Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS)

Understanding and treating the roots of unwellness

Years of practicing ‘root cause’ medicine have taught us that chronic and/or traumatic stress is frequently (if not always) at the root of the unwellness. As a result, our evolution as healers has focused on understanding the ways traumatic stress ‘live’ in the nervous system and limbic memory.  The Internal Family Systems therapy model offers an effective map for this understanding.

The holistic approach shows us that body and mind cannot be separated. Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a therapy modality operating in the overlap and interconnectedness of the two. IFS recognizes that the mind is naturally multiple, and that is a good thing. Our inner parts contain valuable qualities, and our core Self knows how to heal, allowing us to become integrated and whole. Yet most of us have parts who carry painful memories and negative self-beliefs that were natural reactions to early adverse experiences. When triggered by events in current life that activate fears or painful memories, the stress signal is sent to the nervous system. This in turn puts (or keeps) the body in the fight-or-flight or shutdown we know as dysregulation. Dysregulation becomes habitual, and reflects in the variety of ways unwellness and pain become chronic.

In IFS all parts are welcome. While burdened parts can be responsible for thought patterns (harsh Inner Critic for example) or behaviors (such as addictions) that are problematic and harmful, we know that all parts have a good intention for the system. Working with Dr. Sharp or one of our IFS-trained coaches is a process of connecting in compassion, respect, and trust to find parts, get to know their roles in the system, and release them from the burdens they have carried.  Once unburdened, problematic thought patterns and behaviors can transform. When we learn to tend to our parts, and heal the trauma patterns that wounded parts activate, the nervous system can release its protective grip in the dysregulated hyper-vigilant or collapse-shutdown pattern.

We cannot do this work alone. Our human nervous system is wired for regulating connection to other nervous systems, and our inner parts, too, require trusted connection to open and share and do the work of healing. When the felt-sense of safety can register with parts, and in the nervous system, calm can ensue. This allows the overall physiology to settle into its natural healing capacity for body and mind and from this, authentic well-being can blossom.

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Here is a brief introduction to IFS by Dr. Richard Schwartz, who developed the model: