Comparing Internal Family Systems (IFS) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Which Therapy Technique Is Right for You?

By Jared Levenson - Reviewed on July 2, 2023
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Have you ever wondered which therapy technique best suits your growth and healing?

By understanding the differences between these methods, you can decide which approach might be most effective for your needs.

The Online Mental Health Reviews team is qualified to write about IFS vs CBT because they consist of experienced mental health professionals, including therapists and psychologists, with extensive knowledge and practical experience in both therapeutic approaches. Our diverse mental health professional backgrounds and thorough research ensure a comprehensive comparison of the two therapies.

Today, we’ll compare and contrast two popular therapy approaches: the Internal Family Systems model (IFS) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

Brief Explanation of IFS and CBT

Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a therapeutic approach that focuses on the idea that our minds consist of an internal system of multiple “parts” or sub-personalities, each with its own beliefs, feelings, and desires. IFS therapy aims to foster self-awareness and compassion towards these parts, helping us achieve inner harmony and emotional healing.

On the other hand, cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a goal-oriented therapy that aims to identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors. By recognizing and challenging these unhelpful thoughts, individuals can develop healthier ways of coping with their emotions and situations.

Differences Between IFS and CBT

1. Focus: IFS primarily focuses on the internal dynamics of our mind’s “parts,” while CBT targets cognitive distortions and maladaptive behaviors.

IFS differs from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in that it emphasizes self-to-part relationships rather than cognitive restructuring. This means that rather than trying to change thoughts or behaviors, IFS works to heal the connections between parts and foster empathy for each part.

2. Therapeutic Approach: IFS encourages self-exploration and self-compassion, whereas CBT emphasizes problem-solving and skill-building.

3. Timeframe: CBT is typically a shorter-term therapy than IFS, whereas family therapy can be more open-ended and in-depth.

Pros and Cons of IFS and CBT

IFS Pros:

  • Encourages self-awareness and self-compassion
  • Addresses complex emotional issues and trauma
  • Can lead to deep, lasting emotional healing
  • The idea of “parts” can be incredibly revolutionary

IFS Cons:

  • May take longer to see the results
  • Can be more challenging for those who struggle with introspection

CBT Pros:

  • Structured and goal-oriented
  • Addresses a wide range of mental health issues
  • This can lead to rapid symptom improvement
  • The most widely researched therapy

CBT Cons:

  • May not address deeper emotional issues or trauma
  • Can feel overly structured for some individuals
  • Doesn’t involve somatic or body exercises

Who Can Benefit from IFS and CBT?

IFS may be particularly helpful for individuals who:

  • Have experienced trauma or have complex emotional issues
  • Seek deep, transformative self-exploration and healing

CBT may be especially beneficial for those who:

  • Struggle with anxiety, depression, or other common mental health concerns
  • Prefer a structured, skill-building approach to therapy

However, it’s essential to remember that every individual is unique, and the effectiveness of either therapy technique depends on personal needs, preferences, and circumstances.

IFS vs CBT: A Comprehensive Comparison

Internal Family Systems (IFS) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) are two popular approaches to mental health treatment. Both effectively treat various mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, disordered eating, substance use, and personality disorders.

The main difference between the two is that IFS is a less directive and solution-focused approach than CBT.

Compared to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), IFS is a much less directive and solution-focused approach. While CBT focuses on changing behaviors through cognitive restructuring, IFS focuses on understanding the underlying motivations behind those behaviors.

Internal Family Systems (IFS)

  • Rather than trying to change the client’s behavior or thought patterns directly, IFS focuses on understanding the individual’s internal parts and how they interact with each other.
  • Our team believes in the long run, this allows for more insight into the underlying causes of distress and can help clients better understand themselves.
  • IFS is a more indirect approach that focuses on understanding the different parts of the self and how they interact with each other.
  • It emphasizes creating a genuine connection with those parts rather than trying to change them.
  • IFS also encourages self-compassion and acceptance, which can benefit those struggling with difficult emotions or traumatic experiences.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

  • In contrast, CBT focuses more on changing behavior or thought patterns through cognitive restructuring and exposure therapy techniques. It also encourages clients to identify and name depressive symptoms and challenge irrational thoughts contributing to their distress.
  • CBT is a more directive approach that focuses on changing thoughts and behaviors to achieve desired outcomes. It involves identifying irrational thought patterns and replacing them with healthier ones, setting goals, and developing strategies for achieving them.

Overall, both IFS and CBT are evidence-based therapies that have been proven effective in treating various mental health conditions. The choice between them should depend on the individual’s needs and preferences and the approach they feel most comfortable with.

However, in general, CBT will be covered by insurance whereas IFS may not. So, insurance coverage may lower the costs of CBT relative to IFS.

What IFS Therapy Can Help With

According to the IFS-Institute, IFS therapy can help with a range of issues, including:

The Self in IFS Therapy

IFS therapy is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on the individual’s inner self and its many parts.

