Last time you stepped out of your IFS therapist’s office, maybe you had this self-healing idea: “I’m going to do IFS on my own, before my next therapy appointment!”
It’s brilliant to do IFS between therapy sessions. Among the powerful reasons to do so, maybe you want to:
- Get to know a part you met in therapy better – so you can go even further in your next appointment
- Build your system’s trust by showing up for your parts during the week
- Feel increasing ownership over your healing – and shift your healing from depending on your therapist to feeling collaborating with him or her
Tricky thing, though? Doing IFS on yourself rarely unfolds like IFS in a therapy session.
Keep reading to find out why, and to learn two concrete ways you can use to set yourself up for success doing IFS on your own. Even if you’ve gotten stuck before!
Before we dive into the solutions, do any of these struggles sound familiar?
- Don’t know how to open the solo session
- Seems like you’re not getting into Self
- Starting to worry something’s wrong with your Self and your ability to self-heal
Ah, I get it. Many, many soul-seekers who find their way to me have tried to do IFS on their own and gotten discouraged.
I’ve been there, too. In fact, even when I trained in IFS back in 2012, I became frustrated trying to work with my own parts. I remember one particular time as if it were last week. I sat on a park bench with another therapy-inclined friend. After enthusiastically explaining the model to her, we both took out our journals. I managed to get a few sentences into a dialogue with a nebulous part, hooray! But then any authentic-feeling responses from inside me evaporated. Pretty soon, I was wondering if I lacked Self-energy. Doing IFS on my own eventually became an endeavor that made me feel worse about my inner health. But it didn’t have to be that way. I just needed more information.
Let’s talk about two main ways we get stuck: (and two ways to get un-stuck!)
First tool: Cultivate a realistic mindset
Oh, doesn’t IFS sound so straightforward? In the many podcasts episodes featuring founder Dick Schwartz doing demos, and in IFS books, you can observe the process of getting into Self and meeting parts. Perhaps even unburdening those parts. It all seems so easy and natural. Because the client actively participates in the healing, we can forget that the elegant process does involve two people. Therapist and client. We mistakenly expect that IFS on our own will unfold like IFS sessions with our therapist.
This misleading idea stops right here, with a key principle most people miss: Doing IFS on yourself is a distinct skill from doing IFS with other people. And the process sounds and feels different.
For example, it’s normal to feel like you’re not in Self when you try IFS on your own. It doesn’t foretell any problems with your system’s Self-energy, or your capacity for healing. The fact is, we can’t snap our fingers and instantly be in Self. If we could, all our emotional struggles in life would rapidly be fixed!
May you can give yourself full permission for your solo IFS session to look and feel different from the IFS you’ve experienced elsewhere. Your own IFS sessions can be as unique as you are.
What is containment and why does it matter for solo IFS?
Containment is a major service your therapist provides during sessions. She keeps track of the big picture – what parts have been popping up, the unspoken pain or belief under the surface, patterns that keep getting in your way … and your strengths, achievements and capacity for change. She tracks how much time remains and where is likely to be helpful in moving you towards healing.
So what happens when we do IFS on ourselves and don’t have a therapist holding the space, memories, and tracking for us? Well, if we try to track and hold and contain at the same time that we are being with our parts, then we’re gonna set ourselves up for splitting. That is, we’re going to be in a part doing tracking instead of being in Self. And healing that occurs – if any does – will be superficial.
To avoid splitting, you can create your own container. There are countless ways to do this. IFS is, at heart, a shamanistic tool, and that can help us find a container. We can draw on ancient techniques for safely entering and exiting the inner world (my grandmother calls it non-ordinary reality). The advanced technology? Ritual.
Second tool: Contain yourself via ritual
Ritual enables us to ask that which is greater than us to help contain us – so that we don’t have to try to track our session and can instead genuinely be with our parts. It sets us up to have an authentic exploration of our inner world – whether we’re doing so from Self or just being the regular person we usually are. (Another difference between solo IFS and official IFS sessions: Being just the regular you – instead of being in Self 0 is completely ok for solo IFS work!) That said, a side bonus of ritual is that the symbolic gesture of acknowledging something greater than us makes it easier to organically get into Self.
So, your second tool: Create a ritual to contain yourself and your IFS session.
How to create a ritual for doing solo IFS
Ideally, a ritual involves a standard procedure which you do at the beginning and end of your session so you don’t have to re-invent the wheel each time. And you can choose ritual acts that imbue this time with the spiritual and invite your whole psyche into the inner plane of reality. Your ritual can include words, such as speaking your hope for the session or a prayer or line from a poem. It can involve setting up your space in some way that honors or speaks to your soul. It can include a symbolic movement with your body, such as touching your forehead to the floor (my favorite), tracing a circle around you, or whatever fits you.
I recommend doing your ritual not just at the very beginning, before you start your parts work, but also at the end of your solo exploration. That way you will fully signal to your psyche it’s time to ground back into regular life.
There are as many different variations of ritual as there are people. But if you want a place to start, I’ve created specific instructions for how to do an IFS containment ritual in my Solo IFS Voyage audio guide (free!). I walk you through exactly what steps to take. You’ll even learn a handy mnemonic device so you can keep the ritual structure in your back pocket.
Whatever your ritual looks like, the point is you’re inviting and asking that which is greater than you to help contain your IFS session. So that in that sacred time between the beginning and ending rituals, you can join your parts.
More examples of containment rituals
You’re probably already doing some containment rituals in your day without even realizing it. If you have a child and they have a bedtime, you take that child through a series of steps: brushing teeth, pajamas, story, light off. These rituals they not only communicate to the body, “All right, it’s time. We’re gonna do this process. We’re gonna sleep now, .” Or, “We’re gonna go inside into the inner world.” They also communicate to our psyche that it’s time to engage in this process.
Here’s a fun example of a containment ritual. In my YouTube videos, there’s a clip of me dancing wildly at the beginning and I dance wildly at the end. It’s a way of communicating throughout the levels, beyond just the verbal, that the video’s starting or stopping. And hopefully a way to remind us not to take ourselves too seriously, too!
Okay, here’s the ending ritual for this blog post: a summary! Now you know why it can be deceptively tricky to do IFS on your own – and, most importantly, two major tools to set yourself up for success. Refresher: Your first tool is Mindset – it’s going to sound and look and feel different doing IFS on your own. Your second tool is: Containment- you can make your ritual and ask that which is greater to hold the space for you so you can really be with your parts.
Remember, you can download my self therapy audio guide if you want specific guidance on a ritual, and I would love to hear from you in the comments how this works for you and what you’d like my next blog post to be on.