Therapy to Open Your Heart
© by Mary DuParri, MA, LPC

My heart opened up today. I found a little more room to breathe. I found peace inside though nothing has changed in my external world. I shed a few tears. Some were of sadness. Some were of relief. But mostly I was joyful, because my self, the one that struggles and carries burdens and gets confused, found another place of calm. My heart found peace again today through therapy.

For the past year, I have been learning about, experiencing, working with and being changed by a powerful model of psychotherapy that sometimes takes my breath away. In all my years as a therapist, I find this to be the most respectful, insightful and holistic model that has entered my life. This therapy is called Internal Family SystemsSM (IFS). The founder is Richard Schwartz, Ph.D. and the theory is based on the idea that all of us have a core self, born of and connected to goodness, and parts of self that serve to protect this core, get it loved and help it cope in the world. For example, we might have a hardworking part that helps us get recognized and praised, or a responsible part that makes sure everything is taken care of, or an angry part that flares up to protect whenever we are threatened even in small ways. We may have parts that want us to succeed and others that think success will hurt us. We have parts that are good to us and parts that seem to sabotage and treat us badly. There are parts that can hijack us, having us get drunk or overeat when we are overwhelmed and parts that keep the pressure on for us to do things right and not screw up. The beauty of the IFS model of therapy is that it welcomes and respects all of our internal parts no matter what their roles, because all the roles truly make sense when we understand the story of how they formed. Even parts that annoy us or cause us trouble are trying to keep us from being hurt. And all the parts with their encouraging or nudging or silencing influence our beliefs about life.

So, today, with the help of an IFS therapist, I went once again on an internal journey to understand another part of myself that was troubled. Not troubled from things caused by big-time trauma (though IFS can and does profoundly address big-time trauma), but troubled in a way that had me carrying burdens that were influencing my present life. Troubled in an “I don’t understand why I do this and I wish I could stop it,” kind of way. So, with the help of a therapist, I went inside and began to understand the whys. And when I did, and the troubled part trusted that I would be okay without it taking over for me, it was ready to shift. Actually, it was not only ready to shift, it was eager to give up the burden it had been carrying for so long. This is the way that IFS therapy helps us heal. It does not force us to change our behavior or shift our mood or help us just get over things, it helps us understand and release burdens so that our authentic self, our core self is the one we walk around with more often.

Therapy in the IFS model helps us get to know our protective and reactive parts and it helps them to be understood and unburdened so they no longer have to hijack us or overwork us or hide us from the world. With each piece of IFS work I do personally, my heart heals just a little more. With each piece of IFS work I witness, my heart expands and opens to the beauty and complexity of the individuals around me. With each piece of IFS work I facilitate, my heart rejoices and celebrates the wonder of being part of the process as another person discovers self and another heart heals just a little more.
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