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Empirical Evidence

The Foundation for Self Leadership supports the rigorous examination of the efficacy of various IFS applications through the independent gathering and analysis of empirical evidence, both hard and soft evidence.

Randomized Clinical Trial on IFS treatment for PTSD Launched

In August 2020, approval was secured for the Foundation’s largest funded project to-date: a two-year, randomized clinical trial with the aim of studying IFS as a treatment for PTSD, as well as opioid use.

Despite setbacks from COVID-19, researchers completed the pilot phase by conducting IFS groups online. Initially planned to be a test run, this is now going to yield results of the first-ever evaluated IFS online group. We celebrate Dr. Schuman-Olivier and his teams’ creativity and persistence in the face of unprecedented challenges.

Given the scope of the research study and the quality of its design and research team, the study promises to expand empirical evidence significantly, inspire new studies and researchers, and secure federal funding to support future IFS research. With two-thirds of the necessary funding committed, the Foundation continues to seek private charitable donations that will fund the remaining third of the total projected study costs. Learn more about funding research studies.


This study is being conducted at a Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance community mental health center, led by an IFS Level 2-trained addiction psychiatrist, Zev Schuman-Olivier, MD. Dr. Schuman-Olivier, is Director for the Center for Mindfulness and Compassion, Medical Director for Addictions at Cambridge Health Alliance, faculty member in Harvard Medical School Department of Psychiatry and Director of the Clinical Core for NCCIH’s only P01 center grant focused on mind-body mechanisms for chronic pain.

IFS Shown to Reduce PTSD Symptoms in a Sample of Patients with Complex Trauma

“IFS Therapy for the Treatment of PTSD and Complex Trauma” was the first study funded by the Foundation back in 2014. Led by Hilary Hodgdon, PhD, at the Trauma Center, Justice Research Institute in Brookline, MA, USA, the study—an uncontrolled, feasibility pilot—sought to assess the efficacy of IFS on patient outcomes. Multiple validated scales were administered, including the IFS adherence scale. Certified IFS therapists were involved in providing the treatment and received clinical supervision from Frank Anderson, MD, and Richard Schwartz, PhD.

The results showed that IFS therapy had significantly positive effects on adults with PTSD and histories of exposure to multiple forms of childhood trauma. Following the sessions, PTSD and depressive symptoms were significantly reduced, with an overall time effect observed. Notably, at the one-month follow-up assessment, 92% of participants no longer met criteria for PTSD.

In 2021 the research paper was accepted for consideration by the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment and Trauma, a peer-reviewed journal for practitioners in this field.

NREPP accepted and recognized IFS Therapy as an evidence-based modality

In the second half of 2014 and following an independent, rigorous review, the National Registry of Evidence-based Practices and Programs (NREPP), accepted for review a comprehensive application by the Foundation for Self Leadership, prepared on behalf of The Center for Self Leadership and the community. The application was a formal request to consider IFS Therapy as an evidence-based psychotherapeutic modality. The application had been submitted in early 2014 and was included in a new cohort of applicants subject to some new NREPP guidelines for review.

NREPP, which was an entity operating within the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), had engaged private researchers to review all submissions independently and conduct a two-tier rigorous evaluation, examining the quality of the research about IFS, which had to be based on a randomized clinical trial (RCT), and the capacity to disseminate the named modality.

The application revolved around a proof-of-concept RCT study, completed and published in a peer-review research journal, by Nancy Shadick, MD, MPH; Nancy Sowell, MSW, LICSW; and collaborators.

In late 2015, the Foundation was notified that NREPP accepted and recognized IFS Therapy as an evidence-based modality. See story on the Foundation’s website and the announcement to the IFS community at the 2015 IFS Conference.

As a clinical treatment, it was independently confirmed that IFS Therapy leads to five outcomes, one effective and four promising. The outcomes covered areas of efficacy that appeared to deal with positive effects on body, mind, and spirit—among them: improving general functioning and well-being, reducing depression and depressive symptoms, and improving resilience and self-concept

Through the following link, the full posting of the SAMSHA-NREPP is presented verbatim as it had appeared on NREPP.SAMHSA.Gov.

Additional empirical evidence and resources

An accessible summary of significant completed research studies can be found at the IFS Institute website here.

The Foundation has created an annotated publication database which can be found under the Resources tab on our site or accessed here.