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The Process of Internal Family Systems Therapy

1. Contract with client for the issue


Find out if any parts have concerns about this focus. Introduce parts language and
concepts into the conversation about the issue. Decide on a part to begin to work with--
ideally a protector part. If an exile emerges first, check to see if there are any parts with
concerns about addressing this exile.

2. Access the protector Part


The part may first show up as thoughts, images, emotions, or sensations. The client
focuses on this aspect of the part and invites it to show itself more fully.

3. Bring Self energy to the protector part


Therapist asks client, “How do you feel towards this part?”
If the client’s response has some degree of compassion or curiosity, this indicates the
client has responded from a state of Self energy. Proceed with Step 4.
If the client responds with aversion or disinterest, or it is clear the client believes they
are the part, the part is blended with the client.
Some options for helping the part to unblend so Self can be present with the part:
• Client asks the part to separate from her so she can get to know it.
• Externalize the part.
• Visualize the part in a room to provide a container for it.
• Do a short centering/grounding meditation.
• Ask the part what it is afraid would happen if it were to separate. Address its fears.

Again ask the client, “How do you feel towards this part?” If the part won’t unblend, the
therapist can address the part to discover the protector’s role until the client is in Self.

4. Discover the Protector’s Role


Ask the client to invite the part to tell him/her about itself. What is it that you do, how do
you do it, when did you first start to do this? What do you hope to accomplish? How do
you feel about your job? What would you prefer to do, if it were possible? What would
it take to allow you to behave differently?
The part may answer in words, images, body sensations, emotions.
5. Develop a Trusting Relationship with the protector
Client (and therapist) respond with appreciation, respect, understanding, compassion,
reassurance, without any agenda for it to stop playing its important role in the system.

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Client asks the part, “How do you feel towards me?” Validate any feelings of mistrust,
abandonment or disinterest. Help the part know you as contrasted with some of your
other parts.
As the protector trusts the client, it may relax enough that the vulnerable part it has been
protecting or suppressing emerges as an emotion, image or sensation. Or the protector’s
fears will point to this vulnerable part.
6. Addressing the protector’s fears
Typical fears:
• The vulnerable part has too much pain that if it is let out it will overwhelm the
system. Explain that we can ask the exiled vulnerable part to dial down the intensity
of its expression. Reassure the protector that you will stay in Self and get to know
this vulnerable part slowly and safely.
• The protector’s belief may be that there isn’t any point in going into the pain. Explain
that there is a point—you can heal the exiled part, and the protector can get a break.
• The protector will have no role and therefore be eliminated. Explain that the protector
can choose a new role in your inner system.
• Other parts in the system may be polarized with this protector and may need to be
addressed before it can allow you to get to know the one it is protecting.

7. Accessing the Exile


Like the protector, the exile may first emerge as an emotion, a body sensation, or an
image. However it shows up, ask the client, “How do you feel towards this part?” in
order to determine if the client is in the state of Self energy.
If the client’s response to the question indicates the exile is blended, try the options
suggested for unblending from a protector.
Some additional unblending techniques for exiles:
• Regulating affect: ask it to bite-size, slow down, dial down its emotions, stay with
sensation alone.
• Explain that you don’t want it to go away; you really want to witness its feelings and
story, but you need it to be separate to do that.
• Therapist can directly address the exiled part until the client’s Self is present.
The client’s response to the question may indicate another part—usually a protector. Let
the exile know you will not forget it, but need to turn your attention to another part first.
Again ask the client “How do you feel towards this part?” until you sense enough Self
energy is available in the client.
8. Develop a Trusting Relationship with the exile
If the client has some degree of Self energy, facilitate a Self-led relationship between this
exile and the client. Invite the client to welcome the part, send it compassion for its

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desperation, fear, shame, isolation. The part may want to get physically close to the
client.

9. Witness the Exile’s Story


The client will invite the exile to show or tell everything it wants him/her to know.
Attend to the nonverbal language—the body story. Implicit memories and many trauma
stories are only available nonverbally.
Has the part has shared everything it wants the client to know?
Does the exile feel understood and believed by the client?
What does this part need from the client? Provide that to the part. The client may go
back in time to help the part.
Exile’s burdens: Discover what burdens the exile absorbed as a result of the painful
experience from the past. The burden might be an emotion, a behavior, a belief, a
sensation.
Retrieving an Exile
The exile may need to be taken out of the childhood situation and brought into a place
where it can feel safe and comfortable--in the present, in your body, or an imaginary
place.
10. Unburdening an Exile
Name the burdens (painful feelings or negative beliefs) that the exile is carrying.
Ask the exile if it wants to release the burdens and if it is ready to do so. If it doesn’t
want to, ask what it is afraid would happen if it let go of them. Address those fears.
How does the exile carry the burdens in or on its body? How would the exile like to
release the burdens? It may use the elements water, air, earth, fire, or light or anything
else. Once the burdens are gone, notice what positive qualities or feelings arise in the
exile.
11. Integration and Completion
Ask what the exile will need in the future.
Check if the protector is aware of the transformation of the exile. If not, introduce the
exile to the protector. See if the protector now realizes that its protective role is no longer
necessary.
The protector and other parts that emerged during the session can choose a new role in
your inner system.

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