  • It is an evidence-based practice, on the belief that each person has an internal family system of different sub-personalities or “parts” that can interact with one another. These parts have their unique perspectives, feelings, and needs.
  • In addition, IFS emphasizes the importance of developing a strong relationship with the self by recognizing all parts as valuable and worthy of respect. This helps individuals become more aware of their needs and feelings while learning to manage difficult emotions such as fear or anger.
  • By understanding the dynamics between different parts of the self, individuals can learn to make decisions based on what is best for them rather than what others may want them to do.

By exploring the inner world without judgment or criticism, individuals can gain insight into how their various parts interact and learn how to use this knowledge to create positive life changes.

Manager parts

In Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, manager parts are polarized parts that control everyday situations and organize other parts. They are often responsible for the gridlock in relationships and can drive certain behaviors. The goal of IFS therapy is not to eliminate these parts but to help the client get to know the ‘firefighter’ parts of them better and understand their role in their life.

Identifying Managers and Firefighters

Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy is a type of psychotherapy that helps individuals identify and understand the different parts of their personality or subpersonalities. These subpersonalities can be divided into two main categories:

  1. Managers: The parts of our personality that seek to protect us from harm and are usually more logical and rational. Managers focus on preventing problems from occurring in the first place.
  2. Firefighters: Firefighters are the parts that try to fix problems quickly without considering long-term consequences. Firefighters tend to be more impulsive and reactive and focus on responding to issues as they arise.

By understanding these motivations, individuals can gain insight into how their different subpersonalities interact and how they can work together to create healthier outcomes for themselves.

Identifying Parts Of Yourself Through Drawing

Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy may use drawing to help you visualize these parts and understand how they interact. Through this process, you can gain insight into your behavior and learn how to manage difficult emotions.

  • Drawing can be used to identify the different parts of yourself in IFS therapy.
  • This includes identifying the core self, which is the part of you that is wise and compassionate, and any protective parts that may be blocking access to your core self.
  • You can also draw out any exiles or vulnerable or wounded parts, that need healing or acceptance.
  • Drawing out these parts lets you understand how they interact and affect your behavior.

Overall, drawing out the different parts of yourself can help clarify difficult emotions and allow individuals to heal and grow. You can explore your various aspects and find ways to manage them more effectively through these exercises.

Comparing IFS and CBT: Which is Right for You?

Regarding treating mental health conditions, there are two popular approaches: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Internal Family Systems (IFS). Both have been proven effective in helping people manage their symptoms.

But which one is right for you?

  • CBT focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors by challenging them with evidence-based techniques. It is a directive approach that identifies and modifies the underlying causes of distress.
  • IFS, on the other hand, takes a less directive approach. It focuses on understanding the different parts of the self, or subpersonalities, that may impact your life. IFS encourages self-compassion and acceptance rather than trying to change or fix anything.

Both CBT and IFS can be beneficial depending on your individual needs.

CBT may be right if you’re looking for a more structured approach that helps you identify and modify underlying causes of distress. You can even try CBT therapy online for free. IFS could be a better fit if you’re looking for an approach emphasizing self-compassion and acceptance.

Ultimately, working with a therapist is important to help you decide which approach best suits your needs.

DIY Comprehensive Course to Learn CBT

Introduction to CBT: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (

  • Udemy offers an “Introduction to CBT: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy” course that gives you the tools to be your counselor and CBT therapist.
  • With a 4.3 out of 5 grade from more than 18,981 happy students, you’ll learn to recognize and change negative thinking, feeling, and acting patterns.
  • The intro CBT course will give you a better understanding of how CBT works, which will help you keep learning and grow as a person.
  • Ultimately, you’ll get a certificate showing you’ve learned how to use CBT techniques.

DIY Comprehensive Course to Learn IFS

Dick Schwartz’s Internal Family Systems Master Class (

  • See how IFS works with complicated trauma and PTSD via a comprehensive PESI training program.
  • This life-changing course gives mental health professionals and people who want to learn more about Internal Family Systems guidance and support that helps them better understand and control their and their clients’ emotional states.
  • Get 13.25 Continuing Education (CE) Credits

With advice from a well-known therapist, this course offers a unique way to heal that can help your clients feel better in the long run.

IFS vs CBT Conclusion

Ultimately, both IFS and CBT have their strengths and limitations. By understanding the differences between these therapy techniques, you can decide which approach best suits your personal growth and healing journey.

And don’t forget to incorporate self-love journal templates into your CBT or IFS practice, as they can complement and enhance your therapeutic process.

We encourage our readers to leave a comment with any questions about IFS vs CBT or share your experiences with these therapies (or alternative therapy approaches). Additionally, please suggest what mental health service, app, or course you’d like the Online Mental Health Reviews team to buy and review next – we’re always eager to explore new resources and provide valuable insights for our audience.

If You’re In An Emergency

If you find yourself in an emergency, waiting for an online therapy session might not be a safe option. Should you require immediate assistance, dial 911. This includes instances where you or someone else is at risk of harm. If you’re considering self-harm, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available by calling 988 and offers 24/7 support.

Alternatively, you can reach out to the National Helpline of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 800-662-HELP (4357). This helpline provides free, confidential assistance for individuals struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues, helping them find treatment and access information around the clock, all year round.

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