Internal Family Systems Therapy

Jun 26, 2023

Internal Family Systems therapy is a revolutionary form of psychotherapy that could transform your understanding of yourself. The key insight of the therapy is that our psyches are not singular but plural: our minds consist of multiple parts or sub-personalities, each with its own perspectives, feelings, and memories.

The unique trait of IFS therapy is the belief in the innate ‘Self’ – an essence characterized by confidence, calm, compassion, and curiosity. You can achieve deep, lasting healing when you learn to engage with your parts from the vantage point of the Self.

Thrive Downtown understands that the journey toward healing and self-understanding is deeply personal. We have a team of certified and experienced mental health professionals committed to providing a safe, compassionate, and inclusive space for your IFS therapy.


What Is Internal Family Systems Therapy?


What Is Internal Family System Therapy Infographic

Developed by Dr. Richard Schwartz in the 1980s, Internal Family Systems therapy stems from the understanding that our internal world inhabits by various ‘parts’ or sub-personalities. These parts, which can be protective, vulnerable, or burdened by past trauma, interact within a system in ways that shape our feelings, thoughts, and behaviours.

IFS therapy aims not to eradicate these parts but to understand, honour, and integrate them. It’s a respectful, non-pathologizing therapy that invites us to develop relationships with all parts of ourselves, leading to balance, harmony, and personal growth. It facilitates a deeper understanding of our inner world and promotes personal growth.


Core Concepts of Internal Family Systems Therapy

Internal Family Systems therapy revolves around two fundamental concepts: the Self and the Parts, and each one plays a crucial role in the therapeutic process.



In IFS, the Self is the essence of who you are at your core – beyond the influence of your parts. It’s not another part, but your seat of consciousness, characterized by qualities often referred to as the ‘Eight Cs’:

  1. Curiosity: A genuine interest and open-mindedness toward your internal parts and their experiences.
  2. Calm: A peacefulness that enables you to handle situations without feeling overwhelmed.
  3. Clarity: A clear, non-judgmental understanding of your internal system and the world around you.
  4. Connectedness: A sense of unity with your parts and a broader connection to humanity.
  5. Confidence: Trust in the strength and capabilities of your Self and your system.
  6. Courage: The bravery to face difficult emotions or experiences and take necessary actions.
  7. Creativity: A spontaneous and innovative approach to healing and life in general.
  8. Compassion: An empathetic understanding and acceptance of all your internal parts, even those that are challenging or in pain.

These qualities make the Self a safe and compassionate leader of your internal system, guiding and healing your parts.



IFS recognizes three types of parts that inhabit our internal world: exiles, managers, and firefighters. Each of these plays a unique role in our system. Understanding their roles is crucial for healing as they promote harmony within our internal system.

  1. Exiles: These parts carry the burdens of trauma and painful emotions from our past. To protect our consciousness from the pain, other parts often exile these vulnerable parts, leaving them stuck in past traumas.
  2. Managers: These parts work tirelessly to control our internal and external environment. They try to prevent situations that might trigger the exiles and cause disruption.
  3. Firefighters: When exiles break through despite the managers’ efforts, firefighters act. They use any means necessary to distract the consciousness from the pain, often leading to impulsive behaviours.


When It’s Used

Internal Family Systems therapy is versatile and adaptable, used to treat various mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and eating disorders. It can also be useful for improving personal growth, self-understanding, and interpersonal relationships.

People find IFS beneficial when they feel stuck in patterns they wish to change but can’t. This therapy is also helpful for those who feel conflicted within themselves, torn between different desires or impulses.


Internal Family Systems Therapy Examples

No two individuals have the same parts, and thus their experience of IFS can significantly vary from one another. Some people experience parts as bodily sensations, such as a knot in the stomach or tension in the shoulders, while others may experience parts as emotions, such as worry or rage.

To illustrate how Internal Family Systems therapy works, let’s imagine a client named Tiffany.

