IFS, Trauma and Neuroscience with Frank Anderson
Frank Anderson began his journey by earning his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Illinois in 1985, followed by his M.D. from Rush University Medical School in 1989. He completed his residency in psychiatry at Harver Medical School.After graduation, he stayed on as a clinical instructor at Harvard working as a staff psychiatrist at the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute, under the direction of Bessel van der Kolk.In 1994, Frank launched his private practice, centered on the treatment of trauma,including single-incident trauma, complex trauma, dissociative identity disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Frank also specializes in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorders(ASD), lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTQ) issues.Frank’s professional focus expanded in 2004 after he met his mentor and friend Richard Schwarz, Ph.D. From there, Frank learned to integrate IFS into his passion for psychopharmacology,neurobiology and trauma therapy. He teaches IFS, Trauma and Neuroscience,a five-day intensive training for therapists.Frank is the former chairman of the Foundation for Self Leadership, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing IFS via research, scholarships and outreach.Frank continues to provide consultation, individual therapy and couples therapy at his office in Concord, Mass. Additionally, he maintains an active career as a speaker, teacher, consultant, writer and researcher often conducting seminars, workshops and training programs. He also remains affiliated with the IFS Institute and Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute.
This is IFS Talks, an audio series to deepen connection with the Internal Family Systems model through conversations with lead trainers, authors, practitioners and users.
Today on IFS talks, we're speaking with Frank Anderson. Frank Anderson began his journey by earning his bachelor's degree in chemistry in the University of Illinois in 1985, followed by his M.D. from Rush University Medical School in 1989. He completed his residency in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. After graduation, he stayed on as a clinical instructor at Harvard, working as a staff psychiatrist at the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute under the direction of Bessel van der Kolk.
In 1994, Frank launched his private practice centered on the treatment of trauma, including single incident trauma, complex trauma, dissociative identity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Frank also specializes in the treatment of ADHD, autism spectrum disorders and LGBTQ issues. Frank's professional focus expanded in 2004 after he met his mentor and friend, Richard Schwartz. From there, Frank learned to integrate Internal Family Systems therapy into his passion for psychopharmacology, neurobiology and trauma therapy. He teaches IFS trauma and neuroscience at a five-day intensive training for therapists.
Frank is also the former chairman of the Foundation for Self-Leadership, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing IFS bioresearch, scholarships and outreach. Frank continues to provide consultation, individual therapy and couples therapy at his office in Concord, Massachusetts. Additionally, he maintains an active career as a speaker, teacher, consultant, writer and researcher, often conducting seminars, workshops and training programs. He also remains affiliated with the IFS Institute and Trauma Center at the Justice Institute. Thank you so much for being here today, Frank. Thanks for having us.
Frank Anderson: It's great to be here.
Aníbal Henriques: Thank you, Frank, for having us. This is a huge and long bio. You are doing so much, Frank. How is it to hear this bio to you, what parts come up?
Frank: That's a very good question Aníbal. Sometimes when I listen to stuff like that, I say "Oh, my gosh, that's amazing." Or "Holy cow, that's impressive." And then I think "But that's just me." So, it's a bit overwhelming. And, you know, I just was on a board meeting call with the Foundation for Self-Leadership just to kind of finish and wrap up my responsibilities there. And consistently they talked about my energy and my enthusiasm and is one of the things that they loved about me. And I just felt so seen and known in that moment. And, you know, my bio really kind of is a reflection of who I am as a person. So, listening to that, as much as it's overwhelming in some ways, it also is reflective of me. I'm someone with a lot of energy, a lot of passion and a lot of joy. And I love to do a lot of things. So, it's nice to be seen and reflected in that way. And I think the older I get, the more comfortable I get with just owning that space within myself and sending it out to the world in that way. So, mostly it feels good.
Aníbal: Yes, it's wonderful to be with you. We can feel that energy. You, Frank, also, you published a lot especially in IFS. You have published two chapters, the one that I really enjoyed so much "Who's taking what? Connecting neuroscience, psychopharmacology and the Internal Family Systems for trauma" on this wonderful book, New Dimensions. And another one, What IFS Offers to the Treatment of Trauma with Martha Sweezy on Innovations and Elaborations in IFS. And more recently, you just wrote the Internal Family System Skills Training Manual - Trauma-informed Treatment for Anxiety, Depression, PTSD and Substance Abuse. And that one is having a very recent Spanish edition, I understood. Congratulations it’s wonderful. The book is doing great, as much as I can understand. So, tell us more about how did you come up so close to IFS?
