Three Fundamental Principles that Set IFS Therapy Apart from Any Other Trauma Therapy Approach

IFS therapy explained - Internal Family Systems - the 8 C's and 5 P's of the Core Self - Printable Poster

As IFS therapy, or Internal Family Systems therapy, is gaining popularity, some questions begin to emerge. What is different about Internal Family Systems therapy’s approach? What does IFS offer that is different from other therapeutic modalities?

Three Key Concepts that Make IFS Therapy Stand Out

These three core ideas in IFS therapy make IFS an unique approach for healing trauma and organising your mental health and well-being in a way that elevates you as a human being.


  1. Non-confrontational approach in therapy: Internal Family Systems therapy doesn’t use aggressive confrontation when dealing with clients’ Parts. This makes its way of dealing with trauma, addiction, and the Inner Critic different from other methods like 12-step programs..
  2. Self is not acquired, but innate: In IFS therapy, the belief is that the Self isn’t created through interactions with others. Instead, Internal Family Systems holds that the Inner Self, or Core Self, is something we’re all born with, uniquely existing within each of us. This idea differs greatly from conventional psychotherapy, which often views interactions with parents as essential to personality development.
  3. You don’t necessarily need external help to be securely attached: The view of Internal Family Systems therapy is that secure attachment can develop internally through the Self. This is different from the approach of many therapists towards attachment theory, which often emphasizes that our style of attachment is formed in childhood based on how we were parented.

Unique Principles of IFS Therapy

Setting IFS Therapy Apart: Its Fundamental Concepts

A Kinder Approach: IFS Therapy’s Core

Non-confrontational approach in therapy: Internal Family Systems therapy doesn’t use aggressive confrontation when dealing with clients’ unwanted behaviours, or in IFS terms – Parts. This means that trauma therapy, addiction and dealing with the Inner Critic is treated differently than in other systems, for example – 12 step programs.

Fundamental Essence of The Self: Innate, Not Influenced

Self is not acquired, but innate: IFS therapy doesn’t believe Self is made through interactions with others. Internal Family Systems states that the Inner Self, or Core Self is innate in all of us, and is something unique that resides in us. This sharply contrasts with traditional psychotherapy, which insists there’s no way to form a personality, if there aren’t interactions with parental figures.

Self-Led Attachment Healing in IFS

You don’t necessarily need external help to be securely attached: Internal Family Systems therapy’s perspective on forming secure attachment is that it can be done through Self. In contrast, many theories about Attachment theory’s state that attachment style is formed in childhood as a result of certain parenting styles.

The Non-Confrontational Approach of IFS Therapy

IFS therapy’s approach is much gentler than traditional psychotherapy’s. This is especially evident when treating addictions.

Addictions to alcohol, drugs and other substances and behaviours are, according to IFS, a result of Firefighters type of Parts stepping in. Firefighters will usually activate to protect a person from trauma response coming from Exiles.

In Richard C. Schwartz’s own words, people in the addictions world are overly preoccupied with the Firefighters. Then, eventually the whole focus of Alcoholics Anonimous and many therapy approaches is to appoint some Manager to control the situation.

Compassionate Approach

In contrast, in Internal Family Systems therapy the goal is to conduct a conversation with Firefighters. Moreover, it is crucial to be able to be non-judgemental (in other words, the therapist should be in Self).

A valid initial goal is to be able to understand why the Firefigther does the job they do. Long ago they began activating and causing the person to act in certain addictive ways, because they believe they are protecting the whole individual.

By conversation and gentle approach, Internal Family Systems aims to understand the root of a Firefighter’s behaviour, instead of just making Managers stronger.

Validating the Firefighter’s Protective Functions

An important step in this process is to be able to validate the Firefighter’s sometimes years long attempts to protect the system. The therapist would thank them for their service.

By making the Firefighter feel validated (remember – a Part is akin to a whole personality within a person), you open up space and the process of healing can begin.

Internal Family Systems model worksheet printable

Conversation with Parts in Trauma Therapy

Trauma therapy in IFS involves the concept of compassion towards the so-called Protector Parts. Since Managers and Firefighters have lost their primary function in an attempt to protect the Self, it is crucial to show compassion towards these Parts.

In trauma therapy the IFS therapist will first try to calmly persuade a Part to explain how it started. Usually that would be a past event where trauma occured. Of course, often that was in childhood.

Thus, Protector Parts are usually in this role because they don’t believe the Self is capable of leading the whole. They think that the person is in their childhood years. A key element in processing traumatic events is then to persuade the Part to understand that the Self is capable now, and can protect the whole.

The Concept of Inner Self as Innate and Not Conditioned

Another major difference that sets apart Internal Family Systems therapy from other types of therapy is the idea of the Self as innate and not conditioned or acquired. IFS claims the Self is inside of us, has always been, and doesn’t need to be conditioned with relationships.

By conditioning or acquiring, most other therapeutic modalities mean that you can’t have a Self without parents, siblings, and other people interfering in early stages of life. In addition, you also don’t necessarily need friends and therapists to help you develop a Self.

Developing a Sense of Self Through Others

Most psychologists would say that a person’s self forms in childhood through interactions with others. As John Bradshaw in “Healing the Shame That Binds You” puts it:

“The only way a child can develop a sense of self is through a relationship with another. We are “we” before we are “I.”

