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Religious Studies and Internal Family Systems Therapy

Issue: Vol 23 No. 3 (2020)

Journal: Implicit Religion

Subject Areas: Religious Studies

DOI: 10.1558/imre.41249


Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a psychotherapy modality that combines elements of systems theory with an experiential approach that rests on distinctions between Self and parts of self. Unlike more cognitive approaches such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and psychodynamic ‘talk’ therapies, IFS challenges traditional divisions between mind and body that have endured in both the treatment of psychological trauma and in the study of religion. This essay provides a summary of IFS as it is conceptualized by Richard Schwartz, Martha Sweezy, and Frank Anderson, and then critically identifies several significant religious resonances in its approach to mediating between a stable ‘Self ’ and parts of self that are partitioned by traumatic or overwhelming experiences. I conclude with the suggestion that the IFS approach to therapy and the discipline of Religious Studies mutually illuminate and challenge each other in their overlapping approaches to the problems of value-neutrality and normativity.

Author: Maxwell Kennel

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