nancy sowellThis week’s podcast is an interview with Nancy Sowell, an Internal Family Therapist (IFS) lead trainer and clinician who worked with Dr. Nancy Shadick, a rheumatologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, to create an IFS intervention program for rheumatoid arthritis patients to be studied in a randomized controlled trial. This research study provides the basis for which IFS has been listed in the National Registry of Empirically Based Programs and Practices (US).

Nancy and I first discuss how IFS significantly helped people with Chronic Pain and then go on to consider what this might mean for others.

In the clinical work Nancy undertook, patients were encouraged to follow IFS’s methodology, working with what she calls “stoic parts”; the parts that have learned to push on through pain, to cope, to isolate the Self from the world around, ignoring their body’s warning signs.

Through the lens of IFS, patients were encouraged to turn their thoughts inwards, exploring their relationship with their stoic parts, no longer pushing them away.

Over time, this process seemed to help patients become more in touch with their Self, more connected, developing what Nancy refers to as “Self compassion”. Patients began to connect internally, understanding their feelings and the ways in which parts were acting out.

As a result, the patients began to acknowledge their pain and connect with their feelings, learning when:

  • not to push their bodies too far
  • not to tune out
  • to better connect with those around them, daring to ask for help.
  • Self compassion, facilitated by IFS, became a way for patients to – if not heal themselves – live fuller, more connected lives with those around them.

Our discussion then turns to how this approach is equally as important for those of us who are in limited relationships, where we are unable to connect in a truly loving way. Perhaps we experience our partner or friends as seeking to be “too close”, preferring removing ourselves from closeness, isolating ourselves within.

I believe that this lack of connectedness to the Self can lead to pain, depression, feelings of sadness, to lack of contentment. We can’t go back in time to heal the relationships or events in our lives that gave rise to the stoic parts that flood many of us, just as those suffering from Chronic Pain cannot magically wipe physical pain away. But with IFS, we can work to better connect with ourselves on the inside, helping to heal ourselves and in turn perhaps connect better with those around us.