He proceeds to echo what contemporary psychologists assert — that every child necessitates mirroring from their primary caregivers. This imperative stems from a child’s initial egocentrism, where the parent-child relationship serves as the bedrock for normative cognitive development. Additionally, a child requires a consistent, empathetic, and healthily involved parental figure to accurately reflect their expressions.

An Innate Sense of Self

In contrast with that, Internal Family Systems therapy’s creator Dick Schwartz states that we are born with a Core Self. The Self exists within us, untouched by creation or conditioning.

Self is inside of us, serving as a singular entity underlying the spectrum of sub-personalities constituting our comprehensive persona.

In IFS, Self with a capital S has qualities like the so called 8 C’s of IFS – characteristics such as confidence, calmness, compassion and clarity. In buddhist tradition the concept of no-self is actually similar to that very Self here.

Read: What are the 8 C’s and 5 P’s of the Core Self?

IFS therapy principles, what is different about IFS therapy? Core ideas of Internal Family Systems

This is the model of the Inner Self, or Core Self, with its qualities, according to Internal Family Systems therapy.

Internal Family Systems therapy worksheets for IFS therapy and IFS parts work. IFS infographics and IFS therapist gift ideas by CasuallyLuxe on Etsy

An Earned Secure Attachement that Stems From The Self

Similarly, Internal Family Systems therapy states that earned secure attachment style doesn’t nesessarily need a relationship with an outside figure to be formed. Instead, IFS therapists believe that secure attachment could be formed by internal parenting by the Self.

According to Attachment Theory, a a psychological, evolutionary and ethological theory that is widely accepted, among the few types of attachment a child can form there’s the secure attachment style. The rest of the styles are insecure, and most pscholologists currently believe that they were formed in early childhood as a result of certain parental behaviour.

Learned Secure Attachment

Since attachment styles concenr not only the relationships with our parents, but later on our love life, it is crucial to develop secure attachment style. Even though some of us have had the misfortune to have asquired (or have been born with) insecure attachment styles, secure attachment can be learned.

It is however widely accepted that the only way to develop secure attachment is through relatiobships later in life – with a partner, a therapist or friends.

Secure Attachment Asquired with the Self

In contrast, IFS therapy states that we can asquire a secure attachment by being guided by the Self. This is accomplished via Parts Work, with or without a therapist.

The Self is believed to be capable of parenting all Parts, once they understand that the person is no longer a helpless child. Thus, naturally learning secure attachment can happen through the relationship with the Self, with the mediation of a therapist.


8 Cs and 5 Ps of the Self for Professional Use

A side note about my other Internal Family Systems products, in particular the printable posters. If you ever need the 8 Cs and 5 Ps of the Self printable poster edited for professional use, or if you need “” removed, you can always contact me at

Shop High Quality IFS Therapy Gift Ideas

My IFS therapy mugs may be a good high quality therapist gift ideas for you. Whether it’s for yourself or an Internal Family Systems therapist, these cups can be both educational and elegant. In the case of the mirrored Self-Led mugs, they are also a fun and witty remark on our ability to look at ourselves in the mirror.

Check the current mug designs below.

IFS Therapy Mug 8 Cs and 5 Ps of the Self

8 Cs and 5 Ps of the Self IFS Therapy Mug

This 8 Cs and 5 Ps of the Self IFS therapy mug may be a nice high quality therapist gift. One side shows the 8 Cs of the Core Self, and the other illustrates the 5 Ps of the Core Self.

Of course, this IFS therapist's mug has the artwork of my original printable Internal Family Systems posters. However, I have redesigned the original artworks to illustrate better the principles of IFS on a mug.

Of course, you can also check a similar version of the art on Etsy as well, along with the 8 Cs and 5 Ps of Self IFS therapy mug.

IFS Therapy Model Mug - Internal Family Systems Mug

IFS Therapist Gift Idea - IFS Therapy Model Explained Mug

This coffee mug shows a newer design of my printable IFS therapy posters. This mug works as a great minimalist, high quality IFS therapist gift idea.

In this case I have redesigned the illustration of the Internal Family Systems model. So you can see the IFS model overview in a neat two-part illustration showing the Managers and Fireighters along with the Exiles. Also, on the other side you will see the artwork of the Core Self according to IFS therapy. Click on the link to see it fully represented on Etsy.

Self-Leadership Mug - Internal Family Systems Therapy Mug

Self-Leadership Mug for IFS Therapists

This stylish and minimalist mug illustrates the self-leadership principle explored in IFS therapy. However, the concept of self-leadership is explored in other therapy modalities. Thus, this is not only a gift for an IFS therapists, but an elegant gift for other professionals as well.

Self-Led Mug Funny Coffee Mug for IFS Therapists

Self-Led Fun Coffee Cup for IFS Therapists

The Self-Led fun coffee cup for therapists has the mirrored Self-Led design on one side. As can be seen, this is a witty remark on the concept of being self-led in Internal Family Systems therapy. A fun gift for IFS therapists who will naturally read one side of the cup when facing a mirror. Click to see this fun coffee cup on Etsy, where it's presented on both sides.