IFS Introductory Seminar and Basic Course

The IFS View of the Human PsycheIFS Introductory Seminar

This free introductory seminar will introduce IFS and give you a taste of working on yourself using this approach. It will include experiential exercises and a demonstration IFS session. You can ask me questions about the model and about the upcoming Basic IFS Class.

Monday, February 26, 2018
4:30-6:30 pm pacific time (7:30-9:30 pm eastern)
Click here to enroll

IFS Basic Course

I will be offering a Basic IFS Course that starts a week later. This course teaches you how to access Self and work with protectors. It teaches you how to work on yourself using IFS and how to do peer IFS counseling with other people in the class. Therapists and coaches also take the class to learn about IFS, though it is not professional training in IFS.

The course is experiential; it includes practicing IFS sessions for homework in pairs, group exercises, and demonstration IFS sessions with volunteers from the class.

4:30-6:30 pm pacific time (7:30-9:30 pm eastern)
March 5 – April 9 (6 classes)
Cost: $300, $250 if you enroll by Feb. 27
Click here  to enroll

IFS Firefighters

In IFS there are two types of protectors—managers and firefighters.

Managers are the more common type of protector. They try to pro-actively arrange our psyches and our interactions with the world so that our exiles don’t get triggered and flood us with their pain or trauma.

Firefighters have the job of squelching the pain that erupts from an exile when it does get triggered. Real-life firefighters will charge into a dangerous situation to put out a fire, sometimes without worrying about the consequences for their own welfare. Think of the firefighters who rushed into the skyscrapers during 9/11 without concern for their safety.

Our internal firefighters act in a similar manner. They fear that the pain of an exile will be overwhelming, so they ignore the possible destructive consequences of their actions and do anything they can to numb or distract us from that pain.

The following activities are often initiated by firefighters:

  • Abusing drugs or alcohol
  • Sexual acting out
  • Overeating
  • Compulsive shopping, gambling, and other addictions
  • Anger and rage
  • Rebellion
  • Dissociation (spacing out, losing awareness, fogging out, falling asleep)
  • Thrill-seeking activities
  • Being deceptive
  • Being impulsive

In addition, more ordinary activities can be used by firefighters as distractions:

  • Reading
  • Watching TV
  • Headaches
  • Engaging in online activities

The activities listed above don’t always come from firefighters. If they are constant in your life, then they come from a manager.

And almost any activity or feeling state can come from a firefighter.

The crucial distinction is whether it is an ongoing, proactive activity (manager) or whether it is a sudden, impulsive reaction to exile pain (firefighter).


New Interactive/IFS Group for Professionals

An Interactive/IFS Group can help you . . .

  • Develop your capacity for intimacy and learn how to make a love relationship work
  • Become more assertive
  • Become more outgoing and socially comfortable
  • Learn what you may be doing to keep your relationships from being satisfying
  • Understand and trust people of the opposite sex . . . or of the same sex
  • Learn how to deal with anger and conflict constructively
  • Become part of a loving community of people
  • Raise your self-esteem
  • Get in touch with your personal power

You can learn these relationship skills:

  • Being in touch with your feelings and expressing them
  • Speaking for your parts, not acting them out
  • Reaching out to others confidently
  • Saying ”No” firmly
  • Allowing yourself to be open and vulnerable
  • Expressing yourself forcefully and spontaneously
  • Being comfortable relating to a group of people
  • Asking for what you really want
  • Having the courage to bring up difficult issues
  • Empathizing with others

What Happens

  • You work directly on how you are relating to the other group members . . . in the moment. Instead of just talking about how you relate in your life, you practice interacting with others right in the group and get help as you do.
  • You get direct and honest feedback on how people are reacting to you.
  • The group provides a safe place for you to try out new, healthy ways of relating to people.
  • You learn how to feel your emotional responses and identify the parts that are activated while interacting with people
  • You learn how communicate openly, clearly, and assertively.
  • You learn how to access and work with the parts of you that get triggered in interactions with people, using IFS.
  • You discover your ways of relating that aren’t working for you , so you can experiment with changing them in the group.
  • You can share your life issues and struggles with the group.
  • You see other people struggling with problems similar to yours, and through this you learn about yourself and others.
  • There is a strong sense of support for each person and a warm feeling of community in the group.


