Internal Family Systems Exercises

By Jared Levenson - Reviewed on September 18, 2023
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Welcome to a journey of understanding, acceptance, and transformation.

Enter the world of Internal Family Systems (IFS) exercises to nurture the different parts of our psyche that can foster a harmonious internal environment that enhances our mental health.

This article serves as your brief guide into the world of IFS exercises. We will explore their benefits and how they work and, most importantly, provide a step-by-step guide to practicing them. From managing stress to improving relationships, these exercises have the potential to transform your life in ways you might not have imagined.

But don’t just take our word for it. Research supports the effectiveness of IFS in treating various mental health conditions, while numerous testimonials highlight its life-changing impact.

Whether new to mental health practices or looking to add to your existing toolkit, this guide offers valuable insights into the transformative power of IFS exercises.

So, are you ready to embark on this journey towards better understanding your internal systems and enhancing your mental health? Let’s dive in and uncover the healing power within you!

Understanding the Basics of IFS

What is Internal Family Systems? (17 Mins)

The Internal Family Systems (IFS) model is a transformative approach to psychotherapy developed by psychiatrist Richard Schwartz.

As the name suggests, this therapeutic model views the mind as an internal family of sub-personalities or ‘parts’ that interact uniquely. These parts can be broadly categorized into Managers, Firefighters, and Exiles.

  1. Managers: These proactive parts aim to maintain control and order, preventing painful or traumatic experiences from surfacing.
  2. Firefighters: These parts react when Exiles break through Managers’ control. They can lead to impulsive or destructive behaviors to divert attention from the pain.
  3. Exiles: These parts often carry burdens of trauma or extreme beliefs and emotions that have been isolated to protect the individual from feeling the pain.

IFS therapy aims to differentiate the Self (our core or authentic Self) from these parts and promote harmony within our internal system. Here’s a simplified explanation of how the IFS model works:

  1. Recognition: Acknowledge the different parts and understand their roles and intentions.
  2. Empathy: Develop empathy for each part, understanding that they are trying to protect the Self in their own way.
  3. Unburdening: Help the parts overcome their burdens, leading to transformation.
  4. Integration: Foster cooperation and trust among parts, allowing the Self to lead.

IFS is an evidence-based practice for treating various mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, PTSD, and substance misuse. It encourages self-awareness and self-compassion, and fosters improved relationships with oneself and others.

For a more detailed understanding, you can explore these sources:

The Evidence of IFS Exercises

Research and personal testimonials have identified several benefits of practicing IFS therapy.

Here’s a curated list of resources on Internal Family Systems (IFS) science:

  1. Internal Family Systems Model
    • This resource provides an overview of the IFS model, an integrative approach to individual psychotherapy developed by Richard C. Schwartz in the 1980s.
    • Access here
  2. IFS Institute: What is Internal Family Systems?
    • This page from the IFS Institute describes IFS as an evidence-based psychotherapy that helps people heal by accessing and healing their protective and wounded inner parts.
    • Access here
  3. The Internal Family Systems Model Outline
    • This article outlines the fundamental principles of the IFS model, including the nature of the mind and its subdivision into an indeterminate number of subpersonalities or parts.
    • Access here
  4. Internal Family Systems Therapy
    • This resource from Psychology Today provides a comprehensive overview of IFS therapy, an approach to psychotherapy that identifies and addresses multiple sub-personalities or families within each person’s mental system.
    • Access here
  5. What to Know About Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy
    • This Verywell Mind article explains IFS therapy, a type of therapy that believes we are all made up of several parts or sub-personalities.
    • Access here
  6. Internal Family Systems (IFS)
    • This Good Therapy article explains how IFS uses Family Systems theory—the idea that individuals cannot be fully understood in isolation from the family unit.
    • Access here
  7. What Is Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy?
    • This Forbes Health article provides insight into what to expect from IFS therapy, a type of talk therapy that explores past experiences.
    • Access here
  8. Internal Family Systems Therapy | APS
    • This resource from the Australian Psychological Society discusses IFS as a non-pathologizing, powerfully transformative, evidence-based model of psychotherapy.
    • Access here
  9. ‘These parts will fight to the end to protect you’ | BPS
    • This article from the British Psychological Society explores the protective nature of the “parts” within the IFS framework.
    • Access here

By exploring these resources, we hope to understand better IFS science and its potential to transform mental health therapy.

The Pros and Cons of IFS Exercises

The Internal Family Systems (IFS) model, a form of psychotherapy, has been gaining attention for its unique approach to mental health. IFS exercises promote self-awareness, emotional balance, and overall well-being by understanding and nurturing our internal system of’ parts.’

However, like any therapeutic model, it has advantages and potential challenges.

Advantages of IFS Exercises

  1. Increased Self-Awareness: IFS exercises can lead to a greater understanding of one’s thoughts and emotions.
  2. Reduced Anxiety: Regular practice can help manage physical and emotional stress, reducing anxiety.
  3. Improved Problem-Solving Skills: Individuals can enhance their problem-solving abilities by recognizing and addressing internal conflicts.
  4. Promotion of Independence: The IFS model fosters self-reliance, empowering individuals to become their healers.

