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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Monday, January 4, 2016 12:21:47 PM | posted by Internal Family Systems: No part left behind |
[…] Last time we talked, you told us that the Foundation for Self Leadership was focused on bringing evidence-based […]

Thursday, July 2, 2015 1:33:29 PM | posted by mlhyde
I discovered that mindfulness (not the meditation, but going beyond that kindergarten level) and the use of two other mind-body medicine techniques, muscle reflex/response testing (or applied kinesiology in its broadest sense), and visualization or "less-guided" imagery, can be used to track down where in the brain a signal is coming from to make us think, do, feel something, and in my case, where a toxin was coming out of a bone where it had been stored in infancy, and its associated memory. I found out that there were centers associated with emotions everywhere in the brain, including the brainstem. Furthermore, this method teaches us how mind and body are so integrated, that it is truly impossible to separate them in any function. By realizing how much they are integrated, we use their functions much more efficiently.

I also found out that the decision-making center in the frontal lobe depended upon input from several other centers in the brain, that every decision we make is the result of a committee decision, including members from the unconscious brainstem. When I got a "yes" in answer to a question, sometimes it was resounding. Often it was very faint, so that I detected that at least one member of the committee had said "no." That was when I began to notice how it felt when deeper levels of the brain were working. If I really wanted to, say, add potatoes to my meal (I was using this method to control my body chemistry to remove the toxins), I could find out which center had said "no," and suggest a reason why until I got a "yes," and then figured out whether it was important enough to over-ride the final decision or not. Sometimes the "no" came from a place that was damaged, and so the brain found out where it was when I did this questioning and fixed it. I found out that the brainstem also could learn, think, and analyze, too. A recent study on memory as a process of associating different things may actually be a process of creating memory by thinking, with thinking defined as "running associations" between cells "representing" different aspects of one or more memories.

I was using my conscious brain's greater ability to analyze, but also "teaching" the unconscious brain how to consider all the reasons why my conscious brain had chosen its answers. The method pushes both conscious and unconscious parts to work better with each other. So my method is very similar to IFS, in that I identified all the parts which were having a say. Even though emotion was only one member of the panel, tracking down all of the input that went to the other members showed that emotion was feeding into every one of them in some fashion, and more or less. Many people have learned how to follow their "gut feelings," or mindfulness, in their own way, and thus, IFS has been used by many people already, just not as the official IFS. All of these methods recognize that we have many parts in our brains and that they each play a role in our thoughts.

"Inside Out" may help to de-stigmatize mental illness, by helping us realize what is NOT mental illness, and what we have in common with those who have been diagnosed as having mental illness. If there is a physical illness called a "cold," then there is surely a mental illness equivalent to it, just not necessarily caused by a microbe.