Individual Therapy

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?


When working with clients I think in terms of



The following series of questions is my scaffolding for tracking process/how in an IFS session. Almost no IFS session will simply run through these question in exactly this order. We will take several side trips as we get to know whatever parts show up. After each side trip, I return to my scaffolding.


What’s the story of the situation?

There’s a door here to go deeper and learn about your system. Do you want this door? Or is there something more important you’d like to focus on?

FOCUS (in your body)

What's the first moment you realize that you're struggling?

Now drop your attention in your body and notice:  How do you know you're struggling?  What's happening inside that you know something's up? 

Location: Face, Jaw, Throat, Shoulders, Chest, Belly

Sensation: Heavy, Tight, Hollow, Twisting, Piercing, Aching

Is this okay to feel?  Or is it too much? 

FRIEND - A PROTECTOR (usually first)

As this is the most common side trip in IFS, I’m including it here. Once in a great while (and more and more as you work with your system) you will get immediate access to an exile (tender/vulnerable emotions), if that happens you can skip down to FRIEND - AN EXILE. Otherwise:

Turn your attention towards those sensations and SEE if you can welcome them.  Is it okay to let this touch your nervous system?

Notice how this part responds to your welcoming. 

Is it okay?  Skeptical, rejecting, wary, angry, glad, relieved, confused,

Notice how you feel towards this part.

+ Irritated, scared, sad, embarrassed?

+ Warm, expansive, peaceful, loving?

+ Impatient?

+ Curious?

If you're feeling anything other than warm, expansive, peaceful, loving, OR curious.  See if those other parts are willing to step back so you can get a really good connection with the first part.

IF those parts won't step back, maybe they need to warn us about being in contact with these parts or sensations. We want to hear every single detail of that warning. We never ever gatecrash parts. This is hands down the most common (and necessary) side trip.


It can take several sessions to get here, so be patient. We never ever want to gatecrash protectors. Protectors take up their posts for good reason (even if those reasons are far away in the past) and they are fiercely loyal. Our first priority is to HONOR and validate those reasons as real (even if we don’t know what they are yet) and work to EARN (not demand) the trust of the protectors. Protectors will step back when they’re ready. That’s when we get access to the exile.

When the protector relaxes or steps aside, notice what you find.

The goal of exile work:

I'm not trying to fix, or change, or give myself a new experience. 

I'm not trying to change my emotions. 

I'm not trying to get happy or okay. 

I'm simply here to love whatever I find. 

When I love whatever I find, the system relaxes and the evolutionary wisdom baked into emotion begins to run its course and metabolize whatever experience I have already had.  In this culture we tell people to "let it go."  My lived experience is that when we are warm and gentle, present and open to whatever discomfort shows up, emotions and pain and


The body/mind returns ITSELF to calm. 

 Whatever you find, notice if you are able to

Welcome that?

Love that?

Make “inner” eye contact with that?

Move closer to that?

Let that touch your nervous system?

And notice (this is important) if the part can take in

Your Welcome

Your Love

Your Eye contact

Your Presence

Your Support

Or if this part is skeptical or wary


Once you have a connection, ask this part

Is there anything you wish I understood or knew about you? about your experience? about your job?

Is there anything/any part of your life or your experience in me, you'd like witnessed?

Keep beaming your love and offering your much bigger nervous system to the part, “I didn't understand before, but I do now.  You've been down here so long and you don't have to be alone anymore.  I'm here now.  I'm with you.” 

References: Find, Focus, Friend, Flesh Out are terms introduced in IFS 1 training.