Internal Family Systems Therapy for Addiction Treatment

Internal family systems therapy (IFS) is a beneficial treatment option for those with addiction. Learn about it here. 

Internal Family Systems Therapy

Table of Contents

What is Internal Family Systems Therapy?

Internal family systems therapy, also known as IFS, is a type of psychotherapy that believes the mind is composed of many different variables that can come together in the healing process. IFS therapy is an evidence-based model that focuses on identifying each component and integrating them into a whole to conduct psychological healing. 

Mind as an Internal Family

Within internal family systems therapy, the mind is viewed as an entity that is made up of several components. Even though a person’s mind can consist of several different sub-personalities or “Parts,” it is important during IFS therapy to view them as all interconnected.

Every individual has a Self, and the Self can be used to help lead the internal system of that person. As this type of therapy continues, clients will learn how to form a complex system of their internal variables and find roles for each of them. 

When is IFS Therapy Treatment Done?

Even though IFS therapy has not been deeply researched, it has been shown to reduce signs of depression in some people. Furthermore, internal family systems therapy has also been linked to the reduction of types of pain.1 Generally, someone will undergo internal family systems alone, but couples and families can also experience benefits from this form of treatment. 

Individual Therapy

For those who are wondering “what is IFS,” this type of psychotherapy is done to help coordinate the Parts within the mind. A client will learn to identify the Self and use that Self as a leadership tool. By coordinating all the Parts within the mind, that person learns to incorporate the different variables in unison and engage in psychological healing.

Family Therapy

Family groups can also benefit from internal family systems. This type of family therapy works to help family members establish their safety within the family, learn to let separate selves work together, introduce IFS therapy language, and work on the relationships between family members.

Couples Therapy

Internal family systems therapy can be a powerful tool for couples therapy. IFS couples therapy is a tool often used by couples counselors and marriage counselors. This tactic helps promote harmony in the relationships between two intimate partners and helps each member develop their sense of self-leadership.

Concept of IFS

When furthering answering the question of “what is IFS,” it is essential to address the different concepts that make up the therapy. The main concepts of IFS therapy include the Self, Exiles, Managers, and Firefighters. 

The Self

The Self is the center of an individual. It includes the person’s likes, dislikes, and other parts that make a person who they are. In IFS therapy, the Self should be the leader of the individual’s internal system.

Everyone has a Self, and it is the most powerful aspect of the family therapy model. By incorporating the Self into internal family systems, a patient may learn how to take control of their life and feel more competent and relaxed in their treatment.


The Exiles are the younger parts of someone who has experienced trauma and is isolated from the rest of the system. Exiles help someone feel protected from pain, terror, and fear. In addition, these feelings can lead the person to feel more fragile and vulnerable. 


The Managers are the part of the mind that runs the day-to-day life. The Managers also work to keep the individual in control of their situations and relationships. They will help the person feel protected from any hurt feelings or rejection of friends and family.

Typically, the Manager exhibits several tactics including striving, controlling, caretaking, evaluating, terrorizing, and more. 


Firefighters will react when Exiles are activated. This reaction is done to control and remove the feelings of pain, terror, and fear. Typically, Firefighters will have similar goals as Managers, about using less adjusted strategies, including drinking, drug use, self-mutilation, or binge eating.

Because Firefighters often use substances to cope with the feelings exiles experience, it may be a viable therapy for addiction.

Techniques of Internal Family Systems Therapy

Internal family systems therapy uses a variety of therapeutic techniques to help the individual coordinate their separate parts under the leadership of the self. Generally referred to as the six Fs, these techniques are commonly used throughout this psychotherapy. 


With this technique, those who suffer from addiction will figure out which parts work and then localize that part in or around the body. 


During the focus stage, individuals undergoing this addiction therapy will focus their attention inwards. It allows them to learn more about a Part, whether it be Exiles, Managers, Firefighters, or the Self, and focus on the qualities that it possesses. 

Flesh Out

Flush Out requires diving more into the specific qualities of a certain Part. Not only is the client now looking at the Part, but they are figuring out how that Part is supported by the separation between the Part and the Self. 

