Archive for May, 2011

The Evolution of Somatic IFS

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

In Chicago in the early ’80s, one rarely heard the words body and mind in the same sentence. Now those words are a common tagline for selling products from cosmetics to vacation homes. When paradigm shifts show up in advertising, we can be confident that the 500-year tradition of hierarchical fragmentation and specialization that has affected all our Western social institutions is being uprooted. Having had one foot in each of these worlds, I am grateful that the field of psychotherapy is participating in the emergence of this shift.

But institutions shift with glacial speed, and despite recent findings in the field of neuroscience, the brain and the head are still exclusively thought of as the territory of psychotherapy. Patients with mental illness are said to need their “heads shrinked.” Even the term mental illness is reductionist. I will use the term bodymind to point toward the fundamental integrity of these aspects of human experience, and somatic to refer to our subjective experience of our bodies.

As a trainer for the Center for Self Leadership, I have been teaching the Internal Family Systems Model of psychotherapy in the United States and in Europe. Developed by Dick Schwartz, IFS is a mind/body psychotherapy that normalizes multiplicity of the mind and views each person as having a Self that the therapist helps to uncover so it can fully lead the system of parts.

When I initially began to teach the IFS Model with Dick in 1997, it was important to me as a body-centered therapist to know I could include the body fully at every step of the process. Dick assured me that he welcomed my contribution. With his encouragement, I grew an arm off the solid trunk of IFS—Somatic IFS. Somatic IFS is a synthesis of 40 years of study, teaching, and clinical practice defined by attempts to integrate what Descartes and other philosophers tried to keep in separate realms.

In a typical IFS therapy session, the body is included. The client may hear or see the part, or experience the emotions of a part, and is asked where the part resides in the body. Also, during the unburdening process, the client is directed to find where the burden is held in or around the body. Somatic IFS includes the body more comprehensively, in every step of the process.

My experience is that transcending the dualism of mind and body with my IFS clients has enhanced and deepened the effectiveness of this model. Years of exploring IFS and the body with my clients and students has revealed the body to be an invaluable resource for grounding in Self energy, for accessing and witnessing parts, and for observing and anchoring numerous somatic shifts with each transformation. My shifting relationship with my own body, mining the wisdom in the depths of my tissues and cells, has been a vital, ongoing part of the development of Somatic IFS. My personal experience with healing my own mind/body splits and embodying my internal family has shown me that a deep exploration of the relationship of mind and body leads us to the spiritual realms.

As Somatic IFS has evolved over the last five years, it has grown beyond simply including the body in the steps of the process. Attending to the inherent intelligence of the body has a powerful affect, and the body has taught us a great deal about ourselves, others, and our relationships to each other and to the Whole that informs the process of psychotherapy. It is clear that when engaging in the process of psychotherapy, we are delving into a somatic state of relatedness as physiological as breathing, birthing, and dying. A psychotherapy that doesn’t fully include the somatic aspects of the person limits the fullest potential for transformation.

The unity of body and mind becomes more than a concept—it is a lived experience. This lived experience is transformative for us as individuals and for the culture as a whole. As products of Western thought, having been shaped by these institutions, we have parts whose core beliefs reflect these views. We have inherited the legacies of passive and oppressive relationships to our bodies. We have parts that view our bodies as commodities, as objects, and as a means to an end. Our bodies have been exiled, numbed, and manipulated. We cannot have full access to our Self energy if it is not embodied.

Somatic IFS presents five tools that lead to Embodied Self Energy. The foundational tool is Somatic Awareness. Resting on that pyramid base is Conscious Breathing. On top of that is Resonance, which I sometimes refer to as Cellular Resonance, Limbic Resonance, or Somatic Resonance. With this tool we move more fully into the relational realm. Mindful Movement rests on Resonance, and Attuned Touch is at the apex. I will go more in depth on each of these tools in future blogposts.


Introduction to IFS with Children

By Pamela Krause, LCSW, ACSW, “IFS with Children & Adolescents” Topic Expert Contributor

Hello, and welcome to the IFS with Children & Adolescents column, which focuses on applying the IFS Model to non-adults. This column is designed to be a place to share ideas, techniques, questions, and stories that relate to working with a younger population.

By way of introduction, my name is Pamela Krause. I was trained in the IFS Model in 1998 and have been a lead trainer for the Center for Self Leadership (CSL) since 2005. I have a private practice near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where I see children, adolescents, and adults.

From my earliest work with the IFS Model, I have been devoted to finding ways to apply it to play therapy and work with younger adolescents. Many younger clients can use the Model in the same ways that adults do. However, I’ve noticed a significant population of younger kids who seemed to “get” the Model but who can’t do in-sight as some many adolescents and adults can. It’s this population that has been the focus of my curiosity and, I imagine, yours as well.

Over the years, I have developed some strategies and techniques for applying the Model to those in the younger population who aren’t able to do traditional in-sight. I’m also aware that many of you have done the same. What we have been lacking is a way to share our ideas, ask questions, and gain support from others in our community. I see this column as a place for us to connect, feel supported, and enrich ourselves and our work.

I was recently asked by the folks at CSL to write a short article on this very topic. I put together a brief overview of the ways in which I conceptualize the application of the IFS Model to working with children. The article, titled “IFS with Children,” focuses primarily on play therapy, but the same concepts can be applied to work with adolescents. That article seems like a good starting point for this column.

I’m excited about this venture and look forward to hearing from all of you.

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.

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