2012 INtroduction to IFS • A Workshop for coaches

This is a recording of a workshop I presented in 2012 at the Midwest Regional International Coaching Federation Conference in Chicago. 

If you listen, thanks in advance for your patience with the sound quality. The hotel's foldable walls allowed sound from the other room's presenter to bleed through significantly. I have included my notes for the workshop as well, below. Enjoy! 


Welcome to "Got Parts? A Quick, Dynamic Introduction to Internal Family Systems for Coaches." I'm Melissa Sandfort, and I'm a graduate of CTI–the Coaches Training Institute. Who here is a Co-active coach or has studied with CTI? I'm also a graduate of CRR global–the Center for Right Relationship–which trains coaches in Organizational and Relationship Systems Coaching, or ORSC for short. Actually, Marita Fridjon, one of the founders of CRR global, led a breakout session yesterday. Who here has studied with CRR global or went to Marita's breakout session yesterday? I have been studying Internal Family Systems, IFS for short, very intensively for the past 10 years, and I'm an internal family system certified practitioner. Who here has any IFS training or exposure to the IFS model? Does anyone here have voiced dialogue training or experience? Has anyone studied any other types of sub personality work?

There are many models of sub personalities in the coaching world, from CRR global's concept of secret selves, to the Inner Critic course at New Ventures West.  What sets IFS apart is that while most coaching schools add sub personality work into their larger curriculum- in IFS, that's all there is. For 25 years, IFS has been one of the pioneers in this field, and has developed what I find to be a very lean, elegant, simple approach to sub personalities, or what IFS calls parts of the personality. I truly believe that parts work or sub personality work is going to become more and more central to the coaching industry, and I think the best proof of that is one of the leaders in our industry-- the Coaches Training Institute–just added a sub personality approach to their new curriculum. They call the captain and crew model. I believe that all coaches deserve to at least have a basic understanding of subpersonalities because I think that's the direction our industry is headed.  For those of you who are familiar with sub personality work, I hope this afternoon will deepen and expand your knowledge. For those of you who are new to sub personalities, I hope this afternoon will serve as an intriguing introduction to how IFS approaches them.

We're going to start with an icebreaker. I'll describe it and then we'll jump up and do it. You're going to find a partner, someone you're interested in getting to know, introduce yourself and begin a getting to know you conversation. You could ask, “What brings you to this workshop?” Or, “What's something exciting you're doing in your life right now?” Or anything else you're interested in learning about them. In the middle of your conversation, I'm going to ding the bells and ask you to just stop where you are and follow my directions. I'm going to lead you in a short experiential exercise that will form the felt sense foundation for what I'll be talking about this afternoon–so there is a reason behind the exercise. After that you will get a chance to finish your conversation with your partner. So I invite you to get up and go find your partner and begin your conversation.

I invite you to begin to draw your attention away from your partner and back to yourself. If you want you can close your eyes, and just begin to focus on anything that's going on in your mind or body. Notice your thoughts–maybe you're thinking about the conversation you were just having. Notice your emotions–maybe you're feeling a little excited or nervous about meeting a new person. Notice your physical sensations–maybe you're feeling a little warm or little cool. Notice your actions–maybe you're shifting from side to side. Just take another moment to sink deeper into your experience of you, noticing whatever comes up. And now slowly begin to bring your attention back to the room, and back to your partner. If you want, you can share some of the things you noticed when you were focusing on yourself, but you don't have to. So go ahead and just resume your conversation.

I have 2 goals for this afternoon–First is for you to have a basic, intellectual understanding of the internal family systems model of personality. Second is for you to get a felt sense of some of the ideas as well, because IFS is not an abstract cognitive approach–it's very much a somatic, felt, energetic technique.  Because I'm going to cover the basics of the entire model this afternoon, we will be focusing on getting an overview of the concepts, and not so much how to put them into practice.  But I believe that just by connecting to the ideas in your body, that will be a path to beginning to use the ideas as well.

Throughout the afternoon I'm going to use a musical metaphor to describe how subpersonalities work in IFS. The basic idea is that we all have many different parts or subpersonalities inside of us, in the same way that an orchestra has many different musicians. In other words, we are all an orchestra unto ourselves. The exercise of focusing on ourselves during the icebreaker was an opportunity to start experiencing what IFS means by parts. So when I asked you to focus on anything you were experiencing in your mind or body–your thoughts emotions and sensations or actions–I was asking you to focus on parts of yourself. There's a saying in IFS–“All parts are welcome”–so I am curious to hear what parts–what thoughts, emotions, sensations, and actions–came up for you during the exercise. I know I had a part that was excited to be sharing IFS with you, and also a part that was feeling nervous about using the microphone correctly. So I had an excited part and a nervous part. I invite you to just call out some parts that came up for you, and I will repeat them so everyone can hear.

Thank you for sharing your parts.

So we've all got parts. But if we only had parts–that would be like an orchestra with no conductor. So we do need a conductor for our inner orchestra parts, and in IFS the leader of the parts is called the Self. The self as 8 key qualities that enable it to lead effectively–it's calm, clear, connected, compassionate, courageous, confident, creative, and curious. Another way of putting that, is that the Self is naturally creative resourceful and whole. That may sound familiar!  So I think that IFS and coaching are highly compatible in the way they formulate their idea of the Self.

