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Internal Family Systems Therapy: Parts Work Helps You Heal

Laryssa Creswell, Internal Family Systems

As you navigate the journey of life, it’s normal to face moments where you feel overwhelmed, stuck, or lost. These feelings may stem from personal challenges, traumas, relationship problems, or mental health issues. The thought patterns and behaviors you’ve used to cope may no longer be serving you well, and you may be ready for change. You might feel like different parts of you are at odds, creating internal conflict that’s hard to reconcile. But what if you could understand these parts, giving each of them a voice and helping them to work together in harmony?

Internal Family Systems (IFS) is an approach to therapy that views your mind not as a single, monolithic entity, but as a family of parts. This is the essence of IFS therapy. Internal Family Systems Therapy in Maryland is a powerful set of tools that can help you explore your complex inner world. IFS Therapy helps you to heal and grow by building a compassionate relationship with all aspects of your Self. It helps you learn to lead life from a place of calm, curiosity, and compassion–bringing clarity, peace, and resilience into your life.

At Fearlessly Inspired Therapeutic Solutions in Maryland and DC, we use IFS Therapy because it works and we have seen the difference it has made in the lives of our clients.

So, let’s delve deeper into how IFS therapy can help you in your journey toward self-discovery and recovery.


What is Internal Family Systems Therapy in Maryland?

Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, also referred to as “parts work,” is an innovative technique that conceptualizes a person’s mind as being made up of various “parts” or sub-personalities. Each “part” has its own perspective, needs, and roles. These parts interact much like individuals in a family system.

The ultimate goal of IFS therapy is to harmonize these parts under the leadership of the Self, which is seen as an individual’s compassionate, confident, and calm core. By facilitating a more harmonious relationship between the Self and each part, IFS therapy can enable you to better understand your internal dynamics, fostering self-awareness and recovery, and promoting healthier relationships.


Brief History of IFS Therapy

Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy was developed in the 1980s by Richard C. Schwartz, Ph.D., a family therapist. Initially, Schwartz was working with families using a Systems Thinking approach when he started noticing patterns of behavior that were akin to internal “parts” or roles within the individual, much like roles within families. These insights led him to develop the IFS model, which considers the interactions of various “parts” or subpersonalities within a single individual. Over the years, IFS therapy has evolved and been embraced by therapists around the world due to its ability to facilitate deep self-awareness and self-compassion and its effectiveness in helping people resolve internal conflicts and heal from traumatic experiences.


What Does IFS Therapy Treat?

IFS can treat a range of issues and concerns. Though initially developed to assist individuals in processing trauma, it has proven effective in addressing numerous other conditions and difficulties.


Trauma and PTSD

IFS is particularly adept at addressing past traumas that have been compartmentalized into different parts. It promotes rejuvenation by helping individuals to safely access and understand these painful experiences, and to develop healthier strategies for coping with distress.


Anxiety and Depression

Exploring the different parts that contribute to feelings of anxiety or depression facilitates a deeper understanding of these emotions and fosters the development of more balanced responses.


Self-esteem and Self-concept Issues

IFS therapy can be instrumental in helping individuals explore and modify negative self-beliefs, fostering improved self-esteem and a more balanced self-concept.


Relationship Issues

By promoting self-insight and understanding of one’s internal dynamics, IFS can help individuals navigate interpersonal relationships more effectively, improving communication, empathy, and conflict-resolution skills.

While IFS therapy can effectively address a wide range of psychological issues, its unique strength lies in its focus on “parts work.” Understanding and engaging with these internal parts forms the bedrock of IFS therapy and facilitates transformative growth.

Parts Work

“Parts work” is a fundamental concept in Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy that involves recognizing and engaging with the different “parts” or sub-personalities. The goal is to create a dialogue between the “Self” – the core of your being – and these distinct parts, fostering understanding and promoting healing. These parts are typically categorized into three types:

  • Managers
  • Firefighters
  • Exiles.

Each plays a unique role within your internal family system.



“Managers” are the parts of us that attempt to maintain control over our mental and emotional state. It’s how we ensure that we can function in our daily lives. “Managers” proactively work to prevent painful or traumatic memories (held by the “Exiles”) from surfacing–using strategies like perfectionism, people-pleasing, or constant worrying. Managers strive to keep us safe, but when they dominate, they may limit our growth and keep us stuck in unhelpful patterns of behavior.



“Firefighters” are parts that react when “Exiles”, carrying painful or traumatic memories, threatening to break into consciousness. They work to distract and numb us to prevent the feelings of pain, shame, or fear associated with these memories. “Firefighters” might lean on risky behaviors–such as substance abuse, self-harm, binge eating, or other risky behaviors–to achieve this.  While their actions may seem destructive, it’s important to remember that they are trying to protect us from perceived harm – in this case, the emotional distress linked to the Exiles’ memories.



