complete guide to internal family systems therapy IFS therapy georgia

The Complete Guide to IFS Therapy: An Integrated Approach

Internal Family Systems Therapy: An Integrated Addiction Treatment Approach

As you may know, there are a handful of different approaches to treating mental health and substance use disorders. So, how will you know the one that will be best for you and your goals? Centered Recovery is here to help you understand internal family systems (IFS) therapy and how it can help you! Everyone has parts of themselves that create a vision of how they see themselves and what drives their behaviors. IFS Therapy helps people to understand their parts and connect to their Self, but it’s more than just a method of treatment. IFS Therapy helps bring out a way of being and truly enhancing all areas of your life, which is why Centered Recovery is going to break down exactly how IFS Therapy works and and how it can be used in your treatment in our outpatient program

What is Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy?

IFS Therapy started to make its first appearance in psychology in the 1980s. Richard C. Schwartz, the founder of IFS, made connections when working with clients about the different parts of themselves that were often conflicting. You know when you feel like part of you wants to go out for a night on the town, but the other part wants to stay in and watch movies on the couch by yourself? That is just one example! Schwartz began his career in family therapy and integrated his views of systems theory and family theory to create internal family systems therapy to explore the inner conflicts that people often struggle with. 

Remember – this was a groundbreaking approach to psychology during its development. Since its conception, IFS has had a massive impact on the treatment of mental health conditions including trauma, PTSD, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and substance use. The mind and its parts are seen as puzzle pieces that sometimes don’t fit together right away, but all the puzzle pieces eventually create a full picture. These are the parts of the mind but don’t worry, we will get into all that in a second! Each puzzle piece of your mind, also known in IFS as a part, has its å little world of feelings. When these parts collide, they can cause internal battles and misalignment. Often, this can make a person feel stuck! IFS is used to help understand each part a person has, hoping to create a balance and awareness of these parts to become their truest selves.

the parts and the self ifs therapy

Internal Family Systems Therapy: The Parts and The Self

Let’s break down what these parts are, as well as the concept of the Self to make the IFS process more clear. First, IFS Therapy holds the belief that every person has multiple parts, which are made up of three categories: the exiles, the managers, and the firefighters. Seems weird, right? I know, but it’ll make sense in a second.

The Parts

Exiles are the parts of ourselves that are hurt or wounded. These may be burdens that we carry from when we were young, or traumas that we may have experienced throughout our lives. Generally, the exile part is well-hidden and mostly avoided because it’s painful to access this part. We suppress our exile parts to protect ourselves from negative feelings and memories.

Managers are exactly what they sound like. These are the parts of ourselves that manage our exile parts. Often, the manager parts of ourselves are the more observable parts because they are brought to the surface as a manner of control. Sometimes, this can be seen through perfectionism, control, coping strategies, and daily management of life for the person. 

Lastly, the firefighter parts are the impulsive protectors. Firefighters extinguish fires, right? Well, so do these parts! They extinguish the fires within ourselves when those exiled parts make an unexpected experience. This is when unhealthy, extreme behaviors can be witnessed such as substance use, anger outbursts, self-harm, suicidal tendencies, and more. 

The Self

These three parts can manifest in different ways from person to person. However, the overarching theme of IFS Therapy is that at the core, each person has their concept of Self, which is separate from all the parts. Think of the parts as the little toddlers that are completely distracted from their parental figure, but the parent is the leader who tames all the toddlers when things are getting unmanageable. The Self is the parent in this scenario, right? The Self leads the true version of the individual and can heal and care for each part.

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What Can IFS Therapy Help With?

IFS Therapy helps to bring awareness to these three parts and understand how these parts appear in the individual’s life and the roles the parts play. From there, individuals can release the burdens and pain that the exile parts hold on to and create more harmony in the present. Then, our Self that cannot be damaged and holds our kind, caring, and calm being can be brought out, creating a sense of peace within. As we mentioned earlier, IFS Therapy can help in the treatment of a wide range of mental health concerns, such as trauma, PTSD, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and substance use. 

Trauma and PTSD

When treating trauma and PTSD, internal family systems therapy can help clients understand their trauma through their exile parts and how their manager and firefighter parts are currently trying to protect the person. There are healthy and unhealthy ways that manager and firefighter parts are used. The safe environment of private therapy helps to recollect difficult memories and experiences with support and encouragement. IFS Therapy can help heal the wounded exiled parts and bring the client to their Self by releasing those traumas. 

