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Unlocking Inner Parts: Combining Internal Family Systems Therapy with Art Therapy

by Lauren Fallat, LPC LPAT ATR-BC

Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS) and art therapy are two effective modalities for addressing trauma. Both modalities can help individuals to develop insight into their own inner world and to process their pain in a safe and creative way. Additionally, IFS and art therapy can help individuals to develop a healthier relationship with their trauma and to create a positive narrative. In this blog post, we will introduce internal family system therapy and its applications in art therapy.

IFS is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on understanding and transforming stuck, painful parts of self. Its fundamental premise is that we all have parts with different perspectives and drives, as well as feelings and beliefs associated with them. At times, these parts may be out of alignment or in conflict with one another. An inner conflict is a conflict between internal parts of a person and can be caused by various factors, such as fear, guilt, or shame. An inner conflict can also be triggered by a difficult situation or goal in which different parts are at tension or hold opposing views or beliefs.

In order to heal from emotional trauma, we need to understand the underlying cause for “stuck points” and help each system work together in harmony. IFS helps to uncover deep-seated issues and provides a place for individuals to explore the causes and consequences of their trauma.

As explored in previous blog posts, art therapy can be beneficial to people of all ages and backgrounds as it allows individuals to express themselves in a safe and engaging way. Art therapy encourages individuals to create art as a way to explore and process emotions, events, and experiences in a safe and accessible space. While art therapy is a form of psychotherapy, it does not require any specific artistic skill. Art therapy provides a space for non-verbal processing through symbols and images, often healing parts that emerge from childhood holding preverbal memories.

Artistic self-expression can be used to explore and process difficult emotions and to gain insights into the subconscious. Art therapy helps to uncover the impact of traumatic events and to create a new narrative and understanding of the trauma. Through art therapy, individuals can take control of the healing process and create their own story.

Both IFS and art therapy can be helpful in addressing trauma because they provide a non-judgmental space for exploration and self-expression. IFS and art therapy can help to heal trauma by providing a place to process difficult emotions, exploring the stuck parts of self, and by helping to create a new story.

Drawing or painting can be an effective way to capture, describe, and show the connections between parts of the self. Fleshing out a part of the self involves looking into associated emotions, color, symbols, forms and age. The process of drawing or painting is often internalized therapy for people as it allows them to explore their inner world and express themselves in a creative manner. By identifying parts of the self through drawing, people can gain insight into their identity and understand their unique strengths and weaknesses.

Identifying and understanding the various parts of oneself is an important part of self-discovery. Taking the time to check in with yourself and see which parts are present at any given moment can help you become more aware of your inner workings and better understand yourself. Internal parts are a “sum of one unified whole” and can lead to accessing newfound abilities and strengths. Ask yourself questions such as "what does this part want for you?" to better understand and form relationships with your internal parts. By embracing the beauty of each part, you can connect with yourself, others, and the world in a healthier way.

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