Basic IFS Course

This course will teach you how to use Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS) to resolve psychological issues and heal underlying pain from the past, to enhance your self-confidence and well-being. IFS is a powerful, user friendly method of psychotherapy and personal growth work. IFS is a recognized, proven method for individual psychotherapy with a robust training program and thousands of certified therapists. It will help  transform stuck parts of yourself into inner resources of strength, love, and freedom

This course teaches you how to access Self (that core aspect of you that can heal your parts) and work with protectors (parts that defend us from pain and danger). It is the most basic course on IFS. 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.

The text for the course is my book, Self-Therapy.

The course will be taught by videoconference, so we can see each other, which enhances the group connection, making it safe for you to be open and vulnerable in class. Each class is recorded, so you can watch the recording of any class you miss.

Details about each class meeting:

Class 1: Introduction to IFS and Accessing a Part

IFS is based on the idea that the psyche consists of sub-personalities, called parts, which make up a kind of inner system.  Parts often get into conflicts with each other and act in dysfunctional ways in an attempt to protect us from pain. All of this happens largely outside our awareness, and when we do see what is happening, we frequently try to banish the parts that are causing the difficulties. Yet this is hardly ever solves the problem. IFS, on the other hand, teaches us to relate to our parts with openness, curiosity, and compassion, not judgment, which allows each part to reveal its hidden agenda and the pain it defends against.  This paves the way for healing and transformation, which can be accomplished by following the detailed procedure taught in this course.

The psyche is largely organized to protect itself from pain, which is why IFS makes a distinction between parts that are in pain and parts that protect us from it. Protectors are parts that handle the external world and protect against vulnerability and pain. Exiles are young child parts that are in pain from the past. Protectors try to arrange our lives so that people can’t hurt our exiles, and when this does happen, protectors shut us down emotionally to keep us from feeling the pain. This noble effort doesn’t really work; the suffering still leaks through at odd moments.  Furthermore, the defenses instituted by protectors make us relate to the world in troublesome ways, or they blunt our aliveness or rob us of important capacities. IFS is able to transform the psyche by relying on the healing power of our true Self or spiritual center, which has four important qualities (connectedness, curiosity, compassion, and calmness). Course 1 introduces the IFS model and helps you understand some of your parts.

IFS work is not primarily about understanding your parts intellectually, although that does happen. It involves going deep inside and accessing them on an experiential level through emotions, images, body sensations, or internal dialogue. You engage the part in a relationship and come to understand it on a gut level. When deciding where to focus in a session, you may look for a trailhead–an experience or issue in your life that involves emotional reactions indicating the need for inner work. Exploring the trailhead will reveal the parts behind these reactions. This can then lead to healing. Class 1 shows how to access parts and explore trailheads.

Class 2: Becoming Centered

In the IFS process, before you can get to know one of our parts in a beneficial way, you must be in Self.  From the vantage point of Self, you are separate from the part; it is not blended or entangled with you. You are centered rather than experiencing the anger, judgment, or other feelings of the part. You are clear and unbiased, not caught up in the part’s dysfunctional beliefs. Class 2 shows how to unblend from a protector before you work with it.

Class 3: Being Open and Curious

IFS teaches a new and loving way to relate to our parts. Usually when we become aware of one, the first thing we do is evaluate it. Is it good or bad?   Do we like it or not?  If we decide it is good, we embrace it, give it power, and act from it. If we decide it is bad, however, we try to get rid of it. However, that doesn’t work. You can’t get rid of a part of yourself. All you can do is push it into the unconscious, where it will continue to affect you without your awareness. In IFS, we do something radically different from evaluating our parts. We welcome all our parts with curiosity and compassion, which allows us to connect with each part, gain its trust, and ultimately heal it. We don’t judge the “problem” parts; rather, we seek to understand them and appreciate their efforts to help us, without losing sight of the ways they cause problems. It is the spiritual quality of the Self that gives us the capacity to be so completely accepting. Class 4 teaches how to tell if you are in Self and how to access Self so you can successfully work with a protector.

Classes 2 and 3 are both about accessing Self. The brilliance of IFS is that it allows you to be both objective and compassionate; that is, you can both see the part as it really is and accept it. These two qualities form a potent combination that is rare in methods of inner work.

Class 4: Finding out a Protector’s Positive Intent

Every part of your psyche is doing its best to help you, even those protectors that are a thorn in your side. Each protector truly believes it is safeguarding you from pain or harm, even though its methods may be misguided. Understanding that it has a positive intent helps you to appreciate it rather than reject it.

When we analyze our parts intellectually, we cannot truly understand and connect with them. The information we obtain will be limited and we won’t develop the deeper relationship with parts that is crucial to the rest of the healing process.  Class 4 shows you how to ask parts revealing, insightful questions and genuinely listen to their responses, which may come in words, in images, in body sensations, in emotions, or from direct knowing. In this way you make a direct experiential connection with your parts.

Class 5: Developing a Trusting Relationship with a Protector

In IFS, working with a protector isn’t just a matter of getting information and insight. You must build a trusting relationship with it. You cannot reach exiles without permission from the protectors that are standing guard over them and preventing access. The reason protectors take on extreme roles in the first place is that they believe they are on their own in defending against threats and suffering.  Either they don’t know that Self is there, or they don’t believe it has enough strength and wisdom to handle threatening situations. Success in IFS depends on the degree to which you connect with protectors and gain their trust. Then they can begin to relax and allow the Self to take a larger role in dealing with the world. Class 5 explains how to develop a trusting relationship with a protector.

Class 6: Working with Other Parts that Arise

The course presents these five steps in the IFS process of getting to know a protector.  It also describes how to handle a variety of experiences that may arise during these steps that don’t fit neatly into the progression. Our internal process is never as tidy as described in a Course. While working with a part, you might suddenly space out and lose focus; you might become distracted; your feelings might go numb. Whenever something seems to be going wrong like this, it is because a protector part has taken over that wants to stop the process. You simply need to realize this and engage with that protector to find out why it needed to derail the work.

Other problems can arise: While you are focusing on a particular part, other feelings can burst onto the stage, confusing you as to where to focus. Or you might be flooded with a variety of intense feelings. Sometimes new protectors can creep in unexpectedly and take you out of Self without your knowing this. Other times you may be talking to a protector and the exile it is protecting arises without your realizing it; you still think you are relating to the protector. When any of these events occur, the process could be derailed. Fortunately, IFS has ways of handling all these contingencies, which are taught in this Basic Course. A central principle in IFS is “All parts are welcome.” This means that you are open to hearing from all parts, which allows you to tell when a part that seems to be “interfering” has an important message that shouldn’t be ignored. At the same time, IFS helps you to stay on track with the original target part.

This is the first course of the overall IFS process. It sets the stage for healing your inner child parts (Exiles Course). After that you can join one of my Advanced IFS Classes.

See the current Schedule of Courses.