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Introduction to IFS What is Internal Family Systems

Every person has a personality that is significant to his self. This personality determines his behavior and attitude but underneath this personality lays a set of several other subpersonalities, which are, more or less, alternating versions of one’s personality. In psychiatric language, these subpersonalities are called families. Often times, we find these subpersonalities to be disturbed.

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They may be hurt, scared, or even traumatized. The marked difference in the dynamics of our subpersonalities often gives birth to internal conflicts. These kinds of conflicts become very evident in a person’s personality as they start to manifest themselves as behavioral dysfunctions. Internal Family Systems therapy is a method of psychotherapy devised by Dr. Richard Shwartz, which aims at harmonizing the subpersonalities, eradicating the negative core beliefs which compel one to exhibit behavioral dysfunctions, and putting the mind and conscience at ease.

Addiction and its Manifestations

Addiction is a brain disorder in which a person repeatedly involves himself in the consumption/usage of a certain substance to experience a feeling of reward or pleasure continuously. In doing so, they completely dismiss the consequences of this repeated consumption. For an addict, the subpersonalities are riddled with negative energy and negative core beliefs. This is the reason behind the irrational behavior normally exhibited by an addict. The behavioral manifestation of an addict accounted by these subpersonalities are numerous. Internalized or non-internalized rage stems from a history of abuse, trauma, or failure. There may be jealousy that pushes the addict to cross certain limits in his desperate search for compensation. There may be a serious lack of self-confidence or deteriorating self-esteem, which traps the person in a consistent state of self-pity where all he does is feel bad about himself. All in all, the addict keeps sinking in a pit of negative feelings that suffocate him and snuff out any feeling of positivity. Under such conditions, the addict resorts to substance addiction. It may be alcohol or any other drug of choice. For an addict, this is the way to temporarily detach himself from the negative energy, to distract or create a diversion for the mind. For some time, this may put the subpersonalities at ease, but it is not a permanent solution because once the effect wears off, the internal chaos starts wreaking havoc again. This further strengthens the cycle of addiction.

Internal Family Systems for Addicts

IFS is not solely restricted as a mode of treatment for addicts but it is also a very useful psychotherapeutic model that can cater to a vast range of psychological and psychiatric conditions. The question now is, what exactly can IFS do for an addict? Basically, it approaches the “families.” Now we don’t mean the literal families like your parents, siblings, or relatives. Instead, families in this context are the subpersonalities in conflict. The objective of the method is to put the subpersonalities at ease and eliminate the negative energies which tire the person so much that he starts resorting to substance abuse to comfort himself.

Internal Family Systems Model

Normally, IFS is recommended to be conducted alongside individual therapy. It requires a skilled psychotherapist who specializes in internal family systems therapy. The focus of the IFS Model is first to identify the different subpersonalities, understand their dynamics, recognize the core problem, and treat them accordingly. The end goal is to harmonize the subpersonalities, develop self-confidence, and enable the addict to break free of the negative energy that shackles him and forces him to internalize his pain and agony.

Foundation of IFS

The foundation of Internal Family Systems is talking to the patient. The expert gradually guides the addict around his subpersonalities, makes him spill the negative vibes, and relieves him of the stored toxicity. He makes the addict identify and acknowledge the suppressed emotions and the subpersonality most impacted by this. Alongside talking, relaxation exercises are conducted to relax the body and make the patient comfortable. Visual exercises are conducted to exhaust the mind with positive thoughts and brain activity. Often, the addict is asked to document his feelings and thoughts in a journal as a way of ventilation. Writing is a great way to expel thoughts and ideas from the mind. There is always an “undamaged” core that needs to be reached. Once you reach it, you can work to strengthen it to fight against the damaged and negative beliefs. That is what IFS is all about. It is never too late to want to get better and fight your demons. Addiction destroys domestic, social, and professional life while severely hurting the finances. Rehabilitation can improve one’s lifestyle. IFS is a great way to improve your mental health, sort out psychological problems, and put an end to a miserable life. Opting for IFS alongside individual therapy can make the process even more effective. We offer all addiction recovery and help our patients live the best life.


Valerie Tecci, Program Director

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