Feel Toward

The Feel Toward technique focuses on testing the individual’s presence of the Self and working to “un-blend” that Part. In turn, this step will establish a stronger connection between that Part and the Self. 


beFriend is the part of the process that allows the person to learn more about individual Parts and focuses on establishing relationships with being that Part in the Self. As such, they are recognizing the relationship between Parts and the Self. 


Finally, Fear is used to identify the deepest parts of the individual that influence actions and feelings. Fear looks towards Exiles and the more polarized Parts of the self. Particularly for those who have experienced trauma so suffer from addiction, Fear may be the most powerful step in IFS therapy. 

What Can IFS Therapy Help With?

While internal family systems can be particularly powerful for those who have experienced trauma and for those who suffer from addiction, several other disorders may be treated by IFS therapy.

Even though internal family systems therapy is a beneficial therapy for addiction and is successful with those who suffer from eating disorders, it can also promote psychological healing for depression and anxiety disorders.

Substance Abuse Disorder

IFS therapy is a promising approach to treating addiction. This therapy for addiction focuses on identifying more vulnerable parts of the self and helping that individual learn how to incorporate the benefits of self-leadership and more self-understanding. Throughout the process, those who engage in internal family systems will learn to coordinate their internal and external relationships.

Benefits of IFS Therapy

Along with being a type of addiction therapy, helping those who suffer from eating disorders, and potentially treating those who suffer from trauma, there are several benefits of IFS therapy.

Particularly, people learn about their self-leadership and how to take charge of their own lives and in power their minds. The other common benefits associated with internal family systems therapy include:

  • Self-leadership
  • Self-compassion
  • Self-acceptance
  • Self-understanding
  • Self-preparedness 

What to Expect in IFS therapy?

A large part of internal family systems therapy is taking charge of one’s healing and therapeutic practices. There are several types of techniques that are used within IFS therapy, and all are used to help identify and strengthen the Self while also identifying healthy and extreme roles.

There are no bad parts within the self, simply parts that may be dysfunctional or have become frozen. By incorporating the following techniques, people will learn how to identify their Parts and the function they have within their minds. The following are a couple of techniques that may be used within IFS therapy. 

  • Relaxation Exercises. Relax action exercises may involve mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing.
  • Visualizations. Visualization involves using mental imagery to accomplish in a more relaxed state.
  • Keeping journal. Keeping a journal can help put down thoughts and organize relationships that are cut up in the head.
  • Chart. Charting may refer to keeping track of an individual’s thoughts and progress.7  

Find the Right IFS Therapist at The PAC Program

As with any type of therapy, you must find a professional who is licensed in the field of psychology and who has been trained in IFS therapy. An IFS therapist can take the form of many different types of mental professionals. Below are some types of mental health practitioners who may lead an IFS therapy session. 

Licensed Psychotherapist

A licensed psychologist or licensed psychotherapist is someone who holds a doctoral degree in clinical psychology or any other discipline within psychology or counseling.

These professionals are trained to work with those who have mental health disorders and can provide evaluations and testing. Typically, these professionals can also make a diagnosis regarding an individual’s mental health. 

Social Worker

Social workers often have a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science in social work. These individuals are typically in charge of case management and help clients find the services and programs they need.

The difference between a social worker and a clinical social worker is that a clinical social worker has a master’s degree and may evaluate someone’s mental health and use therapeutic practices.  


Counselors are generally master’s level professionals who are trained to work with those who suffer from mental disorders. They have specialized training and therapeutic practices and programs. Because they are likely trained in therapy and internal family systems, they are also qualified to lead IFS therapy programs. 

Mental Health Professionals

A mental health professional is a professional who works within the field of mental health or psychology. These people can be anything from a clinical psychologist to a counselor or social worker.

Mental health professionals can have varying levels of education and qualifications, so it is critical to find a mental health professional who has the right qualifications to lead an internal family systems therapy session.


If you or a loved one needs help, please call us at
623-523-4748 and our team at Blueprints For Recovery in Arizona will help.

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