Transforming inner conflicts - IFS therapy and emotional healing

Just before you begin to read this article, I want to encourage you to pause and ponder this question: “Am I aware of a part of me that is interested in reading this article?"


At the same time, are you aware of another part that might be feeling more sceptical and may be bringing doubt into your mind? If so, you are bringing awareness to ‘parts’ of your psyche that may be in conflict with each other. This article will attempt to explain what may be going on and how Internal Family Systems therapy might be able to help, especially when it comes to emotional healing.

What is parts therapy?

Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy is a powerful and effective therapeutic approach that has been gaining popularity in recent years. Developed by Richard Schwartz in the 1980s, IFS therapy helps clients to identify and work with the different parts of their personalities.  

Richard Schwartz trained as a marriage and family therapist, where he would work with families in conflict and part of that work was giving each person in the family a chance to express how they felt, in order to resolve the conflict.  He began to notice in his trauma clients that the ‘voices’ in their heads were similar to the families he had been working with and developed the system now known as Internal Family Systems, to help the ‘parts’ have an opportunity to speak out.

Parts therapy is based on the premise that our personality is made up of different sub-personalities or ‘parts’. Each part has its own unique perspective, beliefs, values and emotional states. These parts can be in harmony or in conflict with each other, leading to emotional distress or limiting beliefs.  

An example of this might be that you notice, after having an argument with your partner, that you are in conflict with yourself. One part of you might be saying "he was really mean to me. He is deliberately trying to hurt me" and then another part might be saying "I need to make sure I don't tell him how I feel again, then I won't get hurt".

Looking at the first part, it might be coming from a young part of us that remembers what it felt like to be hurt by adults in our childhood and the other part is 'managing' us to make sure we don't get hurt again. Richard Schwartz identified these as being managers, firefighters and exiles.

Managers are the parts that run the day-to-day life of the person. They try to control every relationship and situation that the person experiences to try to stop feelings of rejection and pain. Exiles are young parts that have often experienced trauma and have been isolated from the system of the person in order to protect them from further pain. Firefighters are a group of parts that react when exiles are activated to try to control the feelings, much like a firefighter might extinguish a fire. This may present as the use of alcohol, drugs, self-harm or binge-eating.

Parts therapy is a technique that helps clients to identify and work with their different parts in a structured and intentional way. The aim is to bring about harmony and resolution, leading to greater self-awareness and personal growth.

How does parts therapy work in sessions?

In therapy, parts work is conducted in a safe and supportive environment, with the therapist guiding the client through the process. The therapist may use relaxation techniques to help the client access their subconscious mind and identify the different parts of their personality.

Once the different parts have been identified, the therapist will work with the client to explore the beliefs, emotions and motivations of each part. The aim is to gain a deeper understanding of the inner conflicts and negative beliefs that may be causing emotional distress or limiting behaviour.

The therapist may ask questions like, “what does this part want?” “What is this part afraid of?” or “what is the positive intention of this part?” By understanding the underlying motivation of each part, the client can begin to bring about harmony and resolution.

IFS therapy also recognises that no matter how damaged people think they are we all have within us a healthy ‘self’ that knows how to help us become calm, compassionate and connected. Richard Schwartz refers to this as ‘self-leadership’.

Benefits of parts therapy 

  • Resolving inner conflicts – By identifying and working with different parts of the personality, parts therapy can help clients to resolve inner conflicts that may be causing emotional distress.
  • Emotional healing – By exploring the underlying beliefs and emotions of different parts of the self, clients can begin to heal emotional wounds and promote emotional growth.
  • Personal growth – Parts therapy can promote personal growth by helping clients to gain a deeper understanding of themselves and their motivations, leading to greater self-awareness and personal development.
  • Enhanced self-awareness – By identifying the different parts of their personality clients can gain a greater awareness of their thoughts, emotions and behaviours, leading to greater self-awareness and self-acceptance.

How can parts work help you?

Finding a therapist that understands IFS therapy is the first step towards helping you to explore and understand your ‘parts’ better in order to help promote emotional healing and to gain a deeper understanding of yourself and develop a more compassionate and accepting relationship with all aspects of your psyche.

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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Chippenham, Wiltshire, SN14
Written by Liz Gleaves, Counselling and Psychotherapy, Dip. Couns, MBACP
Chippenham, Wiltshire, SN14

Liz Gleaves is an Integrative Counsellor and Psychotherapist. She works both face to face and online with adults of all ages. She is trained as a Certified Clinical Trauma Practitioner and well as being trained to Level 5 in Psychotherapeutic Counselling.

Phone: 07368843610

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