Internal Family Systems and Coaching
The dominant narrative of our culture is that we each have “a personality” that is relatively consistent and coherent. But is that really true? And more importantly, is it a helpful and health-promoting model?
In this conversation with psychotherapist Richard Schwartz, we explore what lies beyond the narrow definition of self, the key understanding coaches need in order to work with aspects of self, and how parts work is a portal to self-leadership.
Working With “Parts”
IFS is a non-pathologizing approach to different aspects of self. It evolved out of the need to address and validate the individual parts of the clients that Richard was working with at the time. He discovered the importance of each role or part at an earlier stage of life and the need for it to be related to and validated in order to begin to transform its hold over adult behaviour.
The method involves encountering these “difficult” parts of ourselves with unconditional love, without a desire or an agenda to get them to change. Often the need of the “part” is simply to have the event that caused it to come into existence be witnessed and related to with compassion.
Through dialogue with these parts it transpired that the client would relax and certain qualities would emerge. In time, Richard found that these were replicated by all of his clients and termed them “The 8 C’s of self-leadership”.
Self-Leadership and Internal Complexity
Whilst we tend to deny our inner complexity and prefer to believe we have “A personality” that a relatively consistent and coherent, the reality (as acknowledged by IFS) is that we all have a multitude of “parts” or aspects of self that impact our behaviour.
When we are able to be in a state of “Self” we find that qualities emerge that allow us to be with our complex inner reality in a compassionate and curious way. The eight C’s of self-leadership identified by Richard are:
By anchoring the client (and ourselves) in this state of “Self” (as opposed to being identified with or acting from a “part”), the relationship to whatever the trigger is for the part shifts dramatically. From this internal posture, a constructive relationship to the “part” becomes possible.
In a way, this is the next step from the meditative benefits of spiritual practice, which facilitates being able to witness these parts without getting identified with them, however this alone does not heal them and in fact they feel more abandoned through this disconnected relating.