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  • Writer's pictureJenniShea-MakingSpacePsychotherapy

Trauma Therapy & IFS

Traumatic experiences can be stored in our bodies and change the way we engage with ourselves and with others. I often hear clients talk about who they were before an event, and how they wish they could be that person again. There are also others who were harmed so early in life that they have no other experiences to compare to. Either way, there is a sense of loss; but there is also a compulsion to survive.

Our systems adapt to trauma by turning up the focus on safety, and finding ways to cope (even if it doesn't look like what we would think of as coping). Through an IFS lens, this is all protective. And this is really where the shift in thinking begins.

Traditional therapy methods, such as cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and psychodynamic therapy, though proven effective, can sometimes leave clients feeling invalidated or somehow wrong inside. Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, a relatively newer style, takes a more validating approach.

IFS considers your whole system. It has gained popularity because of the unique way it deals with trauma.

Consider this...

What if your tendency to [insert behaviour or feeling] is not flawed but is instead protective? Humour me and think about that for a minute. What shifts for you?

Or what if that thing that you loathe about yourself is really just two parts of you that are in direct opposition and you are simply experiencing that conflict? What if they both get to be right? Think about that for a moment. What shifts for you?

What's IFS?

IFS therapy is an integrative, evidence-based approach to psychotherapy that was developed by Dr. Richard Schwartz in the 1980s. It's based on the idea that we all have multiple parts or mini-personalities that make up our inner "family." Sometimes these parts clash, leading to internal conflicts and emotional stress.

Do you ever feel more than one way about something at the same time?

Example: That pool looks amazing. I really want to go swimming! But if I go swimming I have to wear a swimsuit in front of everyone. Why am I worrying about this? I'm an adult, and I shouldn't feel like this. I'm so stupid. I need to get over it.

This is what I mean by parts in conflict. You have one part of you that really wants to do something, one part that feels uncomfortable doing the thing, and what sounds like a critic and bully weighing in. This all happens quickly in our minds but it causes distress, and we do this a lot.

Imagine what it would feel like to have compassion for every part, even the critic and the bully. Imagine this conflict getting softer and fading out.

It can also permanently shift the way you see yourself and your coping strategies (parts) so that healing becomes long lasting. You know how you cannot "unsee" or "unknow" something? This is what I mean by a permanent shift to the way you see yourself.

IFS & Trauma

With trauma we often suppress our emotions to protect ourselves from feeling more pain. This is how we cope. IFS creates a safe way to trust yourself and heal. You don't have to remove or banish any part of you. You just learn how to show up so your parts don't have to run the show without you.

I like to tell my clients that IFS can feel so much gentler and easier than other approaches that haven't worked for them in the past. You don't have to fundamentally change yourself, so the things that frustrate/shame/anger/sadden no longer have to shove them down, avoid them, hate on them, or cover over them with other ways of coping. You get to be exactly who you are now, but with insight and acceptance. And it can feel so freeing to stand in your own skin in this way. Change happens through compassion instead of agenda.

A relationship with your own parts doesn't just help you. It makes your relationships with other people better too. You start to notice that other people have parts in conflict too.

IFS therapy can help you find new meaning and purpose in your life after being hurt, a process called post-traumatic growth. By getting to the root causes of trauma you can heal in a deeper and more permanent way. This means that when things come up for you in the future you are more resilient, and you can bounce back from tough times far better.

IFS therapy is super versatile and can be easily integrated with other treatment methods. Whether you're working with a therapist one-on-one, in a group setting, or even using online therapy, IFS can be adapted to fit your needs. This flexibility makes it an attractive option for therapists and clients, as it can be tailored to the individual's unique circumstances and preferences. So, no matter what kind of therapy setup you are comfortable with, IFS can be incorporated to provide the benefits of this transformative approach.

Benefits of Using IFS Therapy for Trauma Treatment

1. Addresses the Root Causes of Trauma

2. Promotes Self-Compassion and Acceptance

3. Enhances Self-Awareness and Emotional Regulation

4. Encourages Emotional Expression and Communication

5. Strengthens Relationships

6. Supports Post-Traumatic Growth

7. Fits in with Different Treatment Styles

Dealing with trauma is never easy, but IFS has the potential to create lasting change. It offers a fresh, powerful, and non-pathologizing way to work through what hurts. It also teaches you how to show up for yourself. This is a valuable skill that you get to keep and use again (and again).

Jenni Shea, Clinic Owner

M.A. Counselling Psychology, B.Ed., B.A.(Hons)

Registered Psychotherapist

Interested in working with an IFS therapist in Hamilton?


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