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  • Writer's pictureSamantha McMullen

What can a therapist believe?

Updated: May 18, 2022

All therapists have beliefs about how change or healing happens. This serves as our compass, as the treatment modality we prescribe to directs the work we do with our clients in session. Some therapists are Solution Focused, some believe in skills training, and some belief in Cognitive Behavioral interventions.

I myself do CRAZY awesome things like have my clients stare at dots (EMDR) or draw their feelings (Art Therapy). There are so many styles of therapy, it can be overwhelming both for therapists and clients to navigate which is the right fit for them.

Since graduation my view of how change happens in therapy has evolved to the point of being unrecognizable from the early days in the classroom. From proudly exclaiming-"Art Therapy or die," to the worksheets of Cognitive Processing Therapy and DBT skills, to the somatic magic of EMDR and Trauma Conscious Yoga Method, none has destabilized me and at the same time made so much sense as Internal Family System or "IFS."

Strewn throughout the audible "wows" I uttered while dog earring almost every page of Richard Schwartz' book Internal Family Systems Therapy, I pendulated between, "Omg this is so amazing, this is going to change the world!" to, "How can I integrate and balance these beliefs with everything else I have learned and know so far???"

How I began:

Some parts of IFS were easy to reconcile. for example, I have always believed that we are not our thoughts or our emotions. From there it felt easy enough to name that those thoughts and emotions are coming from "parts" of us, instead of being ALL of us (in IFS this is called "Multiplicity"). IFS also believes that we have access to what Schwartz calls "self energy." I felt like I had heard of this concept before under different names- perhaps it is equal to "wise mind" in DBT or letting go of ego/samskaras from yogic and Buddhist teachings, or the inner wisdom and advisors that so often show up in EMDR.

Many therapies focus on teaching skills- and believe that problems are caused by "skill deficits."

IFS believes that we hold the answers we need inside of us, and the work is gaining access to them.

This reminded me of one of my favorite quotes, from not another therapist or evidence based practice, but science fiction writer extraordinaire- Sir Terry Prachet.

"’ll spend the rest of your life learning what’s already in your bones.”

― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

Just like the witch in training in this book series, we are all born with access to self energy, and with that "Curiosity, calm, clarity, connectedness, confidence, courage, creativity and compassion," the 8 c's of IFS.

Let's put this together so far: people struggling to regulate emotions or be interpersonally effective aren't "skill deprived." Instead, parts of them are stuck and holding burdens (trauma) and protective parts show up as symptoms (binge drinking, dissociation, cutting etc...) that get in the way of being effective and regulated- aka, Self Energy.

Some IFS book recommendations, appropriate for anyone wanting to know more:

So now what? I am learning about this awesome non pathologizing and non shaming approach that is IFS and struggling with how can I apply this to my practice now -while I am on the many waiting lists for IFS level 1 training?

Here is my conclusion, and so far this has been supported by trainings I have attended by Frank Anderson, and Bruce Hersey and the teachings of Richard Schwartz:

"IFS is a movement. A new, empowering paradigm for understanding and harmonizing the mind and, thereby, larger human systems. One that can help people heal and helps the world become a more compassionate place."

So here I go, a part of this movement. Will I still offer Art Therapy, EMDR, CPT, DBT skills and Trauma Conscious yoga method? Yes! This quote from Frank Anderson's book "Transcending Trauma," speaks to this so beautifully:

“It’s okay to apply different methods for treating clients and to utilize the clinical knowledge you’ve accumulated over the years, but it’s important to incorporate them carefully in treatment... For example you may want to set up an EMDR protocol with a particularly stubborn protective part that is not willing to separate, to do somatic work with a part that looks like it’s carrying a lot of physical activation in the body, or to apply cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with a part that is holding onto a distorted belief.”

My parts and I are excited by this belief system, (that I cannot really call new, as I think a part of me knew it was true along) I hope you are too. If you are interested in learning more about my approach, please contact me through my website, or email me at or call me at 818-465-8516.

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