Richard Schwartz — IFS, Psychedelic Experiences without Drugs, and Finding Inner Peace for Our Many Parts (#492)

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We are locking up these parts of us that are so wonderful and have so many talents when they’re not locked up and when they’re not stuck in the past.

— Richard Schwartz

Richard Schwartz is on the faculty of the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

He began his career as a family therapist and an academic at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he discovered that family therapy alone did not achieve full symptom relief. In asking patients why, he learned that they were plagued by what they called “parts.” These patients became his teachers as they described how their parts formed networks of inner relationships that resembled the families he had been working with. He also found that as they focused on and, thereby, separated from their parts, they would shift into a state characterized by qualities like curiosity, calm, confidence, and compassion. He called that inner essence the Self and was amazed to find it even in severely diagnosed and traumatized patients. From these explorations, the Internal Family Systems (IFS) model was born in the early 1980s.

IFS is now evidence based and has become a widely used form of psychotherapy, particularly with trauma. It provides a non-pathologizing, optimistic, and empowering perspective and a practical and effective set of techniques for working with individuals, couples, families, and—more recently—corporations and classrooms.

Please enjoy!

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#492: Richard Schwartz — IFS, Psychedelic Experiences Without Drugs, and Finding Inner Peace for Our Many Parts


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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.


Want to hear another episode that outlines effective paradigms for dealing with trauma and addiction? Listen to my conversation with Dr. Gabor Maté, in which we discuss investigating the causes rather than the consequences of addiction, the therapeutic value of psychedelics (including the right way and the wrong way to experience ayahuasca), why some powerful modalities aren’t for everyone, and much more.

#298: Dr. Gabor Maté — New Paradigms, Ayahuasca, and Redefining Addiction



Disclaimer from Richard Schwartz: There is an on-going debate in the culture regarding the validity of recovered memories. While there is considerable evidence that recovered memories of abuse can be real, in some cases they are not. If such memories come to you, it is important to not act on them without corroborating evidence.


  • After sharing my story of childhood abuse with the world, what has the aftermath been like? [08:24]
  • As a freshly graduated family therapist in the early ’80s, Richard shares how he first encountered the concept of “parts” that became foundational to IFS. [15:17]
  • I confess my initial resistance to IFS and how seeing its non-pathologizing methods put into action changed my opinion, and Richard speaks to why diverging from traditional therapy can be a hard sell. [22:34]
  • Richard gives us a brief conceptual overview of IFS so we can understand the context of terms like “parts” and “exiles” and “firefighters.” [29:03]
  • A note on how IFS prompts self-discovery in a way that some have only found through the use of psychedelics. [37:22]
  • For the sake of demonstration, Richard takes me through an IFS session to explore how I might move from a place of anxiety and fear to a place of trust and faith by addressing and getting to know the parts of me that stoke that anxiety and fear rather than trying to dismiss them. [39:54]
  • A post-game analysis of what we just experienced together — how becoming a compassionate witness to these traumatically burdened parts of ourselves and giving them a voice fosters much-needed self-empathy for the healing process to truly begin. [1:06:13]
  • How parts work can be applied to someone going through suicidal ideation. [1:09:48]
  • As psychologist Carl Rogers once said, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I change.” How does this relate to the IFS model, and what’s the step after this acceptance? [1:16:08]
  • While psychedelic experiences have proven therapeutically helpful for a number of issues including PTSD, they’re not suitable for everyone. But might it possible for IFS to help a prospective patient prepare for a psychedelic experience? What are the potential dangers? [1:17:31]
  • How can someone make IFS a daily practice? Richard gives us an example from his own life that took place right before this interview, and shares what a good check-in might look like. [1:23:42]
  • Couples in quarantine over the past year may have experienced what IFS would call a “protector war.” What is this and how would Richard help resolve it? [1:27:49]
  • What are trailheads, and how can they lead us toward a breakthrough? [1:34:20]
  • Richard’s recommended resources for someone looking to further explore IFS (these can be found at the top of the selected links above). [1:36:18]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:39:19]