We humans have a natural propensity to think of ourselves as comprised of different parts. When you say something like, “a part of me wants to go to the farmer’s market, but another part just wants to sleep-in on this Sunday morning”, then you are aware of having two parts, having two different agendas. Finally, the part that is able to convince you better, results in you having fresh veggies on Sunday morning or not.
You can think of these parts as various neural networks in your brain. There is a version of you that shows up at work and that is different from the home version of you. The brain likes working with templates and loading these templates, like software programs on an operating system, depending on the function. Imagine if you had to learn how to be at work, all over from scratch, every single day that you go into the office. That would be tedious.
What is Internal Family Systems Therapy?
In my practice, I use parts work all the time and it can be very useful. An evidence-based model of conceptualizing parts work in therapy is called the Internal Family Systems model, by Richard Schwartz. The concepts from this model form the core of my conceptualization of “parts work”. To learn more about Internal Family Systems from Richard Schwartz’s website, click here.
As we go through life as children and deal with the new situations and the curve balls that life throws at us, our psyche creates these parts to help us adapt more easily to these situations. When there is good mental health, these parts work with each other seamlessly, as a functional family, under the guidance of the core self (the oldest and wisest part of you).
But when we experience traumas, big or small, the parts can become more rigid in their ways and the cooperation between various parts becomes limited. Think of it as a dysfunctional family and this dysfunction can vary based on the severity of the effects of the trauma.
In the most severe cases, these parts can have personalities of their own and are separated by amnesic barriers. This means that when a part comes online, the other parts are unaware of this part. This is what we would call multiple personality disorder or Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). But please note that engaging in parts work with a therapist, who practices it in a responsible manner, does not result in you having split personalities and multiple personality disorder.
In my work, I use the Internal Family Systems (IFS) model to help identify the parts that are using old and outdated ways of thinking and operating, which might have worked when you were 12 years old, but are hampering you at age 35. We can then reprogram these parts and give them new ways of thinking and operating. Think of it as a software that hasn’t had an upgrade since 1998 and our job is to give it the latest update.
If you have more questions around IFS and want to give it a try, then contact me for a free 30-min phone consultation.