My Christian Approach to IFS

My Christian approach Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy includes using some of the principles and techniques from Theophostic Prayer and the Immanuel Approach. Sometimes faith-based therapy includes a specific focus of what I call IFS Informed Spiritual Direction/Soul Care where clients come to the process with the intention to:

    • identify aspects of their personality that get in the way of their relationship and connection with God/Jesus
    • experience the healing presence of God/Jesus and how to pray for their hurts, habits and hangups
    • learn how to identify parts of themselves that show up in various spiritual practices such as reading the Bible, the Examen, Meditating on the Scriptures through Lectio Divina, the Jesus Prayer, etc.
    • receive guidance with the parts of themselves that are afraid of God/Jesus or have a hard time trusting Him.

There is nothing new under the sun when it comes to our human condition of experiencing inner conflict. Even in ancient times, we see a demonstration of this inner opposition or polarization when St. Paul in the book of Romans writes about not wanting to do things that he finds himself doing and wanting to do things that he can’t seem to accomplish. The Internal Family Systems model (IFS) is a tool that is used to help ease this inner tension with results of mental clarity and calmness, allowing clients to make confident choices on a path to peace.

Inner tension can be described as the various aspects of our personalities are in conflict with one another and this conflict can cause dysfunctional behavior. For example, if you make a mistake, you may say to yourself, “I can’t believe I keep messing up like this!” Then you may say to yourself, “Give yourself a break, no one is perfect.” This would be the inner conflict. If this conflict cannot be resolved, one may attempt to escape the inner bickering by zoning out in front of the television or seek more extreme ways to escape, such as drug use.

We all develop defense mechanisms to protect us from emotional pain (past and present pain). For example, if you are criticized by someone close to you, a typical knee jerk reaction is to get defensive. The first thing we usually do is evaluate our thoughts, feelings and/or behavior, “Is it good or bad?” If we decide it is good, we encourage embracing it and acting from it. If we decide it is bad, we try to get rid of it. However, that doesn’t work; we can’t get rid of a part of ourselves. Most of us have been taught to push hurt feelings down by being told to “Get over it.” However, the human condition doesn’t allow us to “get over it,” so often the hurt feelings will continue to pop up and usually at inconvenient moments.

In IFS therapy, we don’t judge the “problem” parts; rather, we seek to understand them and appreciate their efforts to help, without losing sight of the ways they cause problems. Similar to how Jesus approached sinners; loving them as people and naming the choices or behaviors that were harmful to them and harmful to their relationship with God.

IFS is a model of psychotherapy that can be used as a tool to bridge the gap between what one knows in their head and what one feels in their heart. I sometimes use IFS as a tool for spiritual direction, helping clients identify what parts or aspects of themselves are blocking their desire to cultivate a deeper relationship with the Lord. I also incorporate prayer techniques such as praying for parts (intercessory prayer) and praying from parts (often found in Psalms). Helping burdened parts unload creates a spaciousness inside, allowing the Holy Spirit to flow more freely in one’s life. Unburdening these parts of our personalities leads to a clearer view of one's Imago Dei (God Image) giving them a vision of health, then these unburdened parts of our personalities are able to fulfill their true God-given purpose. For example, instead of one’s self-talk being critical, saying “I can’t believe I keep messing up like this!,” the criticism may be transformed into a gentle corrector, saying “Okay, so we did that again, how can I learn from this and what can I do differently next time?”

Learn more about my Christian Approach to IFS Course for beginners and those already familiar with IFS. 

How I learned about IFS and the ways those experiences shaped how I use IFS with Christians.

IFS Institute

Introduction of IFS video by Dr. Schwartz I

Introduction of IFS video by Dr. Schwartz II

Read Dr. Schwartz's article "The Larger Self," his inspiring first-hand account of how he developed and uses the IFS Model and the extraordinary, transformative effect it has on him and his clients.