What is Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy and How Can It Help You?

Sean Dadashi
Sean Dadashi

Sean is the co-founder of Rosebud, an AI journal for personal growth.

May 14, 2024

Are you feeling stuck in patterns of behavior or emotional reactions that don't serve you? Do you struggle with inner conflicts, self-criticism, or feeling disconnected from your authentic self? Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy may offer a powerful pathway to understanding and healing your inner world. In a recent podcast episode, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Coates, a certified IFS therapist, about the transformative potential of this therapeutic approach. In this post, we'll explore what IFS is, its key concepts, and how it can help you achieve greater self-awareness, inner harmony, and personal growth.

What is Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy?

IFS is a non-pathologizing, evidence-based therapeutic model developed by Dr. Richard Schwartz. It views the mind as comprising various "parts" or subpersonalities, each with its own unique perspectives, feelings, memories, and motivations. As David explains, "We have different parts of us that want different things, that have different agendas and different motivations."

IFS recognizes that these parts can sometimes be in conflict with each other, leading to emotional struggles and unwanted behaviors. Central to IFS is the concept of "Self," the wise, compassionate essence at the core of every person. When we are in Self, we can approach our parts with curiosity, acceptance, and understanding. According to David, "The self inside of me is the same self that's inside of you. It's the same self inside of Sean."

Key Concepts in IFS


IFS identifies three main types of parts:

  • Exiles: Parts that carry painful emotions and memories, often from childhood, and are often hidden away by other parts.
  • Managers: Parts that try to control and protect the system from the pain of the exiles, often through perfectionism, people-pleasing, or other coping mechanisms.
  • Firefighters: Parts that react to the activation of exiles by engaging in impulsive or numbing behaviors like substance use, self-harm, or risky behaviors.


The Self is the grounded, compassionate essence at the core of every person. It possesses qualities like curiosity, compassion, clarity, courage, creativity, and connectedness. Strengthening self-leadership allows individuals to heal and harmonize their parts. As David puts it, "The goal of IFS is to move you more towards a place of being self led."


This is the process of releasing the painful emotions, beliefs, and sensations held by exiles, allowing them to transform and integrate into the system in a healthy way.

How Can IFS Help You?

  1. Develop Self-Awareness: IFS helps you understand your inner world and the different parts that influence your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This increased self-awareness is the foundation for personal growth and change. David emphasizes, "It's a way to come home. That's fundamentally why I love it."
  2. Cultivate Self-Compassion: By learning to approach your parts with curiosity and compassion, IFS helps you develop a kinder, more accepting relationship with yourself. This self-compassion is crucial for healing and personal growth. As David shares, "One thing about IFS I love is it's not pathologizing, there are no bad parts."
  3. Heal Childhood Wounds: IFS is particularly effective in helping individuals heal from childhood traumas and attachment wounds. David explains, "Eventually, with me and this client, we work with this seven year old. And she gets to tell us all the ways that she felt alone, that she felt like she wasn't worth very much, all those stories. And through connection with a self led client, she gets seen for her pain."
  4. Resolve Inner Conflicts: IFS helps you understand the different parts of yourself that may be in conflict, such as one part that wants to pursue a goal and another part that fears failure. By facilitating communication and understanding between these parts, IFS can help you resolve inner conflicts and achieve greater alignment.
  5. Enhance Relationships: As you develop greater self-awareness and self-compassion, you may find that your relationships with others improve as well. David notes, "Isn't it so much sweeter to have understanding and compassion for other people? Whereas before, we tend to project."

Internal Family Systems therapy offers a unique and powerful approach to understanding and transforming your inner world. By recognizing the different parts within you and cultivating self-leadership, IFS can help you heal emotional wounds, resolve inner conflicts, and achieve greater self-awareness and self-compassion. As David shares in the podcast, "It fundamentally reorients people in terms of how they face the world. So much more is possible when the mission isn't to just achieve."

If you're interested in exploring IFS further, consider reaching out to a certified IFS therapist or exploring some of the recommended resources mentioned by David, such as the books "No Bad Parts," "Self-Therapy," and "You Are the One You've Been Waiting For." You can also learn more by visiting selfleadership.org or watching the latest episode of the Inner Odyssey podcast here: https://youtu.be/Oy5szaAxcL8

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