IFS and Trauma
The internal family systems model (IFS) is a valuable tool to support healing from trauma. Trauma experts, like Bessel van der Kolk, highlight that trauma is not what happens to you, but how an experience impacts you. You may develop stories, strategies or tools to protect yourself when memories are triggered, or situations remind you of the traumatic experience.
During an IFS counselling session, a therapist can support you in mapping out what is happening in your internal system when you are triggered and considering what you can do to support your own healing.
How IFS Can Help Process Trauma?
The IFS treatment for trauma can include identifying the mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual impacts of your trauma. The therapist supports you as you outline the stories, strategies or tools that your system developed to protect you. These responses are called parts, or collectively, your system. These parts show up in a wide range of ways, including images, physical sensations, voices, disconnection, avoidance, and repetitive behaviours.
Parts can be young and lead you to be flooded with powerful emotions, like fear or anger. Younger parts can be reactive and protect you by managing your behaviour, like avoiding people or activities that trigger you. Also, protective parts can cause you to disconnect and seek relief from the impact of trauma, like shopping, consuming substances, and self-harm.
Sometimes more than one part responds at once to a situation, like a family, therefore, one of the goals of IFS therapy is to create more integrated family systems of parts, which leads to healing and opportunities to respond the way you want to in the future.
Richard Schwartz, who developed IFS as a therapy approach, emphasizes that there are no bad parts. However, parts work therapy, like IFS, is a healing process that includes identifying the cost of continuing your current cycle of triggers and protective responses. Your IFS therapist supports you to increase your capacity to respond to situations in the future despite your trauma, and less because of your trauma.
What is an IFS counselling session like?
During an IFS counselling session, your therapist will invite you to share situations where your response was impacted by trauma. There is no pressure to share the entire experience in detail, as the focus of the session is on the impact of the experience.
During the session, the therapist will support you as you identify or map out what parts contributed to your response. Then you will receive support with unblending or recognizing when parts of you take over. You will also be guided by the therapist as you engage with your parts to learn more about what their role is in your system, what they want from you, and what they are afraid of.
The focus of IFS therapy is not to get rid of or silence parts. You will be led to recognize the positive intent of your parts to protect you and your ability to choose how you respond to your trauma.
The IFS therapist will invite you to identify opportunities to develop more compassion, curiosity, clarity, creativity, calm, confidence, courage, and connectedness related to your experiences of trauma and how your system responded. These opportunities can include new stories, activities or rituals that support and reinforce your healing in collaboration with your parts, despite the trauma you experienced.
IFS counselling is a valuable tool in the treatment of trauma because the focus is more on how your system responded to protect you, and less on shaming or stigmatizing how you reacted in response to the trauma. An IFS therapist believes in your capacity to take responsibility for and sustain your own healing.
Contact an IFS Counsellor in Toronto, London or Online in Ontario
Please reach out to Gibson and Associates to find out more about internal family systems (IFS) therapy. You can book a consultation or appointment online with an IFS counsellor in Toronto or, London. We also offer online IFS therapy throughout Ontario. Or, contact us to discuss which therapist might be a good fit for you. In addition to IFS, we also provide other evidence-based therapeutic approaches to help you proactively manage your mental health.