ActivitiesEducationIFS DiversityPeoplePractice

IFS and Self-Determined Leadership in Marginalised Communities

2022-2023 IFS Leadership Fellows

A new cohort of IFS therapy trainees has begun learning. This time, though, there is a significant difference.

This recent cohort is part of a long-held priority of the Foundation for Self Leadership to bring IFS to communities where such therapy has been historically inaccessible. The aim is to help diversify the community of practice on many fronts. The Foundation has been wishing, for a while, to more accurately reflect the wider society and thereby serve it better. In addition, IFS is seen as a potentially effective paradigm and tool for deepening community leadership and enhancing social activism. In partnership with the IFS Institute, which has been increasing its energy and commitment for achieving greater diversity, inclusion and equity in its activities, this particular program for learning about IFS and developing leadership skills, will contribute to the vision of both organisations of advancing Self Leadership in a variety of societies.

About the Programme

The new programme was set up with a competitive process to apply for IFS Institute Training at Level 1, Level 2, or both (free to participants), in addition to a leadership-development experience, for thought leaders and community practice leaders (present and potential leaders) from marginalized communities (or serving marginalised communities) within what has been referred to as “the global majority.” Of 80 impressive applicants, 35 were invited to present a video statement and additional material; of these, 24 were chosen for the Fellows Programme, which has now started and is in motion. You can read an overview of the scheme here and see the profiles of the Fellows here.

The idea was not just to offer IFS education to those who might otherwise not afford it; more deliberately, it was to fulfil far more ambitious aims of adequately supporting marginalised groups which our societal systems and institutions do not adequate recognise. Toufic Hakim, PhD, Executive Director of the Foundation for Self Leadership and originator of the programme said, “the issue for us was building a bridge between individual healing and societal healing. We said the place to start and the place that counts is these marginalised communities, where the majority of the people find themselves, and find themselves without support. “IFS is provided,” he continued, “as an offering, an inner-leadership pathway of sorts for the Fellows to consider pursuing on their community-organizing journey.”

The intention behind the Fellows Programme is to expand the leadership skills of these community leaders in the context of IFS, with the IFS Training element and leadership development elements, however independent of each other to a large extent. A purpose of this dual pathway is to understand better how leadership can be deepened through an IFS lens. This means this programme isn’t the first and only model but that, following on from it, it might be possible to seek to develop curricula for wide usage “in different spaces,” says Hakim.

To further grow inner and community-facing capacity for these already effective leaders, each participant in the programme will engage with an IFS practitioner mentor and receive an intensive support package involving meeting every month for four hours. Fellows will engage with guest speakers and be exposed to other therapeutic modalities and community-leadership frameworks. They will also encounter sessions where they can gain experience using group-based conflict management. All this will lead the Fellows to develop individual plans of action to pursue in their communities, which will be discussed and vetted amongst themselves.

There is a significant philosophy embedded in the programme which utilises voice and starts from the perspective of the Fellows themselves. Among the programme organisers and IFS Trainers involved are members of, or individuals connected to, the Black Therapists’ Rock therapy organisation. Toufic Hakim says they “are going to present the training from a social justice perspective, with a serious attempt to address people’s needs and understand the communities of the trainees.”

Notes from the Field

Following six hours of community-building and onboarding, the Fellows started the special L1 IFS training in August 2022. Given the unique makeup of this cohort (from the professional and lived-experiences points of view), valuable lessons are being learned about how to engage highly diverse groups in exploring their inner world through IFS, how to incorporate IFS notions in non-therapy-based community initiatives, and how some idiosyncrasies of the model need to be adjusted in certain settings.

The Leadership development component is being designed and will be being conducted through the eyes of the Fellows, informed by their individual and collective experiences. The intent is to involve guest interactive presentations and involve the Fellows by sharing with each other their experiences with their communities and their plans of action so they can learn from each other and benefit from mutual connections and support.

The group itself is tremendously diverse. Included are, for example, a Fellow who works with Black men on dress code and using dress to empower these men to talk about self-worth, a Birth Doula in a tribal community, an activist working with addiction issues, people working in Harlem and other places to deal with LGBTQIA+ issues, spiritual leaders of various churches. The Fellows are not just social workers and therapists – although many are – but also artists, activists and advocates with multiple voices and perspectives.

To imagine that the Fellows programme is to turn people from diverse communities into therapists would be a mistake. The education undertaken in the IFS model will certainly aid these developing leaders with the therapeutic healing perspective that IFS offers of Parts and Self. However, the key focus of the programme is to enable individuals to return to their community contexts with perspectives from IFS in hand, as they see fit, so the model can helpfully spread widely for healing, through their leadership of those communities. This aspect of healing within society is the focus and aim of the programme, with therapeutic and broader IFS knowledge as somehow the secondary benefit. IFS is seen as a driver towards the possibility of healing, given the model can help people return from inner turmoils to the stated IFS characteristics of Self: the eight “Cs” of Compassion, Creativity, Curiosity, Confidence, Courage, Calm, Connectedness, Clarity and five “Ps,” Presence, Persistence, Perspective, Playfulness, Patience.

Experience indicates that IFS can be used to empower people to notice and separate or helpfully and healthily distance themselves from destructive intentions and the outcomes of well-meaning but wrong-headed Parts of a person’s system; it is hoped this might be beneficial to those in communities where trauma and its expression gets no or little attention for what it is. In spaces where therapy has no currency or concept trauma can be, instead, demonised as anti-social in some way. Toufic Hakim says of the programme’s primary aim: “our vision is of facilitating healing and empowering these communities to become key players in their own societal development”.

Watch this space. The Foundation will be reviewing the efficacy of this programme in due course with the help of an independent observer familiar with issues of social justice. There will be a need to understand what impact, if any, the interventions and support provided by the programme might have had for these 24 intrepid and socially committed individuals and their extant community-based initiatives.

The Coordinating Team of this Program includes Chris Burris, LPC, LMFT; Kathy Cox, MSW, LICSW; Requina Barnes, LICSW (member of the Foundation’s Board) Fatimah Finney, LMHC; and Nic Wildes, LMHC. The Foundation, as Toufic Hakim expressed it, “is deeply grateful to them for their leadership and contribution to this programme.”


Helen E. Lees, PhD, is Editor of PARTS & SELF and based in Italy.

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