Unpacking Internal Family Systems Therapy

Internal Family Systems Therapy

The Modality Manual / Internal Family Systems

What is Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy?

Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy is a form of psychotherapy that helps people understand and explore their internal world. It is based on the idea that everyone has different parts within them that make up their personality. Each part has its own beliefs, emotions, and behaviours.

Basically, it’s like having a bunch of sub-personalities that all carry their own unique perspective on things. Some parts can be helpful, while others can be more vulnerable, holding uncomfortable emotions.

During an IFS therapy session, you explore your internal world, identify these different parts of yourself and build your confidence to make decisions based on values – rather than your “parts”.

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Internal Family Systems: A group of hands from different ethnicities fist bump

Our Three Main Parts: The Managers, Firefighters and Exiles.

The main goal of IFS therapy is to help people get to know their parts better and develop a more harmonious relationship between them.

Managers: These parts try to protect us from pain, by controlling and organising our lives. Ever hear that critical or perfectionist voice inside your head? Or ever tried avoiding vulnerability or emotional intimacy? Or how about feeling the need to be in total control at work? – Yep, that’s your manager.

Firefighters: These are parts that activate in response to intense emotions or trauma, to distract us from pain. Firefighters may engage in addictive behaviours such as substance abuse or compulsive overeating, to cope with emotional distress. E.g., someone may have a firefighter part that drinks heavily after a difficult day, to number their emotions and avoid feeling vulnerable.

Exiles: These parts hold our pain and vulnerability, often stemming from past traumas. Exiles may carry feelings of shame, fear, or sadness, and try to hide from our consciousness to avoid re-experiencing the past trauma.

Internal Family Systems: A group of actors playing different roles rehearse their lines on a stage

The Theory Behind Internal Family Systems Therapy

So, the theory behind IFS therapy is all about understanding the different parts that make up who we are as individuals. Our parts can interact with each other in helpful or harmful ways and may even become stuck in certain patterns of behaviour. Through understanding, we can learn how to navigate these patterns in a healthier way driven by our values.

Let’s jump into how this works in real life.

Imagine someone who struggles with social anxiety but also happens to be a huge fan of Harry Styles. This person may have conflicting parts within them: one part that is fearful and avoids large gatherings, and other part that feels disappointed or frustrated because they really want to attend Harry’s concert.

These opposing parts may interact in ways that reinforce their anxiety, making it incredibly difficult to overcome their fear of social situations.

In IFS therapy, your therapist helps the individual identify and access their “self”, which is a state of calm, curiosity and compassion that can integrate and balance these different parts.

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The Core Concepts of Internal Family Systems Therapy

Let’s talk core concepts of IFS therapy:

  1. We’ve all got a True Self – the source of wisdom, compassion, and healing. Our True Self can become obscured by the protective or wounded parts of us that arise in response to life experiences.
  2. All parts within us mean well, even if their behaviour or emotions seem negative. E.g., the part of us that withdraws from others may be doing so to protect us from further emotional pain.
  3. We need to develop a curious and compassionate relationship with each part, rather than trying to avoid or suppress them.
  4. Once we access our True Self, we can help our parts become more integrated and balanced. This can lead to greater emotional regulation, improved relationships, and a greater sense of overall well-being.
An abstract image of a bubble against a forest

How does Internal Family Systems Therapy Work? A Step-by-Step Process:

Let’s jump into what IFS actually means for you in the therapy space.

  1. First up, your therapist will introduce the concept of “parts” and help identify parts within yourself.
  2. Mapping out the internal system: your therapist then helps identify each part, giving it a name, and learning its role and function.
  3. Developing a relationship with each part: your therapist then helps you develop a compassionate relationship with each part. This involves acknowledging and accepting each parts unique perspective and listening to its concerns.
  4. Separating the client from their parts: Your therapist helps you to understand that you are not your parts, instead you are the “Self” – the accepting observer of your parts.
  5. Working with the wounded parts: You therapist helps you to work with the parts of you that hold onto painful experiences and help you heal.
  6. Lastly, integrating the parts: The final step involves integrating the different parts of you into a more harmonious and functional whole. This involves helping each part let go of extreme roles and emotions and finding a more balanced place within the internal system.
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Who Can Benefit from Internal Family Systems Therapy?

So how can IFS therapy help you? (Basically, if any of the below resonate, it’s for you):

People with a history of trauma:

IFS therapy is particularly effective in helping those who have experienced trauma. It can help clients work with the different parts of themselves that may have been wounded by the trauma and promote healing.

People with anxiety and depression:

This therapy can be helpful to identify and work the parts of yourself that contribute to us maintaining anxiety and depression cycles.

People with relationship concerns:

IFS therapy can help you understand the different parts of yourself that contribute to relationship issues, such as communication problems or difficulties with intimacy.

People with addiction difficulties:

IFS therapy can help you understand the parts of yourself that promote substance abuse or gambling addictions. 

People seeking personal growth and self-discovery:

IFS therapy can help you understand your internal world more deeply and promote greater self-awareness.

