work with another IFS therapist but hoped that Somatic IFS could help her specifically with the headaches. My heart went out to her as I heard of the intense and unremitting pain and saw the pain in her eyes. I became aware of a part of mine that wanted to effect a miracle cure. I told her I needed to first work with this part. I focused on the part and the sensations of restriction in my upper body until my body felt more open and spacious. I recalled a lesson I learned from a client who also suffered from debilitating headaches. He taught me that although all my efforts had not cured his headaches, his work with me had totally transformed his relationship to them. From him I learned the difference between a cure and a healing, so this part could step back and trust me.

I then brought my attention back to Rachel. Her goal was to help her parts find another way to communicate with her rather than through the headache. Rachel had a great deal of awareness of the varieties and intensities of the pain in her head from moment to moment. It variously stabbed, throbbed, and ached in her temples, around her eyes, in her cheeks, and even down into her neck. Her awareness of her body below her neck was much less. At first she told me it all felt fine, but it became clear that her lower body was just out of her awareness. Her ankles were crossed so her feet were not making contact with the floor, and as I looked at her body, I had a flash of imagination of her being a paraplegic in a wheelchair.

During the session, we worked together to translate the sensations in her head into words. I would make two different guesses about what the sensations wanted us to know, and Rachel was able to tell from the sensation in her head which of the two statements was true. By this translation process, we learned how her mother had regarded her childhood pains (coaching stoicism and expressing impatience and exasperation) and how alone with her pain her parts had been. As we attuned to the sensations and together listened to them with respect rather than from parts that were either exasperated with them or trying to get them to be different, there were many moments of relief from the intensity of the headache.

Rachel’s lower body began to come alive as her story was being heard. There were involuntary and mostly unconscious movements in her hands and her legs. There were occasional stabbing pains through her right arm. Some of the details of the stories were not entirely new to Rachel, as she has done a lot of IFS therapy. But what was new was the quality of the attention to the sensations and the permission we were giving them. The nonverbal stories were being integrated with the verbal narratives.

I decided to focus our awareness in a stronger way on her lower body. I guided her to uncross her ankles and notice her feet on the floor, and I also helped her scan the muscles and bones of her lower body. I asked her to breathe into her pelvic floor. This seemed to relieve the pain in her head. Then I asked her to focus on the place in her core where the cutoff between the upper and lower body was located. With this, she got an intense, stabbing pain. That translated into a clear “no” to going there in that session, and we respected that “no.” With that, the sensations subsided.

Near the end of the hour, the movements of her lower right arm changed in quality. They were still involuntary, but when she brought her conscious awareness to them, the movements became more lyrical, more graceful, and more integrated. We appreciated the “dance” of her right arm. Neither of us had the expectation that her migraines were cured after one session, but she had learned several things she could do to lessen the intensity of the sensations. She has a direction for future sessions to explore the block between the upper and lower body.

When I followed up with her, she said that this one session had a huge impact on her. She says the pain is down a notch, and she is feeling hopeful again, which is crucial to her recovery.

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