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IFS-Informed EMDR Therapy: Two Healing Techniques that Are Greater than the Sum of Their Parts

Trauma can take an incredible toll on our lives. I know.

In fact, many of the problems we face – whether it’s anxiety, depression, or relationship issues – often have some sort of trauma at their core.

I created Beyond Words Psychotherapy specifically to help clients use experiential, somatic, and body-oriented therapeutic techniques like Internal Family Systems (IFS) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) to overcome trauma efficiently and effectively.

Because of this, a lot of clients come to me specifically looking for EMDR or IFS therapy.

But these two incredibly powerful healing techniques aren’t standalone processes … IFS and EMDR actually work best when used together!


Well, in order to understand the benefits of IFS-informed EMDR therapy, we first need to take a quick look at each …

What Is Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy?

We all have different aspects or “parts” of our personalities. We may not pay much attention to this fact, but we inherently know it to be true.

How many times have you thought, or even said, something like, “Part of me wants to look for a new job, but another part thinks it’s the worst possible time to do so” or “Part of me thinks this relationship just won’t work, but part of me knows we still have a chance to make it better?”

We all know our personalities, our very beings, are composed of multiple parts. And each of the various sub-personalities or “parts” that make up who we are has different motivations, emotions, and roles.

Some parts may have been emotionally wounded or traumatized in the past (often referred to as “exile” parts), while others play the role of protectors in order to prevent our wounded parts from experiencing any more pain.

While protector parts may behave in undesirable ways in order to distract our wounded parts from painful thoughts or memories, it’s important to remember that there are no “bad” parts.

Each of our sub-personalities or parts is trying to help us in its way.

Internal Family Systems (IFS) uses a family systems model to help people access, better understand, and heal the different aspects or parts of ourselves in order to heal psychological wounds, cultivate greater self-awareness and compassion, and access the true Self – the compassionate, healing core that lies at the heart of each and every one of us.

In other words, the goal of IFS therapy is to help you connect with and understand each of the parts that make up your personality, and to help each part communicate with each other and your true Self, so you can heal any wounded aspects of your personality and restore balance and harmony to your life.

What Is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)?

Simply put, EMDR is an interactive and integrative approach to psychotherapy that helps a person create a “learning state” in which he or she can focus on a troubling memory or emotion while simultaneously experiencing some form of bilateral stimulation.

This bilateral stimulation – typically moving one’s eyes back and forth in a rapid, rhythmic manner, but which may also include tapping or auditory tones – reduces the power and effect of emotionally charged feelings and memories, allowing clients to work through and even “rewrite” those memories so they become positive experiences for growth.

Why IFS and EMDR Are So Powerful Together

IFS-Informed EMDR therapy can be an extremely powerful healing combination for anyone who’s experienced ANY type of trauma (from physically violent trauma to the psychological trauma of being bullied, emotionally abused, or abandoned as a child).

How does it work?

Well, it’s typically said that those of us suffering from trauma are “stuck in the past.”

This is also often true of our “exile” or wounded parts.

In fact, many exile parts manifest themselves as children or have childlike qualities due to these parts coming into existence when we experience some form of trauma at a young age.

Accordingly, IFS can help us get in touch with, better understand, and have greater compassion for our exiled or wounded parts before we use EMDR to reprocess and heal the trauma they experienced.

IFS can also help us understand the role our protector parts play, which can be vital to the success of EMDR treatment.

Remember, our protector parts are trying to keep our exile parts from being harmed (traumatized) all over again, which means our protector parts often try to prevent traumatic processing with EMDR.

I’ve seen these protector parts come out time and time again in EMDR sessions with clients … they may skip an appointment, they may find excuses not to do homework between appointments, and they may try to spend whole sessions “checking in” so that there’s no time left to do any processing of traumatic memories.

None of this is to suggest these defense mechanisms are “wrong” or “bad” … they’re simply protector parts trying to defend the wounded exiles.

