Nashville Family Therapist Explains IFS, A Therapy without Judgments

JourneyPure Staff

January 10, 2019

Ragan Graves, LMFT, a therapist with the newly opened Green Hills Family Psych in Nashville, has been incorporating into her practice Internal Family Systems (IFS), a treatment model based on the concepts of self and its sub-personalities, or “parts.”


“I’ve found that young adults are open to the IFS approach,” said Graves, whose specialties include family counseling and individual therapy for teens and adults. “It’s been helpful for a lot of my clients, younger and older, because they can engage with their behaviors without judgment.”


Graves adds that IFS is such a powerful therapeutic modality that she has signed an online interest list to attend formal IFS training sessions conducted by The Center for Self Leadership, which provides learning opportunities for mental health practitioners.

What is IFS?

Internal Family Systems therapy is an evidence-based talk therapy developed by Dr. Richard Schwartz in the 1990s. It operates on the idea that every person contains an undamaged “Core Self” that maintains the essence of who that person is.


Revolving around this Core Self are three different sub-personalities: the wounded and suppressed parts, known as “exiles,” the protective parts, known as “managers,” which suppress the exiles, and the “firefighters,” which distract the Self from the exiles when they escape the managers’ suppression.

For instance, an exile might be the trauma one feels from an instance of past abuse. While the managers suppress the trauma, the firefighters create an impulse toward alcohol or drug abuse, overeating, or other risky behavior to distract the Self from the trauma. IFS helps the patient recognize his or her suppressed emotions and coordinate the Self and all its parts.


“One of the ideas behind IFS is that all parts of the self are protective of that Core Self,” Graves said. “[IFS] therapy encourages clients to feel curious about these different parts, and to understand what their roles are. It encourages self-compassion, and it works well with those diagnosed with eating disorders because it looks at all this stuff in a different way.”


As this dynamic of exiles, managers, and firefighters operate within a person’s individual personality, so too do these roles occur in families, where each family member plays a designated role in response to certain circumstances. This is why so many alcoholic families see similar sibling roles, such as “the scapegoat,” “the mascot,” or “the lost child.” It takes a comprehensive family therapy to recognize all the roles being played.


About Ragan Graves and Green Hills Family Psych

Graves’s appreciation for different ways of looking at things has its own history. After receiving her Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy degree from Trevecca Nazarene University, and completing a clinical internship at Cumberland Heights addiction treatment center, she became certified in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) for trauma work. She is also a certified facilitator for PREPARE/ENRICH pre-marital assessment. All of this she brings to the table in her work at Green Hills Family Psych in Nashville.


Founded by Dana D. Verner, MD and Katie Herrington, PhD, Green Hills Family Psych opened in August 2018 to provide multi-disciplinary, evidence-based mental health care for children, adults, and families. Verner and Herrington’s extensive mental health training and experience instilled in them a shared commitment to whole person care across the patient’s lifetime.