Tiffany struggles with social anxiety, which she attributes to a part of her constantly worrying about saying the wrong thing and embarrassing herself.

In the IFS framework, this anxious part is seen as a manager trying to protect Tiffany from humiliation. Through IFS therapy, she learns to approach this part with curiosity and compassion, acknowledging its protective intent. She then discovers it’s trying to shield an exiled part of her that carries memories of being bullied in school.

In her therapeutic journey, Tiffany learns to reassure her manager part that she, as the Self, can handle social situations. She also learns to comfort her exiled part, assuring it that the bullying is in the past. Her anxiety begins to ease through this process, and she gains more confidence in social situations.


What Can Internal Family Systems Therapy Help With?

IFS therapy can benefit various psychological issues, personal growth goals, and interpersonal relationship challenges. It’s been effectively used to treat mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders, substance misuse, and many more.

Moreover, IFS can help improve self-esteem, emotional regulation, and communication skills. A therapy for IFS fosters empathy for all parts of the self and promotes self-compassion, resilience, and a more positive self-concept.


What to Look for in an IFS Therapist

When choosing an IFS therapist, ensuring they’re certified in the IFS model is important. Look for therapists who have completed Level 1 IFS training at a minimum, as this certification ensures they have the skills and knowledge to deliver effective IFS therapy.

You might also want to consider the therapist’s experience treating your issues. For example, if you’re seeking therapy for trauma-related issues, a therapist with experience in trauma and IFS would be ideal.


How to Find an Internal Family Systems Therapist

Finding an Internal Family System therapist can be a daunting task as various factors, including the certifications, need to be considered while choosing the best mental health professional for IFS therapy.

Only a few mental health centers in Vancouver offer IFS therapies, and Thrive Counselling Center is among them. Our certified IFS therapists provide result-oriented therapy for IFS that helps you build relationships with all parts of yourself and improve your feelings, thoughts, and behaviours. We offer IFS therapies through online and physical sessions, allowing you to access therapy from the comfort of your home.


Who Can Offer IFS Therapy?

Trained and certified mental health professionals such as psychologists, psychiatrists and mental health counsellors can offer IFS therapies. The IFS Institute offers comprehensive training programs that equip professionals with the skills to practice IFS therapy effectively. These programs involve intensive training, experiential learning, and ongoing professional development to ensure the highest standards of care. 


The Process of Internal Family Systems Therapy

The IFS therapy process is characterized by exploration, compassion, and collaboration. Initially, the therapist helps you get to know your different parts. This process often involves uncovering parts you weren’t previously aware of and understanding how they interact within your internal system.

IFS therapists in Thrive Downtown guide you to interact with your parts from the Self, promoting understanding and compassion. This might involve unburdening exiled parts and negotiating with protective parts to change their roles. We aim to restore trust and balance within your system throughout the process.


What to Expect at Your First Appointment

Your first IFS therapy session involves an in-depth discussion of your history and struggles. An IFS therapist may introduce the concept of Internal Family Systems and start guiding you to identify some of your parts. You have an opportunity to ask any questions and to establish your goals for therapy. Feeling comfortable with your therapist is important as it helps you understand if they’re a good fit for you.


How It Works

IFS therapy works by helping you access your Self and understand the roles and intentions of your parts. Your therapist guides you through exercises to foster Self-led conversations with your parts, facilitating understanding, empathy, and healing.

For instance, your therapist guides you to visualize a part, ask it questions, and listen to its responses. Over time, this process promotes harmony within your system as your parts learn to trust the leadership of the Self and let go of their burdens.


What to Expect During IFS Therapy Sessions

You can expect to engage in deep, compassionate dialogues with your parts during IFS therapy sessions. Your therapist will guide you in accessing your Self and communicating with your parts, facilitating healing conversations.

These sessions often involve guided visualizations, imaginative exercises, and open-ended questioning. Remember that every IFS therapies vary from person to person, and the process is tailored to your individual needs and pace.


