In my experience, using Internal Family Systems therapy in conjunction with financial therapy is one of the more effective methodologies in helping clients resolve money issues. Now for the disclaimer. One, my conclusion comes from a sample group of one. Two, I am not trained or licensed in a broad range of therapeutic modalities. Yet I do have years of observation and experience working as a co-facilitator alongside other therapists. I have watched people progress a lot faster in resolving money issues using IFS. It’s why I developed what I call IFS Informed Financial Therapy.
I have seen this approach help people make measurable and specific changes in their financial behavior. They have successfully made conscious choices in taking actions around areas where they had been frozen in indecision.
In a previous podcast and post, I described a demonstration session with Helen Lees. I worked with her, using IFS, on an issue of repeatedly buying art supplies and tools that she stockpiled but never or rarely used. Typically, it can take weeks and months for a person, even using IFS, to get to the “aha” realizations behind a seemingly illogical behavior and then to modify the behavior. As with most therapy, there are not a lot of quick fixes.
But I was completely taken aback at how quickly Helen worked through the whole process of realizing that the part of her buying the supplies was protecting a wounded and exiled young part of her, for whom art supplies were a proxy for receiving her parents’ love. A single followup session with Helen, plus a series of emails she sent me in the weeks following, were strong evidence that she was experiencing a significant and apparently lasting shift in what had been a longtime pattern of problematic behavior.
And one of my reactions to this significant success was along the lines of, “Wait a minute, Helen. You’re not allowed to have this type of transformation from an interview that wasn’t even a full IFS session.” Obviously, this response reveals my own very rigid parts. I am an Enneagram type one, and we go by the rules.
What I also did not realize at the time, given my relative inexperience as an IFS practitioner, is that a lot of the steps of the IFS model can happen almost spontaneously. A seasoned practitioner would know that this is like any other skill: When you’re relatively new and you’re learning the steps, everything is kind of scripted and effortful. It’s similar to learning lines for a play or the notes to a piece of music. The more you practice the skill, the more you internalize it, so you don’t have to worry about following the steps or the script because the process just flows.
I also think that one of the most powerful aspects of IFS Informed Financial Therapy is that clients tend to respond very positively to learning that money beliefs or behaviors that appear to be bad or illogical are driven by parts motivated by really good intentions. Once they discover the positive intention behind that behavior, then the behavior makes perfect sense.
This understanding is really powerful because of the high level of shame that’s associated with money issues. It is profoundly healing to learn that problematic money behaviors are not character flaws. They are responses to trauma that were developed to protect against emotional pain. This insight goes a long way toward reducing the shame and self-blame around the behavior. It strengthens the hope and the belief that change is possible.
Check out The Financial Therapy Podcast by Rick Kahler concerning this topic.