IFS and the Weirdness Factor

By Mary DuParri, MA, LPC, “Finding Your Way” Topic Expert Contributor

After I completed graduate school, I longed for a place where I could voice my fears and confusion concerning my abilities as a therapist. I have been fortunate to find wise and down-to-earth mentors who have supervised and guided me over the years. After I completed my IFS Level 1 training, I longed for a place to discuss the fears and confusion that arose as a result of bringing a new modality into the therapy room. Again, fortunately, I found IFS peers who were looking for the same, and we formed a group that has been supporting us for years. Now, in the age of technology, I am longing for a forum where therapists both new to and familiar with the IFS Model can bring their wisdom, experiences, questions, and parts to a dialogue that will benefit all.

I am opening this dialogue with a few words about what some of us experience as an awkwardness as we begin to shift from previous modalities we have used in therapy to the language of IFS. When I experienced the power of the IFS Model to create healing for myself and others, I was eager to use it, except for one thing: it sounded too weird. Even though I had come to be comfortable talking about parts in trainings, I worried about the client’s response to my introducing parts language. And even when I did introduce it, heaven forbid if we made it as far as an unburdening and I needed to introduce the “Earth, Wind, and Fire” portion of the process.

I wondered if my clients might think I was an old hippie who ought to come back to reality. Though I am feeling a little vulnerable exposing this part, I wrestled with it for a while because it made me alter the IFS language ever so slightly to something I was more comfortable with. But, instead of making IFS my own, which is what I told myself I was doing, those alterations actually made me stumble more with the Model and probably made my clients less confident in what we were doing. After I worked with my uneasy part and began having the courage to show up right away with confident parts language (you know, the words that are on the sheet in the Level 1 manual), everything shifted. Rarely did clients question the weirdness factor. And to those that did, I would usually just say: “I know, this sounds a little weird, huh? But, if it feels okay, notice how you feel toward the part.” And we were off walking down the path of deep and genuine work.

So, this “Finding Your Way” column is welcoming you to step up and name your parts by asking a question, sending a vignette about your learning curve, or sharing anything else that relates to your experiences on the IFS path. All parts and all contributors are welcome.

4 Responses to “IFS and the Weirdness Factor”

  1. Eileen says:

    As a client working with IFS concepts in therapy, I wanted to say how much I appreciated reading your entry and hearing you express some of your internal conflict between knowing that something works, and yet finding something about it “weird.” Despite the fact that my therapist is the one who introduced me to the notion of parts, I still was incredibly resistant to fully engage in conversations with her that seemed particularly ridiculous or embarrassing to me, such as referring to my parts by the names that they have come to be known to me when I have dialogues with them outside my therapist’s office. Slowly I’ve become more open to this, and I can see the huge difference that it makes in my therapy sessions, but it’s still something that triggers anxiety for various parts.

    Numerous aspects of IFS language and methodology still strike some of my parts as absurd, embarrassing, or “childish,” and yet each time I work with one of them to help them share or unburden something, I’m amazed by how much progress I make within the framework. This has actually become a useful tool for me when I work with “older” and more cynical parts – admitting to them that I can appreciate how weird something I’m suggesting (like a memory unburdening) might seem, and acknowledging that while I have no idea if it’s going to work, the worst that will happen is that nothing will change, but maybe we’ll actually find that something feels better by trying it. Almost without fail, there is a positive outcome of my efforts.

    I’m writing all this after quite a long period of resistance working with a very patient therapist. So I think that if anything can be taken from my experience, it’s that even clients whose parts struggle with the “weirdness” of IFS and take awhile to feel safe and trusting enough to engage with the therapist in such conversations, it’s well worth the effort to gently persist.

    • Mary DuParri says:

      Eileen,
      Thank you so much for sharing your experience as a client. I am happy for you that you persisted with your work despite the weirdness factor and that you have experienced positive outcomes. Your words offer encouragement to others who have strong inner critics that doubt the IFS process. I like the reassurances you offer to your parts so they are able to step aside and give you room to try things. They must trust in your Self energy to keep them safe. Good work.

  2. Wanda says:

    Dear Mary,

    Thank you so much for this article. I am new to IFS and am very excited about it. IFS is being introduced @ the Institute for Life Coaching, and I have just finished an introductory course. I was somewhat familiar with this system but learned more about it (and myself) from the class. I can relate to what you mention about the ‘weirdness’ factor and hope to read more input from other therapists who use this system.

    • Mary DuParri says:

      Wanda,
      I am happy to hear from you about how your recent IFS class helped you learn more not only about IFS, but about yourself. I originally signed up for IFS training to enhance my work as a therapist. However, as many people find, the personal growth that occurred for me easily equaled or outweighed the professional growth. I wish you continued exciting exploration of the IFS model.

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