The group meets by videoconference, so we all can see each other, which enhances the group connection.

The ongoing group meets twice a month, and you meet with me for an individual consultation on the group every 3 months.

Each meeting is recorded, so if you miss one, you can watch the recording.

Cost: $120/month, including consultations
The groups are limited to 8 people.

First and third Wednesdays of each month
10am- 12 noon pacific time (1-3 pm eastern, 6-8 pm UK)

This group will start on Feb. 21, 2018

For more information, click http://personal-growth-programs.com/interactive_groups/

Getting Started

You meet with me for a free pre-group interview to see if the group is a good fit for you.

For a free pre-group interview, email me at earley.jay@gmail.com.

An Interactive Group Story

Interactive GroupThis is the story of Sharon’s work in one of my Interactive Groups. Sharon is a recovering alcoholic who had been sober for over a decade with the help of AA and therapy. In that time, she had worked through enough of her issues that she was not in much emotional pain. She was a successful management consultant, had some close friends, and an active social life.

Her major unresolved problem was lack of intimacy. She tended to keep people at a distance and avoided a committed love relationship. Since her marriage ended many years before, she hadn’t allowed a man close.

We all want to be liked; we all want closeness with others.  To express these desires directly to other people puts us in a vulnerable position. We fear that they might not reciprocate, or they might even reject us or put us down. So we develop defenses against our own desires and the accompanying vulnerability. In an Interactive Group, I encourage people to reach out to connect with those group members they are drawn to—to take the risk to make themselves vulnerable in this way.

How an Interactive Group Helps

The group helps people to become aware of their defenses against vulnerability and risk. If they defend by being nonchalant, someone in the group will probably point it out. If they defend by being judgmental and arrogant or by being distant and cold, they will probably get feedback about it. This gives people a chance to discover how they are defending against their desires, and to try out different behavior.

When Sharon joined the group, she had a tendency to defend against her softness and openness. She didn’t feel safe to show her desire for other people for fear of being rejected or shamed. Instead she adopted an internal stance of arrogance and judgment. “There’s something wrong with you. I’m not sure I’ll let you in.” It was a way for her to feel better about herself.  She also pretended not to need others. “I don’t care. I don’t need you.”  She wasn’t aware of these attitudes and rarely expressed them, but it would leak out in little ways, and they kept her from being vulnerable.

As the group developed, Sharon got feedback from time to time when her judgmental style would leak out. She was very aware and dedicated to her growth, and she had a courageous way of acknowledging difficult things about herself without being defensive. So when she got this feedback, she was not only willing to acknowledge that she had been judgmental but also to explore what she was defending against. She often discovered that hidden beneath the judgment was a desire to make contact with the person.

For example, in one early group, Jill was telling the group about her anger and desire to pull away from a friend. When Sharon pushed Jill hard not to do that, I encouraged Sharon to explore why she was doing this. She realized that she saw Jill as doing something similar in group, and she didn’t want Jill to pull away from her. When she told Jill this, Jill took in the feedback, but then Jill also told Sharon that Sharon had told her in an aggressive manner that made Jill pull back.

Knowing that she felt good about Jill, Sharon was surprised to hear this, but she took it seriously and became interested in changing this way of relating. I encouraged Sharon to show her positive feelings directly to Jill, and she was able to express some affection in a soft, open way. This enabled the two of them to make warm contact.

Click http://personal-growth-programs.com/an-interactive-group-story/ to read the full article.


