Strengthening Your Conscious Self © 2022

Internal Family Systems Module

Table of Contents


Although I am not yet certified by the IFS Institute as an IFS practitioner. I have submitted and continue to submit entries for their application invitation lottery. And I am currently enrolled in a PESI provided IFS certification course. I am currently practicing therapy that is influenced by IFS, and is sometimes referred to as “exploring your own system,” “self- therapy,” or “parts work.” You may have also heard terms like “parenting your inner child” and “gaining freedom from your inner critic.” My work is influenced by Richard Schwartz, Jay Earley, Bonnie Weiss, Derek Scott, Lucas Forstmeyer, Jennifer May, Tom Holmes, and Laurie Holmes.



General Information:

Each person who is engaging in the work with me will proceed through the introductory section of each intervention module first. The introduction module will include general information about the approach or therapy. The general information will include introductions to the work from the multiple points of view of several different IFS professionals. This section will include a summary of the ways I integrate other theories and approaches, and mindfulness based therapy approaches into the IFS parts work.

Introduction to the Internal Family Systems Theory and Model




I have provided this section to help clients understand the information being presented. Note: A glossary will be included in every module, as a separate page. There will also be a page with a complete list of sources and works cited (bibliography). Whenever possible, any word that everyone may not understand will be a link with a description box.

Glossary of Terms and Concepts



Information and Resources

A section with suggestions for further study: books, workbooks, fact sheets, handouts, and worksheets. A resources page with affiliate links to purchase suggested learning materials. A section with suggestions for further study: videos, podcasts, websites, journals, and articles. A bibliography section of sources and works cited. A page detailing how the sources were determined to be reliable, valid, accurate, scientific, peer reviewed, empirical, and evidence based.





This section will provide a broad overview of the IFS theory and process. Playlist of videos from Lucas Forstmeyer, Dr. Jennifer May, Derek Scott, and others. Articles on the IFS theory, therapy practice, and self-guided self help parts work.





Assessment tools are a cornerstone of many professions centering around the human psyche. Typically, these assessments invite clients to respond to questions about their mental state and subjective experiences. Psychologists and therapists depend on these tools to make decisions about the best course of treatment for clients seeking support for their mental health. Therefore, it’s worth taking a little time to explore their variations and how to use them most effectively, and specifically with IFS. In this section, we’ll explore some of the most commonly used and reliable mental health assessments. We’ll also walk through processing problems, symptoms, and diagnoses. Translating these into non-pathologizing, compassionate, and inclusive language. Describing the most common trailheads, helper parts, and protector parts.

The assessments most relevant for IFS:

  1. DSM 5 Diagnostic Interview
  2. Biopsychosocial Assessment
  3. Readiness to Change Questionnaire
  4. Beck Anxiety Inventory
  5. Beck Depression Inventory
  6. Life Domain Satisfaction Survey
  7. Eating Disorders
  8. Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test
  9. Adult Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory 
  10. The Fagerström Test for Nicotine Dependence
  11. DSM 5 Screen for Pathological Gambling
  12. Assessment of Personality Disorder
  13. PTSD Checklist for DSM 5
  14. Health Worry Questionnaire




Diagnostic Considerations

Translating common objectives and interventions into an IFS and mindfulness (mind-body) client conceptualization.

  • Treatment for Personality Disorders
  • Treatment for Substance Use Disorders
  • Treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Other Mental Health Disorders as classified by the DSM 5 TR




Attachment Style & Bonding Patterns

Translating common personality disorders into attachment styles to conceptualize your inner system and your possible exiled parts.

Attachment, or the attachment bond, is the emotional connection you formed as an infant with your primary caregiver—probably your mother. According to attachment theory, pioneered by British psychiatrist John Bowlby and American psychologist Mary Ainsworth, the quality of the bonding you experienced during this first relationship often determines how well you relate to other people and respond to intimacy throughout life.

If your primary caretaker made you feel safe and understood as an infant, if they were able to respond to your cries and accurately interpret your changing physical and emotional needs, then you likely developed a successful, secure attachment. As an adult, that usually translates to being self-confident, trusting, and hopeful, with an ability to healthily manage conflict, respond to intimacy, and navigate the ups and downs of romantic relationships.

If you experienced confusing, frightening, or inconsistent emotional communication during infancy, though, if your caregiver was unable to consistently comfort you or respond to your needs, you’re more likely to have experienced an unsuccessful or insecure attachment. Infants with insecure attachment often grow into adults who have difficulty understanding their own emotions and the feelings of others, limiting their ability to build or maintain stable relationships. They may find it difficult to connect to others, shy away from intimacy, or be too clingy, fearful, or anxious in a relationship.

