Locating a Trailhead and Contracting


An IFS session generally begins with someone telling a story about a time they felt triggered. The story may be important for you or the person to tell, but what we’re most interested in is the person’s RESPONSE to the trigger. How did they feel, what did they do or want to do, what thoughts did they think? how did their body move or change?

As they’re talking (or as you’re free writing if you’re doing this on your own) start listening/looking for a conflict. Maybe a split between what the person wants and what the person thinks they should be doing, or what they think others expect. Listen for:

  • Self-evaluations: “I hate that about me, why do I do that?”

  • Should or shouldn’t statements,

  • Catastrophizing, vs reality

  • Negative attributions from others: “She thinks/says I’m _____ (overt or implied that actually I’m different than she thinks)”

  • “I want to be in a different place, feel differently than I do.“

  • A sense of struggle between choices,

  • Linguistic juxtaposition indicators: “but,” “on the other hand,” “part of me wants x," part y,”

  • Two different I/ego states:

  • Commitments or solemn vow to never experience something ever again no matter what.  “I decided I would never let that happen again, never feel so trapped as I felt as a young person.”  (overt or implied but I need to do that or something bad will happen)

  • Commitment or solemn vow to never ever perpetrate against another what has been perpetrated against oneself.  “I will never be like my mother.” (overt or implied but I need to do that or something bad will happen).


Begin by just having a conversation in which you reflect back to your client what they said and felt using parts language and see how it lands.  "Sounds like a part of you was really angry and another part was sad.  Am I understanding?"

Do you want to change the way this ____ part takes over? 

So I'm wondering if you'd be willing to try something, an experiment.  Let’s see if we can get to know this _______ (feeling)

would it be okay if we went inside and got to know that part?

"How about if you close your eyes, and bring your attention to your body."  [Using INVITE language]

"Would you be willing to take a moment and go inside and see if you can find the part that is sad and grieving.  See if you can find that sadness in our body.  Now bring your attention to it."

It sounds like a part of you wants this, but another part is frightened.

What do you say to yourself?

Part of you says ___ Do you ever argue with this part?

Where on or in your body do you carry this feeling or thought?

Further questions you might ask:

  • Can you remember a moment recently that this was very present?

  • How do you feel as you talk about this right now?  How is it for you say these things aloud. 

  • Focus on the body sensations and I want you to notice if there is an image associated with it.

  • Focus on that thought (feelings or phrases) 'we're not connected,'  'we're not connected.'  Keep focusing on that thought.

    • And now I want you to, as you focus on that phrase, notice what happens in your body. 

    • And just report it out as you notice. 

  • So you're noticing [repeat it all back]. 

  • Good so now I want to you focus on the body sensations (list them all again) and I want you to notice if there's an image associated with it OR

  • Imagine that you can take the part of you that feels (list them all again) and lift them up and out of your body and then set them next to you. 

  • What do you see?

  • How do you feel towards this part of you?