When people hear about these fabulous qualities of the self, they sometimes think, “Oh, the Self is good and the parts are bad, or I only want to be the self all the time and I want to get rid of the parts. But this is a misconception because that would be like saying the conductor is good and the musicians are bad. That doesn't make sense—one is not better or worse than the other, they're just doing different roles. If we got rid of the parts, that would be like getting rid of all the musicians and there were just be a conductor on stage with a stick. It would be very calm and peaceful but there would be no music. So we need our parts to play the music of the symphonies of our lives, and we need our Self to operate as the inner conductor who helps the parts to all play together harmoniously. We need both.

So that is the bare bones of the IFS model–that we all have parts and we all have a self who leads the parts. Now I want to add some nuances. Going back to the orchestra metaphor, although the conductor is the overall leader, the conductor is not the only one who has leadership qualities–in every section, there's a section leader called the 1st chair.  So there's a 1st flute, a 1st violin, a 1st oboe. In the same way, inside of us we have parts who function as section leaders—our 1st chair parts— who have many leadership qualities. In fact, CTI's new subpersonality approach, called the captain and crew, explores exactly this–the captain is like the self, and the crew is made up 1st chair parts, who contribute positive qualities. Our 1st chair parts don't tend to cause us trouble, they tend to share in the leadership responsibilities along with the self. But as we get further away from the self–to our 2nd chair, 3rd chair, 4th chair parts–our parts begin to play more and more out of tune. The further the parts get from the Self, the more you can tell the difference between the parts and the Self. Whereas, the 1st chair parts are so close to the self, that's kind of a gray area where it's hard to tell where the part ends and the self begins. I want to talk about the parts in more detail, so for clarity, I'm going to talk about our 2nd or 3rd or 4th chair parts because the difference between them and the Self is more clear.  Also, they're the types of parts that usually show up in our clients and they're the ones that challenge us as coaches the most. So when I'm referring to parts from now on, I just want you to be aware that I'm really talking about 2nd or 3rd or 4th chair parts–the kind of parts that bring our clients to us.

In IFS, there are 3 main types of parts that operate inside our personality.

I want to begin to get more of a felt sense of the parts as we go along, so I'm going to call out the names of some exiles that are listed in the box in the handout.  If you feel comfortable, I invite you to raise your hand if you have that part, no matter how big or small it may be.  It's not all of you, it's just a part of you. 

Since I created the handouts, I have almost every single one of the parts in those boxes, so I'm going to be raising my hand a lot.

One thing about parts is that a little sometimes goes a long way. I want us to connect to each of these parts in our bodies, but I also don't want us to get overwhelmed by our parts, particularly exiles.  So I'm just going to ask about half of the exiles in the box so we don't get overwhelmed, and I invite you to only participate to the extent that you feel comfortable.

I want to see what managers we have in the room.

I want to see what firefighters we have in the room.

So in IFS, those are the three main parts of human personality. We're going to do a very quick psychodrama to illustrate these 3 parts in action. First I want a volunteer to play an exile–so open up your handout and take a look at the box that lists how exiles often show up, and if you are feeling up to it, I'd like to volunteer to come up here and act out an exile. I'll demonstrate 1st. I'd like you to act out your part, and also to say some things that part might say:

I'm a loser

I'm not as good as everyone else

I can't do it. 

For the manager, I'd like someone to volunteer to be the minimizer, and to direct their comments at the exile. So this is my example, you can interpret your role however you want to: 

This is no big deal. 

You're making a mountain out of a molehill. 

This is no big deal (finger wagging).

We also need a firefighter-- You can pick from four different firefighters-- a shopper, a tv watcher, a vide gamer, or a web surfer.

And I'd also like someone to come up and volunteer to be the self–this will be a nonspeaking role for this demonstration, you just need to stand here and exude some calm, confidence and clarity

So Self, I want you to just stand here and feel your fabulous qualities of calm and clarity and confidence. Radiate. Now I invite, you, exile to play your part. Pause.  Now I invite the manager to step in and do your job.  Now let's have the exile and manager at the same time. Pause. The manager's minimizing is not working–the exile still feels upset–so we need a firefighter. I invite the firefighter to leap into action. Let's hear you, firefighter.  Now let's have the exile, manager and firefighter all going at once. Pause.

So you can see that as parts come on the scene, they block out the self, in the same way that clouds block the Sun.  The Self is always there-- the client is naturally creative, resourceful and whole behind all these parts-- but when the parts get going, they block out the Self.  So our job as coaches is to help our clients slow it down, and begin to identify their different parts as parts. Because in the moment when a client thinks to herself, “Oh I am not the one who believes I'm worthless, that's just a part of me” that creates separation between the part and the self, and that allows a little bit of the self to shine through. And that's all it takes sometimes to help our clients make the next shift they need to make.

de-role.  Thanks.  Back to seats.

So now I'd like to open up space for questions. We have about [10 minutes] [15 min.] if you feel comfortable you can project loudly and I will repeat back what you said or you can also queue up at the microphone.