How IFS Fosters Next Era Consciousness

Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS) is the therapy that I practice as a psychologist. This article demonstrates how IFS implicitly promotes the values and consciousness of the Great Turning. This is an illustration of a larger pattern that I see, which is a way we can aid people in transforming their worldviews and consciousness. If you are a person or an organization that provides help to people or groups, you can help them transform by offering your help in a way that implicitly embodies the Next Era in social evolution. Here is how a psychotherapist can do this.

For those of you who don’t know IFS, here is a short introduction. Parts of the psyche are like little people inside of us, subpersonalities. Each has its own perspective, feelings, memories, goals, motivations. Each part is trying to protect us from pain or harm, even if we don’t need that protection any more. Protectors handle the external world to keep us safe, and they defend against feeling our underlying pain. Exiles carry pain from the past, usually childhood. The Self is our spiritual center, our true self. It is naturally curious, compassionate, connected, and grounded.

Here is a short introduction to my Great Turning work. I believe that our world is going through a transformation from one era of social evolution to the next, from the Modern Era to the Next Era. The Next Era will be characterized by caring, compassion, empowerment, trust in process, an interest in the inner life, a lack of blaming, a deep connection to the natural world, and a more fluid identity, among other qualities.

I believe that working with IFS orients my clients to Next Era values without my bringing up social issues with them. The very act of engaging with their inner world using IFS tends to subtly transform people, which is quite apart from the psychological healing they receive. For example, if a client chose to work with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, they might get relief from their psychological suffering, but since CBT comes directly out of the Modern Era worldview, it wouldn’t help them to transform their values in the direction of the Next Era.

Let’s now look at how IFS does this.

At a simple level, IFS aids people in developing emotional intelligence—in learning about their inner world in a user-friendly way that goes into their emotional depths, not just their beliefs. IFS is now being employed in schools to help students learn about their psychological sides. This supports the move away from a focus on only the intellect in the Next Era

IFS is also non-pathologizing. Unlike most of psychotherapy, it doesn’t believe that anyone is characterized by psychopathology. No matter what symptoms a person exhibits, this is understood as coming from their parts. Either their protectors are attempting to prevent them from being overwhelmed by underlying pain, or their exiles flood them with pain or trauma. So, there is no blaming of people or categorizing them with a diagnosis. This is in line with the Next Era attitude of valuing each person for who they are and not judging or dismissing them.

IFS is empowering to people because the true Self is the agent of healing in IFS, not the therapist. This helps people to take charge of their own healing instead of depending on an authority figure. Some people can even do IFS successfully on their own or with a peer IFS counselor. And even if someone needs an IFS therapist to resolve their problems, the therapist acts more like a guide for their true Self than the source of healing.

IFS promotes compassion for self and others. When we are in Self, we naturally feel compassion for people who are in pain and for our parts who are in pain. And in IFS, if we aren’t in Self at any given moment, we don’t try to continue the therapy process until we are. In fact, compassion is absolutely necessary for healing exiles, so if we aren’t feeling compassion for an exile, it means that a protector is preventing us from opening our heart, and so we work on that. As we develop the ability to care deeply about our own parts who are in pain, this naturally generalizes to feeling compassion for other people who are in pain. Compassion is an essential value of the Next Era.

After engaging in IFS for a while, we realize that all of our problematic behavior comes from parts of ours that are just trying to help and protect us, though in a way that is distorted by issues from our past. This helps us to realize that this applies to everyone else as well. So, even people who are destructive toward others and the earth are driven by parts who are dealing with their underlying pain and trauma. This helps us to empathize with them.

Once we understand how the IFS process works and how well it works, we can relax and trust the process. This is certainly true for me as an IFS therapist, but it also seems to be true of my clients and participants in my IFS classes. They learn to trust their Self and also to trust that the IFS process will lead to healing if it is allowed to unfold. This doesn’t mean that there is a fixed protocol to use. The process can go in all sorts of different directions because the human psyche is quite complex. But wherever it goes, there is always a natural step to happen next.

Unlike some other forms of therapy, IFS focuses on the process of therapy, not so much the psychological content. We don’t aim to interpret a client’s underlying issues to them. We trust that by following the process, the client’s parts will reveal what the client needs to know. This process orientation works because there is a natural tendency toward healing and wholeness in human beings. IFS follows what I call the Process View, which is one of the hallmarks of the Next Era.

In the Modern Era, we tend to have a fixed and rather rigid sense of who we are—our identity. We believe that we are a separate person, of a certain gender, religion, nationality, etc. And we believe that this is fixed. However, in doing IFS, we come to recognize that our identity is much more fluid than that. Sometimes we are identified with one part and sometimes another. Over time, we identify with a whole range of different parts of us. So, by doing IFS, we tend to take our identity lightly at any given moment. I believe this more flexible identity is a characteristic of the Next Era.

I believe that in the consciousness of the Next Era, we recognize that the earth, Gaia, is not only a living being but perhaps also a sentient being. And the same applies to forests, wetlands, rivers, mountains, birds, plants, and so on. They aren’t sentient in the same way that humans are, but in their own unique ways, as indigenous peoples have understood. In doing IFS, we experience that our parts are sentient beings, and I think this helps us to recognize that sentience is not just a property of humans but can apply to other entities as well.

IFS is based on systems thinking, which is one of the hallmarks of the Next Era. I doubt that this affects people who are using IFS to work on themselves, but it does bring the system viewpoint more to IFS therapists.