Effectiveness and Benefits of Internal Family Systems Therapy


Effectiveness and Benefits of Internal Family System Therapy Infographic

Numerous research studies validate the effectiveness of IFS therapy. It significantly reduces depressive symptoms, improves self-compassion and self-concept, and enhances overall well-being.

Furthermore, IFS can improve emotional regulation, healthier relationships, and greater self-understanding. An IFS therapy fosters empathy for all parts and promotes holistic healing and growth.


Getting Started with Internal Family Systems Therapy

Getting started with IFS therapy involves finding a trained therapist, setting therapy goals, and being open to the process. It might take time to familiarize yourself with the IFS model. The IFS therapies from Thrive Downtown are always there to guide our clients every step of the way. The journey toward self-understanding and healing can be transformative, making it worth every effort.


Is Internal Family Systems Therapy Effective?

Multiple studies have found IFS therapy to be highly effective. It’s proven to help with various mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, and PTSD. It is used worldwide to improve personal growth. IFS therapies foster an empathetic understanding of all parts and promote balance, resilience, and self-compassion.


How Much Does Internal Family Systems Therapy Cost?

The cost of IFS therapy can vary greatly depending on your location, the therapist’s experience level, and the sessions’ length. On average, you can expect to pay anywhere from $150 to $250 per session. Discussing payment options with your therapist before beginning treatment is always best. At Thrive Downtown, we offer a free 15-min phone consultation for your Internal Family Systems therapy queries.


The Future of Internal Family Systems Therapy

As more mental health professionals become trained in Internal Family System therapy, its reach is expanding. Today, IFS is used in therapy rooms and schools, community organizations, and businesses. With its focus on empathy, compassion, and self-leadership, IFS offers valuable tools for interpersonal relationships, conflict resolution, and personal growth, making its future promising in an increasingly complex world.



Internal Family Systems Therapy is a unique and transformative approach to psychotherapy. Whether you’re dealing with specific mental health issues, seeking personal growth, or looking to improve your relationships, IFS therapy might be the tool to journey towards a more balanced, fulfilled, and authentic life. The journey may require courage, curiosity, and compassion, but the result can be incredibly rewarding.

Thrive Downtown understands that the journey towards healing and self-understanding is deeply personal, and thus, We are proud to offer Internal Family Systems Therapy among our mental health services. Our team of certified and experienced IFS professionals is committed to providing a safe, compassionate, and inclusive space for your therapeutic journey. Contact us now and book your IFS therapy sessions now.


Internal Family Systems Therapy FAQs


Is Internal Family Systems therapy evidence-based?

Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy is an evidence-based approach. Multiple studies have validated its effectiveness in treating various mental health conditions and promoting personal growth and self-understanding.


How long does Internal Family Systems therapy take?

The duration of IFS therapy varies greatly depending on individual needs and therapeutic goals. Some people may experience significant changes within a few sessions, while others may need longer-term therapy. Discuss your goals and expectations with an IFS therapist to better understand the possible timeframe.


Can IFS therapy be used in conjunction with other therapies?

IFS therapy is often used alongside other therapeutic approaches. It can complement other therapies by providing a deeper understanding of internal dynamics and promoting self-compassion.


Is Internal Family Systems therapy suitable for everyone?

While IFS therapy can benefit a wide range of issues and goals, it’s not necessarily the best fit for everyone. Some individuals might find other therapeutic approaches more effective or comfortable. It’s always best to discuss your needs and preferences with a mental health professional to determine the most suitable approach. Thrive Downtown has certified and experienced professionals who offer to counsel for mental health conditions, including Internal Family Systems.

Carson Kivari

Carson Kivari

Carson Kivari is the Founder and Clinic Director of Thrive Downtown, with years of experience helping individuals and couples overcome anxiety, depression, and burnout. He guides clients on a journey of self-exploration and trauma release to find purpose, connection, and safety. Take the first step towards healing and contact Carson today to schedule a session.

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