Of course, experiences that occur between infancy and adulthood can also impact and shape our relationships. However, the infant brain is so profoundly influenced by the attachment bond, understanding your attachment style can offer vital clues as to why you may be having problems in your adult relationships. Perhaps you behave in puzzling or self-destructive ways when you’re in a close relationship? Maybe you repeatedly make the same mistakes over and over? Or maybe you struggle to form meaningful connections in the first place?

Attachment Styles/Patterns

  • Ambivalent/Anxious Preoccupied Attachment Style
  • Avoidant-Dismissive Attachment Style
  • Disorganized-Insecure Attachment

More about Attachment/Bonding



Psychoeducation (Knowledge)

Psychoeducation refers to the process of providing education and information to those seeking or receiving mental health services, such as people diagnosed with mental health conditions (or life-threatening/terminal illnesses) and their family members. Though the term has been in use for most of the 20th century, it did not gain traction until movements addressing the stigmatization of mental health concerns and working to increase mental health awareness began in earnest.

The goal of psychoeducation is to help people better understand (and become accustomed to living with) mental health conditions. It is considered to be an essential aspect of all therapy programs. It is generally known that those who have a thorough understanding of the challenges they are facing as well as knowledge of personal coping ability, internal and external resources, and their own areas of strength are often better able to address difficulties, feel more in control of the condition(s), and have a greater internal capacity to work toward mental and emotional well-being.

IFS therapy or any type of therapy can be more effective and person centered if the client has a firm grasp of the terms, words, theory, philosophy, assumptions, precepts, methods, and interventions of that therapy approach. 

IFS Philosophy




Internal family systems therapy was designated as an evidence-based treatment in 2015. Although much of the evidence regarding the efficacy of IFS is anecdotal, major research studies are ongoing and will hopefully provide scientific evidence to support what IFS therapists consistently see. Bessel van der Kolk, a Dutch psychiatrist and one of the leading researchers on trauma, has strongly backed the use of IFS. In his book, The Body Keeps the Score, van der Kolk details his own experience using IFS with clients suffering from traumatic experiences and relationship conflicts. Frank Anderson, a psychiatrist and leading mental health professional, has also championed the use of IFS. He is the former chairman/director of the Foundation for Self Leadership, a non-profit working to advance IFS research.

Explore more of the findings from research on the IFS approach.

Empirical Evidence




Many people see IFS is a spiritually healing endeavor, which I agree with, however as a professional studying Neuroscience, I also understand IFS as a neuroscience of accessing and healing brain networks that cause and sustain various types of human suffering, psychologically, physically and behaviorally. Douglas Hofstadter, winner of the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for a book on cognitive processes and intelligence has this to say about sub-personalities from the perspective of neuroscience in psychology: “With its billions of neurons, the mind resembles a community made up of smaller communities, each in turn made up of smaller ones. I like to refer to the highest-level communities (just below the level of the whole) as ‘sub-selves’ or ‘inner voices’… These are competing aspects of ourselves that try to lead the whole system”.

Explore more about the Neuroscience behind IFS and parts (multiplicity of mind and brain regions). 

Neuroscience of IFS




The pure source of energy that is conscience genuine consciousness. Self has the following (positive psychology & strengths) qualities:

  • Compassion
  • Connection
  • Calm
  • Clarity
  • Curious
  • Creative
  • Courage
  • Confidence.

Self is available to all of us and is present from birth. Self has no motive, intention, desire, or need outside of the 8 qualities described. Self is not vulnerable. Self is inherently empathetic and empathic. 

More about Self




The vulnerable and hurt parts of our psyche that we (our internal system) have suppressed. We have vowed not to recall that memory, feel those uncomfortable sensations, experience those painful emotions, or contemplate those negative thoughts. We have developed ego defense mechanisms to protect those exiles, which we will refer to as ‘parts.’ Parts can sometimes be in a proactive, passive, or passive aggressive role, and sometimes in a reactive, aggressive, or violent role. We call those part’s roles Managers (proactive) and Firefighters (reactive). In the model of therapy I use, parts like our “drinking alcohol” part can be in any one of the roles, for instance it can be in the role of a passive manager or aggressive firefighter, depending on the exile activated, and the activating event.

More about Exiles

Common Exiles




Pre-emptive, proactive, and future oriented. They live mostly in rational mind (DBT). They are located in the prefrontal cortex (executive functioning center of our brain). Managers are concerned with staying on top of things, planning, organizing, implementing plans, keeping the door to the exile’s cell locked and left alone. They are focused on planning, controlling, and achieving, keeping things going. They can be good organizers or stern taskmasters, encouraging or critical or people-pleasing. The more intense the affect of the exiles, the more extreme the tactics of the Managers. Their extreme roles don’t match their true natures. They are responsible for maintaining a functioning level of consciousness in daily life by warding off any unwanted or counterproductive interactions, emotions, or experiences resulting from external and/or internal stimuli. 

