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Excerpt from Clinical Practice Today (January 2015)
Below is an excerpt from a recent "Clinical Practice Today" article. NASW Members can view the full article by clicking here (you must be logged in). Not a member? Join NASW

The IFS Model and Clinical Practice

Diane Lambert, LICSW
Edited by Bet MacArthur, LICSW

Have you ever participated in sessions with clients on the brink of leaving an abusive relationship, or who had stopped cutting for months, or perhaps had begun speaking up for themselves at home, and then suddenly revert back to the problematic behaviors or patterns of thought or emotion? Since participating in the Level 1, 2, and 3 training programs of the Internal Family Systems (IFS) model, I can now see that my clients have “parts”. That has helped me better handle these situations.

I became a clinical social worker because I was interested in helping people heal. Social work appealed to me because it considered people in relationship to systems in their lives: their family, ethnicity, class, culture, and environment. My training and internship experiences at Simmons College featured strengths-based approaches aimed at empowering people to take action and be in charge of their lives.

So years later, when I was introduced to the Internal Family Systems model (IFS), I was thrilled to find it valued helping the client create a relationship with a “Self” that is compassionate and healing. Also, I did not need to be an expert, but rather a collaborator with clients in a sacred, inspiring process of transformation. To do that, I had to learn to navigate an inner system both in myself and with my clients; a system just as important as the outer ones in the world around us.

Over 30 years ago, IFS was developed by Richard Schwartz, a family therapist. He was frustrated with strategies that did not get to the root of clients’ issues. As he more carefully listened to his clients, Schwartz began to notice they were referring to ‘parts’ of themselves. These parts had specific roles, and would work together within a person, thus “Internal Family Systems.”

Schwartz’s clients would also identify something else, which they experience as not a ‘part.’ “This is me,” they would say. Richard Schwartz saw the work as helping clients form a relationship between their ‘parts’ and this “Self”, as he named it, because he saw the Self acted in an accepting, compassionate way towards the parts, allowing the parts to be calmer.


Full article includes...

  • What is Self?
  • "Manager," "firefighter," and "exile" roles
  • Self Energy
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