Self-Revealing and Acceptance in an Interactive Group

Acceptance is an important issue in an Interactive Group. You want to reveal yourself, but only if you are going to be accepted by the group. You also want to be able to be yourself. You want to show your anger and your insecurity, your tears and your fears, your strength and your neediness. But it is critical that you be accepted as you are. It is also helpful for you to accept other group members as they are.

Sharing About Yourself

It is useful to share things about yourself that you have strong feelings about. Perhaps you need to talk about how you were abused as a child. Perhaps you are gay, or you are going through a painful divorce, or you are having anxiety attacks. It is especially important to share aspects of yourself that you feel ashamed of. These are the hardest to reveal, because you expect to be judged and rejected. But they are also the most valuable because you really need to be accepted with these parts of you. You will discover that when you reveal these parts of yourself in an open way, not only are you accepted by the group, but people actually appreciate you more, because of your courage and vulnerability.

Being Open and Vulnerable

This is one of the magic things that happens in an Interactive Group. There is actually something beautiful about a person when they are being open and vulnerable, whether they are showing deep pain or insecurity or being caring toward others. We all have a great need to show these vulnerable parts of ourselves and be accepted, and in fact the group atmosphere makes it easy for this to happen.

Loving and Compassionate

People want to be able to love each other if only they are in the right environment to bring this out. Group members find it natural to be loving and compassionate toward someone who reveals pain or weakness. The pain is experienced as something precious and beautiful, and people welcome this kind of sharing. It makes them feel closer to you. It’s one of those poignant, special moments in group that everyone cherishes.

Free Drop-In Interactive/IFS Group

Drop In IFS Interactive GroupThis drop-in is designed to give you an idea of how Interactive/IFS Groups operate, including the Therapists Interactive/IFS Group and the regular Interactive/IFS Group.

In a Drop-In Interactive Group, you can be totally honest about your feelings. Everyone is encouraged to share their moment-to-moment experience with the group. It’s a big risk but very exciting!

A small group of people meets to practice awareness, honesty, and connection. Using IFS (Internal Family Systems Therapy), we practice speaking for our parts rather than as our parts. This means being in Self (a calm, caring place) and talking about how a part of you is reacting in the moment, as opposed to dumping your feelings on other people. This helps you to communicate in a more effective manner, and it also makes the group safe for everyone.

I facilitate the group, helping you to tune into what you are experiencing and speak your truth. You may tell others honestly and directly how you are feeling toward them. We create an atmosphere of caring and trust so that this can be done in a safe, connected way. You also have a chance to get honest feedback from people on how they are responding to you.

The group meets by videoconference, so we can all see each other.

Click here for more information about Interactive/IFS Groups.

Wednesday, Jan. 31
10 am – 12 noon pacific time
(1-3 pm eastern, 6-8 pm UK)
Click here  to enroll

Working through Conflict in an Interactive/IFS Group

IFS/Interactive GroupOne of the big challenges for many people in an Interactive Group is the expression of “negative” feelings. It is valuable to express all of your feelings, not just good feelings. It is important to say when something bothers you or to express annoyance, disagreement, hurt, or discomfort. It’s also useful to express stronger feelings such as fear, anger, and jealousy.

Some people find it hard to believe that expressing negative feelings of any kind will be helpful to anyone. They say:

“It will just hurt him unnecessarily, and it’s not a big deal anyway.”
“It’s probably just my own material. I should just work it out myself.”
“It’s not something she can change. Why make her feel bad?”

This is because they are afraid of hurting the other person and feeling guilty about it, or because they are afraid of the person being angry or rejecting them.

In the Interactive/IFS Groups, we work on expressing a feeling by speaking for the part rather than as the part. When you speak as a part, it means that the part has blended with you. You have become the part, so if you were angry at someone, you might just blast them, “I hate you. You are so mean to me.” On the other hand, when you speak for a part, it means that you are in Self and you are describing the feelings of the part, “There is a part of me that is angry at you because it believes that you have been mean to me.” By speaking for our parts, we are owning our reactions to other people. We aren’t attacking them; we are letting them know how our parts are reacting to them. This is good practice for communicating in life, and it also makes the group safer. It is OK for you to express negative feelings toward others as long as you speak for your parts.