Frank: Yes, it's an interesting thing. I'll just speak a little bit about the writing aspect of my journey and then I'll talk a little bit more about my IFS journey. A little bit backwards in that way. Never in my life did I think I'd be a writer. I'm very extroverted. I love talking to people. I love connecting with people. That's such a natural venue for me. And it was not until really that first chapter where I was approached to say "Hey, you have something unique here around IFS and medications and psychopharmacology. Would you be interested in writing a chapter?" I thought "Oh my goodness, I'm not a writer. I don't know how to do that."
Aníbal: You need to sit and to get isolated.
Frank: Yes, it's been a very interesting journey because to speak is different than to write. They are different skill sets. And that's really been an evolution for me around writing that first chapter with Martha or with Martha in that book. And that was a big accomplishment for me. I couldn't believe I could write a chapter. It was really, I had something to say. She really helped in the editing to get it to the place that it was. Then we wrote that second chapter and then a book. Like, this evolution of writing has been really striking and surprising to me. I'm in the midst of submitting another book that I'm writing by myself on IFS and complex trauma. I'll be submitting that to the publisher within the next month or two. And for the last year, I've really enjoyed writing on my own. This will be solely my adventure here of writing this next book on IFS and Complex Trauma.
Tisha: Wow, congratulations.
Frank: Thank you. And I love it. Like I've grown to love writing now in a way that's been very surprising to me. And it really informs your teaching. It informs your ideas and thinking. And it's a different skill set than speaking. So that's been a surprise for me is to become a writer. And as you said, Aníbal, much to our pleasure and enjoyment, surprise, this IFS Skills Training Manual, I think it's eight different languages now it's been translated in. So, it's done incredibly well throughout the world, which is just amazing to me. In Turkey and Japan and China and Spain and Spanish, Dutch, German...
Aníbal: You mean the manual? The skills manual?
Frank: Yes, the manual is being translated into all these different languages now, which is...
Aníbal: In a couple of years. It's a very short time.
Frank: Yes, Yes, so I'm thrilled that it's gotten so successful and it really does speak to the expansion of IFS throughout the world, you know. And it was a book that I think there was a certain niche of how to, a very kind of clear, organized way of presenting the model. So, I'm thrilled with the success of the book and my writing and we'll see what happens with this next book, which I'm excited about. I said to someone the other day, I love it so much. I hope other people do. I don't even care if they do or not because I just have enjoyed writing this so much. So, when you do what you love, that's kind of a home run, in my view.
Aníbal: It is.
Frank: My journey to IFS was somewhat of an interesting one because originally in my career I was doing my residency at Harvard Medical School and Bessel van der Kolk at the time had his trauma center housed in my residency program. So, I met Bessel long time ago and became the psychiatrist for the trauma center with Bessel years ago. I graduated my residency in 1992, as you said. So, for years I've been working in trauma. Really my whole career it's been kind of trauma focused. And it was in 2004, I believe, that Dick and I did a workshop together at Bessel's annual trauma conference and just seeing him and hearing his workshop, I had one of those aha moments. Honestly, it was like "Wow, what this guy is doing is different." IFS offers something different in my experience and I met up with him, we had a drink together and I just dove in full on in this IFS journey.
Aníbal: That was 1994?
Frank: No, that was 2004, I'm sorry 2004...
Aníbal: Oh 2004.
Frank: Yes. That, I met Dick Schwartz and started doing that work with him and it was really kind of a perfect fit from my perspective with trauma, because up until that time trauma was about managing symptoms and making sure parts, especially DID or in that time Multiple Personality Disorder. You wanted to make sure parts worked well together. Dick, for me, introduced this idea of permanent healing or healing these wounds. That was a whole new concept at the time. So, I was very intrigued by that. And I really dove in, like I said, full force. Did Level 1, Level 2, level 3. I just was really into it in a way that just fit for me with trauma beautifully. I have been trained in EMDR, been trained in Sensorimotor Psychotherapy. I was actually the psychiatrist for the first EMDR Prozac study way back when with Francine Shapiro. So, I've been exposed to a lot of different modalities and there was something special and unique for me with regards to IFS. So, it's really changed my whole practice and way of working honestly.
Aníbal: So, you took all the trainings? I understood well, yes. You took all the trainings.
Frank: Quickly. [laughs]
Frank: Yes, I was one of those people, right? Boom, boom, boom, boom.
Aníbal: As I did it, yes in one year. I did it.
Frank: That's right. That's exactly right. Because it spoke to me so profoundly.
Aníbal: Yes, wonderful. And what about the trauma, why the trauma? It just happened that you were with Bessel there at the Institute for Trauma? Or...
