Elizabeth Nunley


Internal Family Systems bridges the gap between what one knows in their head and feels in their heart.

This being human is a guest house. Every morning is a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor…welcome and entertain them all. Treat each guest honorably. The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in. Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
— Rumi

Internal Family Systems is a model of therapy founded by Dr. Richard Schwartz.  IFS is not only a model of therapy, but a tool that clients can use on their own to continue the healing process outside of sessions. With IFS, therapists eventually “work themselves out of a job”, as clients learn how to relate to themselves and those around them from a place of self-leadership.

More than Traditional Talk Therapy

IFS is a deeply transformative type of therapy that truly addresses the root of the issue.  It is compassionate, spiritual, powerfully healing and respectful of one’s inner life.  IFS is both patient and direct, giving space for clients to ultimately lead the therapeutic process.  IFS therapists believe that clients already possess all they need to move towards the healing process. 

IFS is also called “parts work”, meaning that our thought life and emotions are organized sub-personalities, or parts, that function in specific patterns for specific reasons.

Different aspects of our personalities often get into conflict with each other and act in dysfunctional ways. For example, if you make a mistake, you may say to yourself, “I can’t believe I keep screwing up like this.” Then you may say to yourself, “Give yourself a break, no one is perfect.” While both of these statements may have validity, they are opposite thoughts and therefore result in inner tension.

Our Personality Makes a Great Ally but a Poor Governor

Psychology has taught us that we all develop defense mechanisms to protect us from emotional pain. For example, if someone close to you criticizes you, a typical knee jerk reaction is to get defensive. The first thing we usually do is evaluate our thoughts, feelings and/or behavior, “Is it good or bad?” If we decide it is good, we encourage embracing it and acting from it. If we decide it is bad, we try to get rid of it. However, that doesn’t work; we can’t get rid of a part of ourselves. Most of us have been taught to push it (hurt feelings) down by being told to “Get over it.” However, the human condition doesn’t allow us to “get over it,” so often the hurt feelings will continue to pop up and usually at inconvenient moments.

In therapy, we don’t judge the “problem” parts; rather, we seek to understand them and appreciate their efforts to help, without losing sight of the ways they cause problems. Similar to how Jesus approached sinners; loving them as people and naming the choices or behaviors that were harmful to them and to their relationship with God.

IFS is a model of psychotherapy that can be used as a tool to bridge the gap between what one knows in their head and what ones feels in their heart.

 To read more about IFS, visit selfleadership.org.