In fact, there are a number of good reasons for expressing negative feelings. It gives you a chance to practice asserting yourself. Many people are afraid to bring up difficult reactions, and this is an ideal way to learn how to do it. It gives you a chance to learn how to work through hard feelings that come up by doing this. It also gives the other person useful feedback about how they affect others. When you react to someone, it’s usually not all their fault, and it’s usually not all your fault either. It’s not necessarily anyone’s fault, but the reaction often comes from a part of the other person and a part of you. So both of you have something to learn from the interaction.

For example, Carole says,

“Jan, when you had that interaction with Max last week, a part of me didn’t like the way you treated him. It felt you were being defensive and controlling. You didn’t really give him a chance to explain himself before you attacked him.”

I ask Carole if she is feeling protective of Max.

“Maybe a little, but I was more just scared for myself. I wouldn’t want Jan to do that to me.” Jan responds, “I don’t see what was wrong with what I did. I was just standing up for myself.”

I explore with Jan how she is reacting to Carole, and Jan discovers that a part of her is feeling defensive. She even realizes that she is responding to Carole the same way she did to Max. This helps Jan to recognize a part of her that gets defensive, and she decides she’d like to change it.

In the midst of this, I ask how Carole is reacting emotionally to Jan. She discovers that a part of her feels frightened of Jan’s anger. I check this out with Jan and discover that a part of Jan is indeed feeling a little angry at Carole. But a different part of her appreciates Carole for taking the chance to confront Jan because it gave Jan an opportunity to learn something about herself. So Carole a chance to deal with her fear of other people’s anger. Carole discovers that she can tolerate Jan being a little angry at her.

Sometimes two people have an extended interaction to work through a conflict between them where there may be hurt and anger. I provide extensive facilitation to ensure safety, help the two people resolve their conflict, and also to help them learn from it. They learn what parts of them get triggered, what exiles are being protected, and how to communicate clearly, assertively, and with vulnerability. The rest of group members support both people rather than taking sides, and this makes it much easier to resolve any bad feelings between the people. In fact, often their relationship emerges stronger as a result of this kind of interaction.

How to Safely Work with Exiles

Working with ExilesWhen working with childhood wounds, there are two dangers. One is that you will be flooded with pain; the other is that you will avoid the exile because you are afraid of the pain being too excruciating. Exiles want to be heard and healed, but they usually try to be heard by flooding you with their feelings, which means blending with you. This is all they know.


Blending can be frightening because it draws you into the exile’s vortex of helplessness, and you might become increasingly buried in the pain or chaos. The intensity of reliving a trauma in this way could actually be harmful, and, if this begins to happen, protectors will usually react by stepping in and blocking access to the exile. Keeping you from this suffering has been their job for years, so they will react automatically. You will find yourself going numb or spacing out; you might become distracted or angry. These and other reactions all come from protectors that are afraid of the pain, and for good reason; it really might be difficult for you to cope with.

Exploring an Exile’s Pain

IFS has discovered a way to explore an exile’s pain safely. You stay in Self and relate to the exile; you don’t become the exile. If you merged with the exile and lost contact with the Self, the pain really could be overwhelming. However, the Self, when it is differentiated and separate from the exile, can deal with anything. When in Self, you sit in a calm, grounded place, and therefore you aren’t threatened by pain and trauma. If you start to be overpowered by the exile’s emotions, which means that the part is blending with Self, IFS has effective techniques for unblending and returning you to a grounded place.

This approach is workable because, in most cases, it isn’t necessary for you to directly feel all of the exile’s pain. IFS has discovered that emotional understanding is usually enough to set the stage for the rest of the healing steps.


