A Talk with IFS creator and founder Richard Schwartz
This is an episode with Richard Schwartz, author and founder of this amazing and unique Psychotherapy Model. Internal Family Systems is for many a Metamodel, a model of the Mind, a Map and a Path to our lives, a new Paradigm, a Social Mouvement. Please welcome Dick Schwartz.
Today on IFS Talks, we have the distinct honor of speaking with Dr. Richard Schwartz. He is the founder of the unique and transformative therapy model, Internal Family Systems. For many, a mental model, a perspective of the psyche, a map, and a path to live our lives, a new paradigm, and social movement in the world of psychology and beyond. Thank you, Dick for all that you have done, and for being with us today.
Dick Schwartz: Thank you Tisha and Aníbal, it's great to be with you. I'm so honored to have both of you in our community. Looking forward to our talk.
Aníbal Henriques: Thanks much Dick for sitting with us today. First of all, I have to say how beautiful and inspiring it has been to see the respect, the admiration, sometimes deep friendship, and love that our guests deeply and clearly feel towards you, Dick. It's really amazing and deeply touching. It reveals the love that all those colleagues and others feel both for the IFS as a model, but also for you as a mentor, a friend, a colleague, that still guides them in many ways. I can imagine this is such a gift for you, but also a responsibility, if not even a burden, let me know.
Dick: Yes, it can be both. I really appreciate you telling me that and it's mutual. I feel that for the people in the community, including you guys. I feel very, very blessed to have such a community. Also, like you said, it can be a bit of a burden at times to be a leader and being a leader in this way, wasn't something I was oriented to in the beginning at all. So, I've had to grow into the role, which has involved a lot of work with my parts. Yes, but it's great to hear.
Aníbal: Also, Dick, so many good friends of yours have been with you in this long journey since you started assembling this model. Missing those early days?
Dick: Yes, I've been very lucky that way. Everybody... Most everybody has been quite loyal and unlike other models, where people split off and start slightly altered versions, I haven't had to deal with that. I do think it's because of the connections we all have. We all share the vision of what's possible if this model was really adopted in a big way in the culture. So that also, I think, keeps everybody together and thinking the same way and working in the same direction.
Aníbal: Those were days of discovery and innovation in so many ways also.
Dick: Yes. Those early days are, you know, I have a terrible memory, but I don't forget a lot of those times because they were days of sort of awe. Awe and, could this really be true, could this be true? What about this one? It was an amazing, magical time and the people who were with me then I still feel very close to. [music]
Aníbal: Dick, you fully dedicated your life to this field of the helping profession. First as a family therapist, then as the creator and author of this model. It's been a passion and a pleasure, but also a crusade sometimes for you, I believe, with some ups and downs.
Dick: Yes. Many years where I felt very lonely in it. I had a small group of people who were students and were excited about it. I could always come back to that little group because I was getting beat up when I would bring it out into the world a lot, both within the institution I was in, which was the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago, which was a fairly psychoanalytic department very influenced by Kohut, Heinz Kohut, who had a big influence in Chicago. They had a big, what they called fear of fragmenting people. And they saw IFS as something that was potentially anyway fragmenting by having people focus on their parts. And so, there was a big backlash when I began to talk about it within the institution, and people tried to get me fired. And then at the same time when I ran into the model from clients, I was a kind of up and coming Family Therapist. I'd written and co-authored textbooks that had become very popular, and a lot of my colleagues had a lot of trouble with this because they saw me as a traitor to the cause. Family Therapy was a polarization away from the lack of context, in a lot of traditional psychotherapies. The lack of appreciating the external context, the family context. [music]
Tisha: What was it like within your own system during that time? How did you maintain the confidence and clarity through all those challenges?
Dick: I can't say I was terribly Self-led back then. I had a part that had served me well as a college football player, and in some other contexts that really didn't care what people thought and went toward danger rather than away from it. It was a big protector of parts of me that actually did care enormously and carried a lot of worthlessness coming out of my family of origin. And so, I would lead a lot and that part could be quite arrogant and polarizing with people, would insist on talking about why IFS was so much better than what they did. Yes, I can't say I was real Self-led back then, but I think if it weren't for that part, this wouldn't exist because I'm basically kind of a shy guy, especially in terms of public speaking. I avoided any opportunity to do that at all through high school, and most of college I made it through without having to do an oral report in front of my peers. [music]
By then I was starting to speak publicly about family therapy. But when I ran into this and got the vision of it, I really had to rely on that part more than anything, and it did a good job until I became the leader of a community, where that kind of arrogance or defensiveness just get you in trouble. I was lucky that I had some people in the community who confronted me, who are actually some of the people you're talking about are still with me.
