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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Self Therapy: An Interview with Jay Earley, PhD

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Oct 1st 2010

Today I am happy to bring to you author of the recently released book Self-Therapy. Jay is a nationally recognized expert in the field of group therapy and Internal Family Systems (IFS). He has been in private practice in northern California since 1973, runs Personal Growth Programs and has also authored Interactive Group Therapy and Transforming Human Culture.

Today Jay talks to us about the progressive approach of IFS and how it can support us toward greater healing.

Elisha: You say Internal Family Systems (IFS) is cutting edge psychotherapy, can you tell us a bit about it?

Jay: IFS recognizes that our psyches are made up of different parts, sometimes called subpersonalities. You can think of them as little people inside us. Each has its own perspective, feelings, memories, goals, and motivations. For example, one part of you might be trying to lose weight and another part might want to eat whatever you want. We all have parts like the inner critic, the abandoned child, the pleaser, the angry part, and the loving caretaker.

Elisha: How does IFS explain people’s struggles with various diagnoses in psychology (e.g., anxiety, depression, ADHD, bipolar disorder)?

Jay: I’ll ask your readers to look at some examples of issues that might bring them to therapy:

Have you ever really wanted to find the motivation to do something in your life, maybe start a new diet plan, or maybe finish your resume and finally look for a better job, but despite all your best efforts, you felt as if something was holding you back, and you simply could not get started no matter how hard you tried?

Have you ever lost your temper with someone you really care about, maybe even someone you love very much, but suddenly you found yourself saying things and acting in ways that were not the way you really feel about that person, and later you regretted your actions deeply?

Have you ever tried very hard to lose weight, yet for some reason you kept finding yourself standing in front of an open refrigerator at midnight, staring at the rest of that chocolate cake?

From the viewpoint of IFS, the problem in each of these situations is simply a part (or parts) that is over-reacting. In the first case, there is a part that is holding you back that you’re not aware of. In the second, there is a part that exploded in anger.

Let’s look at the third in more detail. When you crave that piece of cake late at night, this isn't just a desire that comes up from time to time. It's actually more accurate to see this craving for cake as a separate entity, a distinct part of your psyche that, for its own reasons, frequently craves a feeling of sweet chocolaty fullness.

Likewise, your desire to lose weight in the first place is also a distinct part of you. Perhaps it wants you to look and feel attractive and be in control. Now if you wolf down the cake, you may hear a voice in your mind criticizing you. These criticisms are coming from yet another part of you.

Some of your parts are in pain. Some of your parts want to protect you from pain. Some of your parts try to manage how you interact with others. Some of your parts are even locked in battles with each other that have been going on for years.  And most of the time, all of this is completely outside our awareness.

However, underlying this cast of characters, and within every human being, is the true Self that is wise, calm, open and loving.  Often buried under years of hurts, trauma, grief, shame, fear and negativity, your true Self remains perfectly whole and is the real key to your healing, and to integrating all your disparate parts.

IFS has innovative ways of helping to access your Self and remain there during a session. From this incredible place of strength and love, you can connect with your troubled parts and heal them.

There are two other reasons that IFS is so powerful:

1. IFS has discovered that all your parts are doing their best to help and protect you. This means that you don’t have to fight them or try to get rid of them. You can connect with them with compassion from Self and develop cooperative, trusting relationships with them. This makes transformation much easier.

2. IFS understands the complex structure of the psyche and has developed a sophisticated procedure for healing each of your parts. There is no guesswork. You don’t wallow around for years in your childhood. IFS helps you explore your psyche with laser-like precision and efficiency.

Elisha: What is one practice we can begin doing to move toward healing with IFS?

Jay: When you are struggling with a psychological issue, ask yourself what parts of you are involved. Which part feels a certain emotion that cause problems for you? Which part is acting in a way that doesn’t work for you? Remember that these parts are actually trying to help and protect you. Choose one of them and see if you can understand what it is trying to do for you, or what pain it is trying to protect you from. Make friends with it.

Thank you so much Jay, I love that intention of befriending all the parts of ourselves! 

To the readers: As always, please share your thoughts, stories, and questions below. Your interaction provides a living wisdom we can all benefit from. 



Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

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A family of selves - Gabrielle - The Therapist Within - Oct 1st 2010

What a great term, "Internal Family Systems".

I can definitely relate to feeling like a whole family of selves (or more) are in there somewhere...

It reminds me of narrative therapy a little, and that social constructionist idea of there being a potentially infinite number of selves (like a stern self, a soft self, a shy self, a sexy self, a sulking self, a scholarly self, a …)

I wrote a little about those ideas here:

I guess one difference between those two schools of thought would be that narrative therapy might question the notion of a "true Self"...

And I'm imagining all the traditional family systems therapy tools working really well on those internal selves... like how to deal with triangles and conflict in that 'internal family'.

Thanks for sharing these insights.

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