Frequently Asked Questions about IFS
Internal Family Systems Therapy FAQ
What is IFS?
IFS stands for Internal Family Systems therapy and is also sometimes known as Self-Leadership. This is an excellent description of IFS therapy because the ultimate goal is for your overall self to be more in charge of your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs, rather than letting the parts control you. For more information, you can read this article or view my Internal Family Systems article and podcast.
What is IFS used to treat?
IFS is used as a “talking cure” for multiple mental health issues that teaches pathways to regulate your emotions and hone problem solving skills. These skills then impact every area of your life: relationships, career performance, mental and emotional performance, and elsewhere. IFS was originally developed to treat trauma and abuse, and is very effective with addictions, anxiety, body image disorders, compulsive behaviors, mood disorders like depression and bipolar, and phobias.
IFS can be used to address specific issues, like career or relationship decisions, or recurrent patterns and behaviors.
Is IFS therapy going to focus on my family?
Your family is not the primary focus of this therapy, but rather on the internal. You will develop tools that allow you to lead all of your internal thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. These “parts” are responsible for your behavior.
Because of the nature of IFS, you will also gain insight into how your family works, and how to navigate conflicts. The same concepts you will learn in therapy are applicable to all other communities in your life, be it in a church, work, familial, or school environment. Family is not the focus, but many clients who have undergone IFS therapy report the lessons transcend themselves and into their daily lives.
What does IFS have to do with my symptoms or disease?
As we investigate your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs, you will discover they are more than two-dimensional aspects of our personalities. They instead act similarly to autonomous and dynamic entities within us, much like a family. Every part plays a small role to serve the whole–you. As with all families, some of these members work well with others, and some don’t. If one player works against you, it causes discourse across the board and impacts all other parts involved. Using this approach, thoughts and behavior patterns can be considered using a previously inaccessible form of logic. IFS therapy helps you predictably integrate this groundbreaking logic into your life for impactful and lasting changes.
What is Self-Leadership?
This is the way in which you will govern the individual pieces of your family “system” described above. Under the care of IFS therapy, these parts become more relaxed, resourceful, and responsive to your leadership. You, as the leader, will learn to rule your family system with clear, consistent, and confident care. If you are already in tune with your system, IFS will provide a more effective way to create the change you need. If the idea of knowing yourself this well feels impossible, IFS therapy is an excellent way to develop this powerful aptitude in Bethesda MD.
What other kinds of therapy are similar to IFS?
IFS is a unique and specific model of psychotherapy, but does share some common attributes with cognitive-behavioral therapy, Family Systems Therapy, Gestalt Therapy, and hypnotherapy.
How will IFS help my relationship?
New research shows the common factor between all couples engaged in couples therapy, who report improvement, is the ability to self-regulate his/her own emotions. IFS therapy’s core principle is creating the desired change yourself, without depending on anyone else to make the change first. Better regulation of your own emotions will allow for better communication, and role modeling, in your relationship.
What if I am not comfortable talking about myself or my emotions?
The IFS model is individually tailored to systematically lowers and eliminates shame and self-criticism from the moment therapy begins. If needed, we will begin by discovering your “protectors” and get to know them without an elimination agenda. These “protectors” are often what prohibit us from discussing personal things that may be embarrassing or shameful, and cause us to “shut down” or “not know what to say”.
It may feel counterproductive to first focus on the personal areas you don’t yet feel comfortable enough to discuss or don’t feel relevant first, but they are just as important as the parts of yourself you want to “fix”. Our “protectors” are generally the most overlooked pieces of the puzzle in most solution-oriented or subconscious-oriented therapies, and can sabotage your motivation in addressing an issue’s root cause. From this, many clients have reported finding the IFS therapy model “easier” than other therapy methods that would otherwise permit them to talk around issues they are not comfortable with.
What will we talk about if I am uncomfortable or feel awkward with the idea of therapy or talking to a stranger about my problems?
It is completely natural to feel uncomfortable or want to avoid therapy entirely. I see a therapist regularly as well, and even I frequently encounter feelings of discomfort in discussing certain issues!
These thoughts and feelings are part of your natural “protectors”, and when we stop pushing them away, interesting things start to happen. Instead of viewing these feelings as preventing us from the “real goal” of therapy, we begin to treat them as an invaluable part of the therapeutic process. Each “protector” typically corresponds to a feeling of tension or anxiety in the body, and when they relax, you relax. This can only happen, however, when these “protectors” are reassured they aren’t being removed entirely and can resume protection when needed again. In this rite, the “protectors” aren’t disappearing, but rather transforming their role. Instead of feeling like therapy is then “all or nothing”, you are given more control over the topics at hand to discuss, like a singular fluid thought. The end result is the ability to find the right way to talk in therapy, so your needs are balanced and in tune with your entire personality.
How will Self-Leadership help me become a better leader and people manager?
The IFS model routinely provides a helpful side effect for clients in leadership and management positions. Learning to detect and balance internal conflicts using IFS subsequently equips you with a boost in confidence, clarity, and creativity within your leadership tasks and business.
How long does IFS therapy take?
As with all forms of psychotherapy, IFS requires a period of acclimation and trust development between myself and the client. I recommend a trial assessment period of one to two months before determining if it is “working”. I find it is best if that conversation remains open between the two of us, but it is always at the discretion of the client. As a professional, I understand you will, at some point, halt therapy with me. It is also completely normal for a client to feel more comfortable with other therapists or different models of therapy. Your mental health treatment is not a One Size Fits All. I always welcome discussion of any concerns about your treatment and continuation, or if we need to halt therapy entirely.
Some clients relate to IFS immediately, experiencing noticeable and measurable changes in how they relate to their concern during the first session. On average, however, it may take three to four sessions, possible longer, before you can understand the IFS model. Those who have been in therapy before may find their adjustment erring on the shorter timeframe. An openness about your experience helps to calibrate the intensity of the therapy to suit your specific needs. I believe this is the most important factor in determining how effective your therapy is for you.
To assist with the process, read Introduction to IFS Therapy by Dr. Richard Schwartz. It is in no way essential, but some may find in helpful while experiencing IFS therapy. There is no model “you must learn” to see excellent results. We are here to guide you every step of the way. But, if you are someone who likes to know your car works before you drive it, the book may be an excellent starting point.
Which of your Counselors use IFS Therapy in Bethesda?
Our trained and experienced counselors are Keith Miller, Tessa Suppes, and Marjorie Strachman Miller.
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