What Is Internal Family Systems (Or Parts Work)?

Internal Family Systems (IFS), also known as “Parts Work,” is a method for getting to know, love, heal, and integrate every part of yourself. It is an evidence-based method that is respected in the clinical world and well-sought-after in wellness communities because of its non-pathologizing and holistic outlook on personal change. It sees the symptoms and problems that are bothering you on the surface as merely “parts” of you that are protecting you from suffering. 

IFS is not just a method for healing, it can also be thought of as a “paradigm for living.” It helps you live in a state of more presence, react more skillfully even in moments of stress, love yourself, and love others. It helps you experience healing, self-love, and inner harmony. 

As someone who has worked in the wellness industry for 10 years, I can confidently say that it is the most effective, deep, rewarding, and down-to-earth approach I have found! Some of my own most profound insights and life experiences have happened while I was experiencing IFS as a client, and I have witnessed rapid, deep transformation in my own clients using this model. 

Theory of Parts Work

We all have different “parts” of ourselves. Being multi-faceted is a healthy part of being human. However, things start to go awry when “parts” of ourselves get wounded (like feeling defective, not good enough, or rejected) or take on extreme roles to protect from such wounds, like over-achieving to avoid failure, or isolating to protect from rejection. Internal Family Systems gets its name from seeing this internal system of “parts” like a family, kind of like the characters on the Pixar movie Inside Out!

According to IFS, the solution to these problems is tapping into your Core Self, the center of you which is naturally curious, compassionate, and wise (this may also be referred to as mindfulness or presence) to help these parts of you relax and heal. IFS is an inherently non-pathologizing approach. It sees even the most “extreme” behaviors, such as suicidal ideation, addiction, or other issues, as merely your unconscious best attempt to cope with or avoid pain.

Along their IFS journey, many clients find that their “extreme” parts relax into more balanced ones (for example, over-achieving becomes healthy work ethic, the inner critic becomes an inner coach), and they feel more comfortable in their own skin.

What It’s Helpful For

IFS is as effective in working with trauma and deeply-seated issues in therapy as it is with lifestyle change in coaching. I use it with coaching clients to help them reduce stress, create healthier habits, increase self-awareness, and live more harmonious and conscious lifestyles. I also use it with my therapy clients to do all of the above plus assist with symptoms of depression, anxiety, trauma, chronic pain, or other mental health complaints. 

Through IFS, you learn how to become your own healer and the hero of your own life by beginning to love and understand every part of your psyche with gentle guidance. It is especially helpful if you feel torn, disconnected, at war with yourself, or are experiencing uncomfortable thoughts, emotions, or behaviors that you don’t understand or struggle to stop.

It often includes working with the inner critic, inner child, and many other parts that make you unique. It is an experiential, imaginative, trauma-informed, and body-based approach grounded in mindfulness. It can be deeply transformative, emotionally touching, and sometimes even fun!

Qualifications

Emma Donovan, MA, PLPC, LPC, has completed all 3 levels of official IFS training in Barcelona, Spain. She has also completed an IFS-Inspired Coaching course. She is deeply passionate about the model. She practices what she preaches and uses it regularly on herself, and enjoys sharing it with others. 

How to Experience Parts Work (Internal Family Systems)

Therapy

I work with people who are want to reduce their suffering, resolve mental health issues, address trauma, cultivate emotional resilience, or generally grow. Therapy clients are generally wanting to move from a place of “not so good” to “good.” Therapy clients can also do the personal growth work offered in coaching as well. My therapy clients all live in MO or IL, as these are the states I have active licenses in.

Coaching

I offer personal and spiritual growth coaching for people who want to use IFS to grow personally, increase self-awareness, empower themselves to become their own coach and mentor, develop a more positive relationship with their emotions, and live balanced lives. Sessions are conducted online. Coaching clients are generally seeking to go from a place of “okay” or “good” to “great!”

Online Course

I offer a 6-week online inner harmony course to help you become your own best friend, personal coach, mentor, and healer. This course equips you with the skills you need to start using IFS as a method of personal growth on yourself. This course is offered as a “coaching” group to the general public and to a private group of my own therapy clients. 

Meditations

I have several IFS meditations available for free on Youtube and Insight Timer right now. If you’re curious to get started experiencing the method, I highly recommend giving these meditations a try. “Listening to Your Inner World” and “Fostering Loving-Kindness for Parts of Yourself” are good starting places. No prior experience is necessary. 

Copyright Emma Donovan, 2019, 2020. All Rights Reserved.