Richard Schwartz — IFS, Psychedelic Experiences without Drugs, and Finding Inner Peace for Our Many Parts (#492)

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We are locking up these parts of us that are so wonderful and have so many talents… when they’re not locked up and when they’re not stuck in the past.

— Richard Schwartz

Richard Schwartz is on the faculty of the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

He began his career as a family therapist and an academic at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he discovered that family therapy alone did not achieve full symptom relief. In asking patients why, he learned that they were plagued by what they called “parts.” These patients became his teachers as they described how their parts formed networks of inner relationships that resembled the families he had been working with. He also found that as they focused on and, thereby, separated from their parts, they would shift into a state characterized by qualities like curiosity, calm, confidence, and compassion. He called that inner essence the Self and was amazed to find it even in severely diagnosed and traumatized patients. From these explorations, the Internal Family Systems (IFS) model was born in the early 1980s.

IFS is now evidence based and has become a widely used form of psychotherapy, particularly with trauma. It provides a non-pathologizing, optimistic, and empowering perspective and a practical and effective set of techniques for working with individuals, couples, families, and—more recently—corporations and classrooms.

Please enjoy!

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#492: Richard Schwartz — IFS, Psychedelic Experiences Without Drugs, and Finding Inner Peace for Our Many Parts
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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

SCROLL BELOW FOR LINKS AND SHOW NOTES…

Want to hear another episode that outlines effective paradigms for dealing with trauma and addiction? Listen to my conversation with Dr. Gabor Maté, in which we discuss investigating the causes rather than the consequences of addiction, the therapeutic value of psychedelics (including the right way and the wrong way to experience ayahuasca), why some powerful modalities aren’t for everyone, and much more.

#298: Dr. Gabor Maté — New Paradigms, Ayahuasca, and Redefining Addiction
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SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE

Disclaimer from Richard Schwartz: There is an on-going debate in the culture regarding the validity of recovered memories. While there is considerable evidence that recovered memories of abuse can be real, in some cases they are not. If such memories come to you, it is important to not act on them without corroborating evidence.

SHOW NOTES

  • After sharing my story of childhood abuse with the world, what has the aftermath been like? [08:24]
  • As a freshly graduated family therapist in the early ’80s, Richard shares how he first encountered the concept of “parts” that became foundational to IFS. [15:17]
  • I confess my initial resistance to IFS and how seeing its non-pathologizing methods put into action changed my opinion, and Richard speaks to why diverging from traditional therapy can be a hard sell. [22:34]
  • Richard gives us a brief conceptual overview of IFS so we can understand the context of terms like “parts” and “exiles” and “firefighters.” [29:03]
  • A note on how IFS prompts self-discovery in a way that some have only found through the use of psychedelics. [37:22]
  • For the sake of demonstration, Richard takes me through an IFS session to explore how I might move from a place of anxiety and fear to a place of trust and faith by addressing and getting to know the parts of me that stoke that anxiety and fear rather than trying to dismiss them. [39:54]
  • A post-game analysis of what we just experienced together — how becoming a compassionate witness to these traumatically burdened parts of ourselves and giving them a voice fosters much-needed self-empathy for the healing process to truly begin. [1:06:13]
  • How parts work can be applied to someone going through suicidal ideation. [1:09:48]
  • As psychologist Carl Rogers once said, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I change.” How does this relate to the IFS model, and what’s the step after this acceptance? [1:16:08]
  • While psychedelic experiences have proven therapeutically helpful for a number of issues including PTSD, they’re not suitable for everyone. But might it possible for IFS to help a prospective patient prepare for a psychedelic experience? What are the potential dangers? [1:17:31]
  • How can someone make IFS a daily practice? Richard gives us an example from his own life that took place right before this interview, and shares what a good check-in might look like. [1:23:42]
  • Couples in quarantine over the past year may have experienced what IFS would call a “protector war.” What is this and how would Richard help resolve it? [1:27:49]
  • What are trailheads, and how can they lead us toward a breakthrough? [1:34:20]
  • Richard’s recommended resources for someone looking to further explore IFS (these can be found at the top of the selected links above). [1:36:18]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:39:19]

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18 Replies to “Richard Schwartz — IFS, Psychedelic Experiences without Drugs, and Finding Inner Peace for Our Many Parts (#492)”

  1. Another awesome episode. My favorite part was realizing that I may have “exiles”. I have always had parts of me that seem to sabotage success and there’s a “rebel”, and a part that is resentful. I got the audio book and look forward to seeing if it helps me find my true Self. Thanks TIm! I appreciate all that you do!

