How IFS coaching works: an introduction in video clips

These quick video clips from a demo session show what IFS coaching can be like. Clear, easy-to-read explanations of the concepts in each clip show why the session goes the way it does.

The kind of coaching I do is hard to explain in the abstract, but you can understand it intuitively when you see it in action. That’s why my colleague Alysa suggested recording demonstration sessions, to show folks what our methods are like and why. In this one, Alysa plays “Michelle,” a new client who’s just started coaching with me.

If you’re thinking about working with an Internal Family Systems practitioner, or if you’re curious about exploring your inner world on your own, our session — in brief clips or as a whole — will give you a vivid sense of what it’s like and how it works.

8 IFS concepts in 8 short clips

Each of the posts below pairs a brief clip from our session (between 2½ and 6½ minutes long) with a clear, easy-to-understand explanation of what’s going on and why.

Demo session 1: “A lot of feelings at one time”
Having mixed feelings is a common experience — and it’s the easiest, most direct way to begin exploring the complexity of our inner communities. During the first few minutes of this demonstration session, see if you can track all the different ways “Michelle” is feeling.
Demo session 2: Why turning inward requires consent
When you’re experiencing emotional suffering, deliberately turning your attention inward can be daunting. Before I invite my client to start paying attention to her inner world, I explain why, and reassure her that she can stop at any time. Can you catch three requests for consent in this clip?
Demo session 3: Meeting a part who feels anxious
When you start paying attention to your inner world, parts of you may use strong sensations to get your attention. Here, a part of “Michelle” floods her with nausea — uncomfortable, but bearable. This illustrates a crucial point: as long as you can observe a feeling, it can’t overwhelm you.
Demo session 4: Honoring protective responses
The part of “Michelle” who’s giving her intense nausea clearly has a lot of information for her — but before she can inquire, another part of her intervenes to put “shields up” against the bad feeling. Rather than persisting, we honor its protective wisdom and back off. See what happens when we do.
Demo session 5: Explaining the theory
The idea that you can heal just by making friends with various parts of your inner life — how can that possibly be true? The skeptical parts of us are wise to demand an answer. Here I explain exactly how the IFS model is supposed to work by explaining how it’s similar to my client’s line of work.
Demo session 6: Learning about positive intentions
In Internal Family Systems practice, we take it as given that every part of who you are is doing its very best to keep you alive and safe — but when parts of you are causing you pain, it’s hard to believe they mean well. Listen to how “Michelle” is wary of some of her parts.
Demo session 7: Paying attention to inner wisdom
When we’re trying to heal hurting parts of ourselves, “slow is fast.” If we rush toward our pain too quickly, protective parts of us will redouble their efforts to keep the pain at bay. That’s why we insist on honoring every protective impulse as it appears — just as we do in this clip.
Demo session 8: Planning for the week to come
A coach or therapist can help you make sense of your own inner world, but you’re the only person who can make the choice to pay attention. In this final moment in our demonstration, “Michelle” and I negotiate a daily practice of internal inquiry that feels doable for her. Do you think she’ll do it?

The flow of the session

My whole first session with “Michelle” lasted almost an hour, but much of that time we spent in silence — which is necessary for exploring your inner world, but very boring to watch! The video below condenses our whole session down to about 28 minutes, so you can see the flow of it uninterrupted.