Frank: Yes, good question, why trauma. Originally it was why trauma, because I sat with all these people in my residency program who had chronic mental illnesses. So, it was the institution that I worked with, you had to be homeless with no insurance in order to get into the hospital. And most of those people, when I sat and talked to them, had horrific trauma histories, chronic mental illness with horrific trauma histories. And because it was a Harvard affiliated hospital, we had all these psychoanalysts teaching us how to do psychotherapy with the chronically mentally ill. So, it was a very unique training perspective. But honestly, low and behold, as it is for many of us, the reason that I was so activated by working with these people with trauma histories was because of my own trauma history. And it totally, I didn't know it at the time, Aníbal, but I certainly subsequently have realized that's why I was so affected and intrigued by sitting with others with trauma histories was because of my own trauma history. So that really, you know, got the spark activated. But, you know, it's so much about my own history and healing my own wounds and then being able to offer that to other people.
Aníbal: It's our planet. It's our wounds, it's our trauma. It's ours, the trauma. So, it was there also to you.
Frank: It was always there. You know, my sister was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when she was 16 and I was in college. I was in college. So that was a big trauma in some ways for me to have that experience of my younger sister become psychotic and have these bipolar episodes...
Aníbal: Can be scary, yes.
Frank: Yes, and that probably sent me into psychiatry. Honestly.
Tisha: I was wondering because you have a bachelor's in chemistry, right?
Frank: That's right.
Tisha: Yes. So, something shifted. Yes.
Frank: Yes. I was in college when she had her first break and it was so traumatic for our family and there was this part of me that's like, I've got to save her, I've got to rescue her because I love children, love children. And it would have been a natural fit for me to be a pediatrician, honestly, as I'm in medical school. But with my sister's first break, it really shifted my focus to psychiatry. So that's how I got into psychiatry originally, was through her episodes and then it shifted to being more about me and healing my own wounds.
Tisha: This is IFS Talks, an audio series to deepen connection with the Internal Family Systems model.
Aníbal: Could you please tell us a bit more about your journey into the mental health profession? How did you make the link? You are really great doing this link between psychiatry and psychotherapy. You do it in a very unique way.
Frank: Yes, it's very unusual, which is kind of surprising to me for a psychiatrist to also be a psychotherapist.
Aníbal: It is.
Frank: I mean, there's not many people that I know that really do both. I have a couple of dear friends that do both. But by and large, most psychiatrists do mostly medications and most social workers or mental health counselors or psychologists do the therapy. That never would have worked for me because of who I am. I'm a very social person, so sitting in an office all day and giving prescriptions would not have been fulfilling for me personally because I just love connection so much. So that's one thing I'll say that it would have never worked for me to just be that science type of person. Although I do love neuroscience, I love all the biology. So, I'm very interested in it.
Aníbal: And also, you do some research also.
Frank: Yes, I've done research on trauma training. I've done research on psychotherapy in my residency program. So, I have that kind of research science mind. So, I'm interested in it. But I also love talking and connecting to people. And like I had said, my residency was unique because we were treating the chronically mentally ill with analysts, as psychoanalysts, as my supervisors. So, they were teaching me how to do psychotherapy. It was a unique training experience, but it also was a perfect fit for who I am. And I'm somebody who kind of knows the science but can digest it into easy, user friendly ways. So, I bridge the gap, you know what I mean, in a way that I think has been perfect for me because it's fits who I am. And I think a lot of the field needs that...
Aníbal: Yes, totally.
Frank: ...Blending of these two worlds. I think Dan Siegel does a great job of blending these two worlds, for example. He's another person that I know and admire that he can take the complex science and make it user friendly. Some people stay in the clouds and the science and can't bridge the gap. I think I happen to be one of those people that can do both.
Tisha: Yes. To the benefit of all the trainees. I had the opportunity of taking your first trauma and neuroscience course with Dick and I was so impressed at how easy it was to take in some of the neuroscience and to understand how it works with parts. Would you be willing to talk a little bit about that today?
Frank: Yes, that's an interesting thing that...You know, at one point, Dick had asked me, because he really had wanted a trauma training. There was no trauma training. They had Level 1 training Level 2 trainings at the time or all multi topic. And then there was level 3. So, he had said "Frank, would you be interested in writing a trauma curriculum?" I said "Sure, why not?" And so, it started this journey for me of like ok, I know about neuroscience. For Bessel van der Kolk I've been teaching the psychopharmacology, the neurobiology of PTSD and dissociation at his conferences four years. So, I had all that information and I thought "How am I going to apply this to the IFS model?" So, on my own, I really started integrating these two things, like "what's going on with parts? Where our parts are located in the brain. How do these neural networks of PTSD and dissociation connect and relate to IFS and Self-energy and protective parts?" So, it was just kind of this natural curiosity. And nothing was written about this at all. So, I just kind of started reading books and picking pieces of what I've learned all along and what I found interesting work of Louis Cozolino, work of Steven Porges. But he wasn't even in the field at that time, honestly. I was at the first conference that Bessel had Steven Porges come to. But just these different people. Joseph Ledoux, for example, is a big somebody who works on the fear circuitry. Damasio. So, I pulled together all these people who I had admired in the neuroscience field and I thought "well, this is how I think it relates to IFS, it relates to parts, it relates to managers versus firefighters." And I just kind of created this theory. It's really Frank's ideas. There’re not tons of research yet on this. It's the way I put things together, that makes sense to me. So, this is a lot of what's going to be written in this new book. Is just more of that imprint, the integration of the neuroscience and IFS. Now, with the addition of the foundation...One of the big charges of the Foundation for Self-Leadership was to do research to prove some of this stuff. So that's a piece of what we did in the first trauma study. We did a trauma study to look at PTSD in IFS. So, that is going to be hopefully published soon. It's been a very long journey for that.