Internal Family Systems Therapy vs. Other Psychotherapeutic Approaches

There’s a big emphasis on our internal system.

If someone is struggling with anger, IFS therapy would dig deep and explore the different parts involved in that anger (such as maybe that angry part is actually hurt or afraid?). In contrast, other therapeutic approaches may not focus as specifically on this aspect of a person’s mind and choose to focus more on behaviours or symptoms of anger.

IFS views all parts of a person as valuable and necessary.

The critical parts of you are treated with compassion, rather than inherently negative. Other therapeutic approaches may view the critical part as negative and therefore problematic, with the focus on changing or eliminating those aspects.

IFS loves spirituality

IFS integrates spiritual concepts by holding the idea of having a higher self, that can provide guidance and wisdom. E.g., if someone is struggling with a decision, IFS therapy may encourage them to connect with their Self and ask for guidance. Other therapies do not necessarily give spirituality any airtime.

Collaboration is IFS therapy’s motivation.

Your therapist serves as a guide and facilitator rather than someone who has all the answers. Your therapist will often ask you what you’re thinking a certain part needs, rather than your therapist telling you what your part needs.

A group of people huddle

The Power of Internal Family Systems Therapy

IFS therapy is a powerful and highly effective approach to psychotherapy that has the potential to bring about deep and lasting healing for people struggling with a wide range of mental health concerns.

By understanding and working with the internal system of parts within us, this therapy can help you gain insight into your own patterns of behaviours, cultivate self-compassion and acceptance, and ultimately finding greater life fulfilment. 

While IFS therapy differs from other psychotherapeutic approaches, its focus on collaboration, flexibility and non-pathologising is what makes it stand out. This therapy allows for deeper understanding and healing that ultimately transforms our relationships with ourselves and with others.

If you’re struggling right now, consider exploring our therapists who use IFS therapy. It may be just what you were looking for to get back on your feet and into living an authentic life.

To find out more about IFS therapy at Indigo,, get in touch via (02) 9212 5469 or [email protected] – or get matched to a therapist now.

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Meet Our Therapists

PhotoANNIA BARON

annia baron, Clinical Psychologist

PhotoDR NAVIT GOHAR-KADAR

dr navit gohar-kadar, Clinical Psychologist

PhotoMAJA CZERNIAWSKA

maja czerniawska, Senior Psychologist

PhotoEUNICE CHEUNG

eunice cheung, Psychotherapist & Counsellor

PhotoAYANTHI DE SILVA

ayanthi de silva, Registered Psychologist

PhotoTAYLA GARDNER

tayla gardner, Psychotherapist & Counsellor

PhotoKATIE ODONOGHUE

katie odonoghue, Relationship Coach & Couples Therapist

PhotoLORNA MACAULAY

lorna macaulay, Senior Psychologist

PhotoSHUKTIKA BOSE

shuktika bose, Clinical Psychologist

PhotoDEEPIKA GUPTA

deepika gupta, Clinical Psychologist

PhotoEVA FRITZ

eva fritz, Senior Psychologist

PhotoDR EMER MCDERMOTT

dr emer mcdermott, Clinical Psychologist

PhotoNICOLE BURLING

nicole burling, Senior Psychologist

PhotoNATASHA KASSELIS

natasha kasselis, Senior Psychologist

PhotoDR PERRY MORRISON

dr perry morrison, Senior Psychologist

PhotoGAYNOR CONNOR

gaynor connor, Psychotherapist & Counsellor

PhotoSHAUNTELLE BENJAMIN

shauntelle benjamin, Registered Psychologist

PhotoLIZ KIRBY

liz kirby, Psychotherapist & Counsellor

PhotoSAM BARR

sam barr, Clinical Psychologist

PhotoDARREN EVERETT

darren everett, Senior Psychologist

PhotoJAMIE DE BRUYN

jamie de bruyn, Senior Psychologist

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is The Indigo Project?

We are a progressive online counselling practice, providing telehealth services in Australia. Our passionate and experienced local team includes psychologists, psychotherapists & counsellors, coaches and therapists that are trained to deliver online therapy to you in a safe and convenient way.

Whether you are looking for short or long term support through a challenging time, or looking to discover your potential, we want you to feel comfortable on every step of the journey.

Read more about Our Story 

Telehealth: About Therapy and Online Counselling

What can I expect from therapy? What is therapy like?

Every therapist is different and their therapeutic style and personalities are all unique. However, all of our Indigo practitioners will hold a compassionate and non-judgmental space for you, where you are free to be who you are. Your therapist is there to listen to you, guide you, and help you overcome life’s challenges.

Generally, you’ll spend the first session getting to know each other, talking about your history and what it is you’d like to work through. From your second session onwards, you’ll get to go deeper, peeling back the layers and all the while learning practical strategies to help you transform and grow.

At Indigo we encourage our clients to have at least 10-20 sessions, because we believe that therapy is a long-term journey of commitment, growth and investment in yourself. After seeing your therapist for a while, you may continue to book occasional check-in sessions as you feel more confident doing life with the knowledge and tools you have gained.

