James Fitzgerald Therapy, PLLC

James Fitzgerald, MS, NCC, AAP, Psychotherapist

Strengthening Your Conscious Self © 2022

Internal Family Systems Therapy Action Plan

A Detailed Outline of the Process

Self Therapy ~ Exploring Your Own System ~ Parts Work

IFS Module Part 1: Self & Protectors

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This page (a therapy action plan) on the website (jamesfitzgeraldtherapy.com) is under construction and subject to revisions. Many of the links to websites, videos, audio, and documents may not be set up and working. You are welcome though to start using this page for a reference and guide to therapy sessions. I humbly ask for your patience with the process of setting up and maintaining this valuable and helpful resource.


The page’s content is listed in the order the work can be most helpful. The buttons are links to additional content. Here is what each will open.

  • Lesson = the content is psychoeducational material; intended to be read, reviewed, and learned; by mindfully and intentionally studying and assimilating.
  • Handout = the content is the psychoeducational material; from the lesson; provided as a pdf (you will need software like Adobe Acrobat to read the PDF)
  • Exercise/Activity = the content is psychoeducational material; intended to be interactive, reflective, and engages you with practical application, learning, and studying (you will be recording your practice in logs and diary cards, journaling your reflections, answering questions, and completing online forms)
  • Worksheet = the content is psychoeducational material from the interactive exercises and activities provided as a pdf, which can be printed and used in a physical manner, a paper and pen/pencil method.
  • Video = a link to creator content and outside psychoeducational materials provided through services like YouTube or Vimeo
  • Disclaimer: you will have to watch advertisements if you don’t have premium accounts. I can report that I do not have any conflict of interest in sharing the material. I receive no monetary reimbursement or compensatory rewards for sharing these videos with my clients.)



  • How to identify when a part has been triggered (activated) and how to calmly work with it cooperatively, and compassionately. 
  • Speaking for a part (unblended) versus speaking as a part (blended).
  • Parts detection: you will learn how to discern…
    • When a concerned part is blended with you
    • When an Exile is activated or blended with you
    • When polarized parts are activated and sparring with one another
    • When another protector of the same Exile is activated and/or blended with you.
    • When a concerned part is protecting another protector
  • Practicing Self-Therapy
    • Mindfulness & Meditation
    • Self, Protectors, Exiles

Videos: Introduction to Internal Family Systems Theory

video Introduction to Internal Family Systems (Richard Schwartz)

video Internal Family Systems Theory by Dawn Elise Snipes (Counselor Toolbox)

video IFS Crash Course 1: What Are Parts? (Lucas Forstmeyer)

video IFS Crash Course 2: What Are Protectors? (Lucas Forstmeyer)

video IFS Crash Course 3: Exiles (Lucas Forstmeyer)

video IFS Crash Course 4: Self (Lucas Forstmeyer)se

video IFS Crash Course 5: Summary of the Model (Lucas Forstmeyer)

video IFS Crash Course 6: How Our Inner System Works (Lucas Forstmeyer)

Videos: Introduction to Internal Family Systems Therapy

video IFS Therapy Intro 1: Goals of Internal Family Systems Therapy (Lucas Forstmeyer)

video IFS Therapy Intro 2: Principles of IFS Therapy (Lucas Forstmeyer)

video IFS Therapy Intro 3: The Flow of the Method (Lucas Forstmeyer)

video IFS Therapy Intro 4: The 6 Fs (Lucas Forstmeyer)

video IFS Therapy Intro 5: Exiles need care! (Lucas Forstmeyer)

video IFS Therapy Intro 6: Exile work In Depth (Lucas Forstmeyer)

video IFS Therapy Intro 7: Session Demonstration (Lucas Forstmeyer)

IFS Sessions (Meditations)

Use the following Guided Meditations for Help with the Process of IFS (audio and visual)

video IFS “The Path” Meditation (Robert Brown, LPC)

video IFS “Fire Drill” Meditation (Richard Schwartz)

video IFS Listening to Your Inner World Meditation by The Inner Work Hub

video IFS Noticing Your Parts Meditation by Celestial Twins

video IFS Inviting a Part to Speak by Richard Schwartz

video IFS Morning Meditation and Un-blending Parts by Vincent Terreri, MS, LPC

Personal Healing & Growth

The human mind isn’t a unitary thing that sometimes has irrational feelings. It is a complex system of interacting parts, each with a mind of its own. It’s like an internal family–with wounded children, impulsive teenagers, rigid adults, hypercritical parents, caring friends, nurturing relatives, and so on. That’s why this therapy approach is called Internal Family Systems Therapy.