“Exiles” are parts that carry the burdens of trauma, pain, and extreme vulnerability. These parts often hold the memories of traumatic experiences or distressing emotions that have been pushed away or “exiled” from consciousness to protect us from feeling overwhelming pain or distress. However, despite being suppressed, Exiles may still influence our behavior and feelings indirectly and often seek to be acknowledged and healed. In the healing process of IFS therapy, the goal is to approach these Exiles with curiosity and compassion, allowing the Self to help unburden them and integrate their experiences in a healthy and manageable way.


The Unburdening Process

The unburdening process is a profound journey towards releasing the burdens carried by your “Exiles.” In this process, the Self – your core of compassion, confidence, and calm – connects with and helps each part let go of its painful memories, beliefs, or emotions. This release of burdens often leads to transformational shifts in feelings, beliefs, and behaviors. Unburdening creates space for your parts to adopt healthier roles, promoting internal harmony and enhancing your overall well-being.


Benefits of Internal Family Systems Therapy

Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy offers many benefits, from enhanced self-understanding and self-compassion to the resolution of internal conflicts and the recovery of traumatic wounds. IFS therapy fosters deep personal growth and lasting behavioral change.

One of the significant benefits of IFS therapy is that it promotes self-insight and self-compassion. This allows us to empathize with our internal struggles, reducing internal conflict and increasing inner harmony. This compassionate understanding of our parts can help alleviate symptoms associated with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other disorders and issues.

The unburdening process in IFS brings a profound sense of relief and liberation. Some specific benefits of IFS therapy include:

  • Enhanced self-understanding and self-compassion
  • Improved ability to manage stress and anxiety
  • Recovering from past traumas
  • Breaking patterns of unhelpful behaviors
  • Improved interpersonal relationships
  • Greater internal harmony and peace

By facilitating a deeper connection with our authentic Self, IFS therapy can empower you to lead your internal systems in a balanced, compassionate, and confident manner. This can lead to healthier relationships, increased resilience, and a sense of overall well-being.


What to Expect in IFS Therapy

In an Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy session, you can expect to work closely with your therapist to identify and understand the various parts of your mind. Your therapist will guide you to approach these parts with curiosity and without judgment, fostering a safe therapeutic environment. Through a process known as “unblending,” you’ll learn to separate or disidentify from your parts, allowing you to interact with them from the perspective of the Self – the compassionate, confident core of your being.

Your therapist will facilitate dialogue between the Self and your parts, encouraging understanding, compassion, and healing. The goal is to promote harmony among these parts and to help the Self take a leadership role, guiding your system in a healthier, more balanced manner. Remember: IFS is a journey of self-discovery and healing, and each person’s experience with this therapy will be unique.


Effectiveness of IFS Therapy

Multiple studies and clinical observations suggest that IFS can lead to significant improvements in symptom reduction and enhanced interpersonal functioning. A major advantage of IFS is its versatility—it can be beneficial for a wide array of mental health conditions and life challenges, from trauma and PTSD to depression, anxiety, and relationship issues. Its empathic and non-pathologizing approach resonates with many, allowing for a deep and transformative therapeutic experience.

It’s important to note, however, that as with any therapy, the effectiveness of IFS can vary between individuals, depending on various factors such as the individual’s commitment to the process, the nature of their issues, and the skill and experience of the therapist. That is why it’s vital to work with an experienced, verified IFS therapist.


Fearlessly Inspired Therapeutic Solutions Can Help

If you’re navigating challenging times or simply seeking a deeper understanding of your inner world, Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy could be the right approach for you. At Fearlessly Inspired Therapeutic Solutions in Maryland and DC, our experienced therapists are dedicated to guiding you through this journey. Our therapists are trained in the IFS model and have a deep understanding of the intricate dynamics of the internal family system.

If you’re dealing with anxiety, depression, trauma, or relationship issues, we’re here to provide a safe and supportive environment for you to explore your internal parts and foster a compassionate relationship with your Self.

With FITS, you can explore your internal world, build a healthier relationship with yourself, and bring about meaningful change in your life. Our team is ready to walk with you as you learn to lead your internal family system with confidence and compassion.


Connect with us today

to learn more about our services and how IFS therapy at Fearlessly Inspired Therapeutic Solutions (FITS) in Maryland and DC can support you in your journey towards personal growth.

Contact us at  301-750-1065, so we can take the first step towards healing together!