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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Barsky

Healing Trauma with the Internal Family Systems Model (IFS): How it Works

Humans are complex beings, and our brains are almost always thinking, considering, concentrating, or reacting. While many of us see our brains as one unit, it breaks down into something much more complex than that.

Essentially, our minds are made up of different “parts,” and internal family systems (IFS) therapy explores this notion. The IFS model believes that families play a significant role in one’s internal community and therefore play a role in trauma or mental health issues. So, what is the IFS model, and how does it help with healing trauma?

Understanding the Internal Family Systems Model

The internal family systems model, or IFS, is a type of therapy developed by Richard Schwartz in the 1990s. IFS believes various parts make up our brains, and each part plays a specific role in how we feel, behave, and react to certain situations.

Consider how multi-faceted we are as humans. We have varying likes, dislikes, burdens, and traumas. IFS takes this idea and breaks it down on a deeper, subconscious level. Essentially, our brains break down into “parts,” all of which work together to help us function.

At the center of these parts is the Self, which is the chief agent in coordinating or controlling your behaviors. Like any family, your internal one will change and adapt over time as you learn and grow. Because your internal family has the capacity for change, IFS therapy is effective in initiating this change.

The Three Parts in the IFS Model

Because IFS assumes that the brain breaks down into subconscious parts, we can also explore those more closely.

The first part involves the managers, which help you maintain your consciousness throughout the day. The managers help stave off unwanted emotions, experiences, or interactions that may happen throughout the day.

Next, there are the exiles, which are the parts of us that stem from trauma or pain. Our managers and the third part, firefighters, work to keep the exiles from reaching the conscious part of your brain.

When the exiles reach your consciousness, however, firefighters will work to suppress them. Because the exiles often bring on feelings of pain, your firefighter reactions may be impulsive or risky, leading to high-risk behaviors like drinking, drugs, or unprotected sex.

How IFS Helps Heal Trauma

As previously mentioned, IFS therapy revolves around the idea of the Self. Essentially, the Self represents who you are at your core—confident, wise, happy, empathetic, compassionate. The Self isn’t seen, but rather observes and plays a vital role as the center of your internal family and being.

With IFS therapy, we will differentiate the Self from the managers, exiles, and firefighters—and this is where trauma healing comes into play. As you go through your life, you may experience trauma, and your managers and firefighters will work to keep the memories at bay. By differentiating these parts and working towards a more harmonious internal family, you will find resolution and healing in your trauma.

The goal of IFS therapy is not to make you forget your trauma, but to find a way for the Self, managers, exiles, and firefighters to work in a more healthy, productive way.

Many people struggle to heal from trauma because they don’t know where to begin. By taking a step back and diving deep into your subconsciousness, you may find tension between all the parts. IFS therapy aims to help you become more aware of these parts, and how they can work together instead of working against each other.

After several IFS therapy sessions, you may recognize some powerful changes in your life. You may feel calmer about your memories and more confident about the future. Furthermore, you’ll feel more secure in your decision-making skills and behaviors, acting less on impulse and more on thoughtfulness.


If you want to heal trauma, consider looking into the internal family systems model of therapy to see a meaningful transformation in your life. At My Therapy Space, Inc., I use IFS therapy as a powerful tool for helping clients move beyond their past into the future. Reach out to me today to discuss your options for scheduling your first session.

To read more about trauma therapy, click the link!


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