Unlike many forms of therapy, IFS doesn’t pathologize people. When we have problems in life, IFS doesn’t see us as having a disease or deficit. It recognizes that we have the resources within us to solve our problems, though these resources may be blocked because of unconscious reactions to events in the past. IFS is designed to be self-led. It empowers you to take charge of your own growth because your true Self, not a therapist, is the agent of healing and wholeness. This makes IFS a natural vehicle for self-therapy.

IFS approaches the psyche with respect and acceptance. You learn to relate to yourself with compassion and caring. IFS has what you might call a spiritual perspective, not because it subscribes to any religion or spiritual practice in particular, but because it embodies spiritual qualities such as love, wisdom, and connectedness.

IFS is also user friendly. Most people find it easy and natural to understand themselves as made up of various alive parts, and this gives them surprising insight into their psychological dynamics.

The source of content in this section comes from Chapter One in the book ‘Self Therapy’ by Jay Earley. I encourage you to purchase the book, and use this website as a convenient electronic version of the book. I also understand if you don’t want to or cannot make the financial investment. If you use the Amazon link to purchase the book, keep in mind that I earn a commission as an Amazon affiliate.

I encourage you to read more of the book using this link to an electronic copy of the book (with no illustrations).

Read More

Summary of the IFS Model

This chapter introduces you to the IFS model, developed by psychologist Richard Schwartz, and gives a quick overview of how it works. As mentioned in Chapter 1, IFS sees the human psyche as divided into subpersonalities, or parts.

The source of content in this section comes from Chapter Two in the book ‘Self Therapy’ by Jay Earley

I encourage you to read more

Read More

Internal Family Systems Therapy Process

Part 1: Self and Protectors 

The human psyche is organized around avoiding pain. That is the job of the protectors—to buffer you from suffering. These are hard-working parts that manage your life and your psyche so that you don’t have to face your hidden pain. They take their job extremely seriously, believing that your well-being, and maybe your survival, depends on what they do. In order to heal and transform your psyche, it is necessary to access and heal the exiles that are hidden behind the protectors. However, in IFS we don’t break through doors and rush toward the exiles. We respect our protectors’ need for defenses, and we take our time getting to know them and gaining their trust. Only then will these gatekeepers relax and give us permission to work with the exiles.

The IFS process is actually quite efficient and penetrating, but, paradoxically, it does this by being careful and respectful of protectors, not through strong-arm tactics. Furthermore, protectors are important in themselves. Since exiles are pushed into the background, it is the protectors that are out front relating to people and acting in the world. It isn’t enough to heal our exiles; our protectors must also be healed and transformed so they can drop their defensive roles, let their positive qualities emerge, and assume healthy roles in the inner system.

Consequently, we start most IFS sessions by focusing on a protector. Since they are the parts that are most conscious and easily accessible, it is natural to begin with them. However, the main reason is that, in IFS, it isn’t appropriate to work with an exile until we have permission from any protectors who might not approve.

The steps for getting to know a protector can be summarized as follows: In beginning a session, you access a number of protectors and then choose one to focus on, called the target part. You inhabit Self and get to know this protector, finding out its positive intent for you. You establish a trusting relationship with the protector and understand what it is trying to protect you from. This sets the stage for further work with the protector or for healing the exile it is protecting. Here are the five steps in getting to know a protector, labeled P1-P5. “P” stands for protector.

