Exploring Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy: A whole-person approach to healing in Gilbert, AZ

If I asked you how old you feel or behave on any given day, what would you say? Some days 45, other days 16? Perhaps your joints feel like they’re 70, but emotionally you feel like a teenager?

If you’ve ever felt or behaved younger than your current age, you’re not alone. In fact, most of us carry many different parts with us, each frozen in a past time. And these emotionally younger parts can sometimes cause trouble in our adult lives. Our younger parts tend to react to relationship triggers and are more fearful and insecure. They can also put on armor and facades, such as overconfidence, perfectionism, or achieving strength, beauty, or wealth ideals – to protect us from feeling uncomfortable things like shame, unworthiness, or helplessness.

If you recognize any younger behaviors within yourself, it might be time to give these parts some attention. Younger parts are often desperate for someone to simply listen, give them what they need, and catch them up to speed on the realities of the present.

Internal Family Systems Therapy, also known as IFS therapy, is an increasingly popular form of therapy that opens up a world of possibility for individuals to get to know and love all parts of themselves, allowing them to live more authentic, whole-hearted lives.

IFS was developed by Richard Schwartz, PhD, a therapist who observed his clients speaking about the conflicts between different parts of themselves. These clients wouldn’t speak about good vs bad parts (think angel on one shoulder, devil on the other), but rather a collection of many different parts, or sub-personalities, each with a different narrative and priority.

Parts, or sub-personalities in IFS, are like little people. And similar to other major schools of psychology that talk about subpersonalities (e.g. Freud’s id, ego, and superego, or the parent, adult, and child ego states in Transactional Analysis), the “parts” that arise in IFS all have different goals and motivations, fears and worries, and views of the world. They have varying levels of maturity, reactivity, wisdom and pain based on how old they are and the life experiences they’ve endured. Because of this, parts often conflict with one another, creating tension and confusion.

Parts in IFS are categorized them into 3 main groups – exiles, managers, and firefighters:


Exiles are like young, vulnerable children in your mind. They carry painful emotions and memories from past experiences, often from childhood. Because these feelings are so intense and difficult to deal with, other parts of your mind try to keep the exiles hidden or “exiled.” This is like trying to protect the family from the pain that the exiles carry.


Managers are like responsible, protective adults. Their job is to keep the family running smoothly and prevent the exiles from being triggered. Managers try to control your environment and behavior to keep you safe and avoid anything that might bring up the painful feelings that the exiles hold. For example, a manager might make you overly cautious or perfectionistic to prevent failure or rejection.


Firefighters are like emergency responders. When the exiles’ painful feelings do get triggered, firefighters jump in to put out the emotional fire. They do whatever it takes to numb or distract you from the pain, even if their methods are not always healthy. This might include behaviors like overeating, drinking, or compulsive activities. Firefighters act quickly and intensely to make the pain go away as fast as possible.

In summary:

• Exiles are the hurt, vulnerable parts that carry painful emotions.
• Managers try to keep you safe by controlling your behavior and environment to prevent triggering the exiles.
• Firefighters act quickly to distract or numb you when the exiles’ pain does break through

How It All Works

In IFS Therapy, the goal is to understand and heal these parts. The therapist helps you connect with a core part of yourself called the Self, which is calm, compassionate, and wise. From this place, you can get to know your exiles, managers, and firefighters, understand their roles, and heal the pain they carry. This helps your internal family work together more harmoniously, leading to greater well-being and balance in your life.

Why Work with a Therapist to Heal the Exiles?

Working with a therapist to heal the exiled parts of yourself can be incredibly beneficial. These exiles hold intense and often overwhelming emotions that can be challenging to face on your own. A therapist trained in Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy provides a safe and supportive environment for you to explore these vulnerable parts. They help you:

1. Feel Supported and Understood: A therapist offers empathy and understanding, which can make it easier to face painful memories and emotions.

2. Access Your Core Self: Therapists guide you to connect with your core Self, the part of you that is calm, compassionate, and capable of healing. This helps you approach your exiles with kindness and care.

3. Understand and Reframe Your Experiences: Therapists help you make sense of your past experiences, giving you new perspectives that can reduce the emotional burden of your exiles.

4. Develop Healthy Coping Mechanisms: By working through your exiles’ pain, you can reduce the need for extreme behaviors from your managers and firefighters, leading to healthier ways of coping with stress and emotions.

5. Integrate Your Parts: A therapist helps you integrate your exiles, managers, and firefighters so they can work together more harmoniously. This leads to greater emotional balance and well-being.

In essence, working with a therapist allows you to heal and reintegrate these hidden parts of yourself, leading to a more peaceful, balanced, and fulfilling life.

If you’d like to start your parts work journey with one of the licensed therapists at Restored Counseling & Wellness Center in Gilbert, AZ, you can easily book your first appointment online or send us a message on the contact page to get started!