Frank: But just to kind of putting together some of my ideas of neuroscience, how I think it relates to the IFS model and then starting to prove that so that we can get some validity to the model, because like any model, you need validity, you need proof. Somebody said to me once, when I started this research in IFS with the foundation "It'll take you 10 years to prove what you already know." And I thought, that's interesting, it's a long journey, but it's kind of true. Like, we know how this model works and I'm one of the people who started applying some neuroscience knowledge to it and we're going to start testing it out to see if we're accurate or not.
There are some key concepts like memory reconsolidation, for example, which I believe really does correlate with what happens in the IFS, the unburdening process. But we have to prove that. You know, I have this idea that parts live in the mind and they access and utilize neural networks in the brain to express themselves. Now, that's an idea we want to try to prove that. I pulled that from Dan Siegel's mind, brain combination. You know what I mean? I'm kind of taking what I've learned and try to apply it to the IFS model to the best way I can understand it at this point. And it's always an evolution. I'm always changing and expanding my thoughts and ideas around how neuroscience fits with IFS.
Aníbal: It's a huge challenge. One of our more difficult concepts to share with our students in psychology and psychotherapy is the concept of Self. And I believe that for you as a neuroscience interested and researcher perspective, what is Self for you? You referred Damasio. Damasio also has one wonderful book on consciousness and Self and he believes he found the place where Self lives in our body. How is it…?
Frank: Yes, I have a different view than that. People ask me this question all the time, "Where is Self located? Is it in the prefrontal cortex?
Aníbal: Where is it?
Frank: Is it in parietal temporal junction? Is it in deeper brain structures? And this has been one of those experiential kind of evolutions for me, honestly, and I teach this in the Level 2 training that I talk about, is the different dimensions of Self energy, because I don't think Self-energy is one dimensional. I think it's multidimensional. And so, when I experience Self, whether it's connecting energetically with nature, connecting energetically with people, and that I'm in close proximity to. Whether it's connecting spiritually to what's beyond all of us, whether it's interpersonally within myself, I really see these different dimensions of Self energy and the way...My working model right now of that is that it's a state of being. And I think of Self is like this maximally integrative experience, that it maximally integrates neural networks in the body. It maximally integrates with energy and the environment. It maximally integrates with spirituality beyond us, and that it's this flow of movement through us. This is kind of the way I'm sitting with it now. And it may change over time, but it's one of the things we're trying to prove. One of the research studies...The foundation is looking physiologically and hooking up people with EEG to kind of see what your brain looks like when you're in Self-energy.
Tisha: Yes, is it measurable?
Frank: Exactly, we're really trying to measure that. I talked with Tania Singer quite a bit, and she's a researcher from the Max Planck Institute in Germany. And when I was talking to her at lunch a couple of years back, she said "you know, Frank...", it's interesting...Because I was telling her I think it's maximally integrative around neural networks. She said it might be the opposite. It might be the absence of neural networks, she said, because when she scans meditators who meditate for six to eight hours a day, their brain shuts off and there's nothing going on, as opposed to activation. So that was a very interesting “oh, I wonder if it's the lack of activation of neural networks is when we access Self-energy versus activating integrated neural networks, which I believe is in Self versus when parts are activated, I think they're activating dysregulated or unintegrated neural network.” So, this is a working model that I have right now. And I really think the science will help us answer some of these questions because we don't really know yet which one of these theories is as accurate or consistent with what shows up in brain scans.
Aníbal: So, it's much more a flowing energy, a flowing state than some structure or place where we can go and find the Self.
Frank: That's in my view. It's in my view, but it's also in my experience of Self. So, I'm using both to come up with a working hypothesis at this point that I'm hoping will be able to prove one way or another.
Aníbal: Do you still say, I believe you said that there's a life crisis of theory of mind once we confuse our Self with our parts?
