Inside Out: Family-Friendly Film, or Psychotherapy for the Masses?

Frank G. Anderson, M.D.

A major emotion picture is set to be released on Friday, June 19. Thousands of families will be heading to the theater for what they think is an entertaining, family-friendly film.

...They're right. It IS an entertaining, family-friendly film. But to the mental health world, it's a great example of a relatively new model of psychotherapy. Do you recognize it?

If you've been living under a rock (we won't judge you, it sounds divinely peaceful) and haven't caught the preview, take a moment to check it out. Just make sure to catch up with us below.

If you identified the therapy model demonstrated in Inside Out as Internal Family Systems (IFS), points to you!

Scratching your head and wondering what IFS is? We chatted with Frank Anderson, M.D., psychotherapist and board chair of the IFS Center for Self Leadership, to get the low down on this revolutionary therapy.

PESI: How was IFS developed?
Anderson: Dick Schwartz developed IFS 30 years ago to help clients with eating disorders. Schwartz realized that clients were describing experiences with various parts, many extreme, within themselves. When these parts felt safe and had their concerns addressed, they were less disruptive. In developing IFS, he recognized that, as in systemic family theory, parts take on characteristic roles that help define the inner world of the client. Today, IFS has established a legacy of effectiveness in treating many mental health issues, and has been applied to a myriad of professional and lay public endeavors.

PESI: What makes IFS unique compared to other treatment models?
Anderson: Most modes of psychotherapy believe that if you have parts it's pathological. Not in IFS. In IFS the idea of multiplicity of the mind is normalized. Every part has a good intention, and every part has value. We strongly believe that all clients possess “Self Energy” and have the ability to heal themselves if they listen to their parts.

PESI: The amount of practitioners being trained in IFS has grown significantly in the last few years. Why do you think that is?
Anderson: I believe the meditation craze has help people realize that going inside and exploring the self is healing, and we do use meditation in IFS therapy. When people start going inside and listening to the different voices in their head, they start feeling better instantly. As more therapist begin using this treatment model, they are seeing its ability to permanently heal wounds and make a huge impact for their clients.

PESI: What would you tell a therapist who is thinking about exploring IFS training?
Anderson: IFS is a very powerful tool. Once you experience it and see it in action you will be hooked.

PESI: What do you think of Pixar's film, Inside Out?
Anderson: The IFS community is really excited about this film. When it comes to teaching our children about emotional intelligence we are failing. Most of what are children are experiencing in schools is cognitively based and behaviorally orientated. Bringing meditation into classrooms is a step in the right direction. However, we need to bring more emotional awareness to our children and destigmatize the idea of mental illness so we can promote maintaining mental health.

I hope that this film helps parents realize that parts are normal, and there is a way to work with them and acknowledge individual feelings without shaming someone.
It's OK to have feelings, and to have a lot of them.
PESI: What's next for the Center for Self Leadership?
Anderson: The Center for Self Leadership is focused on bringing evidence-based validity to the IFS model. We are working to do research and prove the efficacy of this treatment model. Recently, the results of a randomized controlled study published in the Journal of Rheumatology showed that an IFS-based intervention had positive effects on patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis. (Lean more about the study here!)

We are also actively training new therapists and bringing IFS beyond the psychotherapy world as advocates of the need for emotional intelligence and understanding.

Want to learn more about the Foundation for Self Leadership? Check out

Have you explored the Internal Family Systems model?
Let us know what you think in the comments below!

Topic: Internal Family Systems (IFS)

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