Internal Family Systems (IFS) | Mind Matters| La Amistad

September 12, 2022

On this episode of Mind Matters we are talking with therapist Justin Martin with Parts of Me Therapy and taking an in-depth look at how Internal Family Systems can help families with mental health concerns.

We discuss:

How IFS addresses trauma?

What does hope look like to you and how do we inspire/promote hope using IFS?


Episode Transcript:

Wendy: Hello and welcome to our podcast of “Mind Matters” this week, we feature experts in the mental health and substance use field across central Florida, and we explore modern mental health challenges that we all face in our day-to-day life. We look at latest trends and strategies, mental health, and substance use, and also, insights into different mental health and substance use challenges. Today’s podcast is brought to you by La Amistad Behavioral Health Services and University Behavioral Center, we provide a full continuum of mental health and substance use care, including outpatient, acute residential levels of care for youth and adults.

My name is Wendy McCarty and I am so happy to be your host today. I’m a licensed mental health counselor, a healthcare liaison, and ultimately, an advocate at heart. Today we’re talking with Justin Martin. Hi Justin, Justin’s with “Parts of Me”, and it’s a private practice here in Central Florida, and we’re taking an in-depth look at internal family systems and ways that we can be a part of the solution, and instill hope in others. So, I’m so excited to be here with you today, Justin, thanks for coming on.

Justin: Me too, yeah.

Wendy: Tell us a little bit about yourself and internal family systems.

Justin: Sure. So, I’m a licensed mental health counselor here in Orlando and it’s just I loved internal family systems, it kind of built my private practice around it because it helped me so much in my own life, as well as the clients that I work with. And so, that’s a little bit about me, I like books, poetry, and sports.

Wendy: Yes, I like the juxtaposition there, sports and books, it’s a good stuff.

Justin: Exactly, it ties in with IFS a lot because I have a lot of different parts to me that like different things.

Wendy: I like that, and I think we all do. If someone is just listening and doesn’t know what internal family systems is, can you break that down in easy to understand way?

Justin: Yeah. So, the question I normally ask people is, are you the same person at a grocery store that you are at a party? And most people will say no, and if they say yes, then, I say I’d love to go grocery shopping with you.

Wendy: I love it.

Justin: But, that’s just kind of the idea that we can be different people at different times, and we’re not just one being, and so, IFS take supports that we all have different parts to us. And there’s nothing inherently pathologizing about that. I think when people hear the word “Parts”, they go, “Oh, am I crazy or something?” There’s a lot of stigma around the ID as well, but, we don’t really look at it like that.

Wendy: They get that. Yeah, we feel, maybe sometimes, like, “Oh, I have to be this person because this is my identity and I was out of this other thing that I really enjoy doing.”

Justin: Exactly. Yeah, and if people have seen the movie “Inside Out”, that’s a little bit of description of Parts.

Wendy: I love that movie, and I’ve watched it with my son like three or four times because it’s so beautifully done.

Justin: Yeah, and actually people who are within the IFS community helped with that matter.

Wendy: No way, how cool is that? Of course, they did. No wonder it’s so well done. I think, that’s probably one of my favorite animated movies, if you haven’t checked that one out, definitely, I believe it’s a Disney movie.

Justin: I think it is Pixar.

Wendy: Oh, it’s Pixar. Okay, sorry, Pixar.

Justin: Yeah, and then, just really briefly, there’s this idea that we all have different parts to us, right? We have these different parts, but then, there’s also you, which we call “self” and IFS, but, it’s basically, it’s got a bunch of different qualities like connectedness, calm, compassionate, curious, courageous, a bunch of other C words. And so, the idea is with IFS is that, from this place, from our self, we can start to relate to our different parts, help them if they’re in extreme roles, and heal pain that’s underneath that, that may be driving these parts to do extreme things from this place that we call self. And so, you have all these parts, you have you, neither of which is pathological, and that’s kind of the small gist of the theory in small bite size.

Wendy: Yeah, that was explained so nicely, I appreciate it. So, that leads me to my next question, how does IFS address trauma and what’s the scope with working with trauma?

Justin: So, often times, these parts of us are driven to be extreme, sometimes from things that have happened to us. One of my colleagues, Frank Anderson, I love one of his quotes where he talks about how trauma blocks love. And so, our heart can close up when we’ve experienced trauma, and the way that we look at that with IFS is like these protective parts of us kind of protect us, and one way that IFS works with that is from that “self” place, building a relationship with these protective parts, no matter how extreme they can be, starting to get to know them, and get curious about them.

And so, once that happens, then, these protective Parts can kind of let you know about themselves and how they got to do the job that they do, right? And sometimes, that will need to be an experience that happened in the past, and there’s the way that IFS can then work with that part, we call those “Exiles” because their parts that are pushed down and they have heavy emotions, and burdens attached to them. So, once these protective parts give us permission to work with whatever pain might be there, then, we can help those parts that carry that pain, and then, from there, it kind of rebalances the inner system, provides like a more harmonious way of living. And there are technicalities with how we do that, there’s some neuroscience within about how we’d reconsolidate the trauma, specifically. But, once you get into that “self” place, a lot of people know what to do, it’s amazing. I love working with clients with that.

Wendy: That’s interesting. Yeah, it’s the kind of strange how your body automatically takes care of you by, like you said, creating a fortress around the parts of us that have been wounded or compartmentalizing, and maybe you have all this compounding compartmentalization, and you’re so far into doing that, that you don’t know how to open those areas up, and you’re just protecting yourself.

