Internal Family Systems: Treatment for PTSD


Treatment for PTSD: Internal Family Systems Model

The Internal Family Systems model includes the body but from an understanding that the body/mind is subdivided into various “parts.” Developed by Richard Schwartz, PhD the IFS model takes traditional family therapy and explored what happens with the internal family system (hence the name!)

This model describes way the psyche compartmentalizes into parts of the system. One large group of these parts are managers, or protectors of the system. They allow us to go on with our lives doing what we need to do, want to do.

These parts are arranged so that the “exiles” of the system can be protected. If and when some thing gets to close to the exile and threatens to overwhelm the person another group of parts arises to make sure the exiles stay safe. These parts are called “firefighters.” Their job is to put the fire of pain out. Shame can serve in this function, as can drinking/ drugging /exercising or any kind of addiction.

The underlying glue in which this system is held is in the “Self.” This energy of the self is has many qualities but can be described by a bunch of “c” words (they just happen to be all c’s!) care, compassion, curiosity, clarity, calmness, confidence, creativity, courage, and connectedness.

For many people who have studied or used the IFS model this idea of the Self is compelling. For those of us with a meditation or spiritual practice it feels quite resonate.

Many people find this model helpful in that it reinforces that there is more to you than just your PTSD symptoms. Knowing that there is a Self inside guiding them back home to themselves
can be reassuring and calming.


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