Frank: Well, yes, the theory, it's interesting. This is some of the work that comes out of Tania Singer's work, I think is what you're talking about, the theory of mind. And I really...She did this big study in her resource project, looking at these different dimensions of the value of mindfulness, the value of compassion and the value of theory of mind, which was an IFS component, really, because Dick and I met Tania in Iceland years ago at the Spirit of Humanity Conference, and she got excited about IFS, she knows Tom Holmes...And so her theory of mind component of her study really had a lot to do with parts and different people in different dyads learning and teaching people how to identify different parts of other people. So, there was all these dyadic experiences. And what she showed is that we can actually teach people how to step outside of themselves and be able to see and understand and identify different aspects of different people, of other people. And that is for me, there's huge implications to that in our ever complicated, divisive, polarized world that we live, right? Because that's not what's happening in the world today in my view. We are not, neither side, if you will, is very good at stepping outside of their selves and their views and being able to really see and appreciate what's happening with the other side. Okay, this is what we teach and value in IFS internally, is that we're always looking at the positive intention of every part. That's what separation and unblending affords you, right? We also need to do that as individual people in order to be able to separate from ourselves.
Frank: And be able to see and value the good in others. If you believe in Self and you believe that it's all connected to source, this is what it is. We are all connected. And Tania's research shows that there's a way to teach people how to do this. There's a way to train them. And I think if we can harness some of that and start teaching people how to be able to do that, I think the world would be a different place. And I think IFS does that, I think it's really great for that, which is partly why I think it's expanding so dramatically throughout the world, because we're starving for that.
Tisha: Right. The deep connection that comes from stepping outside of the polarization.
Frank: That's exactly right.
Tisha: Internally and externally. It happens at every training.
Frank: Exactly. That's right. That's right.
Tisha: So, I'm curious, this is shifting a little bit, but with your work, with the intense trauma of your clients who are homeless and without insurance and then your background in psychopharmacology, I'm curious if you'll talk a little bit about working with parts, trauma and medication.
Frank: Yes. That was an interesting journey and the way that Dick talks about the serendipity of the model and the way the model has organically unfolded for him over time, I would say very much consistently for me was this idea and way of working with meds and trauma and IFS. That it just kind of organically showed up for me. Originally when I was the psychiatrist, as I mentioned, for the trauma center with Bessel van der Kolk. Excuse me, but at the time, I was a straight white man who was working with predominantly not only females, patients, clients who had trauma histories. And so that kind of power differential was an awful setup for reenactments. When you’re worried about all powerful white male psychiatrist that's going to give a woman who has been violated not only by men, but predominantly by men, pills to take in their body and tell them what's best for them...It created horrible situations quickly. So, I have to say, I quickly learned this is not going to work this way because that was really how my medical training was set up. You're the expert. You know what's best. You give these people what they should have because you have this knowledge. So, I quickly said there's going to be a different way to do this. And over time, I just, by trial and error, but just by being a human being who also started identifying with my own trauma history, who came out as gay and got out of this power differential. So, this is a We thing. I'm a part of this group. I'm not the expert. And so, I started working with people from a very equalitarian, you know, we're equals. I'll educate, you decide. I'm not going to tell you what to do. You are going to decide what to do. I'll help you do it.
Aníbal: What it's also so relieving, isn't it?
Frank: Well, it was relieving for them and for me. You know, just even the playing field all across the board, we work together on this journey and I knew that most people with trauma history were violated and had their boundaries violated in some way and that giving meds could be another violation of their boundaries. So, I really wanted to do it differently and it became very collaborative. And then when I started learning IFS, I realized, oh, my goodness, these parts have a huge role in medication decisions, and nobody is asking them, and nobody ever did. Like, why doesn't a sleep medication work? Because nobody has ever asked the hyper vigilant part if it was willing to take a sleep medicine. Okay, as a psychiatrist, you treat the person as a whole, not as parts. But nobody's asking these polarizations that are inevitable with medications. For example, the desperate manager who's overworking and trying to please is exhausted and desperately wants help with Prozac, compared to the reactive firefighting part who says, no way, I'm not going to take anything unless I'm in charge and in control. It's these inherent polarizations around meds that I started seeing all over the place. I said there's got to be a different way to do this. So, I developed this way of working with parts and meds that's been really successful and been very helpful for my clients.
Aníbal: Yes, you are describing something that was IFS that could offer to the prescribing world.
Frank: Yes, that's exactly right. And many of them, it's hard to teach that group, unfortunately. They're not as interested in learning this this way. And I don't want to blame them in any way. You know, being a psychiatrist who's primarily a med person, you get 15 minutes if you're lucky during your med appointment. Okay? So, there's not a lot of time to be able to do this kind of work that I'm talking about. And so, I've taught a lot of therapists this. So, you guys spend more time with your clients. You have 50 minutes, if you're lucky. Spend the time and explore which parts want which meds, which parts are okay with which meds.
