FAQ: What is Internal Family Systems?

My coaching practice is built on Internal Family Systems, or IFS for short: a simple and powerful way of understanding of what it’s like to be human. Here’s the IFS model in a nutshell.

FAQ: What is Internal Family Systems?


All my work as a coach comes from a few simple premises about who humans are and how we heal, based on the Internal Family Systems model. Here they are:

  1. Self. Every human being has a basic Self, a fundamental essence oriented toward harmony and joy. I think of this Self as another way of referring to Buddha-nature, or the “image of God” in you, or just the ultimate realization of who you’re meant to be. This ideal Self doesn’t have to be developed or cultivated over time, and it can’t be damaged or destroyed. Each of us is born with a Self, and it’s always there for us, whether we’re aware of it or not.
  2. Parts. Inside our Self, every human being has a bunch of different sub-personalities, who help us interact with the world. If you’ve heard of an “inner child,” that’s a part. So is an “inner critic” or an “inner champion.” Each one of the parts inside us is like a little internal person, and together they form an internal community. We interact with our parts using the same respect and social skills we use with external people.
  3. Healing. As human beings encounter challenges in life, our different parts develop many creative strategies for protecting our Self from harm. Sometimes those protective strategies come into conflict with each other; other times they stop being useful, and start causing us trouble. But because our Self is already oriented toward harmony and joy, we already have everything we need to help our parts let go of protective strategies that aren’t working any longer, and find new ones that do.

You don’t have to believe these premises to work with the IFS model — you can just as easily take them as hypotheses, and test them out for yourself. If you’d like a deeper explanation of the model, try this excellent article by Derek Scott, one of the most learned IFS practitioners there is.