Who is online therapy for?

Everyone is welcome to attend online counselling or therapy with one of our practitioners at The Indigo Project.

Online counselling or therapy via Zoom is an accessible, safe and convenient option for those who are unable to attend face-to-face appointments, or simply prefer to meet online. Whether it be a busy schedule due to work and family, health-related reasons or distance, online counselling can help you.

What issues are suited for online therapy?

Our team of trained clinical psychologists, psychologists, psychotherapists and counsellors attend to a range of common mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, stress, grief and loss, life transitions, relationship issues and more.

A number of practitioners also specialise in areas such as sexuality, gender and identity, addiction, sports and performance, personality disorders and therapy for children and adolescents.

Several therapists also provide services in marriage counselling and couples therapy.

Finding the best psychologist or counsellor for me - where do I start?

We highly encourage you to view our practitioners and use the filtering options to find a psychologist or counsellor who can help you with the issues you are seeking help for.

Meet our therapists and what they can help you with here.

If you need help, our Therapy Matchmakers team will be able to match you with a practitioner. Give us a call on (02) 9212 5469 or email us at [email protected] so we can support you on your journey.

What if I can’t see the therapist I had in mind?

Our therapists typically have capacity to see several new clients each month. However these openings can get filled up fast from those who have been on a waitlist. If there is someone that you particularly want to see but is currently unavailable, we can place you on a waitlist until there is an opening.

If you prefer to attend an online counselling session sooner, our Therapy Matchmakers can help you find an alternative practitioner based on your needs and what you are looking to achieve in therapy.

Meeting a therapist for the first time can feel like a first date. If you don’t connect with your therapist on your first or second session, we’ll pair you with a new practitioner and your next session will be on the house* as part of our Perfect Match Promise.

*Terms and conditions apply.

Can I make an appointment for my child or dependent?

If you are the parent or legal guardian of a minor, you will need to make an appointment online or via the phone.

We have many psychologists, psychotherapists & counsellors who have experience dealing with children and adolescents in therapy. See who can help here.

Someone I know needs counselling. Can I book an appointment for them?

Those who require online counselling or therapy will have to make an appointment directly with The Indigo Project via our online booking form or on the phone. We do not accept bookings on behalf of an individual or couple from a third party unless as part of an insurance plan, support scheme or similar arrangement.

We want marriage or couples counselling. Can we see a couples counsellor together?

Couples are welcome to attend online therapy sessions together with one of our couples therapists.

Do I need to do anything before my first session?

We recommend setting up for your online therapy session 5-10 minutes before it commences. Make sure your computer or phone microphone and video is working, and that you are comfortable and ready to sit through your session uninterrupted.

There’s zero pressure to prepare anything for your first session but if you find it helpful, you can jot down some points about specific things you’d like to work on or discuss with your therapist.

Are my therapy sessions confidential?

Everything you discuss with your therapist here at Indigo is absolutely confidential, and will not be shared unless you or someone else is at risk of serious harm.

How do I pay for my online therapy session?

For first time clients, payment is made via debit or credit card at the time of booking. For returning clients, there are a number of payment methods available such as authorised direct debit or online via the payments link on your invoice.

Who to contact if you are in crisis

The Indigo Project is not a crisis service.

  • If you are in a crisis, if you are experiencing suicidal or homicidal thoughts, or somebody else is in danger, DO NOT use this service.
  • Call 000 or use these contacts for immediate crisis support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week:

Lifeline 13 11 14 - A crisis support and suicide prevention service for all Australians.

Mental Health Line 1800 011 511 - The Mental Health Line offers professional help and advice for everyone. Operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636 - Beyond Blue provide support to address issues related to depression, suicide, anxiety disorders and other related mental illnesses.

Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 - A free service for people who are suicidal, caring for someone who is suicidal, bereaved by suicide or are health professionals supporting people affected by suicide.

Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 - A counselling service specifically for young people aged between 5 and 25.

Parentline 1300 1300 52 - Parent Line is a free telephone counselling and support service for parents and carers with children aged 0 to 18 who live in NSW.

What else does The Indigo Project do?

Our courses, workshops and events are designed to transform the way you think, feel and live.

Not ready to commit to therapy? Indigo founder Mary Hoang has created Get Your Sh*t Together, a self-directed digital course for those who want to develop greater self-awareness, tackle stress and anxiety, and learn practical skills to help heal, grow and thrive in life.

Mary has also written a book Darkness is Golden: A Guide to Personal Transformation and Dealing with Life's Messiness that combines her experience in the therapy room with unique audio experiences framed by her research in music psychology.

Available for free download are a number of toolkits to help you combat your depression, deal with your anxiety or transform your relationships.

Although an online counselling practice, The Indigo Project believes in the power of community, and we often host events throughout the year. Keep an eye out for events such as Listen Up, a contemporary digital sound bath some describe as a “soundtracked therapy session”.

We are also available for corporate events, workshops and related projects. Please contact us at [email protected] if you’d like to know more.

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