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Internal Family Systems: A Novel Therapeutic Approach which Complements Ketamine Treatments

Therapeutic Approach

Internal Family Systems: A Novel Therapeutic Approach which Complements Ketamine Treatments

Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a therapeutic approach that focuses on understanding and healing the different parts of our personality or psyche. This approach was developed by Richard Schwartz, a psychotherapist who recognized that individuals often have conflicting emotions, beliefs, and desires that can create internal tension and conflict.

The central idea of IFS is that each person has an inner system of parts that function like a family. This inner system is made up of sub-personalities, or parts, that have their own unique thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Each part may have different ways of coping that sometime conflict with each other.  Although this may sound strange at first, if you think about it, it won’t be difficult to come up with multiple examples of feeling torn by different impulses, desires, goals within yourself.  For example, some people have a workaholic part, that may not let them rest, despite many parts being exhausted.

An important idea in IFS is that each part is doing the best it can to help us survive in the world. This idea helps to decrease shame and foster more compassion.  After all, these parts often learned how to survive at a young age, and are still relying on coping mechanisms that may no longer be working.

In general, parts can be divided into two groups: Protectors and Exiles. Protectors are parts of the psyche that work to keep the person safe and protected from harm. They can manifest in different ways such as being controlling, perfectionistic, or avoidant. Protectors can also be extremely helpful as well. They can be organized and productive, but can also be critical and self-judgmental. Exiles are parts that have experienced trauma or emotional pain, and hold the emotional burden of that experience. These parts can manifest as feelings of shame, sadness, or fear.

Through the IFS process, individuals can learn to identify, understand, and heal these different parts of themselves. The therapist works with the person to help them establish a relationship with each part, and to develop a sense of trust and safety within their inner system. By doing so, individuals can access a deeper compassionate self, which is often buried beneath the protective layers of their psyche.

IFS is effective for a wide range of mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, trauma, and addiction. It can also be used to address interpersonal conflicts, communication issues, and other relationship problems. The IFS approach is empowering, as it helps individuals develop a deeper understanding of themselves and their emotions, and to take responsibility for their own healing and growth.

Interestingly, IFS pairs very well with ketamine therapy as well as other psychedelic medicine.  In fact, in a studies done on MDMA, it was reported that participants brought up parts language spontaneously 70% of the time, without any prompting from a therapist.

Ketamine may allow some of our protectors and defense mechanisms to relax, and in a safe set and setting, this may provide the therapist and patient more access to some of the buried, hurt parts that need healing most.  The combination of more access to compassionate feelings while experiencing more vulnerable parts  can be a very powerful healing tool.

In conclusion, Internal Family Systems is a powerful therapeutic approach that recognizes the complexity of the human psyche and seeks to heal and integrate the different parts of our inner world. Through this approach, individuals can learn to cultivate greater self-awareness, self-compassion, and emotional resilience, leading to a more fulfilling and authentic life.  Many practitioners are finding that IFS therapy works well with ketamine and other psychedelic medicine.  Indeed, ketamine may help facilitate more access to a deeper compassionate self during ketamine therapy, which may help facilitate breakthrough healing responses.


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