  2. Incredibly brave for you to release this. I work with traumatized kids and I admite what you’re doing with this podcast. I’ve read Body Keeps the Score myself and I’m glad you’re spreading the word. Thanks for your tremendous courage.

  3. Thanks for creating and sharing… pretty earnest that he (Richard Scwartz) shared that even as a practitioner he too battles with his “parts” that he then has to address. “Be kind,” they say.

  4. Thanks for another fantastic episode. This one cut to the core. At the trail head, heading out… hopeful this is the journey for lasting change.

  5. IFS is amazeballs. All of my parts agree. Thank you, Tim, for bringing this important therapy for the masses. I agree with you that it works with those who aren’t super traumatized. I thought I was pretty evolved and “over” my own childhood sexual abuse but I didn’t realize I had parts of me who continued to step in and protect me in ways that were not needed nor wanted. I was able to do some parts work during your podcast and I had a lovely warm feeling of realness and light throughout my body. I’m 45 and I am still evolving and growing. Your podcast with Gabor Maté is another favorite. I am now a big fan of yours. When I read 4 hour workweek back in 2014, I thought you were a pompous ass just from the book. Now I freaking love you. Keep up the amazing self developmental work. You are changing lives! You are AWESOME!!

  6. Hi there! I’m trying to find a way to donate PT marketing help to MAPS. I’ve tried to reach out via their volunteer portal and haven’t gotten any traction so I’m taking a shot in the dark and coming here. I’d love to send my resume and info over to someone to see if there’s a way I can help in all ways (communication, fundraising, brand, digital, etc.). I assume you’ve got my email from commenting so please reach out if you can connect me with someone. Thank you!

  7. This podcast was MIND BOGGLING. Fantastic.

    Tim – you mentioned at one point that you don’t have ‘that many’ close friends, and then I think you said 8 or 10.

    Since the average number of “close friends” for older males in the U.S. is probably zero or 1 – would you consider doing another podcast on what we can do about this dilemma??

    1. I thought the same thing. Not just for males since it appears the loneliness epidemic is big and very real for all genders.

  8. I’ve been a long term follower and this episode was the first that moved me to tears. Your vulnerability is inspiring and presumably this episodes took a ton of courage. Thank you for helping people, including myself. This is important stuff that will help humanity as a whole.

  9. Another important and impressive episode. As a Hoffman grad, I see how IFS could enhance and further heal parts of ourselves we don’t even realize are in daily operation With or without the Hoffman experience, IFS is obviously a useful tool to becoming a “whole” person. I appreciated that Richard works on himself on a regular basis. And that you, Tim, were willing to put yourself in a vulnerable spot in order to illustrate the power of this system. At 64 I can say there is always an opportunity for growth. Keep up the great work TIm!

  10. Tim,

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! For being brave enough to go through the IFS exercise for your listeners. I followed along and also had my therapist guide me with similar questions and had the biggest breakthrough I’ve experienced in 8 years of therapy. I too struggle with anxiety that surfaces as a constriction in my throat. Through IFS, I was able to uncover a traumatic event that I had been protecting myself from and FINALLY move on from it after I was able to identify it.

    Loving the mental health focus. This is what the world needs!

    Shannon

  11. Hi Tim,
    Thank you for this episode with Richard Schwartz. I am so excited that so many more people will be exposed to the incredible work that he does. I am appreciative of your willingness to continually be vulnerable. I know from personal experience it is not easy. I too am a sexual abuse survivor. For me it was my father and I did not remember it until my late 20s when I got into recovery for food and sugar addiction. Who knew that I was hiding so much pain under an extra 160+ lbs.? I thought maintaining that kind of weight loss one day at a time would be hard, but here I am in my mid-40s and I am doing it. It pales in comparison to the gut wrenching process of freedom from the experience as a child and even more so the effects (i.e. coping mechanisms I developed to deal with it). I have to say that when you shared your sexual abuse story, there was a part of me that already knew. I have been a longtime listener and know from the recovery work I do with other survivors that we can almost pick each other out of crowd. Hearing your story I knew why it was when you would describe some of your psychedelic experiences I would think to myself: “Why would I do those substances? His experience sounds like a part of my continual process when I some old memories or deeper layers (or parts) present themselves to be healed.

