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The Internal Family Systems Model (IFS) is an integrative approach to psychotherapy, relationship counseling, and family therapy developed by Richard C. Schwartz, Ph.D. It combines systems thinking with the view that mind is made up of relatively discrete subpersonalities each with their own viewpoint and qualities. IFS applies the theories of family therapy to understand how these collections of subpersonalities are organized. [1]



IFS sees consciousness as made up of various "parts" or sub-consciousnesses each with their own perspective, interests, memories, and viewpoints. IFS divides these "parts" into types - the main ones being managers, exiles, and firefighters.



Parts that are in preemptive protective roles are called managers. These parts work to keep a person safe and healthy, often by preventing hurt feelings and experiences from flooding a person's awareness.


Exiles often hold experiences that protective parts of the person believe are too much for the the whole system to tolerate, like experiences of chronic shame, hurt or abuse.


Firefighters are parts that emerge when exiles break out and demand attention. These parts work to distract a person's attention from the hurt or shame experienced by the exile by engaging in impulsive behaviors like eating too much, drinking too much alcohol, taking drugs, fighting, or having inappropriate sex. They can also distract from the pain by causing a person to focus excessively on more subtle activities such as overworking, over-meditating, etc.


IFS also sees people as being whole, underneath this collection of parts. This wholeness has healing and leadership qualities, and is called the Self to distinguish it from the other parts. Even people whose experience is dominated by other parts have access to this Self, and can access its healing qualities of vision, confidence, compassion, and acceptance. IFS sees the therapist's job as helping the client to differentiate between the parts and Self, enabling the client's Self to guide the parts from their destructive roles into harmonious collaboration.

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