Justin: Exactly. Yeah, I have a lot of, and that’s the thing is like, what I’m working with clients and even clients when they can get in this place, you can have a lot of compassion for those protective parts, and not look at them as like, “Oh my goodness, why can’t I stop drinking” or “Oh my goodness, why can’t I do? You can have a lot of compassion for that, and that normally then, opens towards whatever the next happened

Wendy: I love it, that’s good stuff. So, big question for you, what does hope look like to you and how do we inspire and promote hope?

Justin: Oh, that’s a great question, because I think hope, it depends on how it’s being given. I’ve had instances where like, being a client myself or we’re like, hope is kind of being “sold” to me, and I’m not in that place, and sometimes, I can feel disconnecting. So, to me, hope is being where the person across from you is at, and so, in IFS, I as the therapist, I’m checking with myself a lot, by asking myself the question, “How came am I with the person across for me, right now at this moment?” And that’ll let me know if I have any of my own parts up, right? If I think, “Oh, this person should be a different way”, that thought will come across my head, but, I just work with those parts of me, and so, it’s interesting because hope is a big component in IFS, but, done in a different way where it’s like, once we get to this compassionate place within us, we can offer these protective parts of us, hope to do this a different way, and part of that factually with our connection with them, instead of like telling them they need to do their job differently, like, “Oh, you should just stop drinking.”

Well, to that protective part, that might be doing that, it feels like life or death for these protective parts if they were to do that. So, it’s a big ask, and we don’t really normally pose it that way, but, connecting it to our compassion, let these parts have hope that, “Wow, this can be different, actually I might be able to handle this and help with the pain that’s underneath.” And so, I think hope, given that it’s in a pushing way, but, more of, “my connection can be hopeful to those protective parts”.

Wendy: I’m imagining, sometimes, that’s got to be difficult to stay in that mindful place, and not project any of you, and just to be completely open and in the moment, and connected to this person across from you, but also, so powerful and so genuine, that you can probably feel the hope with the therapist and this system.

Justin: Absolutely. No, I’m not perfect by any means, I have my days, and I’ll tell my clients that, like, that was a part of me coming out, I’ll work with that, like, I have parts, too. But, you are right that if myself is here, it normally, then, just brings out the client self, too. And so, I’m always checking with me to see what’s going on within me, because people can feel that genuineness and that authenticity from you, and there’s something about that, that goes down.

Wendy: Yeah, I agree, and just having, like, a real genuine human to human connection. You have the schooling and you’re the expert in this field, but, you’re also the same human as the one sitting across from you, and sometimes, I think that goes a really long way.

Justin: Absolutely.

Wendy: Yeah, I love that, thank you so much for sharing. So, tell me, Justin, what are you excited about right now?

Justin: Oh, that’s a good question.

Wendy: And it can be anything.

Justin: It could be anything. I’m actually really excited to see the mental health field growing the way that it is. I feel like there’s a paradigm shift that’s happening within our field, where we’re starting to pay attention to a lot of things that maybe we didn’t before, and in a lot of ways, it’s kind of ironic that we’re kind of, the approaches that now are becoming more talked about, are stuff that’s been here forever, we just kind of, got away from it, and there’s reasons for that, which would take a longer podcast.

I’m actually, there’s a part of me that’s optimistic to see where our field is headed, how ISF can be a part of that, especially on larger societal issues. Looking at one of the things I love about IFS is that, what goes on inside of us, also goes on at a macro level, so, we can have parts that are protective here, and one thing I loved is when someone posted the question of, like, the internal system, and what parts are there in their relationships, how would we look at America as an internal system? And what parts were here with that, too, right? So, I love that ISF is kind of focused on that and branching it out to larger societal issues because both impact the other, the internal impacts the external, and the external impacts the internal.

Wendy: What an interesting thing to look at, from a macro-level or a country-level, and kind of seeing how that correlates with some of the individual things that we see happening, too, it’s interesting.

Justin: Absolutely. So, I would say that’s one thing I’m excited about to see, because definitely, I think the world needs it.

Wendy: And you, too. One of the things that gives me hope is, I know when I was growing up, it wasn’t cool to talk about mental health or a struggle, but, when I go into schools and I do presentations now, I have so many people that will just walk right up to me and say, “Hey, this is what I’m struggling with”, or raise their hand and say, “I felt this way”, and it was so vulnerable and raw, but also, like, such a beautiful thing to be able to name it, and not have that shame associated with that, and I’ve seen that shift, and to see that shift in our youth, I think, is just extraordinary.

Justin: Sure. Yeah, absolutely, I agree.

Wendy: All right, Justin, what’s the last self-care act you did for yourself?

Justin: Oh, it’s funny, today is Thursday which is like my relaxed day, but, it’s also when I go for therapy for myself, so, I would probably say, literally two hours ago…

Wendy: Love it, yes.

Justin: That was the last thing, so, you caught me on a good day.

Wendy: That’s awesome.

Justin: Yeah, other than that, I think the last self-care thing I do, I enjoy playing video games with my friends every now and then, we’ll all get together, decompress, and just check out a little bit.

Wendy: We love it. We’ve been on a Super Mario Kart, Kirby’s World with my kids, there’s something really nice about zoning out and just playing a video game, laughing, and to do that video games. Well, thank you so much, Justin, for taking the time and sharing a little bit about yourself, what you do, and I really appreciate you being here, and if anyone would like to reach out to Justin, he is with “Parts of Me”, and it’s in Longwood, Florida, he does some virtual private practice, as well as in person, so, definitely check out his practice.

This podcast is brought to you by La Amistad Behavioral Health Services and University Behavioral Center, we do provide a full continuum of mental health and substance use care, and we include outpatient, acute residential level of services for mental health and substance use for all ages. Please visit our websites for more information, if you’re looking for inpatient care or extended therapy in the outpatient realm. And with limited exceptions, Physicians are not employed or agents of this facility. Thank you all so much for joining us and have a wonderful day.


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