P1: Accessing a part

P2: Unblending from the target part

P3: Unblending from a concerned part

P4: Discovering a protector’s role

P5: Developing a trusting relationship with a protector

Starting a Self Therapy Parts Work Session for Exploring Your Own System

You begin an IFS session by accessing a part that you believe will be helpful to work with. There are three ways to begin a session. You may have a specific part in mind. You may have an issue or have had an experience you might want to work on; referred to as a trailhead. You may want to start working with your current experience. The work you do might be related to an important trailhead, or it might be causing you intense feelings in the moment.

To begin each session, relax or settle into a physically comfortable position. Loosen your jaw, lower your shoulders, wiggle your hands and let them settle into your lap.

I invite you to take a moment to breathe mindfully. When you have practiced engaging in IFS sessions for some time, you should be able to close your eyes during the session. Closing your eyes turns off one of your brain’s external sensory mechanisms and reduces distractions. For the first few times you should leave them open (so you can continue to read the instructions). Bring your awareness to your breathing. Inhale for a count of 4 seconds, hold the top of the breath for a count of 4 seconds, exhale for a count of 4 seconds, and hold the bottom of the breath for a count of 4 seconds.

Settle into a normal breathing pattern. Now journey inward into your Psyche, your inner world. Sense the part in or around your body, listen for the internal dialogue, or get an image of the part. Check to see if there is a part activated at the moment. See what naturally arises. You can tell if the part is present in the moment by noticing if you can sense it, hear it, see it, or feel it. Do you easily see the world from its point of view and feel its emotions? If the part you want to work with isn’t activated, think of a recent situation when the part was activated. Imagine yourself in that situation right now.

Here are several guided meditations I purchased from Self Therapy Journey and the Self-Therapy Store. Produced by Jay Earley and Bonnie Weiss.

IFS Sessions: Accessing a Part

Here are the definitions of some terms we will be reading. Terms will be defined and explained in more detail as we progress through this lesson. 

Trailhead: an experience or a difficulty in your life that will lead to interesting parts if you follow it. It can be a situation or person that you react to, an emotional or bodily experience, a pattern of behavior or thinking, a dream, or anything else that indicates one or more parts to explore. If the part is not activated, imagine yourself in a recent situation when the part was activated.

Part Activation: A part is activated when its extreme feelings or beliefs are triggered by a situation or person. You can feel that the part is here and present with you in this moment.

Target Part: is the part you are focusing on or working with in the moment. This can be a helper, manager, firefighter, or concerned part. It might even be an exiled part.

In reality, these steps may sometimes intertwine or occur in a different order. Sometimes it’s necessary to refocus our attention on a different protector and therefore go back to the beginning of the steps. However, this is the basic order. 

You may access parts of your Psyche through the following “Channels”:

  • Emotion: How it feels emotionally
  • Visual: An image of the part
  • Body: Sensing the part in your body
  • Knowing: Feeling a sense that there is a part.
  • Verbal: Listening for what the part says to you
  • Name for part: A descriptive phrase, person’s name, character, animal, and so on 


When you access a part, try for as many channels of information as you can because they each have value, but you only need one of the above. Once you have accessed a part through one or more channels, allow a word or phrase to arise that describes the part as you are experiencing it. You might ask the part how it would describe itself.

Getting Acquainted Inside: Accessing Your Parts

Identifying the Parts at a Trailhead.

Accessing a Part that isn’t Activated.

Accessing Parts from your Current Experience.

Accessing Parts from a Trailhead.

Accessing Parts with a Partner.

Noticing a Part in Real Time.

The Seat of Consciousness

We each have a place in our psyche that determines our identity, choices, feelings, and perceptions. This seat can be occupied by Self or by a part. Whoever resides in the seat of consciousness at any given moment is in charge of our psyche at that time. Whether it is a part or the Self, the occupant of the seat determines how we feel, what our intentions are, how we perceive other people, how we relate to them, and what our choices and actions will be. This is a refinement of the idea from the last chapter that your activated parts determine your feelings and actions. At any given moment, all activated parts have some influence over you, but the occupant of the seat of consciousness has the overriding influence. It determines your dominant emotion and your actions.