Anxiety and Depression

Anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental health disorders. Many symptoms of anxiety and depression such as worry, fear, and sadness can lead to irrational thoughts and an inability to cope properly. These patterns of mental health symptoms can feel endless, or like being stuck in a loop. The use of IFS Therapy by helping see the parts that contribute to symptoms or keep the cycle continuing is the first step in breaking the loop. The client is free to address the conflicts that are increasing their anxiety and depression and find a resolution to reduce these feelings.

Eating Disorders and Substance Addictions

IFS Therapy can help treat behavioral addictions like eating disorders and substance addictions such as alcohol or illicit drugs. Often, addictions are merely coping mechanisms for emotional pain. The impulsive feeling of engaging in addictive behaviors is the firefighter part ringing the alarm! This part is saying protect the exile part, like right now! By identifying what the exile part is causing the firefighter part to extinguish, then the healing of the Self can occur. By finding more healthy coping skills and addressing these parts, addictive behaviors have been shown to improve!

Ultimately, whether you are struggling with mental health or addiction of any kind, IFS Therapy is a non-judgmental way to find a better self-understanding. Finding balance and harmony within yourself is one of the best ways to improve your well-being and state of mind, which directly aligns with our treatment philosophy at Centered Recovery.

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Benefits of Internal Family Systems Therapy

One of the greatest aspects of IFS Therapy is that it is an evidence-based treatment approach, meaning that its techniques and effectiveness have been studied heavily. On top of that, IFS Therapy is the ultimate self-empowerment approach. Individuals who undergo the IFS approach in treatment have a greater sense of self, have more understanding of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and have a sense of deeper emotional well-being. People become nicer to themselves as their exile parts begin to heal through self-compassion and self-respect. Positivity is central to this method by reducing judgment of the parts that have been mismanaged for a long time. The development of the Self throughout IFS Therapy only helps to increase these positive effects and the benefits become long-lasting.

How IFS Therapy and Addiction Treatment Relate

For example, if you or someone you love dearly struggles with alcohol use, it is common to see the parts of the mind that are battling. Some days, part of you may want to drink non-stop, but the other part of you says that you can’t keep going down this path, right? Your firefighter part is battling against your managing part to make sure that the exile part doesn’t show up. But, then your managing part is saying that you should control your drinking. How exhausting!

Most traditional approaches to addiction recovery focus on the 12-step Model of Alcoholics Anonymous. However, IFS Therapy takes a newer, holistic spin on addiction recovery. Rather than looking at addiction as a label or character flaw, IFS Therapy views addiction as a response to unresolved pain. It’s truly surprising how often traumatic past experiences lead to addiction!

Understanding Addiction Through IFS Therapy

This approach helps people find awareness in their pain to gain confidence to become their own source of healing. By understanding how the parts of your mind do not align with your goals, you gain control of your parts and learn how to release their power. The transformation from a survival state to a deep sense of self-understanding is a profound way to approach addiction recovery, and it all comes from you!

Each of your parts plays a distinct role in making sure your addiction stays active. Think of your parents as an assembly line. Each station leads to the next and it keeps everything moving in fashion with the cycle that is in place. But, what if one person in that assembly said – you know what, I’m doing something different today! Then the whole line is going frantic and doesn’t know how to respond. Sounds kind of like what happens when you first stop drinking or using substances, right? We want that assembly line intact because it’s easier than reworking the whole system. However, that system is outdated and no longer serving you! That’s your addiction. IFS Therapy helps to create a new system that serves your life, as well as your sense of peace.

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IFS Therapy at Centered Recovery Programs

Now, it’s time to see if Centered Recovery is perfect for you! Centered Recovery is a mindfulness-based, non-12-step mental health and drug abuse treatment program. Our program combines mental health therapies such as internal family systems through one-on-one counseling and a completely innovative psychoeducational program. Over time, our clients realize their innate health to overcome even the most challenging addictions and create healthy, balanced lives! Our program utilizes a fresh approach free of traditional methods, which aligns right along the path of IFS Therapy.

Contact Centered Recovery Today

At Centered Recovery Programs in the heart of Roswell, Georgia, our staff is dedicated to helping all our clients – regardless of the mental health condition or substance addiction that may have brought them to our facility.

Our strong psycho-educational program helps people understand how these unhealthy cycles (and parts!) work and allows them to free themselves from them. We educate our clients with a research-based, scientifically grounded curriculum. This curriculum is designed to illuminate the mental and emotional processes that work behind the scenes.

Our mindfulness program is life-changing and can enrich every aspect of your life. The gift of long-term well-being is only a small piece of what you get with mindful living. If you are seeking outpatient treatment with IFS approaches, call our admissions team today at 800-5560-2966! 

Written by Jennifer Lopes, BS Psy