Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a model of psychotherapy that offers a clear, non-pathologizing, and empowering method of understanding human problems. It is labeled Internal Family Systems due to the theory being modeled at the dynamics that are easily observed within all families and relationships. In a family, we might have a person who is most associated with creating and enforcing the rules, a person who is relied upon to be fun or caring, and possibly even others who are "the brains” or "the distractors”. Knowing we see these roles in families, we can also project and identify how these voices/roles/ways of being can be internalized into an individual and how that individual can use these various voices to soothe self, manage moods and anxiety, cheerlead self. When these voices within a person are in conflict or do not make room for the other thoughts and voices within us, we can have psychological distress.
"There is a part of me that really needs to go out with friends and let lose, be carefree, and relax…and yet I know I have that big project due this week and I should be doing better self-care by getting to the gym and getting more sleep. Ugh! There is not enough time in the week! I am so conflicted".
An IFS therapist sees beyond the possible surface definition of a person who is having an overscheduled week in this statement. An IFS therapist will explore and enrich a person's understanding of the aspects of self that are upset about the lack of boundaries present in scheduling and the demands placed onto this person by others (observation of the lack of personal control), the frustration of having to fight so hard to self-care (wise mind that knows what is most effective for a person), the grief of increased responsibility that leads to life being too complex (Thoughts that life is not like it was in the more simple carefree childhood or college times), and strength and determination present showing how this person wants to be the best and show up with health in work, home, relationships, and integrity (Inner fighter).
Our brain/mind is a magnificent and not yet fully well-known organ. Portions of our brain (reptilian brain) are designed for safety and are conditioned to be streamlined with the singular mission of keeping the individual safe. Other portions of the brain (mammalian and neocortex) are designed to be more complex and nuanced, taking their time to masterfully discern the best course of action. Difficulties can mentally and emotionally manifest when these aspects of our brain can come into conflict with one another.
Think of your anxiety/worry/rumination/obsessions as an alarm system located within the brain. When the brain receives the first signal to sound the alarm, it does not always wait for all the details to determine the best course of action. Our reptilian brain has one job…keep the body safe, alive, and functioning. To do this, the brain activates the fight, flight, freeze protocols. So, you are walking down a dark street. You hear a noise behind you. Your brain does not have time to turn around and fully vet the situation to ensure your safety. It immediately sends blood and stress hormones into the body to prepare to run or attack. This reactivity is natural, yet is not always the best course of action. Bodies like patterns and consistency and sometimes our bodies can start to create patterns of false safety when the body reacts to the "alarm” and keeps the body safe. The problem is, if the body was not actually in danger in the first place and the body was safe the entire time, the brain might become mis-attuned and attribute the hypervigilance as the mechanism that kept the body safe, when in actuality the danger passed organically due to the body never actually being in danger. When a person has frequent "alarms”, their brain/body system becomes habituated to a pattern of fight, flight, or freeze.
When your anxiety "goes off" like an alarm system, it communicates information that you are in danger, rather than "pay attention, you might be in danger."
Unfortunately, with obsessions/worry/ruminations, your brain tells you that you are in danger a lot, even in situations where you "know" that there is a very small likelihood that something bad might happen. This is one of the cruelest parts of this disorder.
Now consider that your compulsive behaviors are your attempts to keep yourself safe when that alarm goes off. But, what does that mean you are telling your brain when you engage in these behaviors? You are reinforcing the brain's idea that you must be in danger. In other words, your compulsive behavior fuels that part of your brain that gives out these many unwarranted alarm signals. The bottom line is that in order to reduce your anxiety and your obsessions, you have to make a decision to stop the compulsive behaviors.
However, starting Exposure and Response Prevention therapy can be a difficult. It may feel like you are choosing to put yourself in danger. It is important to know that Exposure and Response Prevention changes your obsessions/worry/ruminations and changes your brain. You begin to challenge and bring your alarm system (your anxiety) more in line with what is actually happening to you.
Post Induction Therapy (PIT) Training Model was developed over 30 years by Pia Mellody of The Meadows Treatment Center, Wickenburg, AZ. The origin of the Model was developed when Pia discovered a unique and clear pattern of consistent symptoms emerging in people who were being treated for mental health and addiction issues.
Pia Mellody developed her treatment model based on these five core symptoms which cause a relational trauma in an individual's life and relational systems. Helping clients to connect the reality of their early developmental experiences during their formative years, and how these experiences impact their lives and overall psychosocial functioning today, is an essential part of treatment. Most of us had "good enough” parenting from our parents or guardians. Despite the parenting being "good enough”, sometimes it is not sufficient to provide what is needed to be a confident, competent, and fully functioning relational being.
This model of therapy supports the development of a "functional adult” rather than an adult who has arrested development and unfulfilling relationships.
It is beyond a cliché or popular psychology axiom that we grow up to marry a replica of one of our parents (or the exact opposite of a parent). Anecdotal evidence shows that many relationship maps and patterns are established from our first primary attachment relationships. Humans, as creatures of habit and endless seekers of insight and knowledge will overtly and covertly play out relational patterns and actions in order to develop mastery in relationship patterns and feelings of love/affiliation/attachment. These patterns become repetitive and non-productive when we continue to play out patterns from our childhood that were not developmentally appropriate or enriching. We would define these patterns and cycles as relational trauma. Relational trauma is viewed and defined through "the eyes of the child.” Relational trauma is defined as any action or behavior that is not honoring of the vulnerability and need for protection of a child. All relational trauma, be it physical, sexual, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, abandonment and/or neglect can create enormous difficulties in overall psychosocial functioning when these children grow to be adults.
Learning about family of origin issues (the patterns of roles, "shoulds”, family rules and expectations) helps the therapist to have an enhanced understanding of how the child's role(s) in the family is an adaptation to the parent's needs. Exploration of how these assigned roles lead to a child absorbing and "carrying” their parent's dis-regulated emotions internally assists an individual in relationship with a therapist to identify and own only the emotions that they have manifested within themselves, not identify and act out the feelings of their loved ones. This model helps clients become aware that these "carried feelings” can contribute to rage, pain, depression, feelings of worthlessness, behavior of shamelessness as well as addictions which all can create havoc in the client's life.
Additionally, PIT promotes understanding of how feeling states are deeply connected to one's thoughts as well as how they are somatically experienced in the body.
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