We aren’t necessarily aware of the occupant of our seat of consciousness at any given time. In fact, it tends to be invisible to us because it is the one who looks at other things. The occupant of the seat of consciousness is the one who is aware or conscious. We take it to be ourselves. It is the observer, or witness, and it wields the flashlight of consciousness. We are conscious of whichever part is illuminated by this flashlight, but it rarely gets pointed back toward the one who holds it. So we tend not to be aware of the witness. The witness sees but is not seen.

Ideally, the Self is the occupant of the seat of consciousness. The occupant of the seat of consciousness determines how we perceive others, how we feel toward others, how we act toward others, and what we are trying to accomplish in our interactions. The seat of consciousness even determines our identity and/or personality, or, who we consider ourselves to be. For example, how we react to a friend who walks past us without saying hello. If Self is in the seat of consciousness, we might not think anything of it. If we are thinking they might not have noticed us, that might be a manger, if we initiate a conversation, that might be a helper part or Self, if we get mad at them, that might be a firefighter, if we don’t react at all, that might be any part or Self. The idea is, that whoever is at the helm, is steering the ship.

The Self is the natural occupant of the seat of consciousness because it is who we truly are. Self is our essential nature, our spiritual center, the source of self-energy flows abundantly through Self. This means that Self occupies the seat of consciousness unless a part takes over the seat and pushes the Self into the background. Then that part is in charge of your Psyche (seat of consciousness, ship’s helm, kingdom’s throne, pick your metaphor). This can happen in an instant and usually without your realizing it. However, as you will soon learn, if you pay close attention, with mindfulness and conscious awareness, you can notice the shift and work through a process with the part. If and when the part steps aside (after you ask it calmly, confidently, and compassionately), the Self will automatically occupy the seat of consciousness. How do I know that there isn’t just another part asking that part to step aside? Please refer to the section on Self Energy strengths and capacities. A reminder: Self has no motives or ego, it is a curious and creative witness.


According to Richard Schwartz, in his article ‘The Self’:

“Working with hundreds of clients for more than a decade, some of whom were severely abused and show severe symptoms, has convinced me that everyone has this healthy and healing Self despite the fact that many people have very little access to it initially. When working with an individual, the goal of IFS is to differentiate this Self from the parts, thereby releasing its resources, and then in the state of Self, to help parts out of their extreme roles.” (Schwartz, 2001)  

More about the Self


Integrated Holistic Approach

If you would like to learn how IFS integrates well with Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), the Polyvagal Theory (PVT), a Twelve Step program (AA, NA), and other mind-body models of health & wellness, I invite you to read an article I am working on.

Strengthening Your Conscious Self

IFS Sessions: Unblending from a Protector

  • Un-blending from a Target Part
    • Check to see if you are charged up with the part’s feelings.
    • Check to see if you are caught up in the part’s beliefs.
    • If you are blended with the Target Part, options for unblending:
    • Ask the part to separate from you so you can get to know it.
    • Move back to separate from the part.
    • Get an image of the part at a distance from you.
    • Do a short centering/grounding meditation. Draw the part.
    • If the part doesn’t separate, ask what it is afraid would happen if it did separate.
    • Explain to the part the value of separating or reassure it about its fears.

Unblending from the Target Part.

Daily Parts Check In.

Learn more about the 8 Cs and 5 Ps of ‘Self” and what it means to be in self leadership mode, (conscious conscience) with innate character strengths and self energy.

The Core Self

The Character Strengths

The Virtues Project

Learn more about Managers. (The title manager refers to the primary role of this type of part). Managers can be aggressive, passive/aggressive, passive, and/or distanced. Managers can interact internally in our inner world and externally with other people and the world around us. Managers are always proactive, never reactive. Firefighters, helper parts, and concerned parts are reactive. 

Common Roles of Managers

Common Roles of Managers Checklist

Learn more about Firefighters. (The title firefighter refers to the primary role of this type of part). Firefighters can be aggressive, passive/aggressive, passive, and/or distanced. Firefighters can interact internally in our inner world and externally with other people and the world around us. Firefighters are always reactive, never proactive. Managers, helper parts, and concerned parts can be proactive.

