A psychotherapist discusses the next step: how to help clients transform the disruptive feelings and thoughts that they’ve learned to simply observe during meditation.
Every couples therapist knows the experience. Just moments ago, as you talked to the wife and then her husband, you were struck by how likable each one seemed. You sensed their warmth, their humor. But now you've hit on one of those issues—perhaps it's a conflict about an in-law, or something about sex, or even the proverbial struggle about the toothpaste tube—and suddenly the people whose company you were enjoying earlier appear to have left the room.
Richard Schwartz began his career as a family therapist and an academic at the University of Illinois at Chicago. There he discovered that family therapy alone did not achieve full symptom relief and in asking patients why, he learned that they were plagued by what they called "parts." These patients became his teachers as they described how their parts formed networks of inner relationship that resembled the families he had been working with. He also found that as they focused on and, thereby, separated from their parts, they would shift into a state characterized by qualities like curiosity, calm, confidence and compassion. He called that inner essence the Self and was amazed to find it even in severely diagnosed and traumatized patients. From these explorations, the Internal Family Systems (IFS) model was born in the early 1980s.
IFS is now evidence-based and has become a widely-used form of psychotherapy, particularly with trauma. It provides a non-pathologizing, optimistic, and empowering perspective and a practical and effective set of techniques for working with individuals, couples, families, and more recently, corporations and classrooms.
In 2013, Schwartz left the Chicago area and now lives in Brookline, MA where he is on the faculty of the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.