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Internal Family Systems (IFS) 

What is Internal Family Systems (IFS)?
The IFS Institute defines Internal Family Systems as, “a transformative, evidence-based psychotherapy that helps people heal by accessing and loving their protective and wounded inner parts.”  IFS is based on the premise that we come into this world with our mind subdivided into a number of parts. Our parts can be forced into extreme roles because of experiences of abuse or trauma, and then as we live out our lives, we try to protect ourselves from experiencing these parts again by placing them into exile. But there are no bad parts as they are all trying their best to keep us safe.

What are Parts?
Everyone has an unknown number of parts and a Self. Parts are functional, and all parts are good. There are two types of parts: protective parts and vulnerable parts.

Vulnerable parts are the parts that hold painful emotional states and negative beliefs about themselves from experiences that hurt them in the past. Exiles are these vulnerable parts that allow us to continue to be able to function rather than being overwhelmed by the pain. Exiles are stuck in the past.

Protective parts are the parts that work to protect vulnerable parts from being activated/triggered. In this way they attempt to protect us from the pain of the vulnerable parts. Managers and Firefighters are the two types of protective parts. Managers work in a pre-emptive way and look ahead to the future to keep the vulnerable parts back. Firefighters operate in a reactive way and shove vulnerable parts down when they try to show themselves. Firefighters are only concerned with the present.

Traits of each Part:

- Pre-Emptive
- Proactive
- Future-oriented
- Focused on planning and controlling

- Reactive
- Present-Oriented
- Only spring into action when an Exile is triggered
- Uses impulsive, compulsive, or addictive behaviors

- Past-Oriented
- Overwhelming
- Painful

What is the Self?
The core of one’s being. Its qualities are listed as the “8 C’s”.
1. Calmness
2. Curiosity
3. Compassion
4. Confidence
5. Courage
6. Clarity
7. Connectedness
8. Creativity

The_8_Cs_of_Self_Leadership_Wheel.pdf - © 2020 Julia Sullivan and IFS Institute

How does IFS work?

IFS works by helping the individual identify and understand the different parts of yourself. The goal is to have the person in treatment focus on their parts and identify how they feel about those parts, and the reason for the parts actions. Usually, the parts actions are to help the person in treatment deal with any difficulties being experienced. From this point, the person in treatment may ask the part if it would be willing to stop its actions in place of healthy and effective coping mechanisms.

Kristen Neff on Self- Compassion and “Parts”

“Dear friends, The term "self-compassion" suggests that we give compassion to a "self" that is a single entity. In fact, the term should probably be "selves-compassion" (if Webster's dictionary would allow it), because we have different parts of ourselves that suffer in unique ways.

"Parts" are clusters of thoughts/emotions/behaviors that often form in childhood. We have hidden parts that carry the burden of scary and difficult emotions like shame, fear, hurt and grief. We have protector parts with the job of keeping us safe, in part by preventing ourselves from feeling these scary emotions. Protectors may be inner critics who keep us in line, warriors who get angry at others, or else managers who use obsessive thinking and problem solving to try to control situations.

When a particular part is triggered, it tends to take us over so we can't see outside of the worldview of that part. For instance, when my ashamed part is triggered, I feel unworthy. When my warrior part is triggered, I become convinced that others are bad or wrong. When my inner critic is triggered, I feel l can't do anything right. When my obsessive thinker is triggered, I get caught in storylines of my own making.

Albert Einstein said, "You cannot solve a problem with the same mind that created it." We need to step out of our parts so that we aren't limited by their immature perspectives. Fortunately, we can use compassion to relate to our parts in a loving and accepting way. Compassion doesn't come from a part but comes from our core - known in various traditions as our Self, our Buddha nature, higher self, or true nature.

When we relate to a triggered part from a place of compassion, we become dis-identified with the part. If I feel compassion toward the part of me that feels hurt, for instance, I become bigger than this young part. Not only am I hurt, I am also the compassion that feels moved by my pain and wants to help. I can disentangle from my hurt part and see the larger picture of what's happening with more complexity.

In order to work with our parts, we must first use mindfulness to notice that we're triggered. There are often physiological clues such as shaky hands, elevated heart rate, or constriction in the body. Then we can step outside of the part by saying something like, "I am aware that a part of me is triggered."

Next, we can direct words of kindness and compassion to the part such as "I'm sorry you're hurting, but I appreciate your efforts to help me. What do you need?" Often our parts need a sense of love and belonging and safety. We can offer that with assurances such as "I'm here for you, I won't abandon you."

