VIDEO: How Symptoms Reveal the Path to Growth

IFS Developer Richard Schwartz on Befriending the Inner "Protector"

Many times when we become anxious, we view our rapid heartbeat, heavy breathing, and cold sweat as an inconvenience. But according to Richard Schwartz, the originator of Internal Family Systems (IFS), we need to understand these symptoms differently. In fact, he argues, we need to learn how to befriend them. Then and only then, he says, can we not only heal the trauma that constricts us, but help these symptoms abate as well.

In this video clip with Networker editor Rich Simon, Schwartz explains his method.

As Schwartz explains, trauma survivors can actually begin a dialogue with their fearful “inner parts” and take the first step in moving from being frozen in a traumatic moment in the past to entering into the present.

“In the absence of self-leadership, inner parts become scared, rigid, and polarized, like older kids in a parentless house,” Schwartz says in his Networker article. “With IFS, things like flashbacks, dissociation, and panic attacks are useful signposts indicating what needs to happen in therapy. Beneath the surface of their parts, all clients have an undamaged, healing self.”

Rich Simon

Richard Simon, PhD, founded Psychotherapy Networker and served as the editor for more than 40 years. He received every major magazine industry honor, including the National Magazine Award. Rich passed away November 2020, and we honor his memory and contributions to the field every day. 

Richard Schwartz

Richard Schwartz, PhD, is co-author, with Michael Nichols, of Family Therapy: Concepts and Methods, the most widely used family therapy text in the United States. Dr. Schwartz developed Internal Family Systems in response to clients’ descriptions of experiencing various parts–many extreme–within themselves. He noticed that when these parts felt safe and had their concerns addressed, they were less disruptive and would accede to the wise leadership of what Dr. Schwartz came to call the “Self.” In developing IFS, he recognized that, as in systemic family theory, parts take on characteristic roles that help define the inner world of the clients. The coordinating Self, which embodies qualities of confidence, openness, and compassion, acts as a center around which the various parts constellate. Because IFS locates the source of healing within the client, the therapist is freed to focus on guiding the client’s access to his or her true Self and supporting the client in harnessing its wisdom. This approach makes IFS a non-pathologizing, hopeful framework within which to practice psychotherapy. It provides an alternative understanding of psychic functioning and healing that allows for innovative techniques in relieving clients symptoms and suffering.