Common Roles of Firefighters

Common Roles of Firefighters Checklist

IFS Sessions: Unblending from a Concerned Part

  • Checking for Self-Leadership and Un-blending from a Concerned Part
    • Check to see how you feel toward the Target Part right now.
    • If you feel compassionate, curious, and so on, you are in Self. Move on to P4.
    • If you don’t, un-blend the Concerned Part:
    • Ask the Concerned Part if it would be willing to step aside (or relax) just for now so you can get to know the Target Part from an open place.
    • If it is willing, check again to see how you feel toward the Target Part, and repeat.
    • If it isn’t willing to step aside, explain to it the value of stepping aside.
    • If it still won’t, ask what it is afraid would happen if it did and reassure it about its fears.
    • If it still won’t, make the Concerned Part the Target Part and work with it.

Unblending from a Concerned Part.

Help Sheet 1: Getting to Know a Protector

Keeping Track of Your Parts

IFS Sessions: Getting to Know a Protector

Discovering a Protector’s Role

  • Invite the part to tell you about itself.
  • The part may answer in words, images, body sensations, emotions, or direct knowing.
  • What do you do? What is your role?
  • What do you feel? What makes you feel so (feeling)?
  • How do you relate to people? How do you interact with other parts?
  • How do you feel about (external event or feeling)?
  • How long have you been doing (your role)?
  • What do you want for us? What do you hope to accomplish by (doing your role)?
  • What are you afraid would happen if you didn’t (do your role)? (This moves toward an Exile that the part is protecting.)

Getting to Know a Protector

IFS Sessions: Developing a Trusting Relationship with a Protector

  • Developing a Trusting Relationship with a Protector
    • You can foster trust by saying the following to the Protector (if true).
      • I understand why you (do your role).
      • I appreciate your efforts on my behalf.

Ending an IFS Session

Whenever you are ending a session, it is a good idea to take a moment to connect respectfully with the parts you have worked with and bring closure to the work. It’s like saying good-bye to a friend at the end of a visit. This allows you to separate without leaving any parts hanging. You also find out if there are any loose ends or unresolved feelings that you must deal with in future sessions. And it strengthens your relationship with the part. Here are some suggestions.

Thank the target part for making itself known to you. If the work was only partly finished, let it know that you will come back to work with it more. This will reassure the part that you won’t forget about it. Ask if it wants anything from you over the next week or so, and remember to provide whatever it asks for. For example, it may ask you to stay in relationship with it. If you have completed the work, let it know that you will check in with it later to see how it is doing.

Thank any concerned parts for stepping aside and allowing you to do the work, and, if appropriate, see how they feel about what has happened. This helps confirm that you aren’t just going to ignore parts that you ask to step aside.

See if any parts need to say anything before you stop. You don’t want them to feel cut off when the session ends. This also gives you a chance to discover what might be unfinished. For example, a part might say that it is frightened about something that happened and needs attention soon. That way, you know to work with it in the next session.

See if you want to say anything to any of your parts. This is an opportunity for you to acknowledge and strengthen your relationship with a part. For example, you might want to tell the target part that you admire its courage.

If you have worked with a protector and it has given you permission to work with an exile (this is covered in Part II), thank the protector and see how it feels about the work you have done with the exile. This lets the protector know that you are still connected to it, and it gives you an idea of whether the protector approves of the work you are doing.

Working through Avoidance of the Work, Distraction, and Procrastination 

Some people decide that they want to do the exercises as they progress through IFS, Self Therapy, and Parts Work, but don’t follow through. If you are stuck in this way, it might be helpful to explore what is going on inside your system. Why would a part of you want to do something and another part not want to carry through? Often this happens because a hidden protector doesn’t really want to do the exercises. In other words, even though a part of you has decided the exercises would be beneficial, another part of you is balking. This might be a protector that is afraid that if you follow through with an exercise, you will encounter strong emotions that you can’t handle. Or it might be a protector that doesn’t think you will benefit from this work and so doesn’t want to bother. This avoidant protector is clearly in control (since you aren’t doing the exercises), even though it may be unconscious.