Aníbal: They help you with that.
Dick: What I feel proudest of is that I didn't blow them off, I actually listened to what they were saying and started working on myself. That's been a long journey of trying to heal the worthlessness and get that arrogant part to step back. Now, people comment on how humble I seem. And it's genuine, the product of a lot, a lot of work to get to where I don't need affirmation from anybody. Now, I do it from a Self-led place. And I think part of the reason that it's exploded in the last several years, is because I gotten ready, I'm ready to be a leader of it now. [music]
Aníbal: Wonderful. And those were the times when so many interesting and powerful experiential therapies arrived in the '90s like EMDR, AEDP, EFT, CT and many more, just were showing up on those decades, the '90s and the new millennium. So, those were challenging times, with very strong and powerful experiential therapies showing up.
Dick: Yes. I got to know some of the leaders of those therapies, and I actually collaborated with some of them different times and spent a lot of time trying to differentiate IFS from them. That was all quite fascinating. We were all kind of "Going to figure this out," and then actually went our separate ways. I don't interact that much anymore with people like Susan Johnson. I've done several workshops with her together, with Diana.
Dick: Diana Fosha. There's a woman named Deany Laliotis, who's the EMDR person that I collaborated with for a while. All those systems I think that you mentioned, I would dip in and see what fit with IFS and what didn't, and what I could even borrow from them. Try to give them credit. The system and the person though who probably influenced the development of IFS the most, preceded them, and was a guy named Ron Kurtz.
Aníbal: Yes, the Hakomi.
Dick: Developed the Hakomi, yes. Early, or I would say even before 1990, he got wind of IFS and got excited because he was a systems thinker. And so, he invited me to collaborate with him. He and I co-lead some workshops at Esalen, and then I presented at his conference a couple three times probably. And that collaboration was hugely influential in many aspects.
Aníbal: Mutually influential, that's what you're saying?
Dick: Yes. Many things that are just now kind of second nature in terms of what we do when we do IFS, collaborated with or borrowed from Hakomi. So that was incredibly rich. A lot of the trainers who've been around for so long came from that community. They have Hakomi background.
Aníbal: The Hakomi community.
Dick: Yes. [music]
Aníbal: Dick, you started writing, you wrote, maybe published, maybe 8, 10 books, and the first one on IFS was in 1994, 26 years ago. And then you keep going, publishing until most recently, the second edition of the first one, the Internal Family Systems Therapy, second edition. Is there any of these titles that you keep closer to your heart that you find most influential or most significant for you?
Dick: You know, I feel very, very proud of the second edition. It took many years. Guilford was very patient with me because I just couldn't get it right. I couldn't get it right. I felt overwhelmed by the task because as you said, it was '94 since the last one, '95.
Aníbal: 26 years ago?
Dick: Yes. But so many years have gone by and so many things have changed. So, I would start to work on it, and I would just get totally overwhelmed. And it wasn't until I had the brilliant idea of recruiting Martha Sweezy to come in and help me, that it actually happened, because I had been struggling for maybe eight years before. And so, Martha came in and is great, she's just a great writer, a great thinker, and great organizer, and gave me deadlines and just did a lot of the stuff that I wasn't able to do to make it manageable. So, I'm really grateful to her.
Aníbal: So, it was a huge work?
Aníbal: I understood that maybe up to 70% of the book is new stuff?
Dick: Yes, that might be an underestimate, it's really mostly new.
Aníbal: So, it was again, a lot of work together with Martha?
Tisha: And is that because the model has changed and evolved, and perspectives have changed?
Dick: Yes, kind of yes and no, because when I went back to the original book, I was both surprised at how much it held up all those years. Some of the core aspects of it and then also, how much it changed. But, you know, I added lots of new chapters, one chapter, I think, on burdens, chapter on what we call the laws of inner physics.
Aníbal: That one, a totally new one, yes.
Dick: Yes. So, there was so much more to touch on. I did write a chapter on .. I cant remember what we called it, but sort on looking at the culture or United States as a trauma survivor, and what kind of parts does the country have and how does that parallel trauma survivors?
