Internal Family System - example of parts work

February 15th, 2024
In: Anxiety

Internal Family System, developed by Richard Schwartz, a Marriage and Family Therapist, is a therapeutic approach that recognizes the presence of different parts within individuals, just like how different members exist within a family. The purpose of Internal Family System is to address and work with these various internal parts.

In my therapy sessions with clients, I often utilize this approach to help them identify their internal parts and activate the Self, which serves as the leader of these internal family members (the parts).

Allow me to share a personal example of how I have applied this approach in my own life.

With the upcoming opening of my new clinic, I am aware of the extensive preparations and promotional efforts required to ensure its success. However, there are certain moments when a fear part emerges, expressing concerns about the uncertainty or potential lack of business upon the clinic's launch. On the other hand, there is another part that feels optimistic and hopeful, believing that by providing valuable services to clients, business will naturally flow. Despite these parts appearing distinct from one another, they all share the common desire for the success of my clinic. Recognizing this, I acknowledged and comforted the fear part, assuring it that I would fulfill my responsibilities to ensure a sense of security. Afterwards, I called upon my responsible part to support me in undertaking the necessary actions to guarantee the clinic's success.

Interestingly, while the fear part and responsible part collaborated well, they inadvertently neglected the part within me that yearned for recreation and enjoyment, which I will refer to as the "play part". My Self, being aware of this neglected part, recognized the importance of fulfilling its needs for social interaction and leisure activities. Coincidentally, I bumped into a friend who invited me on a ski trip to Japan in March. The play part enthusiastically agreed, while the fear part raised concerns about leaving the clinic unattended during that time. As a result, the fear part began playing out various worst-case scenarios in my mind, resembling a disaster movie. Realizing the importance of involving all my internal family members in decision-making, I informed my friend that I would consider the invitation and get back to him.

Upon arriving home, the fear part continued to play out scenes of a struggling business, with mounting monthly expenses and the eventual closure of the clinic. Watching this mental movie unfold, I started feeling a sense of anxiety. Simultaneously, the play part played scenes of incessant work and burnout, causing further stress and anxiety. Understanding that these two parts were attempting to communicate different messages, I, being familiar with all my internal family members, recognized that the fear part sought certainty and control to ensure the clinic's success, while the play part aimed to prevent burnout and maintain a sense of freedom in my time. However, these parts did not communicate well with each other.

Therefore, the Self assumed its leadership role and initiated a conversation with these parts. I reassured the fear part and invited it to align with the optimistic part. I also renegotiated with the play part, informing it of planned conference trips and the subsequent allocation of additional time for leisure activities. Furthermore, I promised the play part that I would be proactive in organizing weekend activities to prevent it from feeling trapped by work. After these conversations, all my internal family members settled, and I was able to move forward with a sense of peace, optimism, and lightheartedness throughout the rest of my day.

In essence, the Internal Family System model allows individuals to access a state of consciousness that other traditions strive to achieve through practices like meditation. In the example above, this state of consciousness is embodied by the Self part. When we cultivate awareness, we become observers of our parts and actively connect with the Self to enable it to assume a leadership role in decision-making.

Heidi Kwok
Innerverse Therapy
212-179 Davie Street, Vancouver, V6Z2V4

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