The best way to handle this situation is to commit to doing a session in which you work with this avoidant protector. In this session, check inside for a felt sense of not wanting to do the exercises. You may even feel resistant to the session you are engaged in right now. You might want to get up and leave, or tell yourself that you don’t have time, or generally feel uncomfortable. Tune in to that feeling of resistance. It might feel like stubbornness or annoyance or defiance. You might sense apathy or anxiety. Whatever it is, this feeling will give you access to the avoidant part.

Then continue through the IFS steps to get to know this part. See what you can discover about why this part doesn’t want you to do the work and what it is afraid would happen if it allowed you to. Then see if you can reassure this protector that its fears won’t come true, just like you might reassure a concerned part.

For example, you might explain that you aren’t going to dive into overwhelmingly painful emotions, and you won’t allow any dangerous parts to take over. Assure it that you will stay in Self while you become acquainted with your parts. For this reassurance to be effective, you may need to develop a trusting relationship with the avoidant protector, which is covered in the next chapter. However, even one short session with an avoidant protector can make a big difference in your willingness to do the exercises.

If you do such a session but your avoidance doesn’t change, it is possible that there is more than one avoidant protector. Do another session in which you check for others and work with them. Since you are avoiding doing sessions, it may be difficult to do even this session on the avoidant protector. You might keep making excuses instead of doing it. One way to make this session happen is to schedule it with a partner. If someone else is counting on you to be there, it makes it harder to avoid. Or you could do this session with an IFS therapist, who might help you get at deeper issues behind your avoidance.

Session Basics

Starting a new IFS Self Therapy session:

Whenever you begin a new session, it is a good idea to start by checking in with the part you focused on in the previous session. Then, access the Target Part from your previous session. You may need to repeat some of the questions about getting to know the part in order to fully establish it in your consciousness and connect with it.

If the part was still in the process of working with you during the previous session, it is usually best to continue working with that part in the new session until you finish unburdening it (unless something urgent has come up in the meantime). Access the part and continue from the step you ended with in the previous session unless any new Protectors get in the way. If that happens, work with those Protectors first.

Triggered Parts

It just might be inevitable. At some point, a part may get triggered during any exploration of your inner world. Even though you have gone through the process to become centered in Self, a part may arise and take over the seat of consciousness without you realizing it. It is important that you take a step back to assess the work up to this point. It might be helpful to practice a meditation, grounding technique, or mind-body intervention (polyvagal exercise for central nervous system regulation).

Blended Parts

Here are some signals that a part has taken over:

  • You speak as the part rather than reporting on what the part says to you.
  • You get lost in telling the story of what happened, and it triggers a part.
  • You begin to see the world from the viewpoint of the part or you are caught up in its beliefs.
  • You get more and more charged up with the part’s feelings.

Awareness is the key. The trick to finding your way back to a centered and grounded place is detecting that you are blended. When you become aware that you have lost your compassionate or curious perspective, you can work more effectively on unblending and returning to Self.

If you are working with a partner, you can give that person permission to point out to you when you are blended with a part. If you are working with a part in real time—that is, in a life situation—you can sense the shift in your body when you’re blended with a part versus speaking and acting from Self.

Speaking as the Part versus Speaking for the Part

The skill set and understanding that we learn during IFS sessions are particularly valuable in our interactions with others. Whether we are talking to business associates, friends, or intimates, parts language can clarify feelings and intentions, ease tensions, and create an atmosphere of open communication and respect.

Generally it is advisable to speak for a part (from Self) rather than speaking as the part. For example, if the part is angry, instead of saying, “I am angry,” you can say, “There’s a part of me that’s angry.” When you speak for a part, you are more likely to be responsible for the part’s feelings and issues rather than blaming others for them. You’re less likely to say things that will hurt other people’s Exiles and therefore trigger their angry Protectors.