Frank: There's a lot of work that can be done from the therapist perspective without even knowing what kind of med does what biologically, but getting the system on board together in a unified way to take medication, that makes a huge difference in and of itself.
Frank: The therapist can do that.
Aníbal: And you get two in one. You get a much more respectable way of doing psychiatry and also you get more effective work with your clients. I mean, become much more effective the prescriptions and the work you do.
Frank: Yes. You know, it's interesting, Aníbal, there's no compliance issues because I'm not making them take anything. They're taking what they want to take. Like, really, you know, how many times I've seen people, oh, I lost my prescription and I couldn't find it, oh I get all these side effects, you know. Parts know how to read the Internet. [laughs] They do. Parts go online, they come up with all these side facts and they say all these reasons why the meds don't work. Nobody was asking them. So, you know, it is different for everybody involved.
Tisha: It sounds like you have a lot of Self when it comes to being with people around medication. I find in my own system as a therapist, I have agended parts around medication. You know, working with my own parts, I find it can be really hard because I've got strong opinions and feelings and concerns. And so, being balanced around meds is...
Frank: It's one of the things I teach a lot. It is exactly right. And I say this to therapists and not only prescribers, but therapists, you have to work...That's the last kind of component of my model around working with meds is work with your own parts around medications, okay? Therapists or prescribers will say "I'm a failure as a therapist if my client needs meds." Or "Oh my gosh, you are so symptomatic. Please take a damn pill so we can get some work done." Okay, or any range. "I hate medicines. I don't like to take anything for in chemicals in my body. I only like to smoke pot because it's natural." You know what I mean? Like people have a whole range of responses as therapists and prescribers that influence our clients because our clients can feel very differently around meds than we do. And you really have to check yourself at the door. You know, I have to say, this is not about me and my parts. This is about my client and their parts and supporting their system because we all have views and biases around medicines, pro and con. And you have to work with them.
Aníbal: Are you noticing some curiosity from your professional community, the psychiatrists, the prescribers, to open to these perspectives?
Frank: More so. As IFS becomes more well known, there's definitely more of an interest. And, you know, I tried years ago to submit these workshop proposals to the American Psychiatric Association...
Aníbal: Good, well done.
Frank: They weren't interested. However, I will say that this community is really growing and expanding. And as you know or may be aware, last year at the annual conference Dick did this whole pre plenary workshop on medical issues in IFS...
Aníbal: I heard about it.
Frank: So, there really is a growing community within the traditional medical model of looking at different ways to work. So, my sense is, as we move forward, that this group will be more interested because it is a different way of working and it is more effective.
Aníbal: Absolutely, yes. Are you researching about this? Specifically, the effectiveness of prescribing, using...
Frank: Yes, I'm not doing any research on that at this point. You know, it's interesting.
It's always complex, of course.
Frank: Yes. And at some point, maybe, it's on the list, I will say something about what I am moving toward and interested in regards to medications in a minute. But, you know, one thing that's always intrigued me is that there's a thirty, a consistent percentage, thirty-four or thirty-three percent placebo response in every single medication trial. Like what is that?
Aníbal: What is that, yes.
Frank: Like, if sugar or parts can make a med work, why can't parts block meds? Like, for me, it makes total sense that it's totally aligned. It hasn't been researched yet. What I will say, for me, I believe, especially as it relates to trauma, the next frontier is all these psychedelics.
Tisha: I was going to ask you, yes.
Frank: Okay, so that's where I really think, that's where I would say some of my interest is heading. And that's where I really think there will be a huge breakthrough in treating trauma and PTSD and dissociation with these psychedelic medicines. Now, I'm also going to say, it's very complicated and I'm very mixed about this field as it evolves, because there's a huge group of people that are using these meds with the wrong intention to get high, to get away from their feelings, to just have a fun, hallucinatory experience. And there's a group of people that are very thoughtful and being very wise and diligent who know how to treat trauma and are using these in a very effective, profound way for some of our more severely traumatized people in a way that I think we're seeing dramatic results and improvements. So, it's a mixed field at this point. You know, for those of you who are old enough and aware, a lot of these meds were legal once upon a time and then the FDA shut them all down. So, there's this resurgence of these psychedelics that are coming out. And if we're smart about it and I think there's a group that is very smart about it, Michael Mithoefer is one of them. Him and I did Level 1 training together. Michael and I, we did our Level 1 training. Tony Herbine-Blank was our lead trainer years ago.
Tisha: Oh, he has an IFS background.
Frank: He totally does. Him and I are colleagues and friends in that way. He's done a really remarkable job. I just finished last month in my office a training on ketamine assisted psychotherapy. So, we have trained twenty-five people for ketamine. I think psilocybin is another one, I think cannabis is another one, ayahuasca. We're going to see the range of differences in the treatments because they're not all doing the same things, they're all different medicines. So, we're going to learn the differences between what ketamine does for trauma versus what MDMA does for trauma, for example.
