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  • Writer's pictureAlexander James

How Can Internal Family Systems Therapy Ease Depression?

Depression is a debilitating mental health condition that can drain the joy and lightness out of life, making every step feel like a heavy and unrewarding burden. It can be a difficult condition to treat, because depression has multiple causes that are unique for everyone, and it is important to understand the underlying drivers first of all.


One of the most effective ways of unlocking the barriers to psychological healing is through Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy. Here is an exploration of what it is and how it can help to ease depression and introduce lasting positive changes.  


Understanding IFS therapy

IFS therapy is a relatively new form of psychotherapy that was developed in the 1980s by Dr. Richard C. Schwartz. It has been found to be effective for treating depression because of the nuanced approach that acknowledges the complex interrelated thoughts, emotions and behaviours that can keep a person from the path to recovery.


It is possible to help yourself by learning about the core concepts of IFS, but many people work with a therapist to help them understand and apply the transformative power of IFS more deeply. Central to the theory is that we all have ‘parts’ that fulfil essential roles in our psyche, but adverse experiences can throw them into unhealthy extreme roles.


The three main parts are ‘firefighters’ that protect us from painful memories; the ‘managers’ that help to avoid triggering situations; and the ‘exiles’, which hold the troubling memories and that the firefighter and manager are working hard to protect.


The therapist will work with an individual to help them acknowledge and embrace all of these parts, returning the internal system to a state of balance and harmony. IFS theory adheres to the notion of a core ‘Self’ that in its true state is composed of the eight C’s: confidence, calmness, creativity, clarity, curiosity, courage, compassion, and connectedness.


By working to unburden the ‘parts’ with negative beliefs and memories that may be causing or perpetuating the cycle of depression, IFS therapy can lead to mental healing and inner peace.


How can IFS therapy help people with depression?

When working with a skilled therapist, the individual will learn not to fear or fight painful emotions, but to examine them in a state of calmness, curiosity, and compassion. This can help to ease or release heavy burdens of emotions such as shame, grief, or trauma that the person is carrying with them.


IFS can help people to gain a greater insight into their depression and understand how it may have been causing symptoms such as anger, fatigue, sadness, numbness, hopelessness, and dissatisfaction with life. 


This can be a very empowering experience that brings greater resilience and improved emotional regulation. It may result in more stable moods, a more compassionate relationship with themselves, more positive and rewarding relationships with others, and lasting relief from the long dark shadow of depression. 

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