What is Internal Family Systems Therapy?


The concept of internal harmony often permeates various domains of spirituality, psychology, and wellness. One therapeutic approach that specifically focuses on achieving this internal balance is Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS). This psychological model is built on the premise that the mind consists of multiple “parts,” each with its unique purpose and function. The aim is to help individuals attain mental clarity by understanding these different parts and fostering a cohesive internal system. Given its holistic approach, IFS can be a transformative tool in health and wellness coaching programs.

This article aims to present an in-depth exploration of Internal Family Systems Therapy, illustrating its foundational theories, its therapeutic processes, and its relevance to health and wellness. Whether you are someone with an interest in psychology, a wellness enthusiast, or a healthcare professional, the following discourse offers valuable insights.

Table of Contents

  1. Origins of Internal Family Systems Therapy
  2. The Core Components of IFS
  3. The Therapeutic Process in IFS
  4. Benefits and Limitations
  5. Relevance to Health and Wellness Coaching
  6. Practical Applications and Techniques
  7. Case Studies
  8. Conclusion
  9. References

Origins of Internal Family Systems Therapy

The IFS model was initially developed by Richard Schwartz in the 1980s as he delved into family therapy practices. Schwartz observed that individuals often had “internal families,” collections of distinct mental and emotional parts resembling the roles in an external family system (Schwartz, 1995). The pioneering work in IFS has undergone considerable validation and evolution, making it a well-respected therapeutic approach in clinical psychology and counseling settings today.

The Core Components of IFS

1. The Self

At the core of IFS is the “Self,” which is not considered a part but the essence of the individual. The Self is characterized by qualities like curiosity, compassion, and calmness. When a person is operating from the Self, they are in a balanced state of mind.

2. Parts

In IFS, the term “parts” refers to the subpersonalities or roles that exist within an individual. These are divided into three main categories:

  1. Managers: These parts aim to maintain control and protect the individual from harm. They manage life situations and avoid triggers.
  2. Firefighters: These parts handle emergencies and crises. They utilize coping mechanisms like addictive behaviors or emotional outbursts to deal with immediate threats.
  3. Exiles: These are the vulnerable parts that often carry burdens such as past traumas or negative beliefs.

3. The System

The interaction between the Self and the parts makes up the internal family system. A well-functioning system involves the Self being in a leadership role, coordinating and harmonizing the parts.

The Therapeutic Process in IFS

The IFS therapeutic process involves several key stages, which can be condensed into the following:

  1. Accessing the Self: This is the preliminary phase where the therapist or coach helps the individual to disidentify from their parts and access their Self.
  2. Identifying the Parts: Once the Self is accessed, the next step is to identify the various parts and understand their roles and functions.
  3. Unburdening: This involves releasing the burdens or traumas that the parts may be carrying.
  4. Integration: The final step is harmonizing the parts with the Self, fostering a balanced internal system.

Benefits and Limitations


  1. Holistic Approach: IFS takes into account the complex interactions between various mental and emotional parts.
  2. Self-Leadership: It fosters self-awareness and self-management.
  3. Trauma-Informed: IFS is effective in dealing with past traumas and emotional burdens.


  1. Complexity: Some individuals may find it difficult to grasp the concept of having multiple “parts.”
  2. Time-Intensive: The therapeutic process can be lengthy.

Relevance to Health and Wellness Coaching

Given its focus on internal harmony and self-leadership, IFS aligns naturally with the aims of health and wellness coaching. It offers a structured framework for addressing not just emotional or psychological issues, but also lifestyle factors that contribute to overall well-being. Therefore, incorporating IFS into a coaching program like “Strengthening Your Conscious Self” can add immense value.

Practical Applications and Techniques

  1. Self-Exploration Exercises: Activities like journaling or mindfulness can help in identifying various parts.
  2. Role-Playing: This can help in understanding the roles and functions of different parts.
  3. Guided Meditation: Useful for accessing the Self and facilitating the unburdening process.

Case Studies

Several case studies demonstrate the efficacy of IFS in treating conditions like PTSD, anxiety disorders, and even physiological ailments like chronic pain (Schwartz & Sweezy, 2019).


Internal Family Systems Therapy is a transformative approach that offers a holistic framework for understanding the complexities of human psychology. Its multi-faceted approach makes it an invaluable asset in the field of health and wellness, particularly in coaching programs that aim for comprehensive well-being.


  1. Schwartz, R. C. (1995). Internal Family Systems Therapy. Guilford Press.
  2. Schwartz, R. C., & Sweezy, M. (2019). Internal Family Systems Therapy – Second Edition. Guilford Press.

In summary, Internal Family Systems Therapy offers a structured yet flexible approach for understanding and harmonizing one’s internal world, making it a valuable asset in health and wellness coaching. Given your interests in mental health counseling, wellness coaching, and spiritual practices, incorporating IFS into your repertoire can significantly amplify the impact of your coaching and therapy sessions.

By understanding and integrating the principles of IFS, we can embark on a transformative journey toward achieving internal harmony and holistic well-being. It serves as a mirror reflecting our multi-faceted selves, helping us make peace with our complexities and guiding us toward a more conscious and harmonious existence.