When we're compassionate to our parts, they lose their grip on us. We gain greater clarity and can make wiser choices."Kristen Neff on Self- Compassion and “Parts”.pdf

Recommended IFS Resources:

  • No Bad Parts: Healing Trauma and Restoring Wholeness with the Internal Family Systems Model by Richard Schwartz.
  • Introduction to the Internal Family Systems Model by Richard Schwartz.
  • Somatic Internal Family Systems Therapy: Awareness, Breath, Movement, and Touch in Practice by Susan McConnell, CIFST.
  • Transcending Trauma: Healing Complex PTSD with Internal Family Systems Therapy by Frank G. Anderson.
  • Internal Family Systems Therapy by Richard Schwartz and Martha Sweezy
  • The Mosaic Mind: Empowering the Tormented Selves of Child Abuse by Regina A. Goulding and Richard Schwartz
  • You Are The One You’ve Been Waiting For: Bringing Courageous Love To Intimate Relationships by Richard Schwartz
  • Many Minds, One Self: Evidence for a Radical Shift in Paradigm by Richard Schwartz and Robert R. Falconer
  • There’s a Part of Me… By John Schwartz and Bill Brennan.
  • Parts Work: An Illustrated Guide to your Inner Life by Tom Holmes, PhD.
  • Resolving Inner Conflict: Working through Polarization using Internal Family Systems Therapy by Jay Earley, PhD.
  • Working with Anger in Internal Family Systems Therapy by Jay Earley, PhD.
  • Altogether You: Experiencing personal and spiritual transformation with Internal Family Systems Therapy by Jenna Riemersma, LPC., and Richard Schwartz
  • Altogether Us: Integrating the IFS Model with Key Modalities, Communities, and Trends by Jenna Riemersma, LPC., and Richard Schwartz
  • Greater Than the Sum of Our Parts: Discovering Your True Self Through Internal Family Systems Therapy by Richard Schwartz
  • Internal Family Systems Couples Therapy - Skills Manual: Healing Intimacy from the Inside Out - by by T. Herbine-Blank and M. Sweezy
  • Intimacy from the Inside Out: Courage and Compassion in Couple Therapy – by T. Herbine-Blank, D. Kerpelman, and M. Sweezy
  • The way of effortless mindfulness: a revolutionary guide for living an awakened life – by L. Kelly
  • Transcending Trauma: Healing Complex PTSD with Internal Family Systems Therapy – by F. G. Anderson
  • Creating Healing Circles: Using the Internal Family Systems Model in Facilitating Groups – by C. Burris
  • Trauma and Dissociation Informed Internal Family Systems: How to Successfully Treat C-PTSD, and Dissociative Disorders – by J. Twombly

  • Meditations:
    • Fire Drill Meditation by Richard Schwartz, PhD

  • Internal Family Systems (IFS): A Guided Meditation from PESI, Inc. by Frank Guastella Anderson, MD 

  • Self Healing Guided Meditation: Internal Family Systems from Inner Peace Meditations