Tisha: So, some of the polarities that exist?
Dick: Yes. I mean if you think of my country anyway, that way. First, you can't list how many exiles we have. We have never had a disparity in income like this. So, there's... much of the country live just above the poverty line. And when you have that many people who have...And there are other exiles, like people of color and so on, but when you have that many exiles in any system, you're going to have very extreme protectors whose work is to keep them exiled and also to keep them from rising up or getting triggered.
Tisha: And so those protectors are political institutions or other people?
Dick: Yes, the leaders. [music]
Aníbal: So precisely, Dick, how can IFS help with this societal polarization that is so prevalent today?
Dick: I think it can help a lot. That's what keeps me going. I think if everybody really got the Self is in there, and it's just beneath the surface and got that, you don't have to run away from your pain or your shame, you can actually go to it and heal it. So, there was a lot more Self-leadership in the country in general. People wouldn't polarize because one of the qualities of self is this X-ray vision, where you see behind the protectors of your enemy and you see the exiles, and you feel compassion for them, and you want to work things out. And you also, because of that C word connectedness, you also have a kind of in your bones knowledge that you're not separate from that person, that we're all connected. And when somebody else is hurting in our system of humanity, that's actually hurting you too. So, all of those aspects of Self would go a long way to change where we are. And Self-leadership in our leaders now is really hard to come by. [music]
Tisha: How is some of this playing out as you see the situation we're in with the pandemic unfolding? Do you see people accessing more Self or becoming more fearful, more exiled?
Dick: I think is both. Is kind of laying bare of how many exiles there are and how fragile exiles are.
Tisha: How vulnerable.
Dick: How vulnerable they are. Yes. In a trauma survivor, when the exiles get triggered, then the protectors get even more extreme. That's the good side of it. It's laying bare how much we need everybody. So, people who are making $15 an hour are heroes now and ideally will be valued a lot more. The bankers and all the people whose actual behaviors or work doesn't really contribute anything, are also being seen that way right now. They just don't contribute anything. So it has the potential, this whole episode, to really help reorganize our values and priorities, both individually because, you know, I can say for myself that having been forced to not travel and not spend my whole life waiting for the next event that I have to pack for, and get on an airplane and just being forced to be home and relax, it's both, brought to the surface a lot of parts that I need to work with, but also made me value other parts of me that like it this. I feel guilty saying it, but I, actually, this has been a really good period for me. Guilty because so many other people are suffering.
Aníbal: Yes, a lot, it's painful. [music]
Dick, we are seeing a growing, growing demand on IFS trainings and therapists, not only in the United States, but also in Europe and even in Asia. Would you be willing to share your feelings towards this evolution both on what concerns the growing demand, but also the trainings' evolution, concerning its qualities, focus and sophistication, once I understand that IFS trainings are becoming more and more sophisticated, you would agree?
Dick: More sophisticated? I'm not sure about that. I think one thing that's been actually very helpful with the crisis is...my brother, John, who runs the company, has done a great job of transitioning us to online. All the trainings now are online, and the trainers did that kicking and screaming like, you know, I've been talking about we should do more online and "No, people won't have the same experience, so much more powerful in-person." Every trainer I've talked to now, who's done it and says “Oh, it's much, much better than I thought. In fact, this actually can work. I'm excited about it.” And they're excited they don't have to travel and all that. So I think the outcome of this will be that, a lot of the trainings will be hybrids, where we'll do some online and some in-person, or some, there will be... will offer some trainings where they're all online and other trainings where they're all in-person. That's actually going to help us meet the demand you mentioned, because, as I go around, there's so many frustrated people. You know, trainings fill up in a matter of hours once they are announced and it hurts my heart that people can't get it when they want it. [music]
Aníbal: You are saying Dick that somehow the IFS Institute is making a movement forward during this pandemic crisis, meaning is evolving to a more blended training, more a mixture of in-person and online? And you see that as a good movement forward, a good improvement.
Dick: I do, there are lots of people who couldn't do the training unless we did it online, because they live in a remote area in the world and the online program is a bit cheaper. So, there are people who couldn't afford to do it in-person, both the tuition, but also all the travel and the housing.
Aníbal: This is clearly a change in the trainings, and the trainings as much as I understood they are happening for maybe 25 years now?
