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Internal Family Systems in Family Therapy

Name of Concept

Internal Family Systems


Internal Family Systems therapy (IFS) holds that it is the natural state of the mind to be multiple – that is to contain subpersonalities that in IFS are called parts. Parts are considered to contain valuable qualities and abilities but are forced from their naturally valuable states by traumas or attachment injuries. Some are forced into protective roles and others are locked away inside the mind such that people no longer have access to them. Because Richard Schwartz was a family therapist when his clients began describing their parts, he drew from family systems theory to understand the way this inner system of parts that his clients were describing operated and he found amazing parallels. He also found that many family therapy techniques could be used effectively in inner systems as well as external ones.

More specifically, he found that, just like children in external families, some parts were polarized with others and some were...

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-49425-8_199
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  • For a full bibliography of books and articles on IFS, see

  • Herbine-Blank, T. (2013). Self in relationship: An introduction to IFS in couple therapy. In M. Sweezy & E. L. Ziskind (Eds.), Internal family systems therapy: New dimensions. New York: Routledge.

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  • Schwartz, R. C. (1995). Internal family systems therapy. New York: Guilford Press.

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  • Schwartz, R. C. (2013). Moving from acceptance toward transformation with internal family systems therapy. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 69, 815–816.

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  • Schwartz, R. C., & Blow, A. J. (2010). Creating self-to-self intimacy: Internal family systems therapy with couples. In A. S. Gurman (Ed.), Clinical casebook of couple therapy (pp. 375–398). New York: Guilford Press.

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  • Schwartz, R. C., & Sparks, F. (2015). The internal family systems model in trauma treatment: Parallels with Mahayana Buddhist theory and practice. In V. M. Follette, J. Briere, D. Rozelle, J. W. Hopper, & D. I. Rome (Eds.), Mindfulness-oriented interventions for trauma: Integrating contemplative practices (pp. 125–139). New York: Guilford Press.

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  • Shadick, N. A., Sowell, N. F., Frits, M. L., Hoffman, S. M., Hartz, S. A., Booth, F. D., Sweezy, M., Rogers, P. R., Dubin, R. L., Atkinson, J. C., Friedman, A. L., Augusto, F., Iannaccone, C. K., Fossel, A. H., Quinn, G., Cui, J., Losina, E., & Schwartz, R. C. (2013). A randomized controlled trial of an internal family systems-based psychotherapeutic intervention on outcomes in rheumatoid arthritis: A proof-of-concept study. Journal of Rheumatology, 40(11), 1831–1841.

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  • van der Kolk, B. (2014). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind and body in the healing of trauma. New York: Viking.

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Correspondence to Richard Schwartz .

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Schwartz, R., Goldsmith, J. (2019). Internal Family Systems in Family Therapy. In: Lebow, J.L., Chambers, A.L., Breunlin, D.C. (eds) Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy. Springer, Cham.

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