Potential Challenges of IFS Exercises

Despite the numerous benefits, potential challenges may also arise.

  • Engaging with suppressed emotions or traumatic experiences, a common aspect of IFS therapy, can be difficult and emotionally draining.
  • Moreover, viewing oneself as a system of parts can initially seem abstract or confusing.

It’s important to remember that everyone’s journey with IFS exercises will be unique.

One might progress rapidly, while others may require more time to see changes. It’s crucial to approach these exercises with patience and compassion towards oneself.

A Step-by-Step Approach to IFS Exercises

Starting with IFS exercises can seem daunting, but it can be a transformative journey toward self-awareness and healing with the proper guidance. Here’s a fundamental guide on how to start:

  1. Recognize Your Parts: The first step is to identify the different parts within you. These can be thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that seem to have a life of their own.
  2. Establish a Dialogue: Try to engage in a conversation with each part. Ask them about their intentions and fears.
  3. Cultivate Compassion: Approach each part with understanding and compassion, acknowledging that they are trying to protect you in their own way.
  4. Identify the Self: The ‘Self’ in IFS refers to your core or authentic Self. It’s essential to differentiate this from your parts.
  5. Allow the Self to Lead: Once you’ve identified it, allow it to lead. This fosters harmony among the parts and promotes healing.

Remember, starting with IFS exercises is a personal journey that requires patience and self-compassion.

For more detailed guidance, consider Internal Family Systems Therapy: 8 Worksheets and More.

Answers to common questions about IFS exercises

Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy has seen growing interest due to its unique approach towards mental health. It views the mind as a collection of different ‘parts,’ each functioning with its roles and intentions.

This is a bizarre concept! While it does sound familiar at first, it still boggles the mind to comprehend. I remember my first-hand experience studying IFS and having many questions.

So, here are answers to some common questions about IFS exercises:

What is the primary goal of IFS exercises?

The primary goal of IFS therapy is to establish a harmonious relationship among the individual’s parts, promoting self-leadership and healing.

How do IFS exercises help with self-awareness?

IFS exercises encourage buried parts of our personality to ascend, freeing memories, emotions, and previously locked-away aspects of ourselves. This process can lead to increased self-awareness.

How can I start with IFS exercises?

Starting with IFS exercises involves key steps: recognizing your parts, establishing a dialogue with each piece, cultivating compassion for each part, identifying your ‘Self,’ and allowing the ‘Self’ to lead.

Can IFS exercises be helpful for trauma healing?

Yes, IFS exercises can be particularly beneficial for trauma healing. They can help individuals understand and work with their internal parts to begin the deep healing process that trauma requires.

Are there any IFS exercises that focus on breathing control? Many IFS exercises are linked to effective breathing control, which promotes relaxation and mental clarity.


In the realm of mental health, exploring and implementing new approaches can be both enlightening and transformative. As we conclude this deep dive into the Internal Family Systems (IFS) exercises, we hope you now understand this compassionate and empowering therapeutic model better.

Throughout this article, we’ve highlighted the numerous benefits of practicing IFS therapy.

  • IFS provides a pathway for individuals to become their healers, from fostering self-awareness to enabling emotional balance.
  • This approach has proven effective in dealing with unwanted behaviors and thought patterns, encouraging us to embrace every part of ourselves rather than fighting against them.
  • One of the most significant aspects of IFS is its potential to enhance internal and external relationships. By understanding and accepting the diverse parts within us, we cultivate inner harmony and improve our interactions with others. This ripple effect of positive change is just one of the many reasons why IFS is such a valuable tool in our mental health toolkit.

Reflecting on this topic, it’s clear that the power of IFS lies in its inherent empathy and acceptance. It encourages us to view ourselves not as a singular entity but as a family of different parts, each with its purpose, emotions, and needs. This shift in perspective can lead to profound personal growth and improved well-being.

As we part ways, remember that each step you take towards better understanding your internal systems is a victory. It takes courage to delve into the depths of our psyche, and your efforts are commendable. We hope this guide has inspired you to explore the world of IFS exercises further and invite these practices into your life.

Remember, the journey towards mental health is not a sprint but a marathon. Patience, compassion, and understanding are your allies in this journey. Here’s to your continued growth, healing, and transformation. Embrace the trip, and remember, you are not alone.

In an Emergency Situation:

If you’re experiencing an immediate crisis, seeking immediate help is crucial rather than waiting for an online therapy session. This includes situations where you or someone else is at risk of harm. In such instances, call 911 immediately. If you’re battling suicidal thoughts, contact the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988 – they’re available round-the-clock. If you or someone you know is dealing with mental health or substance abuse issues, contact the National Helpline of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 800-662-HELP (4357). The SAMHSA line offers a free, confidential service that connects individuals to treatment options and provides valuable information 24/7, 365 days a year.

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