IFS Institute hosted its annual conference again online this year (October 20-22, 2022). It was hosted on a new and efficient platform. The title of the Conference, Expanding Our Perspectives: Revitalizing Inner Resources, was fitting for these challenging global circumstances. To offer tools for how to navigate current crisis effectively, by focusing inward, was appropriate indeed to the moment.
Listening to the various presenters gave insights into ways towards resilience and hope. All were creatively applying IFS in various settings, to help bring about healing and wellbeing.
Katie Nelson, MBA, CEO of IFS Institute, said:
Our 2022 Conference had two, supporting themes – expanding perspectives and building inner resources. Over 30 presenters, many first time presenters, brought us insights into the expansion of the model into new countries, new cultures and new fields, including deeply inspiring panel sessions such as “Bringing IFS to the World” and “IFS in the Lives of Men from the Global Majority.” The model is a living one, and as the use of the model expands into new systems and cultures, our goal at the Institute is to hold important conversations about how to assure the fundamental principles of the model are in place. We want to maintain the integrity of the model, while allowing space and adaptation to different cultural and community contexts. This is such an important area of exploration now. It was inspiring to hear the many stories on the growth of the model at the Conference. The conference is also a time of reflection and renewal and an opportunity for all of us to take a pause and bring awareness to our own practices and uses of the model. We listened to those with deep expertise on topics such as “Creating Healing Circles,” “Writing as a Path to Self Energy” and “An IFS Informed Approach to OCD.” We were delighted that over 1800 people attended the conference and we are looking forward to the in-person conference next year in Colorado, where we will celebrate the 40th year of the model!
The new record number of people registered for this year’s conference demonstrates the already acknowledged, steadily growing interest in IFS. The registration figure indicates that the program and themes which the conference highlighted – across a variety of communities and populations – resonate with those interested and involved in the IFS modality.
Let’s look a bit more closely at two of the many presentations which linked directly to the theme of expanding perspectives and revitalizing inner resources. First up, in the session titled ‘Applying IFS to Interpersonal and Systemic Transformation Work’, Dick Schwartz introduced Karl Steyaert (therapist and founder of the Cultural Catalyst Network) and Jenna Knapp (peacebuilder and one of the creators of Nueva Esperanza). Both Steyaert and Knapp are social activists committed to the use of IFS to approach global issues of social justice and power imbalance. In particular, Jenna Knapp spoke about how her awakening came when she realised American tax dollars have been used over the years to fund violence in El Salvador. She shared with us her privileged, but in many ways, ordinary upbringing in the US. Knapp noted that her parents encouraged in her commitment to social justice and global awareness. Through her involvement in youth and adult detention centres and prisons in El Salvador, and in her journey to connect with community healers and be part of the local healing process there, she discovered that IFS was a model which resonated strongly with those with whom she was working. Additionally, Knapp also commented on the role of IFS in supporting her own curiosity, courage, and connection.
In the face of overwhelming adversity, Karl Steyaert noted the importance of individual pieces of work which can accumulate and contribute to a greater sense of hope and possibility. Steyaert introduced his work with the Cultural Catalyst Network – an organisation focused on exploring ‘how to address the complex social and ecological challenges of our time, through whole-person and whole-system transformational learning and action’. In particular, he showed a video of an activist called Chi – who is diligently applying principles of IFS to individuals and organisations in Hong Kong, with great success. Chi talked about how applying the basic processes of recognising our protective parts allows us to engage in activism from the inside out, shifting from hatred and enmity to compassion and hope. The links between expansion and inner resources were discussed. They highlighted the basic IFS principle of going inside and supporting our own parts, thus providing a shift or an ‘operating manual’ to facilitate external connection, clarity, and change.
In another presentation ‘The Self Led Mediator: Using IFS in Dispute Resolution’, David Hoffman also expanded, in a different way, our perspectives. Hoffman is a lawyer and mediator who uses IFS in his work. He started his session by outlining the somewhat uneasy history between psychotherapy and law – a history he is fully engaged in changing for the better. Hoffman noted that strong emotions often infiltrate the mediation space and it is the mediator’s role to figure out how to work with these emotions. IFS is the perfect model to facilitate this, he says. Hoffman illustrated the importance of not treating emotion as the enemy – instead he utilized IFS language to reframe strong emotions as “trailheads.” With specific regard to mediation and negotiation, he also noticed the tension between winning and losing and pointed out that in many situations, it’s not enough for us to win – it can also be important to us that the other party loses. However, while elements of competition and social hierarchy present frequently in his practice as a lawyer, Hoffman talked about humans having cooperation embedded into our psyche, rewarded with a range of enjoyable neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin. Indeed, he said, people can sometimes vacillate from one meeting to the next between needing to win the case on the one hand, and wanting to settle on the other. Hoffman became curious about this and engaged in a crucial reframe – these are just peoples’ parts. This allowed him to fully harness the IFS paradigm in his work as a lawyer and mediator.
Hoffman noted that many lawyers will notice these (sometimes) “difficult” parts in their clients and be tempted to pathologize them as a problem or even a mental disorder. But the power of IFS is that it explicitly allows for a non-pathologizing view of parts. This facilitates, Hoffman suggested, a decoupling of the constructs of problem and psychopathology – or as he put it “while mediation is not therapy, it can be therapeutic.”
Shaun Dempsey, PhD is Deputy Editor of PARTS & SELF, a Level 3 Certified IFS therapist and Clinical Psychologist in Australia