In light of themes of great importance within the IFS community, to do with widening the lens of IFS and inclusion across the global majority, this research update will highlight some relevant IFS research published during the last year. This research widened the IFS research lens by expanding the predominantly Caucasian research populations to include African-American participants. This article will also highlight general gaps in IFS research, that future studies might address.
In June of 2022, authors Timothy Phillips, Ashley Rose and Morgan Lancaster Strickland published “The Mediating Role of Self-Leadership in the link between Racial Identity Attitudes, Mental Health Outcomes, and Race Related Stress,” in the International Journal of Systemic Therapy. In this article, the authors bridge the concept of Self-Leadership from the IFS model using concepts from research literature on Black racial identity development and mental health effects of racism. Specifically, they report on a survey study they conducted, to investigate the relationships between Self-leadership, mental health outcomes, race-related stress and racial identity attitudes among Black Americans.
In this article, the authors summarize the Expanded Nigrescence Model, developed in the last five years, based on the Nigrescence Theory of racial identity development for Black Americans, developed in the 1970s. Per this model, there are multiple stages (Pre-Encounter, Encounter, Immersion-Emersion, and Internalization), which lead to various identity clusters or Statuses (Assimilation, Miseducation, Self-Hatred, Anti-Dominant, Ethnocentricity, and Multiculturist Inclusive). These Statuses are associated with ethnic-racial salience (i.e., the degree to which one’s membership of an ethnic-racial group influences one’s daily decisions and life) and those that reflect Black acceptance, support psychological wellbeing.
Race-related stress, such as cultural, institutional or individual racism, negatively affects mental health. Higher levels of Self-leadership has been shown to be linked to lower levels of depression and anxiety (by IFS researcher Michael Fitzgerald, for example); so, Phillips and colleagues suggest a therapy that increases Self-leadership – such as IFS – might have the potential to attenuate negative mental health outcomes. Furthermore, it could diminish perceived stress among Black Americans, due to racism.
The purpose of Phillips et al.’s study was to lay the foundation for this hypothesis by investigating the role of Self-leadership in the relationships between key race-related variables and depression and anxiety. To the extent that Self-leadership mediates the relationship between the effects of racism on mental health, Self-leadership, they suggest, may be a candidate target variable to increase via interventions. This, with the goal of improving mental health outcomes among this specific population.
Phillips conducted an online survey study and analyzed responses from 79 black-identifying graduate students at predominantly White colleges. To measure racial identity attitudes, Phillips and colleagues asked study participants to complete the Cross Ethnic-Racial Identity Scale-Adult (CERIS-A). To measure Race-related stress, the Index of Race Related Stress- Brief Version (IRRS-B) was used. Phillips used the Beck Depression Inventory-II (BDI-II) to assess depression, the Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI) to assess anxiety, the Self Leadership Scale (SLS) to measure Self-leadership.
A caveat on the measure of Self-leadership: as defined by the IFS paradigm, this reflects the degree to which the qualities of Self (i.e. calm, clarity, compassion, connection, curiosity, creativity, confidence, and courage) are present and accessed. These authors and other authors conducting Self-leadership research make two seemingly obvious assumptions: that IFS interventions do indeed increase Self-leadership and that scales that measure Self-leadership can capture the qualitative changes that occur when clients connect with, unburden and heal their Parts using IFS. To date, no intervention studies have used these scales and therefore have not demonstrated that IFS sessions increase Self-Leadership as measured by the Self Leadership Scale (SLS) authored by Christyn Dolbier and colleagues, or as measured by Lia DeLand’s IFS Self Scale. Similarly, these measures have not yet been used in non-IFS intervention studies to address whether other interventions might also be cultivating Self-leadership, by increasing access to Self through other modalities. This is a research gap that can be addressed if researchers conducting clinical trials and case studies include these measures pre- and post-intervention, in the future.
With respect to the present study’s results, among this specific marginalized racial group, currently underrepresented in therapeutic literature, Phillips and colleagues replicated previous findings mentioned above, showing that Self-leadership was negatively associated with depression and anxiety. That is, among the Black American undergraduate students sampled in this study, the higher the levels of Self-leadership reported by them were, the lower their depression and anxiety scores were. Controlling for age, gender and sexual orientation in a multiple regression model, Self-leadership explained 65% of the variance in depression scores and 41% of the various anxiety scores.
