Accepting our inner selves: using the Internal Family Systems (IFS) model in Solution Focused Hypnotherapy

This week I attended a training seminar led by founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute, Lissa Rankin, MD, and founder of the Internal Family Systems model Richard Schwartz, PHD.

Firstly, a huge thank you to Lissa and Richard for running the seminar, which, as someone relatively new to IFS, I found really accessible and informative, and very useful for therapists like myself working with those impacted in some way by COVID-19. 

The seminar got me thinking about the value of the IFS model for use in Solution Focused Hypnotherapy. 

The analytical side of IFS can often draw clients towards childhood experiences as they follow the trailhead back from their present thoughts and behaviour, and this contrasts with the SFH focus on the future, not the past. However, there do seem to be many areas in which Solution Focus Hypnotherapy, and Internal Family Systems align. 

  1. Both IFS and SFH share the same positive assumption that we all essentially have the capacity to draw on our inner resources in identifying where we want to get to and getting there. As Richard Schwarz explains, in IFS, “Everyone has an essence or state amid the terror, the Self in each of us is always there—the “I” in the storm, the calm depth beneath the roiling waves.” (Rankin, 2020). The positive suggestions in SFH encourage both self acceptance and a focus on our strengths and successes. Similarly, IFS aims to bring the exiles – the parts of ourselves that we don’t like – into acceptance, in doing so accessing the inherent strengths. 

  1. Both SFH and IFS work with the subconscious mind, using rewinding and reframing techniques to help us achieve positive change, although the use of rewind in SFH is usually restricted to specific phobias.  Equally, both SFH and IFS use solution focused questioning to assist this process.

  1. The multiplicity of our minds is a key focus in both SFH and IFS. In SFH we draw on neuroscientific understanding about the brain to recognise the role of its multiple parts in how we feel and behave, while in IFS the multiplicity is through the metaphysical understanding of how our personalities are comprised of multiple sub personalities, or parts.

  1. Both SFH and IFS aim to work with, rather than against, all parts of our mind. In SFH we talk about the primitive mind as an essential part of us. Our intention is to utilise the creative strength of the subconscious mind through meditative practice, while consciously thinking, acting, and interacting in a positive way to avoid operating from our primitive mind in times of stress. The anger, anxiety and depression we resort to when we operate out of our primitive mind are often unwelcome in today’s society, but 100,000 years ago would likely have saved our life. Even now, the speed at which our subconscious mind can react to danger saves lives every day. In the same way, according to the IFS model all of our personality ‘parts’ are essentially good, although how they are expressed sometimes when we are under pressure can cause us trouble. Progress comes in accepting all of our parts, and nurturing rather than rejecting the parts of us we don’t like or fear.

The value of the IFS model for SFH is in the precision it can bring to identifying our inner resources through solution focused questioning (Adams, 2018). The SFH approach provides a meditative platform through which to employ the IFS technique of focusing on one thought, belief or sensation at a time and using it to get back to the part of us it comes from (Schwartz, 2020). In turn the IFS model gives SFH a useful understanding of our personalities that lends itself to exploration through hypnosis. The visual metaphor of our multiple inner selves is something we can use in SFH to encourage a positive inner dialogue, within which we can draw on our stronger parts to nurture the parts of ourselves we wish to grow.


Rankin, L. (2020). The viral wake-up call. An IFS perspective. Retrieved from

Adams, J. The Situated Self as a Motivational Resource. Journal of Systemic Therapies 37 (3), 29-41, 2018. Retrieved from

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