The role of the therapist in Internal Family Systems therapy

This is a guest post from Kasia Galagus. Enjoy!

One of the Internal Family Systems therapy principles is that just as our bodies have natural ability to heal bodily injuries, we are also equipped to heal emotional injuries. It is a very important aspect of Internal Family Systems therapy as it states with certainty that each of us, regardless of the degree of trauma and suffering experienced, have an innate resource to heal ourselves. That resource comes from our pure essence, our inner Self. The Self does not need to be developed as we are born with it and it also cannot be damaged. We carry this essence in us even though we may not recognise it and experience it frequently.

"Good enough" parent

The goal of Internal Family Systems therapy is to bring this essence to the forefront of our being. Since this essence is the facilitator of our internal healing, to heal we need to uncover the Self from the parts that took on the leading roles when we were “injured” emotionally in the past. The role of the Internal Family Systems therapist is to assist that process, so the Self can emerge and take the lead from the parts.

This is different from most other therapeutic modalities which base their understanding of our true nature on attachment theory. The attachment theory states that for this essence to develop we are dependent on the parenting we receive at the key stages of our development, which happen in early childhood.

If we are lucky enough to have “good enough” parent during critical period, we are likely to come out of childhood with enough “ego strength” to function well and lead a harmonious life.

However, if we were not lucky and our parents were not able for whatever reason to take us through this early experience safely and lovingly, we would not build enough ego strength and that would manifest in internal conflict and other emotional/mental difficulties.

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Therapist in Internal Family Systems therapy

With this assumption as an entry point, the role of the therapist in most psychotherapeutic modalities is to become a “parent” for us and take us through corrective “reparenting” experience. Without this experience with the therapist or any other significant person in our life, we would not acquire the skills to self-regulate which are needed to heal. This myth is prevalent in therapy and education today. As much as it is well-intentioned, this approach also creates a dependency on external relationships for our internal healing.

In Internal Family Systems therapy, the healing happens when the Self rather than the therapist becomes the main loving attachment figure for our injured, young parts. It is not to say that the therapist in Internal Family Systems therapy is less important, but the role is different and should not create dependency.

The relationships with the therapist in Internal Family Systems therapy help us release our already developed and undamaged Self so that we can self-regulate and self-nurture. If we are used to being in our parts and acting from them and therefore have difficulty experiencing the Self-energy, being in the presence of a therapist and his/her Self, brings out our Self-energy as we naturally tune into each other. Our active parts can sense safety and relax, allowing our own Self to naturally surface. Therefore, the ability of the therapist to manifest the characteristics of the Self is paramount.

The Internal Family Systems therapist becomes THE PARTNER in exploration with us, rather than AN EXPERT who is figuring it out and giving us directions. Our Self is allowed to show its abilities and our parts come to trust the Self rather than looking to a therapist for answers and solutions.

This process is very empowering as we learn to trust our-SELVES and stop looking for experts and solutions outside.

At the end of the day who knows us better than we do?

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