There are a number of benefits to this approach. Besides avoiding being re-traumatized, you aren’t confronted with an armory of defenses to keep you from the exile. Since you aren’t threatened by the exile’s pain, protectors don’t feel the need to interrupt the process. This saves time, and sometimes it is the only way to work with an exile because, otherwise, protectors continually throw up obstacles and may permanently block the process.  Furthermore, by remaining in Self, you can be a compassionate witness to the exile’s pain and the agent of healing and transformation for the exile. In addition, from Self, you have the perspective to direct your own therapy process successfully.

Asking Permission to work with an Exile

Permission to Work with Exile

Permission to Work with Exile

Let’s assume that you have been getting to know a protector and developing a trusting relationship with it. Once you are aware of the exile that it is protecting, ask permission from the protector to get to know this child part.

You may receive an explicit yes or no. Or you may just sense that your way to the exile is clear or that it is blocked. Or the exile may suddenly emerge into consciousness, indicating that you have permission.

Once you get permission, it may be a good idea to check if there are any other protectors that object to your contacting this exile so you can get their permission, too. If you don’t get permission, you ask the protector what it is afraid would happen if it gave permission, and then reassure it about its fears.

The Cooperative Approach

This step highlights a major advantage of using IFS—its cooperative approach. Let’s consider a situation where your heart is contracted to keep you from feeling the pain of being rejected by a lover. In many forms of therapy, you would focus on the contraction and try to get your heart to open so you could feel the underlying hurt and thereby heal it. But this means fighting against the part of yourself that is contracted, which is a protector. This part believes that it must keep contracted so you don’t feel this intense pain. Turning it into an adversary usually backfires.

The more you try to get past the contraction, the more it fights you. And if you do manage to break through this protector, you may accomplish a dramatic, cathartic healing, but the contracted protector is likely to reconstitute itself soon afterward because you didn’t respect it and get its buy-in.

Two Parts Involved

There is a powerful advantage to understanding that there are two parts involved. Though the protector is keeping you from the pain, it may not realize that there is an exile that is already feeling the pain. It may think it is actually preventing the pain from existing at all rather than preventing you from feeling what the exile is already experiencing.

Using IFS

Using IFS, you don’t try to break through the protection; you don’t even ask the contraction to let go. Instead, you make it clear to the protector that the exile is already in pain, and you just ask permission to work with the exile so you can relieve it of the pain that exists. This way the protector feels you are trying to help rather than to cause pain, so it is much more likely to agree.

How to Discover the Exile Being Protected

Discover the Exile Being ProtectedLet’s assume that you are working with a protector and you have gotten to know it, discovered its positive intent, and developed a trusting relationship with it. Your next step will be to get the protector’s permission to work with the exile it is protecting. But first you must recognize which exile the protector is guarding.

There are a number of ways to do this.

Sometimes the emotions of the exile come up while you are working with the protector. For example, you are talking with a protector that feels it must always be right. As you are getting to know it, you begin to feel a hurt feeling in your chest. This is probably coming from the exile that is being protected.

Sometimes you hear the voice of the exile. For example, while you are talking with a protector, you hear a voice that says, “I feel so alone and left out.” That doesn’t sound like the protector, so it is probably the exile.

Sometimes you get an image of the exile behind or below the image of the protector, or you see their relationship in some other way. For example, suppose you have a protector that keeps you overly busy so you don’t feel the pain of an exile who is a lost little girl in the dark. You might visualize the little girl partially hidden behind the busy protector.

You have asked the protector what it is afraid would happen if it didn’t perform its role. This answer frequently points toward the exile because the reason the protector is there is to guard the exile. For example, if the protector says it is afraid you will feel hurt or scared or lonely, it is probably protecting an exile that feels one of those emotions. If the protector says it is afraid that you will be judged or humiliated, it is probably protecting an exile that was judged or humiliated in the past.

You can ask the protector to show you the exile it is protecting. If you have built enough mutual trust, it will usually do that.