    Most of all, I am grateful that there are others out there, like yourself, who are as committed to the freedom that comes from doing this kind of work. I believe that when one of us takes such a path we become a guiding light to others who do not think they can. It is not always easy, as I am sure you know. Sometimes I think it was easier being obese, toked out on sugar, depressed, and padded from feeling life but then I remember I do not have to believe everything I think, lol. Seriously, though, I know in my heart of hearts that walking through even the hardest parts of this process have freed my whole being body, mind, and spirit to find a sense of purpose, know joy, and has created a current of gratitude for being alive I did not know was possible. My guess is you might know some of that too and if not, just wait 🙂

    In case you have not yet grasped it, this comment is my way of saying thank you Tim. Thank you for being you, thank you for sharing who you are, and most especially thank you for being a light on the path for those who hide in the darkness not knowing to look for the little holes of light that poke through in the form of a voice of one who has been there too.

    Peace,
    Colleen Tracy

  12. The idea of ‘psychedelic experiences without drugs’ in the header got my attention immediately, and the notion of the ‘Self’ which emerges in IFS reinforced that this would be a very interesting episode.  Richard’s description of the Self as ‘the compassionate witness’ (about 69 minutes in) correlates remarkably with 2,500 years of contemplative literature which agrees widely that the fundamental mistake human beings make is to take themselves to be the subject of experience – the thinker, the feeler, etc. – rather than recognizing that what exists empirically is only experience itself – the thoughts, the feelings.  The true Self is the observer – the witness – of these thoughts and feelings; the subject who supposedly thinks and feels cannot be found when looked for with a robust enough attention (listen to #14 with Sam Harris).

    The experience that the thinker is an illusion is itself psychedelic, but it seems as though virtually no one realizes that the most advanced meditation masters have an experience that is yet much more psychedelic.  This is likely due to both reticence on the part of contemplative masters to speak of their own experiences (this is an explicit prohibition for Buddhists) and a lack of experience with psychedelic drugs as a basis of comparison as there are very few masters who grew up in Western society.  As one of presumably very few contemplative masters who have the perspective to speak to this, I can say that I am able to induce psychedelic visual hallucinations similar to those experience in a moderate dose of acid or mushrooms simply by staring at anything for a few seconds.  This is an ability that developed in proportion to my meditation abilities – obviously I experienced nothing like it prior to reaching a very high degree of mastery in meditation (just as a metric for this, I had already put a decisive end to my personal suffering before I became proficient in psychedelic practice).  Psychedelic visual hallucinations appear to be documented in advanced esoteric practices such as Tögal (part of Dzogchen training), but I don’t know of any Westerners who have spoken openly about such experiences.

    So indeed, ‘the Self’ is a psychedelic experience, and the more one experiences oneself as ‘the Self’ rather than taking oneself to be an inferred subject of experience, the more psychedelic things get.  I wish I had more space to go into detail.  

  13. Australia Melbourne’s St Vincent’s Hospital is turning to psychedelics to help the terminally ill. References the fine research at John Hopkins Institute

  14. JR

    Thank you for amazing insights and inspiration and here is somebody I have come across recently who could complement personal trauma exploration with his work on collective trauma.
    I will post below a little description from his website.
    His name is Thomas Hubl.
    Best wishes from Barcelona.

    Thomas Hübl is a renowned teacher, author, and international facilitator whose lifelong work integrates the core insights of the great wisdom traditions and mysticism with the discoveries of science. Since 2004, he has taught and facilitated programs with more than 100,000 people worldwide, including online courses which he began offering in 2008. The origin of his work and more than two decades of study and practice on healing collective trauma is detailed in his book Healing Collective Trauma: A Process for Integrating Our Intergenerational and Cultural Wounds.