  • The Path Meditation by Richard Schwartz featuring Ted's Garden

  • Dear Gabby: Episode No. 145 - A real IFS Session - and I'm the Client- “There’s tightness and defensiveness in my stomach. My jaw is tight. She wants to get out.” Yep, I went there. I had a live, on-air therapy session with Dr. Richard (Dick) Schwartz, founder of Internal Family Systems therapy. And you get to listen in. This took a lot of vulnerability, even for me, who’s written 9 books pouring my heart out to you. Dick is a friend, but more than that, he’s my hero. No exaggeration. His therapeutic model, Internal Family Systems, transformed my life, and I’m so grateful for him. We had an amazing conversation on my Dear Gabby Big Talk, but there was SO much to cover that we just kept talking, as we often do. Click Here for the Episode Transcript
  • Rich Roll: Episode No.: 761 - Dr. Richard Schwartz and a Systems Approach to Healing the Self - When ‘The Self’ becomes the leading intelligence in our lives, we create more harmony—both within ourselves and in our external lives. So how do we access our intuition? How do we make decisions from a place of inner peace? And how do we become more integrated and healed humans? Answering these questions is the life’s work of today’s guest Dr. Richard Schwartz, a psychotherapist who created a very interesting and effective therapeutic modality called Internal Family Systems (or IFS).
  • Shrink Chicks: Season 4 Episode 22 - Exploring Internal Family Systems with Dr. Richard Schwartz - Today on ShrinkChicks, Emmalee and Jen have the pleasure of sitting down with Dr. Richard Schwartz, fellow psychotherapist and the creator of the therapeutic modality Internal Family Systems (IFS). Dick has written some of Em & Jen's favorite books to recommend to you all like No Bad Parts and You are the One You’ve Been Waiting For, which was just re-released earlier this month! Dr. Schwartz shares the basic concepts of IFS, what it means to have different "parts" of ourselves and where they might have originated, how to start uncovering those parts, and the way IFS has become integrated with psychedelic-assisted therapy. Dick answers a listener's question about applying IFS principles to daily life by doing an enactment with Jen of an exercise. The episode wraps with Dick calling some BS in the field of therapy. Tune in to gain insight, awareness, and action!
  • The One Inside: An Internal Family Systems (IFS) podcast - "This is for anyone looking to find balance and harmony. IFS can help you understand the tug-of-war within your mind and rediscover your natural calm, creativity, and clarity. Hosted by certified IFS therapist, Tammy Sollenberger, this show aims to educate, support, and encourage those who are curious about IFS. Join Tammy each episode for a fun, engaging conversation."
  • IFS Talks - "IFS Talks is an audio series to deepen connections with the Internal Family Systems Model through conversations with lead trainers, authors, practitioners and users. In these audio interviews, we will have the opportunity to draw out aspects of IFS Lead Trainers and skilled presenters to create a user-friendly format for listeners to get to know each trainer or practitioner, their background, in and before IFS. With candid, self-led dialogue, trainers and practitioners can share their specific interests with listeners interested in deepening their inner knowledge and IFS practice. Cece Sykes, Susan McConnell, Mary Kruger, Pam Krause, Lisa Spiegel, Martha Sweezy, Art Mones, Ann Sinko, Paul Neustadt, Frank Anderson, Larry Rosenberg, Toni Herbine-Blank, and many more among the interviewees."

  • Parts & Self - "Parts & Self is an online magazine dedicated to exploring Internal Family Systems (IFS) as a model of the human psyche. We offer various kinds of text, audio and video interactions to delevop our knowledge, understanding and curiosity about this shift in paradigm for how we view human and planetary well-being." 
  • The IFS Institute - "The mission of IFS Institute is to bring more Self leadership to the world. We provide IFS training for professionals, a practitioner directory for those looking for IFS trained providers, and international learning opportunities for those exploring personal growth through IFS. We want to make our programs as inclusive and accessible as they are informative and inspiring."
  • Foundation IFS - "The Foundation for Self Leadership, was incorporated in the State of Illinois in May 2001, and relaunched in August 2013, for the purpose of advancing the IFS model through research and training scholarships."
  • PATH - Healing Addiction and Underlying Trauma - A 12-steps program adapted to Parts work - "PATH is an international community centered on improving the lives of people all over the world struggling with addiction and its underlying trauma. As a voice for recovery, we bring individuals together, creating compassionate communities where people can grow and thrive. We offer free online support groups, free and paid events, and a variety of resources for recovery. We are guided by Internal Family Systems, Mindful Self-Compassion, body-oriented healing, and trauma-informed practices, seeking to embody a sense of safety and care as we heal." 
  • Therapy Comics by Mardou - "These comics inspired by the Internal Family Systems therapy model (or IFS) began as something I drew for myself in my sketchbook as a way to record and help integrate the work I’d done in sessions with my therapist." 
  • Guide for the IFS Client: Chapter 1: The System of Parts by Anna Vincentz - "Through this guide, you will gain a basic understanding of Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy and the IFS view on life. In this and the following articles, you will get an insight into how the therapy takes place and how it can help you, your mental health and your perception of — and connection with yourself." 

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Susan Zola, LCSW, CCPS, CSAT

T: 631-332-2213
E: suezola@me.com
Licensed In: Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, South Carolina Out-of-State Independent Social Worker Telehealth Provider, New Jersey, New York, Texas, and Virginia


Bachelor of Arts, Psychology – SUNY Binghamton, 1980
Master of Social Work – Adelphi University School of Social Work, 1982.
Private Practice – "Mind Over Matters," 2006.
LCSW License #078530-1
APSATS The Association of Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists
Certified Sex Addiction Therapist
The International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals
Certified Clinical Partner Specialist

Couples Therapy IFS

Susan Zola, LCSW, CCPS, CSAT
Licensed In: Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, South Carolina Out-of-State Independent Social Worker Telehealth Provider, New Jersey, New York, Texas, and Virginia

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