Found an Internal Family Systems Therapist

Recently I had phone conversations and initial sessions with two Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapists. I liked them both, but one of them, Tom, just seemed to “get” me better. A session with him felt clean and his questions landed in a good spot in me. I’ve now had a second session with him and I know that I chose well.

In IFS therapy, all the parts are welcome. Even the harsh, critical inner voices are actually trying to protect us from some harm; they arose in response to life challenges. I already knew that I have some very young parts that got frozen in place at the time of the abuse. These are called Exiles, in the language of IFS. I also know about some Protector parts like the Organizer and Social Manager.

I was surprised that the first part that showed up in therapy with Tom was Eager Girl. She’s the part of me that has a very positive attitude and is eager to say yes to almost any new prospect. I think she is both my social persona much of the time, and an energetic part working within me.

But Eager Girl takes over and runs the show. I was talking with a couple of friends the other day and telling them how happy I was to be starting off on this new adventure with IFS therapy. After I left, I realized I felt drained and off-balance and it took me a while to calm down. That was Eager Girl who was talking all that time, just jumping right in and not making space for my true Self. if my Self had been in charge, I would have taken deep breaths and been more aware of my friends as well as my inner state.

In our first therapy session Tom asked me what parts of me were present. Eager Girl immediately showed up. When Tom asked this part to tell us about herself, she blathered on about who she is, so lively and adventurous. Tom said, “Can you ask Eager Girl to give you some space so you can get to know her?” No, Eager Girl said, I don’t want to be just a part, I want to keep running the show. Tom asked again if she could step back and let me get to know her. How to do that? I wondered.

I told Eager Girl that I love her lively energy and positive attitude, she’s very important to me, I’m not going to send her away, but I’d like to be able to see her and talk with her. She liked hearing that I won’t banish her, and then she became willing to let go, so that I felt her sitting on my lap on the left side as we talked some more. I was really surprised by this session because I had not realized how much this part of me runs the show.

You can find out more about Internal Family Systems therapy at the website of the organization. Look for an overview of the system.  On the front page is a short video by the founder, Dick Schwartz, who introduces a lot of the concepts of IFS. 

Internal Family Systems, meet my Inner Child

After years of therapy, I’m well acquainted with my Inner Children. I think I’m pretty well healed from the trauma of early sexual abuse at ages around 4 to 6. My Little Girls talk to me when I remember to ask them. They are also very good at detecting situations that don’t feel right and alerting me to times that I’m giving too much, or places where the other person’s actions make me feel uneasy.

But just recently I’ve been learning about Internal Family Systems (IFS), which is a kind of therapy that deals not only with the tender vulnerable Inner Children, but also with the Protectors who developed over the years to keep them safe. I’ve kept safe and conducted a successful adult life thanks to an Organizer, a Social Manager, a Caretaker (taking care of other people), and other Protector parts.

Sometimes these Protectors kind of take over and run me, run my life, in ways that feel cold or compulsive. I lose my sense of a warm core Self. I feel busy, hyper, cut off. Those skills have been very useful in the world, but they are only parts of me.

Just today I am going to interview an IFS therapist to see about working to find a more harmonious relationship among all the parts. How can I use my Protector parts in the world without neglecting the Inner Children? How can the parts talk with one another to feel more harmonious and grateful to one another? How can my real Self be released to be more creative and free in the world?

I feel inspired to take up this blog again to let you know the story of my explorations with Internal Family Systems. Have you worked with IFS and did it help?