Internal Family Systems Model (IFS) is a psychological model developed in the 1980’s by Richard Schwartz, PhD.

Drawing from family systems theory, IFS understands the internal self as a kind of family, made up of thoughts, feelings, and beliefs (known as Parts) and the true Self, or innate wisdom.


IFS recognizes a positive intent in every Part, even if its effects are counterproductive. Parts are not seen as diseased or disordered, but rather motivated by inherently protective instincts.


IFS suggests that there is an undamaged Self characterized by compassion and curiosity—even in the presence of extreme behavior—which has the innate ability to heal and lead one’s internal family. Once the Self is in the lead, a state of inner calm follows; and, along with it, the desire to resolve external conflicts. Self-leadership is the goal of IFS.

Learn more about the Foundation for Self Leadership.

“Your ‘internal family’ is populated with a whole busload of inner children, and if you’re reasonably healthy, your [Self] is driving the bus, keeping the lovely, sometimes naughty, often unruly, scared, overprotective, and sometimes reckless, addicted, dissociative, sociopathic, or even suicidal parts from grabbing the wheel and hijacking the bus.”

—Lissa Rankin, MD


Lissa Rankin, MD, is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and other health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself.