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IFS Integral Therapy

Access your Authentic Self, Relax and Transform your Defenses,
Heal your Inner Child

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond. 



Updated: Apr 9, 2023

I remember as a young adult hearing that it was a good idea to count to 10 before responding to a situation or words that were triggering. In the 21st century there has been the admonition to not hold your breath. And this decade has been the years of focusing on your breath. They even have schoolchildren doing this easiest form of meditation. But what else can you do besides count to 10, not hold your breath and focus on your breath to help turn reactions into responses that encourage relationship engagement? That is where The Pause comes in.

In the Internal Family Systems model, what I call The Pause is called The U-Turn. It is an excellent term that clarifies the necessity of going inside and going a different direction, rather than moving forward with whatever forward momentum has been triggered by the events in front of me. I like to call the U-Turn “The Pause” with my clients, however, because it sounds more personal and less likely to get a traffic ticket. Also, there are some aspects to The Pause that are not as well explained by the term U-Turn.

While it is true that a zinger in response to someone’s catty, abusive or assaulting remark always seems to work in rom-coms, rarely is it a good idea in real life. A bit of humor that engages the Other is often helpful, but what to do after that still requires The Pause. And if you are like me, you might need the pause to think up the humor. Of course then there’s the question of timing etc, so unless humor comes naturally to you, I suggest you wait until it comes naturally. I have found personally that several great responses start to come naturally when I practice The Pause daily, hourly, sometimes minute by minute.


The Pause is a metaphor for stopping. It is not freezing, for it need not last more than a few seconds, but it can last a lot longer too. The main point is that it is not going anywhere. It is not even “going inside” yet. It is just stopping. When we stop, we are able to be present. We can take in the moment and listen to all the factors that are in play. We are still looking at the other people and events in our environment. We can hear our inner voices without having to respond to them yet. And we can feel the sensations in our body that have been activated by the present moment we find ourselves in.

The Pause is what happens at the beginning of meditation, it is a sitting down, right where we are, in the seat of our authentic Self (as Gabor Mate calls it), the Self (as IFS calls it), the present-self-energy (my name for it), or the Atman in HIndu Yogic spirituality and many other names for the essential me. When we allow ourselves to be present and our awareness is coming from our present-self-energy there is more chance to be able to observe all the elements of the outside world that are triggering (bringing up past feelings) or crossing boundaries (unacceptable behaviors of others or situations we find ourselves in, in the present). This awareness then gives us the opportunity to respond instead of react.


Practicing The Pause is like lifting weights. Over time The Pause helps our reactions (flabby reactions gravity) transform into mature responses (directed intentional muscle strength). This exercise of strengthening our psyche might take just a few seconds, for a few times over a period of a week or it may take one long hour, numerous times over a period of months or possibly even years. It all depends on each specific occasion that requires The Pause.

When you have stopped with The Pause, the next step is to listen. Sometimes there is only a little whisper of concern that reminds you not to react an eye for an eye when an immature colleague says something critical about your work. Other times there might be a significant change in the behavior of your partner that requires long listening to the different parts of you that feel reactive, before you can feel sure about the best response. So listening is the greatest value of The Pause, after stopping momentum. Listen to the people around you in the situation and related to the situation. Listen to your body. Listen to your feelings. Listen to your thoughts. The exciting thing is that you will become more adept at The Pause as you practice it and you will develop natural responses to specific situations and relationships that are appropriate and mature.


The basic idea of The Pause is simple: Stop. Listen. And sometimes its application is short and pithy and immediately helpful. Other times The Pause is basically an extended meditation that can last for years. It is my understanding of “being present”. “Just be” is another popular way of explaining The Pause. I have spelled it out in detail, so that it is clear exactly what can be done to develop maturity in the psyche.

During my training as a therapist I was in a session role play where I talked about my grief over the loss of a close family relationship. I cried a bit, which was one of the benefits of going to school to be a therapist. Then I asked my “therapist” what he thought was going to help heal that pain. He said, “I think this is it. The sitting and listening to those feelings. Giving them space. Honoring them”. So that is the ultimate result of The Pause. It is the opportunity for our feelings to be heard. Of course our thoughts, judgments, beliefs, external experiences, bodily reactions are also heard. But after those are all acknowledged and thanked for their messages to us, it is when the feelings are simply listened to, accepted, allowed to feel that healing and maturing occurs. However long it takes, once a feeling has felt completely heard and seen, it will integrate into our psyche and allow us to not be stuck in the past, triggered by current events. These heard feelings will also bring a strength to the present that allows us to respond to adverse circumstances or adversaries right now. The Pause is the way we can finally grow up.

