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About IFS (Internal Family Systems)

IFS, founded in the early 1980’s by Dr. Richard C. Schwartz, serves as both a psychotherapy modality & a mental paradigm. In clinical settings, practitioners and patients have seen positive outcomes using IFS to treat trauma, depression, and anxiety. This is affirmed by a recent published study showing effects of IFS in reducing depressive symptoms. IFS effectively lends itself to applications far beyond psychotherapy, including management of one’s physical health, legal mediation, school counseling, business coaching, and even peacemaking.


Since publishing his seminal paper on the topic in 1987, Dr. Schwartz has published several books focusing on IFS, including Internal Family Systems Therapy (Guildford, 1997), in a few editions and translated to many languages; Introduction to the Internal Family Systems Model (Trailheads Press, 2001); and You Are the One You’ve Been Waiting For, Bringing Courageous Love to Intimate Relationships (Trailheads Press, 2008); along with e-book versions, audiobooks and numerous DVD’s. He has presented on IFS at 30 years-worth of seminars, introductory and intensive workshops, as well as keynote lectures at major professionalconferences, retreat centers in the United States and around the world. His work has sparked many more writings and presentations on different applications of IFS within and beyond psychotherapy. Some of these include: Internal Family Systems: New Dimensions, edited by Martha Sweezy and Ellen Ziskind (Routledge, 2013); Parts Work, An Illustrated Guide to Your Inner Life, Tom Holmes; Self-Therapy: A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Wholeness Through IFS, Jay Earley (Pattern System Books, 2009); an IFS professional booklet series by Jay Earley that includes Negotiating for Self Leadership in IFS; and even a children’s book, Nathan Meets His Monsters, by Joseph Kropp.

From Model to Modality

Over the past thirty years, IFS has evolved into a comprehensive approach that includes clear methods and guidelines for working with individuals, couples, and families. It is now practiced by thousands of therapists worldwide, both as an important tool in their choice of approaches or as a primary therapy approach. A survey of therapists pointed out that using IFS has energized the therapist and made the clinical work quite fulfilling. By applying IFS, it is observed, the therapist’s own inner conflicts are kept at bay during the therapy sessions, not easily affected by emotional triggers from client situations. Moreover, the model’s basic tenants often resonate with clients. They appear to access IFS on an intuitive level and with intellectual ease, and it has been reported by therapist after therapist that their clients’ individual perspectives about themselves and interactions with others have been transformed; not to mention perceived, tangible success across a wide spectrum of treatments for mental disorders and navigating difficult situations. IFS has come to offer a paradigm for understanding one’s human psyche, a mental construct for controlling behavior, and a roadmap for getting in touch with powerful capacities within, such as, compassion, confidence, patience, and wisdom.

A Paradigm & Therapeutic Modality

IFS (conceived as Internal Family Systems) is a psychotherapeutic modality developed by Dr. Richard Schwartz in the early eighties. As a family therapist, Dr. Schwartz observed that his clients, in discussing the challenges they faced, repeatedly referenced “parts” of themselves that were often in conflict with each other, almost like a system or an internal family. The concept of parts within the psyche was not new and has been recognized within a range of therapeutic approaches such as Freud’s work with id, ego, and superego; object relations; transactional analysis; psychosynthesis; and cognitive behavioral approaches under the term schemata. Dr. Schwartz’s contribution to this paradigm of multiplicity came in discovering that when he guided his clients in dialoguing with their parts, they were able to access a place of inner calm and connectedness—which Dr. Schwartz termed “Self” —from which they could help facilitate their own healing and conduct their lives with wisdom and clarity. Based on this discovery, Dr. Schwartz developed, refined, and began teaching the IFS model. The model posits that each of us is made of parts that assume and operate within well-defined, important roles for protecting our inner system. Only when acknowledged, embraced and their needs addressed, will their roles become more balanced and skills as valued assets internally; only then will harmony and inner freedom within be achieved.

Training & Certification

Close to 50 professional trainers currently teach the IFS model across the United States and in Europe and Latin America, with over 3,000 individuals having been trained to date. Three consecutive levels of extensive training are available, including Level 1 (a foundational training of over 100 hours), Level 2 (an intermediate training of over 70 hours), and Level 3 (an advanced training of over 35 hours). Trainees learn both IFS theory and technique, gaining the knowledge and skills required to actively use the IFS model with individuals, couples, children, families, and groups. Individuals who complete Level 1 Training can earn IFS Certification by completing a rigorous process, which includes demonstrations and consultation sessions, to ensure their proficiency in the IFS model. There are currently over 200 IFS-certified therapists and practitioners.

IFS Beyond Psychotherapy

IFS is now being applied with increasing enthusiasm to other fields outside the mental health world, including the medical field, executive and health coaching, legal mediation, and schools. IFS has also been used in peacemaking efforts, and by military chaplains and prison counselors.

IFS Institute

IFS Institute (IFSI) has since inception (when it was named The Center for Self Leadership) managed a range of IFS educational opportunities worldwide, including the IFS Level 1, 2 and 3 training programs, the IFS Certification Program, online Circle and Continuity programs, the annual IFS conference, and speaking engagements featuring IFS by founder Richard Schwartz, PhD, and various thought leaders. The Conference brings together more than 400 conferees for four days of IFS-oriented workshops, lectures and professional as well as social events. IFSI also provides via its website an online bookstore with a range of books and audiovisual materials related to the IFS model and a directory of IFS practitioners. Based in Oak Park, Illinois, IFSI is led by Executive Director, Katie Nelson, MBA, and chaired by Dr. Schwartz.

More information is available at www.IFS-Institute.com.