Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy is a non-pathologizing experiential, and compassionate approach that facilitates healing by tapping into the natural multiplicity of the human mind. Developed by Dick Schwartz in the 80’s, IFS started as a grassroots therapy model and is quickly becoming a sought after treatment.
We sat down with Colleen West, LCSW and author of the IFS Flip Chart, to get the scoop on her most frequently asked questions for IFS therapy, her journey into this modality, and how her new IFS Flip Chart can guide clinicians and clients through this body-based therapy.
You’ve been practicing Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy for a long time. What initially brought you to this modality?
I was trained to treat trauma with EMDR, and despite taking a zillion trainings in how to apply it to complex trauma, there were clients I could not help. One of my consultees suggested I read Internal Family Systems Therapy, the basic primer in IFS, and what can I say—I was immediately hooked. Why? Because finally, there was no reason to fight with, push against, or try to dodge a client’s protective system. Instead, I could embrace it. This is a game-changer.
What feature or piece of IFS therapy is usually the most difficult for clients to understand?
It’s hard to answer that! IFS is pretty simple overall, and most clients find it very accessible. The harder part for clients is bringing what they learn into their bodies and learning to trust subtle communications from their parts that show up as feelings, images, and body sensations. This gets easier with practice.
What do therapists new to IFS find the most difficult to understand or apply in practice?
The most difficult thing for most therapists to learn is how to recognize and work with their “therapist parts,” that is, the very well-meaning, often caretaking parts, who are used to taking care of their clients in therapy. Of course, we all have them! But if they can begin to see that these “therapist parts” are protectors trying to keep them safe as they sit in the therapist chair, and learn to help them step back, IFS therapy can begin to work extremely well. Why? Because their protectors are no longer activating the client’s protectors, and we can facilitate those Self-to-part connections that are so healing.
Why do you think your new IFS Flip Chart will make psychoeducation easier?
Flip charts are useful in several different ways: They can help shore up the clinician when they are just learning the model; they can reassure clients who may be suspicious of a new (some call crazy) type of therapy that it is legitimate and that it has worked for many other people; and the flip chart can provide lots of useful explanations, ready to hand, when a client is confused about an IFS concept. Further, the IFS Flip Chart will be useful to those who are teaching the model to other colleagues because it includes all the basics of the model in an easy-to-access form.
What is your favorite feature of the new flip chart?
It’s not one feature, but I like the second section of the flip chart, where I included pages on special issues: preverbal parts, addicted parts, parts with disordered eating, and IFS and medication. I think it will be validating for clients who have these issues to see them in print.