Aníbal: Very interesting.
Frank: So, I think the field is going to evolve in a profound way as long as we stay thoughtful and true. So, I think that's a whole new, exciting frontier. It's one of the things that I'm going to be hopefully involved with, is a new role that I have that I'll be announcing shortly with the IFS Institute because I left the foundation. And now I'm going to be working more formally with the IFS Institute. And that's one of the projects that I hope to be working on for them is the psychedelic assisted IFS therapy.
Aníbal: That's good news. Frank, you are the trainer for IFS Institute now for how long? For maybe 10 years or more?
Frank: Ah, let's see, maybe 10 years. Is probably yes, I don't even know. I'm trying to think Aníbal, it's been a while.
Aníbal: Yes. My question is, how do you enjoy the trainings, the IFS institute trainings? And what do you enjoy the best in those trainings?
Frank: I love doing. I have to say, I love doing them. I love doing them. To be able to...Let's see what I love the best about them. I love to see the transformation in participants within five days.
Aníbal: Yes, it's intense.
Frank: It's one of the things that consistently happens to me. You know, Dick and I have specifically tried to make this trauma training work on your personal stuff. In my view, everybody has a trauma history. Nobody is excluded. And so, it's an opportunity to work on your part. So, we really try to create an environment in that trauma training that really allows people to do personal work. There's this learn how to do the model, learn how to do therapy and do your personal work. And I just love seeing the transformation of people in five days when they're really doing their own work and healing their own wounds. So that's so rewarding for me. I love the sense of community that gets created when we do these trainings. Like, you become close with people, you become vulnerable with them. We have an amazing, I'm so fortunate and I'm humbled with the level of assistants, Program Assistants that I have that are interested to work with me in this trauma training. They are just world class. They are so talented. And I just love, I mean, that only makes this training so much more rich because the skill level of the program assistance is phenomenal. So, we create this amazing environment to give people an opportunity to do some of the most painful work that they've ever had to encounter. And that's pretty cool. That's pretty cool to be a part of, I have to say.
Aníbal: You enjoy it, the whole set.
Frank: Yes, absolutely. Yes. And each group is different. Each group is different. And I can't keep up with it. This is a burden of riches because I'm asked all the time to do these trainings all over the world now. And I just don't have enough weeks in the year to be able to accommodate everyone. So, it's having an impact. And I know this is true for most of all the other IFS trainings, too. Not just the neuroscience training, obviously.
Frank: But for all of them, you know what I mean. We're hitting people in an important way, which I'm grateful for.
Tisha: We were talking before we started the interview about you beginning to teach around parenting. And so that's a training for people to look forward to in the future.
Frank: Yes, it's funny. That's another one of those organic coming from within passions of mine becoming a parent. I'll say a couple of things about that. Just like my passion for trauma is rooted in my own personal experience, so is my passion for IFS and parenting rooted in my own personal experience. And I will tell you, I forget this sometimes. I was a psychiatrist at the trauma center for a long time, and after I saw Dick Schwartz, I had a young baby. So, my first son was born around that time. And I remember getting so triggered around being a parent.
Tisha: Oh yeah.
Aníbal: Of course.
Frank: You know, and it is really what shocked me into my own IFS therapy was really the way I got triggered and activated so profoundly being a parent. So, I was determined to not transgenerational repeat anything I experienced. And it really did motivate me to go into IFS. And, you know, I have, in a humbling kind of way, I have grown the most as a human being because of my role as a parent.
Frank: Nothing has brought me to the places that I've been and to the growth that I have experienced other than being a parent. So, it's just this natural, passionate place for me, you know, and you can read so many parenting magazines, books and magazines, and they're about the kid. And I just am like, no, we're missing the boat here. This is all about the parents and the way they get triggered and the way they lose the parent frame and the way they do not become the parent the child needs because of their history and their triggers. And that's really the whole focus of the training, in a nutshell, is really exploring doing your own work so that you...I talk about the parent Self, which is different than Self energy, and that's one of the things I teach in this curriculum is to how do you clear yourself in that parent kind of way to really become the parent the child needs, not the child that the parent wants or not the child the parent thinks it should be. There's so much that gets in the way of clearing that space for us to be able to help these kids evolve into their natural aligned selves. So, that's for me, a lot of the passion I have around this parenting curriculum. And I'm very, you know, it's like it is really the next dimension for me in the IFS community. And so is spirituality, by the way. That's the third dimension for me, because I've grown so much spiritually in my IFS journey that I hope to continue to teach all of those trauma, parenting and spirituality events.
Tisha: Did you have a spiritual inclination before IFS?
Frank: No, not at all. You know what?
