Tuesday Therapy Notes: Internal Family Systems Therapy

For the final Tuesday Therapy Notes of 2020, I wanted to take a look at a type of therapy I only recently learned about known as internal family systems therapy.

Internal family systems therapy works with individuals to identify sub-personalities or “families” within an individual. It was developed in the 1990’s by a therapist named Richard Schwartz. Schwartz’s concept was that there was an undamaged core. This core is the essence of our identity. Surrounding that core are three family sub-personality types. There are damaged selves, known as exiles, that we may try to repress. Managers are the ones who protect the self from the exiles and do the repressing. Lastly, there are firefighters who distract the self from the exiles when they inevitably break out.

Firefighters may distract the self in less than healthy ways, such as addictions, promiscuous sexual behavior, over eating, over drinking, or other harmful actions. Similarly, managers may not be the healthiest actors either.

Ultimately, the goal of internal family systems therapy is to free the sub-personalities from their extreme role, allow more access to the self, and help the self work in greater combination with the other parts of one’s personality. This work is done by a licensed therapist trained in this method of therapy. They may also incorporate other tools, such as journaling, charting the connections to the self, relaxation exercises, and positive visualization.

The choice of which type of therapy is the right one is a decision that will be made between you and your therapist. Tuesday Therapy Notes is a weekly series meant to introduce readers to different types of therapy, as well as some common issues with therapy, so as to hopefully help you be more educated if you choose to seek a therapist. It is not meant to be a substitute for licensed therapy. If you have thoughts on something you’d like to see in a future installment of this series, don’t hesitate to ask. And as always, thanks for reading.

Source: Psychology Today – Internal Family Systems Therapy

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