What is IFS and why might you care?

Healing yourself, loving the world

IFS (Internal Family Systems) has taken the coaching and healing world by storm. Coaches, EFTers, therapists, massage therapists, ministers, and many more are training in IFS and bringing it to their modalities. IFS is considered by some to be as revolutionary to the understanding of mental health as Freud’s work around the Unconscious. What makes it so different? A few things. Some of these ideas you’ll recognize, some you’ll find new.

I first heard about IFS probably 5 years ago. It was described to me as family constellations but for your inside family. I made up the idea that it meant cultivating an internal mother and an internal father, and I wasn’t interested.

Fast forward a few years and I was in a Non Violent Communication/IFS group led by Kathy Brown. She did a piece of work with me that took about 20 minutes. The distress I was feeling shifted dramatically, without any tapping. This caught my attention because it was something I had worked on before with EFT but hadn’t made any headway.

Fast forward to today. I’m in a 16-week IFS intensive and am using IFS with almost all of my clients.

My clients tend to be fairly intelligent, quite successful, and intuitive and have experienced challenging childhoods. Because of this combination of traits, they have high functioning parts that fiercely protect their hidden vulnerable parts. And that’s a key tenet of IFS. Some other key principles are:

  1. Every one of us is multi-faceted, a system of parts that relate to each other and interact with each other. These parts don’t get “integrated” into one whole. They stay active in our system and can be distressed or at peace.
  2. We each have access to our own Self Energy, a grounded, compassionate and loving energy that has no agenda except for healing, connection, and harmony. No matter our upbringing, we have access to Self energy.
  3. Parts can be distressed from our childhood when we needed adults who weren’t available to us.
  4. By bringing together these parts and our Self Energy, we can invite healing into our system. This can happen quickly – for example, one session for one part.

Those of you from the world of tapping/EFT will recognize some parallels to EFT.

Where IFS is different than EFT, but not contradictory:

  • Parts are in relationship to other parts. You can’t make progress with a vulnerable part if the protective part isn’t on board as well. Self-sabotage, a term I do not use, doesn’t exist. It’s just one part in tension with another part. Resistance, a term I don’t use, doesn’t exist. It’s one part with a concern that hasn’t been heard.
  • Parts need to be witnessed, not fixed.
  • Our internal systems are more complicated than we realize.

I’ll be sharing more with time. For now, if you are interested in doing some exploring yourself, below are some resources from my current teacher, Derek Scott.

IFS Resources

Derek Scott YouTube Channel
He’s got some great videos that are very informative. Here is a complete IFS session including the release of burdens (distress) from a part. This is a nice example of a complete IFS session. https://youtu.be/tqIhczaF9W8

Interesting articles from Derek

IFS facilitator
Kathy Brown


Photo by Milan Ivanovic on Unsplash

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Deborah Donndelinger

Deborah Donndelinger

I'm writing from Maryland, but my heart goes out all over the world. I'm cheering you on as you tackle the hard stuff, embrace the easy, and show up to help others.