INTERNAL FAMILY SYSTEMS
THEORIST: RICHARD SCHWARTZ
Developed by Schwartz, Internal Family Systems aims to discover the internal subpersonalities or “parts” of an individual. He found that clients would often refer to competing internal “parts” or inner voices and describe interactions, coalitions, and various relationships between them. According to Schwartz, these individual parts interrelate as a coherent system with the same dynamics one would see in a family. Schwartz’s main focus is that each individual has a Self at his/her core and that the Self should be the leader and ultimate decision maker. However, when people experience trauma, their inner system of “parts” take on extreme roles in order to cope.
- To help clients move from managing their lives reactively (with their parts) to becoming led by the Self
- To gain balance within the client’s internal system and to help the individual and family members be aware of when “parts” of the internal system have taken over
- To allow parts of the internal system of an individual to exist and provide input, but to elevate the Self to the leader and ultimate decision maker
- To heal the Exiles
- The most important part of each individual that serves as the leader for the rest of the parts. The Self is balanced, calm, solid, and always positive, and allows individuals to heal and to foster insight and compassion.
- The hidden and most vulnerable parts of an individual that contain the pain, fear, and sadness from past hurtful experiences. Exiles exist undetected until they are triggered. At that point, Exiles flood the personality with strong feelings of grief or fear.
- The parts of the Self that allow the individual to function in day-to-day life by containing the Exile and keeping it out of consciousness. Managers protect the exile and keep individuals “well-behaved” so that the outcome is positive.
- Schwartz named them “Firefighters” because they are completely geared for immediate rescue. The Firefighters are the parts of the internal system that manage crisis and “numb the pain,” usually through the use of substances such as food, drugs, or alcohol or distract with sex, self-mutilation, or obsessive activity. The goal of Firefighters is also to contain the Exile, but uses different methods than those of the Managers.
ASSESSMENT AND TREATMENT
- Help all three parts of the client to interrelate effectively by mapping the client’s internal relationships
- Track the relationship between the Self and the parts
- Track the relationship between parts
- Allow the Manager and Firefighter to take less active roles while maintaining autonomy
- Help Exiles to come to the surface and heal
- Help parts to trust the leadership of the Self
STANCE OF THERAPIST
- Creates a safe place for the client
- Non-pathologizing and accepting