ActivitiesIFS WorldPeopleSpecial Open Collection - IFS and Australia

Overview of IFS in Australia

IFS expansion has been steadily growing over the last 30 years and particularly over the last ten years. It is now firmly established in Australia.

In 2017, lead trainer Paul Ginter led the inaugural Level one IFS training in Australia, conducted over two weeks – the first week in November 2017 and the second week in February 2018. This was the optimistic sowing of an IFS seed that created the beginning of many professional connections and friendships. Thus was formed the first of many Level one IFS trained cohorts in Australia. IFS has continued to evolve and develop in this region in many different ways since.

For example, one of the participants in that inaugural Level one training, David Eckel, is nearing completion of his PhD thesis aiming to find answers to the question “How might Internal Family Systems therapy conceptualise and treat adults with attachment avoidance and attachment anxiety?” Eckel’s qualitative research, conducted through Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, consists of three studies and initial findings from his research suggest that while conceptual differences exist, both IFS and attachment theory can find synergy in the domain of treatment. IFS may be well placed to provide attachment theory with a treatment model that deftly explains and offers hope for change to the concept of the internal working model. You can read more about this research in his article available soon here on PARTS & SELF, in the IFS and Australia Special Open Collection.

As well as individual IFS therapy in Australia, as touched on in Eckel’s PhD, Internal Family Systems also has an emerging presence in Australia for couple therapy in its manifestation of “Intimacy from the Inside Out” (IFIO) – the IFS specific couple’s therapy work developed by Toni Herbine-Blank –  which ran its first highly anticipated training in an Australian-friendly time zone from January to March, 2023. The cohort included a group of 32 participants from Australia, the US and Canada who joined the online Zoom training for twelve days of deep reflective work over three months. Of these thirty-two trainees, thirteen were based in Australia, namely in NSW, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia. Three of the training staff program assistants were also based in Australia (Victoria, Queensland and South Australia). Growing from an estimated three Australian IFIO-trained relationship therapists in 2022, there are now sixteen IFIO practitioners in Australia. It is realistic to assume that IFIO’s reach in Australia will continue to expand exponentially given its already striking growth. You can read an article about this available soon here on PARTS & SELF, in the IFS and Australia Special Open Collection.

IFS with groups is also flourishing in Australia which, while being the smallest of the seven continents, is also the only continent that is its own country. Consisting of 7.7 million square kilometres, the population in Australia is sparse relative to the available land mass, and the majority of its 25 million-inhabitants lives in the urban areas on the coast. Consequently, bringing people together in this vast and at times inhospitable landscape can be a challenge. In an effort to provide a galvanising therapeutic opportunity in Australia, myself and my wife, Kate Dempsey, have created a ten-week IFS therapy program for clients which is run via Zoom and filled with clients from all over the country. You can read more about this here.

All of this is great for the client, but what about the therapists in Australia hungry for the opportunity to deepen their skills and knowledge in IFS? Thankfully, there is an IFS supervisors’ consortium which has been created as a focal point for those seeking support. Based in Melbourne, but servicing clinicians all around the country, Sean Cuthbert, David Eckel, Kate Dempsey, Danielle Williamson, and Shaun Dempsey are a group of Psychology Board of Australia (PBA) and/or Medicare registered mental health professionals and/or accredited psychosexual therapists trained and highly skilled in the IFS model of psychotherapy, who are passionate about supporting counsellors, clinicians, and therapists of all training backgrounds to integrate IFS into their therapeutic practice through clinical supervision and case consultation. We are providing much needed specialist IFS supervision and consultation to the emerging cohorts of trained IFS therapists and practitioners in Australia.

In addition to this, I am providing a highly popular group supervision and consultation experience via Zoom for therapists and practitioners right around Australia using a case presentation model based directly on the IFS Level one training manual, along with opportunities for therapists to work with their own Parts and gain a deeper understanding of their clients and their own systems in the process. Completing Level one training is a great starting point, but ongoing professional development and supervision support is a vital part of creating a professional, competent, and vibrant IFS community. I also find myself offering introductory workshops for those interested in IFS via Zoom and face to face. I have been commissioned by a number of stakeholders including the Australian Psychological Society to provide IFS introductory workshops and webinars.

IFS in schools has flourished in Australia with one of its primary protagonists being Shawnee Schmid. Schmid is a Level two trained IFS therapist in Sydney who participated in the Self-Leadership Collaborative course to learn their IFS-informed P.A.U.S.E. model for school communities. During that process she attended monthly collaborative meetings with passionate P.A.U.S.E graduates sharing their implementation experiences from schools around the world, specifically so she could bring those ideas to primary schools in Australia. Schmid has a full report on her involvement with, and advocacy for, IFS in schools in Australia found here.

IFS and sexuality is also beginning to flourish in Australia. Due to the client-centred and non-pathologising framework of IFS, it is highly effective for working through a range of sexual difficulties, complex sexual dysfunctions and gender/orientation issues. Whether it is for expanding erotic potential, easing internal distress or managing interpersonal tension within sexual relationships, IFS can help clients understand their unique internal parts to create more pleasurable and empowering sexual experiences for all. Utilising this model of psychotherapy is a deeply respectful way to work with sexually traumatic events and deeply embedded unhelpful beliefs about the body, sex and intimacy. It is inclusive of all cultures, religions, self-expression, sexual identity, and orientation, making it the intervention of choice by Kate Dempsey, currently Australia’s only accredited psychosexual therapist and certified IFS therapist. Dempsey is extremely passionate about supporting counsellors and therapists of all training backgrounds with integrating IFS into their clinical practice. Starting next year for the first time in Australia, IFS and sexuality supervision will be on offer to any registered health professional wanting to develop their IFS skills and gain confidence within their clinical practice. This is particularly exciting for Dempsey as she is seeing a parallel expanding awareness within the medical literature that highlights the significant impact of sociocultural factors on some of the more complex sexual dysfunctions, including interpersonal relationship factors. You can read her full article in PARTS & SELF soon.

Australia has a world renowned pain education and research centre. The Neuro Orthopaedic Institute Australasia (Noigroup) is a privately owned provider of education and research, based in Adelaide with international connections in the USA. Adele Stewart, PhD, is an IFS informed general practitioner doctor in Australia, with links to the Noigroup. Blending a mix of IFS, mindfulness, and the latest in pain science, Stewart is working hard to educate Australians and bring relief to the huge cohort of people experiencing chronic pain. Her article is available soon as a part of this ongoing Special Open Collection on IFS and Australia.

Following requests, I have recently been successful in working with the Australian Psychological Society to form an IFS special interest group (SIG), which will act as a focal point for the nearly 30,000 psychologist members in Australia – many of whom will be seeking a hub to focus their IFS thoughts and activities. While psychologists in Australia can sometimes feel geographically isolated, there are opportunities to be nationally and even internationally connected. An IFS SIG formed and maintained under the auspices of the Australian Psychological Society provides the perfect platform for such a connection.

There are many more aspects to IFS in Australia that this Special Open Collection undertakes to profile, such as considerations of dual identity, and these are but a few. The seeds of the IFS model, sown in 2017, have fallen on fertile soil and are flourishing, just like the fresh new flush of brilliant green and red growth of a gum tree after the fire and the rains.

We look forward to sharing more news with you about the development of IFS in Australia, both in terms of community and expertise.

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  • Shaun Dempsey

    Shaun Dempsey, PhD, is Deputy Editor of PARTS & SELF, a Level 3 Certified IFS therapist and Clinical Psychologist in Australia.

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