Frank: It's interesting you say that, you know, I was a Harvard science guy. Like, that and spirituality don't necessarily go hand-in-hand. However, I will say that if I look back, there was always these moments and inklings of yes, yes, yes. But I think I just kind of pushed it aside and my smart intellectual part took over, really. And I can say that my husband has really brought that dimension to me in my life. He's very spiritual and then finding IFS it was just a beautiful, perfect fit. So, I have really expanded my spiritual awareness and integrated it and incorporated it into my clinical work on a daily basis now. Because for IFS is such a complete model that includes spirituality. If you're open to that, if you're not, it's really okay. But it's something that is was just a perfect alignment, my personal relationship with my husband and then the way it fits with my work and IFS.
Tisha: I really love to hear about the personal overlap with the professional work. It's such an intimate, a whole integration of who you are, doing what you love. Just feels really heart opening to hear it.
Frank: Well, thank you. And it's because I've done so much of my own work that I'm able to be cleared and more aligned than I've ever been, you know. So, it really is a testament to IFS in my personal work that allows me to integrate and be aligned in this way. And it's nice for me that people can see and feel that from me. And I just feel honored to be able to bring that to the people that I touch. So, if they can also have that, that's a win win for my perspective.
Aníbal: There's so much love in you, towards people and the world, isn't it? It's beautiful to see, it's beautiful to see.
Frank: Thank you. Yes, I feel it, I feel it. And I love. That's a great job to have. Spreading love.
Frank: Sign me up for that one, right? I have often said if I could bring more love and compassion to the world, I'll be happy.
Frank: And I kind of feel that way.
Aníbal: Frank, the IFS model is exploding, as you know. Are there some concerns and wishes for the future? On what concerns IFS for you.
Frank: Yes, good. Thank you for bringing that up. I do have a lot of concerns about that, actually, and it's one of the reasons that I really had a desire and I'm grateful that the Institute is interested in me working more formally with them, because it's one of the things that I hope to help with as this model expands in the way that it is, which is really, truly wonderful. There is a real risk of diluting the model, of people taking it and using it in ways that are maybe not helpful, that are not true and aligned to what the model really is. As I told you, I was the psychiatrist for that EMDR Prozac study early on. I was one of the first people to be trained in EMDR because Francine came over and trained us so we could do the study for her, Francine Shapiro. So, and I saw the way EMDR evolved and people took it and made it their own and they did a pretty good job with it, but I see what's happening to the model. Like, sometimes I go to social media and I see who's doing what...
Frank: And who's calling themselves what or who's trying to, excuse me, take the model and make it their own. I get concerned about that. I get concerned about people doing a two-day workshop with Frank Anderson and then saying they're an IFS expert because that is not the case. That's not how it works, right? And I don't think we have control over what everybody does, you know.
So, I'm concerned about that. And one of the things that I'm hopefully will be working with the Institute on and helping the Institute is that at least we can start endorsing programs and workshops that people are doing in a way that we can give it a stamp of approval from the IFS Institute. That we can start endorsing the integrity of the model, so that people can use it in a thoughtful way that's helpful because taken in the wrong hands it can be harmful, especially when we start bringing this to the general public. This is one of my concerns. And I've been talking to Dick and John about this. When we have lawyers or massage therapists or pediatricians doing IFS or teachers, you know, that's one thing to work with protective parts, it's another thing to heal traumatic wounds. And those traumatic wounds do come up for people.
Tisha: Yes, it can go very deep.
Frank: If you're a lawyer or whatever. And I don't need to single out any profession. I'm just saying any profession that is not learned how to deal with vulnerability in a safe, healthy way, there's a risk of harm that's there. And I think we need to be very thoughtful about how we maneuver as this expands in a way that's really wonderful and beneficial to the world. So, I think, again, it's holding both sides of those things that feels very important to me.
Tisha: That makes a lot of sense, especially at this juncture.
Frank: That's right.
Aníbal: Frank it's always a joy to sit with you. And I would like to invite you to sit again, maybe to focus on your parental curriculum. Am I saying, well?
Aníbal: And discover about that. But by now we have to thank you so much for having us and we hope that we can keep meeting and sharing this model and our work and our lives. And hopefully in Lisbon. You are coming hopefully to Lisbon in June.
Frank: I am coming to Lisbon in June for the first international IFS conference. I think I'm speaking on Saturday. I believe, I'm not quite sure.
Aníbal: Yes, it's on Saturday. Yes.
Frank: I'm also very pleased and honored to be here and to have been asked to be a part of this. I too love our connection and hope and know it will continue as we move forward with the expansion of IFS throughout the world.
Tisha: Thank you so much and thanks for all that you do.
Aníbal: Yes, amazing.
Frank: Thank you. Thank you. Pleasure.
Recorded 9th December 2019
Transcript Edition: Carolina Abreu