What is Interal Family Systems approach and how it fits into my coaching technique

When it comes to exploring your personality in our coaching sessions and its therapy component, I use the Internal Family Systems Model (IFS). IFS was developed by Richard C. Schwartz in the 1980s. Its basic assumption is that our personality consists of many parts (or sub-personalities), each with its own unique viewpoint and qualities.

This approach is based on Family Systems theory—the idea that a person cannot be fully understood without the context of their family relationships. In the IFS approach, we learn how different parts of our personality interact with each other as a system, how the system reacts to other systems and other people. When we become aware of our internal conflicts and contradictions between various parts of our personality, we are able to heal, avoid conflicts and are less likely to be “triggered” by other people and situations.

There are five basic assumptions in the IFS model:
•    Our mind, or personality, has an unknown number of separate parts, or subpersonalities.
•    Each person has a Self (which cannot be destroyed or shattered by anything), and the Self should be the main agent in coordinating the inner family.
•    Each part intends to do something positive for the individual; however, previous traumas and past experiences can lead a part to behave in an extreme way. There are no "bad" parts, and our goal not to eliminate parts but instead to help them find their non-extreme roles.
•    As we develop, our parts develop and form a complex system of interactions among themselves; therefore, systems theory can be applied to the internal system. When the system is reorganized, parts can change rapidly.
•    Changes in the internal system will affect changes in the external system of relationships, and vice versa. Therefore, we need to take into account both the internal and external levels of system.

There are three distinct types of parts in the IFS model:
1.    Managers are the parts that run our daily lives. They try to keep the person in control of every situation and relationship in an effort to protect parts from feeling hurt or rejected. They can do this in any number of ways or through a combination of parts -- striving, controlling, evaluating, caretaking, terrorizing, and so on.


2.    Exiles are most often in a state of pain or trauma, which may result from childhood experiences. They often become isolated from the rest of the system by other parts, who are trying to protect the person from feeling the pain, fear and shame of these parts. They can become increasingly extreme and desperate to be cared for and tell their story. These parts can leave us feeling fragile and vulnerable

3.    Firefighters serve as a distraction to the mind when exiles break free from their “prison”. In order to protect the consciousness from feeling the pain of the exiles, firefighters prompt us to act on impulse and engage in behaviors that are indulgent, addictive, and often times abusive. Firefighters try to redirect attention to other areas such as sex, work, food, alcohol, or drugs.
Managers and Firefighters play the role of Protectors, while Exiles are parts that are protected.

The Self.
In IFS model, the Self is the seat of consciousness and it represents what each person is at their core. When your Self is in your seat of consciousness, you experience such feelings and emotions as calmness, compassion, curiosity, courage, creativity, connection, confidence and clarity. People often describe feeling “centred” or “connected” when their Self is in the seat of consciousness, differentiated from other parts. Unlike visible parts, the Self is never seen. It is the witnessing “I” in your inner world—this is what does the observing.


Our goal is to unblend the Self from the other parts making your inner world. The ultimate goal of IFS is to unburden or restore extreme and wounded parts and establish a trusted, healthy, harmonious internal system that is coordinated by the Self. 

Once in a state of Self, the person will know what to say to each part in order to promote internal system harmony. IFS therapists therefore try to help people achieve and maintain a state of Self so they can become counsellors to own internal families. This increased internal harmony often results in positive thoughts and behaviors and a far more harmonious life - which is the goal of the IFS therapy!