However, for EMDR to be truly effective, protector parts need to come to trust both the client and the therapist, in order for them to allow the exile parts to come through and work through any traumatic memories.

Using IFS to help us understand the various roles our parts play can help you make sure all of your parts are “on board” before diving into any EMDR reprocessing of traumatic memories.

In other words, using IFS to make sure all of your parts are in alignment makes EMDR therapy an even faster and more effective process for healing trauma.

Perhaps even more important is the IFS model’s concept of Self …

At the center of the IFS model, and each and every one of us, is the true “Self” – the “real you” and the “real me.”

Our true Self is essentially the “ideal being” that lies inside all of us, and it has a profound capacity for healing.

Unfortunately, while we all have a true Self at our core that is the natural leader of our internal family system, many of us are unaware of its existence. This is because the vast majority of us experienced some form of painful or traumatic experiences in childhood that led to the creation of our exile and protector parts, which assumed control of the system in order to protect the Self.

And our exile and protector parts are used to their jobs. They’re reluctant to change.

One way to understand this process is to think of your various parts as employees at the company of “YOU” and your Self as the CEO …

If you’re working for a company and you receive an email that says, in effect, we’re going to be reorganizing the company, the first thing you’re likely to feel is terrified. Right?

All these thoughts start running through your head … “I’m going to lose my job” or “I’m going to get a job I don’t want” or “Great, I’m going to have the job of 27 different people” or “My friends are going to get fired.” Basically, “What’s going to happen?!? This is horrible.”

Well, that’s often what happens when we start looking at, processing, and working to overcome trauma in order to reorganize our internal systems.

It’s no big surprise that some parts of us may react strongly to “giving up their job” or losing their “reason for being.”

What IFS and EMDR can help us do is to go about this reorganization differently …

Instead of sending out that email to all of your parts saying we’re about to reorganize, what you want to do is invite all of your parts to the conference room, to sit around the table and listen. Have your Self get to know each one of these parts, their history, what they like and don’t like about their jobs, what they really enjoy, what makes them feel not so great. And then, you want to invite each part to say what they WANT to do going forward. What would make them feel better? Go around the table with each part and invite them to collaborate to help each of them bring about this better future.

In other words, Internal Family Systems therapy can help you get in touch with your various parts so that all of your parts feel safe enough to let you connect with your true Self and let it harmoniously lead the reorganized family system.

And EMDR is the healing process by which you can free your exiled and wounded parts from the pain they’ve been carrying, so you can move forward and create a more balanced, harmonious and joyous life.

Is IFS-Informed EMDR Right for You?

EMDR has gained worldwide recognition for its usefulness in helping people heal from trauma, and it is often much more efficient and effective than other forms of therapy.

However, this doesn’t mean EMDR is some kind of magic “silver bullet” …

Whenever we’re accessing any deep, painful, historical or charged emotional material, it’s important to recognize that there are going to be certain parts of our personalities that will want to shut that process down, that are going to try and distract us from looking at those things, or try to shut the door on those topics altogether, all of which can frustrate EMDR treatment.

Simply put, when we hit a roadblock with EMDR, it’s usually because of a specific part’s reluctance to look at something.

In order to truly heal, we don’t want to try and do an end-run around these parts. We want to engage them and work through their resistance. We want to help those parts of ourselves that have been so protective understand why we’re doing what we’re doing.

Using IFS and EMDR together can provide you the means of communicating and working with your various parts, to make sure they’re comfortable enough and ready to collaboratively undertake the work necessary to create true healing and joy in your life.

So, if you’re looking to work through and resolve any sort of trauma, IFS-Informed EMDR combines two healing techniques that, when used together, are truly greater than the sum of their parts and can help you create the harmonious and joyous relationships and life you desire.

If you have any questions regarding this article, or if I may be of any other assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact me at 510-735-8868 or email me at I look forward to speaking with you and helping you create a life you truly love living!

Beyond Words Psychotherapy – IFS-Informed EMDR Therapy: Two Healing Techniques that Are Greater than the Sum of Their Parts

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