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Updated: Mar 15, 2023

The U-Turn

Paradoxically the Interdependence of the couple is both what makes a relationship great and what can trip up or even ruin the couple. This is because of the First Responder Rule. What is the First Responder Rule? Basically every person is the first responder for their own pain. So when someone feels an emotional activation, it is important for that person to make a U-turn and to evaluate what is going on inside and what does that injured or defensive part of them need in order to feel better and be able to continue on the journey of life.

The First Responder

Our feelings come up precisely because they want attention. And although they may ask for attention from another person, someone else is not going to be able to give them everything that they need. Emotions are triggered because of a past hurt around the kind of situation that came up in the present or sometimes because of a current lack of provision for this current situation. Usually it is because of something neglectful or abusive in the childhood, though not always intentional on the part of the parents. Sometimes it is a current trauma. Often it is a current trauma that triggers an ancient trauma. The trauma experienced can be from caregivers, peers, siblings, the political or social environment, strangers, extended family, economic situation, spiritual abuse or any number of environmental factors. Because the present-Self needs to be there, witness, see and hear the pain or concern of the triggered part that is usually quite young, or at least younger and stuck in the past, we call that present-Self the “First Responder”. This means that every other person in relationship with the First Responder is not a First Responder. So the client’s partner will be the “Second Responder”.

Second Responder

What do “Second Responders” do? They help the First Responder however they are able to (considering their own boundaries and constraints) in the ways that the First Responder asks for help. They don’t fix the First Responder, they don’t criticize the triggered part and they can’t do everything that the First Responder needs to be done. A Second responder can model a compassionate attitude toward the triggered part and can ask questions of the triggered part to get to know it better. This is what a therapist and some emotionally intelligent partners, parents, friends or mentors will do. But we are the only one who will be able to bring a traumatized part out of the past and into the present, where it can release its burdens of pain and defensiveness and live in its intended developmental role of playfulness, laughter, freedom and peace. When the First Responder goes inside and pays attention to their feelings, they will sometimes be able to tell anyone else around them that they need some time alone and that they will be back at a later time. Sometimes they need to just acknowledge the inner emotion, and ask that emotion to wait for a later time to have a discussion. And then that discussion needs to happen.

Inner Parts-Work in IFS Integral Therapy

In IFS Integral therapy, the therapist facilitates the clients’ learning how to dialog with those inner parts. Eventually this becomes a practice that can be done in between sessions. And the goal is that a client will learn how to help their inner parts heal and integrate into the present time on their own, leaning on the client’s own present-Self to care for it.

Updated: Jul 17, 2023

A metaphor used in IFIO Couples

Counseling is the “Second Responder” role of a partner. This is because each partner is meant to be the “first responder” of their own needs. This has two main effects on the relationship and relational difficulties. The “first responder” to their own needs must take time to figure out what their needs are and then attend to those needs, before asking for auxiliary helpp for the needs they are not able to meet completely.

The “second responder” is meant to be available to provide support, but they are not in a position to either “fix” their partner’s needs by changing them or “save” their partner by meeting all their needs. The sorting out of needs often is helped by identifying likes and interests as well. This ultimately leads to an outline of a person’s authentic self. Another word for that outline is boundaries.

Defining likes, interests and needs (boundaries)

Boundaries is a word that is often defined incorrectly. My boundaries are not demands I make about your behavior. Nor are boundaries the bubble of space around me that I wish people not to cross. When I know my boundaries, I can ask you not to say or do t hings in my presence, but it is ultimately up to me if I am going to listen to you as you say or do those things. This is true for adults who are not stuck in an abusive relationship. Children who cannot remove themselves from interactions with caregivers need caregivers who will mirror their likes and interests so that a child develops a sense of self that can grow into an adult who knows their boundaries and has had basic psychological needs met already in childhood.

The autonomous adult, with at least enough agency to end a conversation or to walk into a different room is the person who can more easily define their own boundaries. Our boundaries are made up of our likes, interests and needs. The different things we like (for example, hiking a 2 mile flat loop, romantic comedies and steak) and our interests (possibly: psychology, spirituality, pickleball) define who we are as a unique person.

Our boundaries are merely the expressions of these likes and interests. When another person tries to control our likes or interests - either by gaslighting that denies our reality or by pushing us to do things we don’t like or are not interested in - that is crossing our boundaries. We will, of course, sometimes do things that are more the interest or liking of our partner. But if our activities always center around our partner, then our boundaries are not being respected and we are in an enmeshed relationship. 

Individuation is the process of determining our likes and interests and pursuing the means of fulfilling them. A balanced partnership, where there is significant overlap of likes and interests, will also have whole areas of the personality that are not the same. And this is often what makes the relationship more exciting and fun.  My partner’s difference makes them “novel” at times and this is the way that romantic fires are lit. Romance burns for the long haul with a safe and comfortable commonality, but then it is reignited when our partner is different enough that we can be excited by them.