Speaking for a part is particularly useful when you’re talking with someone about a touchy emotional issue between you or when you’re trying to resolve a conflict with someone. This is especially helpful in intimate relationships. It is also advisable when working on conflicts in groups. It’s a simple rule that helps you engage in true dialogue.

IFS Session Basics: Parts Detection

When you are getting to know a Protector, a concerned part may become activated, blend with Self, and need to be addressed.

There are multiple ways that this will manifest:

1. A Concerned Part is blended with you in a way that disrupts the process.

  • You’re figuring out the part or describing it rather than asking questions and listening for its responses (a Thinker or an Administrator Part).
  • You feel angry at the Target Part (an Angry Part has been activated).
  • You feel as though you want to stop the work (an Avoidant Part).
  • You become more and more intellectual in your approach to the work (an Intellectualizer or an Achiever Part).
  • You space out (a Foggy Part or a Dissociator).
  • You get blocked emotionally (an Avoidant Part or another Protector).
  • You start thinking about other things (a Distractor Part).

The trick is detecting the part—becoming aware that something is disrupting your IFS process and then realizing it means that a Concerned Part has been activated and is blended with you.

Once you become aware that a part has arisen, you focus on that part and find out what it is doing and why. You are especially interested in finding out what it is afraid of that made it disrupt your process. A good question is, “What are you afraid would happen if you weren’t doing your job right now?”

When you have gotten to know the part and have established some trust, you can ask it to relax, step aside, and allow you to continue your work. However, you may need to switch your focus, make this part the Target Part, and work with it further.

2. An Exile is activated

This is usually the Exile that is being protected by the Target Protector. The trick is to realize that it is a different part from the Target Part, which may not be obvious.

For example, you’re getting to know a part that tends to avoid doing certain things in your life, and you feel the shame that it is trying not to feel. This is probably the Exile that the Protector is trying to avoid. It is usually a good idea to acknowledge the Exile and then ask it to wait. You can explain to it that you will be coming to heal it, but first you must get to know the Protector and get its permission.

3. A polarized part—another Protector—is activated that is polarized with the Target Protector.

For example, you’re working with a part that avoids things in your life, and a part pops up that really wants to get those things done. See the section (Polarized Parts) for how to work with this type of situation.

4. Another Protector is activated that protects the same Exile that is being protected by the Target Protector.

For example, a part comes up that is skeptical about inner work, and this part is trying to protect against the same shame Exile that the Avoidant Part is protecting. Ask the second Protector to step aside until you have finished working with the Target Protector (the Avoidant Part). You may need to reassure it that you won’t contact the Exile (shame) until you have its permission. When you finish getting to know the Target Protector, do the same work with this second one. Get permission from both of them before you get to know the Exile.

IFS Self Therapy Workbook:

P1 Accessing Parts

Accessing a Part that isn’t activated:

Identifying the Parts at a Trailhead

Identifying the Parts in your current experience

Noticing a Part in real time

P2 Un-blending & Conscious Blending


Unblending from a Target Part

Reluctance to unblend

Daily Parts Check in

Consciously blending

P3 Checking Self-Leadership & Un-blending from Concerned Parts

Unblending from a Concerned Part

Mapping your Parts

P4 Getting to Know a Protector

Getting to know a Protector

P5 Developing a Trusting Relationship

Developing a trusting relationship with a Protector

Helping a Protector to relax in real time

When a Protector doesn’t trust you

Suggestions for Developing Trust with Protectors

Working with managers, firefighters, concerned parts, exiles, and the Self takes place around an idea known as the Seat of Consciousness. This idea has some spiritual influence and perspective to it. If you prefer to think reasonably about it, scientific and clinical parallels could be drawn alongside the concept. It might make it easier to accept if you thought about it in the following ways.


(Brain) Imagine that the manager parts exist in your prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that is responsible for executive functions, planning, decision making, executing, and analyzing outcomes. Imagine that firefighter parts exist in your limbic system and amygdala, the part of your brain responsible for automatic body functions, memory consolidation, and emotions. The freeze, fight, or flight response happens here. 