Aníbal: When did you feel the training machine was highly tuned enough? It's still improving, but comparing to the beginning days and back then and the days that we are living, how do you compare the training?
Dick: I don't know that the format has changed a great deal. And a lot of the format I borrowed from Hakomi. The demos and the Home groups and a number of things and all that still in place, it seems to me.
Aníbal: Yes. They're still valuable. Yes.
Dick: Yes. So, I don't know that the actual format of the training is going to change all that much. The three to one ratio with the PA, very challenging in some ways, because it's expensive way to run trainings. You know, there's a lot of recruiting of PAs involved and making sure that they know what you're doing, but it also, to me, seems still crucial to have that ratio for people.
Aníbal: Yes. Keep the quality of the training.
Dick: That I also borrowed from Hakomi. Less theoretical stuff or technique stuff, I borrowed a lot of the practices they had.
Aníbal: So, I see that you see this evolution of the trainings mostly as turning them more available to everyone, and the online is helping on that sense.
Tisha: Aníbal and I, we're currently in the middle of a training that shifted to online. It was supposed to be in Portugal this week. I've been incredibly surprised by how well it's going and how good it feels. You can have the breakout rooms for the press practice groups, and still been getting that sense of connection and Self- energy.
Dick: Had your group met in-person once?
Tisha: We had met in person once. So, I was curious about how it would be if that hadn't been the case.
Dick: What I'm hearing from people who are doing it without that, it seems to work just fine. It's all a big experiment now and this again, without the virus, the experiment wouldn't have happened.
Tisha: Yes. It created a lot of shifts that have been positive. [music]
Aníbal: Dick, you are still doing so much around all this IFS stuff, what do you love the most to do about IFS nowadays?
Dick: Oh, well, I'm one of these very blessed people because I love most all of it. Well, what is trying to orient me now more, my guidance now is to focus my activity more on things that will bring a bigger bang for the buck, in terms of the goals we were talking about earlier in terms of bringing it to larger systems. I love the personal retreats so much. It's really hard to let them go, but again, I've been forced to do that. I'm finding that I love the book I'm writing, working on now, trying to work on that and some of these podcasts like yours, where I can just reach a bigger audience. So, I'm just trying to get clear about what post-vaccine will look like for me. There will be some changes. I'm pretty clear about that.
Tisha: Is there a sense of a path or direction to bring IFS to some of these larger systems that you're talking about?
Dick: Yes, we're trying to actively move outside of psychotherapy into other regions. I've got fairly active collaboration going with some big executive consulting firms, and they work with not only fortune 500 CEOs but also world leaders. They consult all kinds of presidents of countries and so on. My vision, my hope is, this is one example, but indirectly through them, IFS can reach those leaders and we can bring more Self-leadership that way. But that's one. We also have several initiatives in the direction of education, and I've been collaborating with two Tibetan Lamas here locally, to try and integrate it into Tibetan Buddhism. Anyway, there's a number of projects like that.
Aníbal: Very ambitious ones.
Dick: They could reach bigger audiences and have influence...The whole psychedelic movement, I would love for IFS to be seen as the map for that territory. I'm going to do what I can to make that happen, because that has so much promise as things loosen up in particular. [music]
Tisha: It seems like IFS is an incredible model to use with psychedelics, but it's not entirely clear to me why. Is it clear to you?
Dick: I think so. I've dabbled myself. So, I've done several rounds with ketamine and with MDMA and psilocybin. My take is that each of them, in different ways, each of them accesses different aspects of Self. MDMA, you're just pure self a lot of the time. Your protectors melt and your heart opens up really wide. So, you're accessing in particular that compassion, C word. Ketamine, you leave, and you enter the non-dual, they call it, and in that state, you feel this unbelievable level of connection to everything. And so, connectedness. Then, as you come back, you're in a lot more Self too. Your exiles are a lot more available to you and so on. So, I think we can look at each substance or medicine from that perspective. Also, when there are bad things happening, somebody seems like they're having a panic attack or just a lot of reports of... people call it post-traumatic psychedelic, PTPD. I've seen people following bad trips like that who had psychotic experiences. Instead of thinking “Oh my God, I'm having a psychotic experience or I'm having a panic attack,” they could be reassured that, okay, there's this really scared part that just came up, or there's this part that is doing a delusion right now but it's just a part. And the leader could help them work with that part while they're in this phase and separate from it and calm them down. That's another application but there's lots of others, that, just as I play with that world, are possible. [music]
Tisha: Would you say that when people access the aspects of Self that MDMA, ketamine or psilocybin grant access to, after the experience, do you continue to have easier access to Self once you've gotten it that way?
