Making sense of trauma

Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy is a therapeutic approach that views the human psyche as consisting of multiple distinct parts, each with unique characteristics, emotions, and motivations. Developed by Richard C. Schwartz, IFS posits that these parts interact within an individual's internal system, influencing thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. IFS therapy aims to facilitate healing and integration by fostering awareness, compassion, and harmony among these internal parts.


Internal Family Systems therapy

In IFS therapy, individuals are guided to explore their internal worlds, identify different parts of themselves, and develop a compassionate understanding of each part's role and function. Through techniques such as visualisation, dialogue, and mindfulness, clients learn to engage with their internal parts in a non-judgmental and empathetic manner, fostering healing and transformation.

Example of IFS therapy and how it can help

Consider the case of Emily, who struggles with chronic anxiety and self-doubt. In IFS therapy, Emily works with her therapist to explore her inner world and identify various parts that contribute to her distress. Through guided visualisation exercises, Emily discovers a dominant part she labels as the 'anxious protector' which constantly worries about potential dangers and catastrophes.

Initially, Emily feels overwhelmed by her anxious protector and tries to suppress its influence. However, with the support of her therapist, she learns to approach this part with curiosity and compassion. Through dialogue and mindfulness practices, Emily discovers that her anxious protector developed as a response to childhood experiences of instability and uncertainty.

As Emily deepens her understanding of her anxious protector, she uncovers other parts within herself, such as the "vulnerable child" who longs for safety and reassurance. With the guidance of her therapist, Emily learns to address the needs of her vulnerable child part, offering comfort and support to soothe its fears.

Over time, as Emily cultivates a harmonious relationship with her internal parts, she experiences a significant reduction in anxiety symptoms and an increased sense of inner peace and resilience. By integrating these internal parts, Emily gains a deeper understanding of herself. She develops the capacity to navigate life's challenges with greater ease and confidence.

Integrating IFS with Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy

EMDR therapy is an evidence-based approach used to process and resolve traumatic memories. By integrating IFS with EMDR, therapists can address not only the traumatic memories themselves but also the internal parts that are affected by and respond to these memories.

Example of IFS integration with EMDR

Continuing with Emily's journey, let's imagine she identifies a traumatic event from her past that significantly contributes to her anxiety. With the support of her therapist, Emily engages in an EMDR session focused on processing this traumatic memory. As Emily recalls the memory, the therapist guides her through bilateral stimulation, such as eye movements or tapping, to facilitate processing and desensitization.

Throughout the EMDR session, Emily may notice various parts of herself surfacing in response to the traumatic memory. These parts might include the anxious protector, the vulnerable child, and possibly other protective parts that emerged to cope with the trauma. Through the integration of IFS, Emily works with her therapist to address the needs of each part and facilitate healing.

For example, Emily may offer comfort and reassurance to her vulnerable child part, helping it feel safe and secure during the EMDR process. Simultaneously, Emily acknowledges the role of her anxious protector and other protective parts, recognising their efforts to keep her safe in the aftermath of the trauma.

As Emily progresses through the integrated therapy process, she experiences profound healing and transformation, not only in the traumatic memory but also in her overall sense of well-being and self-awareness. By addressing the traumatic experiences and the internal responses to those experiences, Emily gains a deeper understanding of herself. She cultivates greater resilience in the face of adversity.

In conclusion, Internal Family Systems therapy offers a robust framework for understanding and healing the complexities of the human psyche while integrating IFS with Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy provides a comprehensive approach to addressing trauma and promoting psychological well-being. Through exploration, compassion, and integration of internal parts, individuals like Emily can embark on a transformative journey of healing and self-discovery.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Worthing, West Sussex, BN11 3LQ
Written by Robert Ormiston, RNMH MBACP
Worthing, West Sussex, BN11 3LQ

I'm a dedicated psychotherapist committed to improving mental health care. I introduced counselling models into traditional psychiatric settings, pursued a qualification in humanistic counselling, and actively contributed to community mental health units. I specialise in trauma therapy and believe in holistic well-being.

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