(Mind) Imagine that the manager parts exist in what DBT calls “Reasonable Mind.” The part of your conscious conscience that is proactive, logical, rational, and calm. It doesn’t rely on emotions and acts to suppress emotions. Imagine that your firefighter parts exist in what DBT refers to as “Emotion Mind.” The part of your conscious conscience that is emotional, reactive, vindictive, and sometimes volatile and destructive. 


Imagine that with enough practice, you could regulate your central nervous system and bring balance between the PFC and the Limbic system. And, bring balance between reasonable mind and emotional mind, into a synthesis in wise mind. There are therapy approaches that teach you to do this. They are: Dialectical Behavior Therapy; Radically Open DBT; Polyvagal Theory; Sensorimotor Psychotherapy; Somatic Experiencing; and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy.

With that idea presented to you, I now invite you to engage in some of these other approaches before diving into working with Exiles. In a way, you will be teaching Self and helper/protector parts the skills they need to go into the work in a deeper and more meaningful way. I suggest you do all the work in the following order:

  1. MBSR (Beginning Course in Mindfulness)
  2. MBCT (Mindfulness Skills Building)
  3. DBT Mindfulness Module (Wise Mind, What Skills, How Skills)
  4. IFS Working with Self & Protectors
  5. DBT Emotion Regulation (Emotional Intelligence, Coping, Regulating)
  6. PVT, SP, SE (Mind-Body Skills & Interventions)
  7. DBT Distress Tolerance (Grounding, Soothing)
  8. IFS Working with Exiles (Healing & Integration)
  9. DBT Interpersonal Effectiveness (Social Intelligence)
  10. Family/Couple’s Therapy (Gottman, Relationship Skills, MBTI)
  11. Health & Wellness Planning & Implementation

This order is the way I have organized the Therapy Plan. I am creating a separate plan for couples and families. Keep checking back.

IFS Therapy (Resources)

IFS Therapy (Resources)

Sources & Works Cited:

Baer, R. A. (2003). Mindfulness training as a clinical intervention: A conceptual and empirical review. Clin Psychology: Science and Practice, 10, 125-143.

Cozolino, L. (2017). The neuroscience of psychotherapy: healing the social brain (Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology). WW Norton & Company.

Deacon, S. A., & Davis, J. C. (2001). Internal family systems theory: A technical integration. Journal of Systemic Therapies20 (1), 45.

Earley, J. (2009). Self-Therapy: A Step-By-Step Guide to Creating Inner Wholeness Using IFS, a New, Cutting-Edge Therapy. Hillcrest Publishing Group.

Holmes, T., Holmes, L., & Eckstein, S. (2007). Parts Work: An Illustrated Guide to your Inner Life. Kalamazoo: Winged Heart Press.

IFS Institute (2022) The Internal Family Systems Model Outline. Web Article. Retrieved from: [IFS Institute] 

Rothman, A. (2022) IFS and Polyvagal Theory: Healing through compassionate connection. Eus Claire, Wisconsin. PESI & Psychotherapy Networker.

Schwartz, R. C. (1994). The Internal Family Systems Model. New York, NY: Guilford.

Schwartz, R. C. (2001). The Self. Reprinted from Self to Self. Unknown publisher.

Schwartz, R. C., & Sweezy, M. (2019). Internal Family Systems Therapy. Guilford Publications.

Scott, D. (2022) Exploring Your Own System. IFS Counseling Association (IFSCA) Videos & Articles [PDF Article]

Smith, J. A., Hayes, N. D., & Smock Jordan, S. (2019). Systemic integration of IFS therapy and 12-step facilitation for substance use: A theoretical discussion. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly37(1), 60-74.

Sweezy, M. (2011). Treating Trauma after Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration21(1), 90.

Weiss, B. (2013). Self-Therapy Workbook: An Exercise Book for the IFS Process. Pattern System Books.

Wilber, K. (2000). Integral psychology: Consciousness, spirit, psychology, therapy. Boston: Shambhala.

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