With respect to race-related variables, the authors found that Self-leadership fully mediated the relationship between self-hatred and mental health outcomes. It partially mediated the relationship between multiculturalist inclusive beliefs (operationalized from the Expanded Nigresence Model described above) and distress, due to institutional racism experienced in their lifetime (a.k.a. systemic racism). For example, consistent with previous research, in a model controlling for age, gender and sexual orientation, self-hatred significantly predicted depression, such that higher levels of self-hatred predicted higher levels of depression. However, when Self-leadership was introduced into the model as a mediating variable, self-hatred significantly and negatively predicted Self-leadership. Furthermore, Self-leadership significantly and negatively predicted depression, but self-hatred no longer significantly predicted depression. Thus, Self-leadership fully mediated the relationship between self-hatred and depression.
Based on these findings of the mediating role of Self-leadership between these racial identity and racism variables and mental health outcomes, the authors conclude that cultivating Self-leadership among Black individuals may attenuate negative mental health outcomes associated with racism. Additionally, the authors call for more research with this population, such as a clinical trial of IFS for treating depression and anxiety among Black Americans.
Although not mentioned in the article, it is also important to note that because IFS therapy includes a process for healing legacy burdens, such as those carried by Black Americans, this lends further evidence that IFS might indeed be a promising treatment for this particular population. To date, only one clinical case study describing the use of IFS with an African-American client has been published (by Erica Wilkins in 2007, see citation below). Research on the efficacy of IFS for healing legacy burdens and for improving mental health outcomes, among populations experiencing race-related stress, could go a long way in supporting the dissemination of IFS to those who could benefit the most. Those interested in how IFS and Self-leadership can heal racial legacy burdens and bring calm to extreme beliefs and polarizations might enjoy this Innervention Panel hosted by the Foundation for Self Leadership, in 2020.
Readers interested in reading the entire article published by Phillips and colleagues in the International Journal of Systemic Therapy, and who do not have institutional access to the article behind the journal paywall, may request a copy from Morgan Lancaster Strickland, PhD, at email@example.com. Dr. Strickland was the faculty mentor for the first-author of this study, Timothy “Timmy” Phillips. A note about Timmy: Timmy died suddenly and shortly after completing this project and the writing of the manuscript. Dr. Strickland lovingly submitted this manuscript after his death. She described Timmy as embodying the Cs and Ps of Self-leadership and said he brought laughter, comfort and inspiration to all he encountered. Timmy was in the planning phase for his dissertation research. It was his intention to conduct a within-subjects clinical trial pilot study with pre- and post-test measures of self-report mental health and neuroimaging data, combining his experience in EEG data acquisition and subsequent ERP analysis, with his love for the IFS model. Without a doubt, Timmy would have made this happen. May his memory be a blessing and continue to bring comfort to his loved ones and inspiration to future IFS researchers.
See below for the full citation for this as well as additional articles related to the 2021 IFS Conference theme of “Widening the IFS Lens ” including voices from the global majority, transgender, and neurodiverse communities. Researchers interested in or currently conducting IFS research on any topic, including those related to racial legacy burdens, including voices from the global majority, are invited to connect with with Ilanit Tal, PhD, Assistant Director-Research at Research@FoundationIFS.org.
Phillips, T. K., Rose, A. L., & Strickland, M. L. (2022). The Mediating Role of Self-Leadership in the link between Racial Identity Attitudes, Mental Health Outcomes, and Race Related Stress. International Journal of Systemic Therapy, 1-21. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/2692398X.2022.2084316
Yong, A. G. (2020). Critical Race Theory Meets Internal Family Systems: Toward a Compassion Spirituality for a Multireligious and Multiracial World. Buddhist-Christian Studies, 40(1), 439-447. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/775616/summary
Wilkins, E. J. (2007). Using an IFS Informed Intervention to Treat African American Families Surviving Sexual Abuse: One Family’s Story. Journal of Feminist Family Therapy, 19(3), 37-53. https://doi.org/10.1300/J086v19n03_03
McVicker, S. A., & Pourier, W. (2021). Two Counselors Envision IFS (Internal Family Systems) Therapy for Addictions Treatment in Indian Country. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 39(2), 175-197. https://doi.org/10.1080/07347324.2020.1846479
Minaiy, C., Johnson, N., Ciochon, T., & Perkins, D. (2017). Adaptability of family therapy modalities in the treatment of lesbian and gay clients with Bulimia Nervosa. Contemporary Family Therapy, 39(2), 121-131. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10591-017-9410-5
DiGloria, J. (2019). Internal Family Systems therapy and mindful self-compassion: A pilot study of a treatment manual with same-sex couples. (Dissertation.) Alliant International University, Sacramento, CA. https://www.proquest.com/openview/4e63186d4af36e51d346aff6a62e8bd7/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=18750&diss=y
Ilanit Tal, PhD, is the Associate Director-Research at the Foundation for Self Leadership.