Dick: Yes, I think so. I think that's part of the power. They're using a lot of ketamine for depression. It isn't because it changes your brain so much from my point of view, as it does take you into that unity experience. That non-dual experience and lifts you away from the parts that carry all that, those burdens and you get a different sense of who you really are, and what this world we're in is about, which happened to me. I used to say I believe that when I died, it would be a good experience. I would go on and it would be good but after several doses of ketamine, I can say I know that because you go kind of to that good place. And when you come back, as the ketamine is wearing off, people kept saying that I was saying, "I don't want to leave. I don't want to leave," because you really get a sense of how hard it is here. It's very hard to be separated from everybody by these bodies and their boundaries, and you don't realize that until you get away. We are in that pure bliss, pure beloved place. Then you come back with more perspective and compassion for yourself.
Aníbal: Yes, makes sense. [music]
Tisha: Is that the same place that our clients go in deep IFS work?
Dick: Absolutely. I totally believe it is. So yes, it's a wonderful place. I'm not necessarily advocating that these medicines are the answer. Michael Mithoefer did all these outcome studies with MDMA and PTSD and had really good results. So, we did an outcome study without any medicine, just with IFS, sixteen sessions of IFS and got better results. It was just a much smaller fail.
Aníbal: It's encouraging.
Dick: I'm saying we don't actually need those necessarily. Although I do think that when people get stuck, it can be very helpful to have an experience or two like that, to get to parts that you wouldn't get to otherwise. Systems that are just terrifying to go places. But sure of that, I don't know that we need that.
Aníbal: So, Dick, how does Bob Grant's idea - Bob Grant is a ketamine researcher - he asserted that IFS is a psychedelic model. How did that land on you?
Dick: [laughs] I guess so. I think we enter the same world. I don't think that I want to attach to that label, just because I still want to make some inroads and some more traditional bastions who would look askance at that.
Aníbal: Of course.
Tisha: You don't want all the marketing to be tie-dye?
Dick: Yes, I mean, I was a bit of a hippie back in the day, but more of a hippie wannabe. [music]
Aníbal: Dick, what about the IFS institute? What's the future? What’s coming?
Dick: It's an interesting time for this crisis to happen because we're in the process of a transition ourselves. My brother's been a CEO for 12 years and has done a great job. We have grown enormously over those years. He deserves a lot of credit for that. He's going to transition into a new role sometime this year, where he'll be a consultant, or... there are parts of him that are burning out on managing people. He's been doing that since he was in his twenties. And so, we've got a search going for a new CEO, and we're going to look for somebody who can, in the business world they call it scaling something. Who can do some of what we've been talking about in this call, which is to bring it to bigger venues and grow even more. Not grow more necessarily to be more profitable, but just to have more influence.
Aníbal: More influence, yes.
Dick: So, yes. We're going to put out the job description next week sometime. They have a few possible candidates now already. So, that's a big, big change. It actually feels like a really important crossroads in the history of the Institute.
Aníbal: Let's hope for the best.
Dick: Thank you.
Aníbal: Wishing you Good luck.
Dick: Thank you. [music]
Aníbal: Dick, thank you so much for having us. It was a joy to be here with you and Tisha and I hope we can keep meeting and sharing this model, your model our model and our work and our lives.
Dick: I'm very grateful to the two of you for airing this podcast and spreading the word and just for all your support in general. As I said before, there were many lonely years, and I don't feel lonely anymore to have people like you guys on this journey with me.
Aníbal: Thank you. This has been a labor of love for us. Thank you so much.
Dick: Thank you both.
Tisha: Thank you. Thank you so much. Before we got together today, I had a session with a client, and it was so powerful. I thought like “how many therapists are trained? How many clients are having sessions every week that are changing their lives, and changing the way that they're orienting to themselves and their families and their pain?” Just before we met with you, my heart was filled with so much gratitude. [00:43:37] [END OF AUDIO]
Recorded the 29th April 2020
Transcript Edition: Carolina Abreu