More about Managers

Common Managers




Firefighters serve as a distraction to the mind when exiles break free from being suppressed captives. In order to protect our internal system and conscious self from feeling the pain of the exiles, firefighters prompt a person to act impulsively and engage in behaviors that are dangerous, indulgent, addictive, and often times abusive. These are the reactive protectors – they are heroic, impulsive, and often seen as destructive, attention seeking, child like, and narcissistic by manager parts. The firefighter wants to keep exiles away from you – to distract you from or get rid of their feelings. They come into your seat of consciousness, and sometimes take over when the exiles are activated – they will distract you or make you dissociate in order to prevent overwhelming emotions from flooding your inner system. Managers want you to look good and be approved of, firefighters only care about distracting you from the pain of the exile so your manager parts are often in polarized opposition to firefighters – disapproving and judging. Firefighters may redirect your attention to behaviors or practices such as self-harm, technology, social media, sex, work, food, alcohol, or drugs.

More about Firefighters

Common Firefighters



Working with Your Parts

In order to identify your parts and release the burdens that these parts carry, you would follow this six step process:

  1. Find: Identify the parts of your mind and body that need attention.
  2. Focus: Pay attention to the relevant part.
  3. Flesh: Flesh it out by describing it and your experience of it.
  4. Feel: Explore how you feel toward this part.
  5. BeFriend: Express curiosity about this part and accept its presence.
  6. Fear: Ask what this part fears and what it would fear if you changed its role.

Learning to recognize and explore these parts can help patients shift how their parts function and create positive change. The next part of the process includes developing a trusting relationship with protectors (managers, firefighters, and concerned parts) so that they eventually allow Self to work with exiles. The work with exiles should be done gently and slowly, under the guidance of an IFS practitioner.

Working with Protectors

Working with Exiles



Mindfulness, Meditation, and IFS Parts Work

In order to access parts, you should have a compassionate, connected, clear, and calm self energy. This energy comes from the 8 qualities of Self. We can enhance the qualities through a regular mindfulness and meditation practice. Meditation is used during IFS sessions, to find a space inside wise mind (DBT), in order to develop unconditional positive regard for all our parts, and practice loving kindness toward self and parts. It can be helpful to engage in some type of mindfulness based intervention before going too much farther in IFS.

Some approaches to consider:

  • (MBSR) Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction
  • (MBCT) Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy
  • (DBT) Dialectical Behavior Therapy Mindfulness Skills Training
  • An informal mindfulness practice
  • A formal meditation and/or yoga practice





Let the Healing Begin

The process of unburdening is the key to healing exiles and other wounded parts. In Self, the client listens to the exile’s experience until the exile feels understood, accepted, and loved. Then the client offers the exile a do-over. The part tells the Self what it needed at the time, and the client does what the part needed. When the part is ready, the client’s Self helps the part to unburden- ceremonially releasing the painful memories, feelings, or beliefs using imagery. Then the client invites the part into the present and helps it find a new role. The protector parts are invited to meet the healed part and begin finding new, healthy patterns of interaction.

Anderson, F.G., Sweezy, M., Schwartz, R.C. (2017). Internal family systems skills training manual: Trauma-informed treatment for anxiety, depression, PTSD, and substance abuse. PESI Publishing and Media.

How Exiles Formed

Unburdening Process

Healing Ceremonies



Self Leadership

In a healthy system, parts like managers and firefighters are assigned jobs that protect us from the outside world, entertain us, and help us have supportive relationships. We can set and maintain boundaries. Memories of the past, stress in the present, and worries about the future no longer overwhelm our systems. In a healthy system, self is in the leadership role and parts are called on only when needed, they do not take over the seat of our consciousness.

Healthy System



Additional Resources & Book Recommendations

Resources & Books



Sources and Works Cited 




Video Library

Please subscribe to my YouTube channel and ‘like’ the content. The playlists are curated and vetted for empirical evidence, validity, reliability, and accuracy. Content creators are credentialed experts on the topics they cover. There are few ‘influencers’ and ‘opinions’ in the content. If you do happen to see something that doesn’t feel right, don’t hesitate to ask questions, express concerns, or share comments. Warning: some of the videos will activate parts in some people. Please speak to a professional if you are too triggered by the content.

You Tube Channel      

IFS Video Library Table of Contents