Internal Family Systems

Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a type of psychotherapy that conceptualizes the mind of an individual as one family made up of various parts.

How Can IFS Help?

IFS is an integrative type of talk therapy that combines a systems thinking approach with the perspective that we are the sum of our parts. IFS can help in treating and managing:

  • Anxiety and panic disorders
  • Depression and grief
  • Trauma and PTSD
  • Substance use disorders
  • Relationship issues
  • Personality disorders

The IFS process helps identify and understand the multiple sub-personalities, or parts, that make us who we are. When you are no longer a stranger to all the various parts that are individually unique, you can work to harmonize all these parts together. Each one serves a purpose in creating your true Self.

Parts of The Whole

IFS refers to you, the true you at the core, as “the Self.” The Self is the sum of all the parts, sub-personalities, or family members, and that are your thoughts, beliefs, memories, actions, and reactions. We are all made up of these various parts, but some are more domineering than others. The experiences that formed the dynamic among the parts are unique to each person. The Self is made up of three main parts that coexist together to guide our behavior and decision making.

The Exile

The Exile is the part of you that holds hurt, from yourself and others. Exiles are feelings, memories, and emotions such as fear, shame, and trauma. They want to be seen but feel they are not good enough, shameful, harmful, or too much.

The Manager

The manager refers to any behavior that acts as a proactive protector. It works daily for control of emotions, surroundings, tasks, judgment, and to hide or suppress any Exiles that may be peaking through.

The Firefighter

The Firefighter is the reactive protector. When the exile is triggered, the firefighter will react to distract, numb, and inhibit threatening emotions by any means possible (often through anger, addiction, or other impulsive behaviors).

What We Treat

If you are struggling with your mental health, substance abuse, or both, we are here to help you regain control over your life. Our 30-day inpatient program is designed to treat a wide variety of mental, behavioral, and co-occurring disorders in a comfortable setting.

Mental Health Diagnoses

We diagnose and treat many mental health disorders, including trauma effects, dual diagnosis, depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, and codependency.


Substance use disorders we treat include addiction to alcohol, opiates, fentanyl and prescription opioids, methamphetamine and other stimulants, benzodiazepines, cannabis, and other psychoactive substances.

Other Behavioral Health Concerns

A mental health crisis can be layered and confusing. If you don’t see your disorder listed—or don’t know exactly why you are struggling—reach out to us to see how we can help. We treat everyone at Sequoia on a personal level, and we’re ready to help you overcome whatever you may be facing.

Ready to Start Your Healing Journey?

Our experienced, compassionate team is here for you. Reach out to us today by calling us or scheduling a conversation at a time that works for you. All information will be kept private and confidential.

Sun setting behind some mountains.

Internal Family Systems (IFS)

Internal Family Systems, or IFS, is a therapy that aims to harmonize the different traits, perceptions, and segments of your deepest personality. IFS works based on the theory that our psyche contains various parts, or a family, each with its strengths and weaknesses regarding our emotions, actions, and reactions. 

We are the sum of our parts. Sometimes, one of those parts needs extra attention. IFS can ensure each member of the psyche’s family puts in the effort it needs to and that all parts work together to benefit the whole.

Traits of the Self

IFS discusses “the Self” often. The Self is the sum of the parts that IFS addresses. That is you, your identity, your dispositions, your personality—everything that makes you unique.

Every person contains specific personality and behavioral traits. What makes us different is how much we lean into certain characteristics and how much others take a backseat.

IFS outlines positive traits known as the 8 Cs and 5 Ps.

8 Cs and the 5 Ps

The 8 C traits are:

  1. Confidence
  2. Calmness
  3. Creativity
  4. Clarity
  5. Curiosity
  6. Courage
  7. Compassion
  8. Connectedness

And the 5 Ps are:

  1. Presence
  2. Patience
  3. Perspective
  4. Persistence
  5. Playfulness

By analyzing these traits to see which ones are more present, an IFS therapist helps to identify which parts are in harmony. 

Parts of the Self

Each of these traits is associated with different parts of the Self. Which part they’re associated with is unique to each person. In IFS, the Self comprises three main parts, or family members, that it has overarching control of. The Self is the football team captain, and each piece is a player with a specific position. 

Each part is necessary and provides a foundation for your identity when in balance.

The Exile

The exile represents the painful emotions and experiences you’ve been through. These could be difficult memories, shame associated with them, or any side of you that you may be resistant to expose to others. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something you’re ashamed of, merely something you want to keep buried and away from the perception of others.

For many, this exile is trauma. It could be from abuse or other traumatic experiences. Trauma can be complicated to navigate. When viewed as an exile, people may push this trauma to the back of their psyche without being resolved or treated.

The Manager

The manager controls the exile consistently. It’s mostly a protective role that allows you to “exist” daily. 

It’s not just the exile that the manager protects you from; it could be any adverse reactions in your daily life. If you find yourself quickly moving through stressful situations like traffic or falling in public, the manager is helping you keep your emotions in check.

The Firefighter

The firefighter is the part of you that is reactive. Just like when you call the fire department if your house is on fire, your subconscious calls the firefighter if it feels emotional pain. It’s meant to bury the exile if it “gets past” the manager. Firefighters are triggered under stress and work to keep negative emotions at bay.


The most common example of a firefighter response is self-medication via substance misuse and abuse. Most substances temporarily increase relaxation and pleasure. However, the firefighter doesn’t have to be destructive. Through IFS work, clients can find a way to cope with the exile healthily.

How Does IFS Work?

By examining the positive traits and when they ebb and flow, you can identify the exile and how you are reacting to and coping with it. The exile isn’t going away, but you can learn how to manage it and process your grief and trauma.

The Process

Like many talk therapies, IFS happens in a process. The process occurs when you “meet” a part of the self. The therapist will talk you through the best way to do this. You’ll identify this part from a standpoint as though you are observing it from the outside. 

The process of IFS takes form in the 6 Fs. They are:

  • Find: Identify the part of you that needs work or smaller sections of each component—for example, a nervous tic that might be associated with your firefighter part. Think about your physical sensations and how they may connect to your mind and sense of self.
  • Focus: Turn all of your attention toward this piece of you.
  • Flesh out: Dive deep into this part that has your focus. Put a name on the emotions associated with it. Are there specific memories it elicits? Specific senses? 
  • Feel: How do you feel about this part? Think about its impact on your life and your reaction to it.
  • Befriend: Accept this part of you, and learn to integrate it healthily. You can’t erase negative emotions and memories, but you can break harmful habits and coping mechanisms. 
  • Fear: Think from the perspective of this part. What does it fear, and what would happen to it if you moved on?

IFS moves through these steps, understanding that each part is a unique entity contributing to the whole. Think of it as a character on a children’s show. You might have one character that is simply comic relief, one that teaches you life lessons, one that teaches you tangible things, and one that acts like a host and keeps the program moving.

Each one serves a purpose. Sometimes, the storyline evolves, while the show focuses on one or two characters. But the show can’t exist without them, just like the Self can’t live without all its parts.

The Goals

Part of “harmonizing” the elements of the Self is putting them on equal footing. The exile isn’t necessarily a negative part, and the manager and firefighter aren’t necessarily positive. It’s all about how you frame these parts through the IFS process.

The goals, besides treating many mental health disorders and concerns, are usually the following:

  • Allow your parts to work together, not in extreme roles
  • Use purposeful and powerful language to transform your perception of each part
  • Use these perceptions to understand your own emotions and reactions better
  • Give strength back to the Self

At the end of IFS, a person shouldn’t feel ashamed of any aspect of themselves. They’re human with human reactions to stressors. 

Different Aspects of IFS

IFS draws from previous theories of a psyche being the sum of many parts. Therapists incorporate these theories and therapies into IFS.

Shadow Work

Shadow work draws from Carl Jung, the Swiss psychoanalyst in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Jung theorized 12 personality archetypes, but shadow work concerns two of the main ones—the persona and the shadow.

The persona is what we present to the world. It is what others see on a surface level and how our peers think of us.

The shadow represents the things we don’t want others to see. It doesn’t have to be trauma or shame but emotions or experiences we want to keep to ourselves. Jung stated that it’s not necessarily individualized. He believed that the “collective unconscious” could dictate shadows. Bigotries spread across entire communities and cultures, such as racism and homophobia, are shadows.

When we reject the shadow, it becomes exile. Shadow work within IFS can help manage the things in your shadow. By acknowledging that it is part of you, you can identify when your exile is triggered, how to cope when it does, and how to move on from the pieces that pain you the most.

Parts Work

Parts work focuses more on how our different parts work together. The beliefs and wants we may have denied in our youth are still an important part of us. Though our career paths and lives may have little space for these, there is still space. Each piece needs a voice; they all work together to create us. Parts work aims to integrate all parts and help them work together. 

Who is IFS For?

IFS can successfully treat an array of mental health disorders and concerns interrupting your everyday life. 

You can use it to treat:

Curiously enough, IFS can complement medical interventions for physical ailments, including rheumatoid arthritis

IFS at Sequoia Behavioral Health

Understanding that we utilize different parts of ourselves to manage our urges, thoughts, and feelings can help us address them. Nothing about us is shameful or “evil.” Once we understand the motivations and wants of these parts, we can guide them into a healthy space.

During your stay at Sequoia Behavioral Health, we’ll help you better understand and control the parts of your psyche that cause stress. You’ll spend time in a safe, comfortable environment with therapists whose only goal is to help you heal. 

Reach out today, talk to one of our team members about a consultation, and find out how IFS can help you.