Unburdening: Parts Work and the Internal Family Systems Model of Healing

Heal yourself of soul sickness.

Internal Family Systems Therapy, also called Parts Work and IFS for short, is gaining widespread popularity in addictions and mental health treatment.

IFS is on the rise, not only because it has earned a spot on the list of the so-called “evidence-based” approaches favored by regulators, which always gives a healing modality a boost in visibility, but because it’s intuitively appealing and even, sometimes, fun.

Especially in combination with the arts and somatic therapies, Parts Work is a revolutionary treatment for trauma and addiction. I like to think it’s making progress towards healing the world of all manner of soul sickness.

How Does Working With Your Inner Parts Heal You?

Internal Family Systems Model of Healing

According to the IFS model, healing takes place through the process of unburdening.

Unburdening takes place when a misunderstood Part of your own Self reveals itself to you, and you are able to recognize it in a positive light. When you are willing to understand, rather than condemn, you will become aware of your misunderstood Part’s burden.

A Part’s burden is related to its primary life-enhancing purpose, and the needs that it has to be able to do its positive job well for you.

Prodigal Return

Once a Part has told you its story fully, you will be stunned with compassion. You will feel a greater respect for all you have endured, and what it took to survive what you have survived.

With forgiveness for yourself and your Part, you will be moved naturally to reclaim it as a long-lost member of your inner family. You then recognize your Part as an important, valued side of your own vital life force.

Through this reclamation, the Part is integrated. This means the Part is brought back into harmony with the rest of you, through a restoration of relationship with the rest of your psyche.

Making amends with this Part, understanding her true intentions, and seeing her side of the story, you decide consciously that you no longer need to keep her banished away like a criminal.


As Romeo ardently expresses in Shakespeare’s poetic voice, banishment is the worst kind of punishment: “Ha, banishment! Be merciful, say ‘death;’ For exile hath more terror in his look”. And yet self-banishment of Parts of our own nature is the most common strategy we humans use at this stage of our evolution, for fitting into this anti-human world and its requirements of us.

Banishment itself is the source of a lot of our own pain. The pain of a Part’s banishment is part of its burden. The burden a Part carries, and the pain the Part feels in being rejected, marginalized, and forsaken by you, is largely responsible for the problematic, disruptive behaviors generated by this part.

Taking a Part out of inner solitary confinement is the beginning of healing and getting to the bottom of where all the trouble started.

Rehabilitating the Wild Ones Within

With time, patience, and a sincere willingness to heal, even the most difficult Parts will eventually respond to our attention. Once they trust us, they turn from wild beasts threatening to rip our lives to shreds, into devoted loyal guard dogs wagging their tails when we come into the room. It is love that accomplishes this.

IFS teaches us a radical practice of allowing any and all sides of us back into the protective circle of our own Self-love. An IFS therapist holds space for this process for another, sometimes serving as an example. But each woman’s Parts will only ever be cured by her own fierce love.

Interview With a Part

How Does Working With Your Inner Parts Heal You?

Here are some questions that help Parts tell you their story. Try them out as a journaling exercise next time you’re aware of a problematic side of you. Examples of Parts recognized by pop psychology include the Inner Child, the Inner Critic, and the Addict, but there are many others.

  1. Who are you? What name I can call you?
  2. What is your original, highest, most benevolent purpose in my life? What is your job within my Psyche?
  3. What would happen to me if one day you couldn’t do your job (if you called in sick)?
  4. What is your special burden? What’s hard about being you? What don’t I see or understand about you?
  5. What or who inside gets in the way of you performing this function and purpose easily?
  6. What or who inside assists you in performing this job/benevolent purpose? Who are your allies?
  7. How could I help you? What would help you perform your job better?
  8. What would it take for you to feel completely relaxed and ok that this job is getting taken care of?

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