Somatic Internal Family Systems

What is IFS?

     Somatic Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a therapeutic approach that evolved from parts work. It expands on the idea that our psyche comprises multiple parts or subpersonalities. Each part has its own unique beliefs, emotions, and behaviors. These ‘multiple personalities’ enable us to have different perspectives and feelings about any given situation. For example, if we struggle with alcoholism, we can judge ourselves as weak, have compassion for our attempts to cope with pain, feel hopeless that anything will ever change, and fear that our employer will find out. In IFS, we welcome and validate all of these perspectives.

     IFS views parts as innate and valuable, rather than as symptoms or problems to eliminate. In fact, one of the core tenants of IFS is that there are no bad parts, that all of our parts are trying to help us in some way. In IFS, we welcome all parts, and healing occurs when we repair the relationship we have with ourselves and reintegrate our parts back into the system.

Principles of IFS

  1. Self-Leadership: Internal Family Systems emphasizes our internal authentic “Self” that can lead and integrate the various parts of the psyche. This Self is seen as a core aspect of our being that is calm, curious, compassionate, and wise.
  2. Depathologizing: The IFS approach avoids pathologizing individuals, refraining from labeling them as “sick” or “disordered.” Instead, IFS recognizes problems and symptoms as a result of protective or adaptive parts attempting to cope with challenging experiences or emotions.
  3. Collaborative: In the collaborative approach of IFS, the therapist and the client work in partnership, acknowledging the valuable information and insight held by the client’s parts. The therapist actively assists the client in establishing a relationship of trust and respect with their parts.
  4. Trauma-Informed: As a trauma-informed approach, somatic IFS recognizes how trauma can impact the psyche. It also emphasizes the importance of creating safety and trust before engaging with traumatic material. IFS sees trauma as potentially leading to the development of protective parts. These parts can be explored and integrated in the therapeutic process.


Somatic IFS

Somatic Internal Family Systems Eugene Oregon IFS Therapist
Somatic Internal Family Systems Eugene Oregon IFS Therapist

     IFS encompasses cognitive and emotional elements, in addition to somatic therapy. It also incorporates cognitive and emotional elements, and has been designed to address a range of mental health concerns, including trauma, anxiety, depression, and more. Somatic therapies specifically emphasize the body’s role in healing. Somatic IFS takes a more integrated approach, recognizing the body as one aspect of the therapeutic process. Emotions, thoughts, and sensations are interconnected, and clients often notice their emotions and experiences in their bodies.

     As such, somatic Internal Family Systems therapists encourage clients to pay attention to bodily sensations as they work with their parts. Clients can utilize this tool to access and explore internal experiences. At Well Aware, we encourage clients to identify where in the body a specific part is showing up. We then focus on the sensations indicating the where the part is active.

Therapist Approach

     The therapist’s focus is to understand the different aspects of the client’s personality being expressed. In this process, the client’s relationship with themselves takes priority, while the relationship with the therapist becomes secondary. This differs significantly from traditional talk therapy, where the therapeutic relationship is considered the most important factor in healing. As relational beings, we have a need to connect. Somatic Internal Family Systems helps redirect the source of connection from the external to the internal. This enables the client to provide their younger parts with the care they needed but didn’t receive earlier in life. When we approach our healing through the lens of ‘parts,’ integration of our personality becomes more practical and efficient.

Benefits of Somatic Internal Family Systems

  1. Increased self-awareness: Parts work helps us become more aware of their internal experiences and the different parts of our personality.
  2. Greater understanding of emotions: Through IFS, we can gain insight into our emotional experiences and learn how to process difficult emotions.
  3. Improved relationships: By understanding their own parts, individuals can also develop greater empathy and understanding for others, leading to improved relationships.
  4. Decreased anxiety and depression: Parts work can help individuals identify and address the root causes of anxiety and depression, leading to reduced symptoms over time.
  5. Increased self-compassion: Parts work emphasizes self-compassion and self-care, helping individuals develop a more positive relationship with themselves.
  6. Improved decision-making: By understanding the different parts of themselves, individuals can make more informed and intentional decisions.
  7. Greater sense of empowerment: Parts work can help individuals feel more in control of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, leading to a greater sense of empowerment.
  8. More effective communication: Understanding one’s own parts can also improve communication skills. This allows us to express ourselves more clearly and effectively.
  9. Improved coping skills: Parts work can teach us healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with stress and difficult emotions.
  10. Increased resilience: By learning how to navigate the different parts, we can adapt more effectively in the face of challenges.
Criticisms of IFS

We think it’s important to respect the limitations of any approach to therapy. While IFS has gained popularity among therapists and clients, there are some criticisms of the approach. Here are a few:

1. Unnecessarily Confusing Language

The terms “manager” and “firefighter” are often unnecessary and require the therapist to explain what they mean. In addition, the term “exile” implies that the client has done something wrong by banishing a part of themselves. Our response: We substitute the term protector for manager (proactive) and firefighter (reactive) parts, and wounded part for exile. This language is less confusing and, in the case of the wounded part, depathologizing.

2. Complexity

IFS can be a complex approach to understand and apply. The idea of multiple internal parts with different beliefs, emotions, and behaviors can be challenging to grasp. This is especially true for those who are new to therapy.

Our response: It is more challenging for those who are new to therapy which is why the therapist must meet the client where they are. This will encourage learning and growth. IFS is a tool that often applies to a variety of situations that can be very helpful for clients.

3. Overemphasis on Parts

Some critics argue that IFS overemphasizes the importance of parts, to the detriment of other aspects of the psyche. The focus on parts can lead to a fragmented understanding of the self. It may also ignore important aspects of an individual’s experiences.

Our response: We have found that when we get away from a focus on parts, that parts tend to still show up in the room. While it can be helpful to be flexible, conceptualizing “problems” in terms of parts or aspects of the personaility is generally helpful.

4. Therapist Skill Level

Internal Family Systems requires a high level of skill and training on the part of the therapist to effectively work with parts. Some critics argue that not all therapists are equipped to use IFS in their practice. A lack of proper training or experience could lead to ineffective or harmful treatment.

Our response: IFS does require a high skill level to facilitate. We believe that the therapist should be continually doing this work on themselves so that they can effectively guide their clients. Just because something is difficult does not mean it shouldn’t be used.

5. Limited Relevance

While IFS can be effective for many mental health concerns, it may not be appropriate for all clients. For example, IFS may not be the best approach for individuals with severe or chronic mental health conditions. Some clients may also have difficulty accessing their internal experience, which could be confusing.

Our response: IFS is not going to be effective in every situation. It is the therapist’s job to determine whether or not IFS will be helpful for a particular client.

6. Not Synonymous With Parts Work

Parts work existed for many decades before IFS was created. However, IFS has become synonymous with parts work. This is not accurate and diminishes the rich history of working with parts.

Our response: IFS has improved some aspects of parts works considerably. It is important to distinguish IFS from parts work and other parts-oriented modalities.

IFS Eugene Oregon