I speak with Dr. Richard Schwartz, the founder of an evidence-based psychotherapeutic model called Self-Leadership (also known as Internal Family System’s therapy or IFS) that is widely recognized as one of the most compassionate and comprehensive psychotherapies available. He is on the faculty of the department of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School.
Self-Leadership is basically a sophisticated owner’s manual for the mind. It gives users a real-time pathway to routinely instigate new neural connections within their mindbody system—the holy grail of skill acquisition and learning.
Psychotherapists love Self-Leadership because it literally makes our work easier—and according to the country’s largest provider of continuing education for mental health professionals, they can’t keep up with the demand for courses that teach it. I learned IFS more than 10 years ago and it transformed my practice by giving me a kind of x-ray vision to decode the sometimes paradoxical or bizarre ways that developmental trauma shows up in the mind, behavior, and in resistance from clients or students to staying on course.
Self-Leadership recognizes that our psyche is made up of different parts (feelings, thoughts, beliefs, behavior patterns or somatic sensations), sometimes called subpersonalities. For example, one part of you might be trying to lose weight and another part might want to eat whatever you want. This is called natural multiplicy of the mind and is a radical paradigm shift from other psychologies that view the mind as either “normal” or “abnormal.”
Schwartz’s model offers a hopeful alternative to the increasingly obsolete, pathological language in the DSM, most especially the “untreatable” Axis II personality disorders such as narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder (formerly known as psychopathy or sociopathy).
I ask Dr. Schwartz to share an overview of IFS and why he thinks it’s such a radical departure from conventional psychology.
We also speak about the Mary Trump book Too Much and Never Enough, and I get Dick’s thoughts on the effects of abuse that occurs in families like Trump’s.
Richard Schwartz began his career as a systemic family therapist and an academic. Grounded in systems thinking, Dr. Schwartz developed Internal Family Systems (IFS) in response to clients’ descriptions of various parts within themselves. He focused on the relationships among these parts and noticed that there were systemic patterns to the way they were organized across clients.
He also found that when the clients’ parts felt safe and were allowed to relax, the clients would experience spontaneously the qualities of confidence, openness, and compassion that Dr. Schwartz came to call the Self. He found that when in that state of Self, clients would know how to heal their parts.
A featured speaker for national professional organizations, Dr. Schwartz has published many books and over fifty articles about IFS.