When a deeply troubled client begins a first session by shifting erratically through different mood states and periodically going numb, many therapists recognize—with a certain sense of dread—that they may be working with a borderline client.
It doesn’t have to be dreadful, according to Dick Schwartz, originator of the Internal Family Systems model. In fact, Dick suggests that our effectiveness in working with borderline clients is less about them than the capacity to tolerate our own reactive inner “parts.”
In this video role-play with Rich Simon, Dick shows us how he introduces his “parts” approach to clients in the very first session. It’s a short video with a big impact, and it gives you a taste of a model that has proven to be highly effective with borderline and other challenging clients.
Richard Simon, PhD, founded Psychotherapy Networker and served as the editor for more than 40 years. He received every major magazine industry honor, including the National Magazine Award. Rich passed away November 2020, and we honor his memory and contributions to the field every day.
Richard Schwartz, PhD, is co-author, with Michael Nichols, of Family Therapy: Concepts and Methods, the most widely used family therapy text in the United States. Dr. Schwartz developed Internal Family Systems in response to clients’ descriptions of experiencing various parts–many extreme–within themselves. He noticed that when these parts felt safe and had their concerns addressed, they were less disruptive and would accede to the wise leadership of what Dr. Schwartz came to call the “Self.” In developing IFS, he recognized that, as in systemic family theory, parts take on characteristic roles that help define the inner world of the clients. The coordinating Self, which embodies qualities of confidence, openness, and compassion, acts as a center around which the various parts constellate. Because IFS locates the source of healing within the client, the therapist is freed to focus on guiding the client’s access to his or her true Self and supporting the client in harnessing its wisdom. This approach makes IFS a non-pathologizing, hopeful framework within which to practice psychotherapy. It provides an alternative understanding of psychic functioning and healing that allows for innovative techniques in relieving clients symptoms and suffering.