Posted by: faithful | January 15, 2008

internal family systems scale details

Information Regarding the IFSSM Scale

Overview: This is a 57-item scale ( a = .98; item-to-total correlations: .44 to .85). It is a self-report measure scored on a 5-point Likert scale.

Purpose: To obtain a profile of the internal system based on the IFS conception of personality for clinical and research purposes. In IFS terms, the purpose is to answer these questions: What types of Parts are dominating the internal system? How extreme are they? How much access to Self is there at this time?

For: Ages 18 and older

Administration: Individual or group

Time: 15 minutes

Distribution: It is assumed that anyone administering this scale understands the IFS conception of personality.

Subscales: There are eight subscales of the most commonly found types of Parts, a summed Parts scale, and a Self scale:

Pl/Ab: Pleasing/Abandoned ( a = .89; item-to-total correlations: .59 to .78)

Ad/Im: Addictive/Impulsive ( a = .83; item-to-total correlations: .56 to .71)

Ax/Ps: Anxious/Pessimistic ( a = .89; item-to-total correlations: .60 to .76)

D: Dissociating ( a = .86; item-to-total correlations: .57 to .79)

Ex: Exiles ( a = .96; item-to-total correlations: .79 to .87)

R: Raging ( a = .84; item-to-total correlations: .63 to .73)

SC: Self-critical ( a = .87; item-to-total correlations: .51 to .76)

SH: Self-harming ( a = .93; item-to-total correlations: .77 to .87)

P: Parts ( a = .98; item-to-total correlations: .44 to .85)

S: Self ( a = .93; item to total correlations: .70 to .80)

Interpretation of Subscales:

Pl/Ab (Pleasing/Abandoned): These are the Parts (usually Managers) that focus on anticipating what other people want. They are anxious to please, and anxious about being criticized, rejected, or abandoned.

Ad/Im (Addictive/Impulsive): This subscale reflects Parts (usually Firefighters) that use various kinds of addictive strategies (such as alcohol, drugs, sex, spending, impulsive behaviors, stealing, eating, etc.) to distract from, or numb out, the Exiles. Feelings of being out of control are common.

Ax/Ps (Anxious/Pessimistic): These are the Managerial Parts that are always “on guard.” They keep other people at a distance, have a hard time trusting, are uncomfortable with intense emotions, and won’t allow themselves to hope (due to fears of being disappointed). It is extremely important for a clinician to gain the trust of these Parts in order to be able to progress in the work.

D (Dissociating): These are the Parts (Managers and Firefighters) that protect the system by disconnecting from thoughts, feelings, the body, and threatening situations (which obviously may include therapy). This includes a wide range of behaviors, including foggy thinking, “blipping out” or “disappearing” oneself, and experiencing oneself outside one’s body.

Ex (Exiles): These are the Parts that are feeling fragile, helpless, hurt, sad, hopeless, scared, in pain, powerless, alone, worthless, etc. These are the most commonly found sorts of Exiles in a traumatized system. It must be kept in mind, however, that any Part (strong, independent, artistic, angry, etc.) may be exiled if it is shamed, frightened, or devalued by the familial or cultural context.

R (Raging): These Parts feel irritable and angry. Raging Managers attempt to control others with their irritability or the threat of rage. Raging Firefighters flare into rage when threatened, frustrated, or hurt.

SC (Self-critical): These are the internal voices that criticize the individual, that “beat her up,” that say she could have done better, etc. They are often protecting Exiles that feel unworthy.

SH (Self-harming):*Please note: any individual with a Self-harming (SH) score over 5 should be carefully assessed for self-harming behaviors, including suicidality. These Parts can be either Managers or Firefighters. The Firefighters may use self-harming (e.g., cutting or head-banging) in order to distract from the pain that the Exiles are holding. The Managers may use the possibility of suicide as a “last line of defense” in order to protect the individual from pain if it is perceived that there no other way. It is essential for the clinician to honor these Parts, to understand their protective role, to negotiate with them, and to give them hope that there is a different way to be safe from the pain.

P (Parts): This scale sums the totals of all eight Parts subscales, and gives a general indication of how strongly the internal system is dominated by Parts, compared to others in this relatively high-trauma population.

S (Self): This scale reflects the degree of access that the individual currently has to the IFS concept of “Self” compared to others in this relatively high-trauma population. A factor analysis supported the IFS theoretical concept of Self, i.e., that Self is a separate dimension, not simply an absence of Parts nor a reversal of the Parts dimension. Two dimensions of Self were revealed. The first factor (Self-Qualities) contained items relating to the experience of being “in Self,” i.e., feeling calm, balanced, worthy, connected, confident, joyful, peaceful, etc. The second factor (Self-Leadership) contained items relating to the ability to bring oneself back to balance when one has been hurt or stressed, i.e., the ability to resolve inner conflicts, to remain calm under pressure, to self-soothe, etc.

Norms: The internal reliabilities, factor analysis, and norms were based on a population of 1174 solicited through university classes, professional organizations, counseling clinics, and support groups for survivors of trauma and abuse. This population was predominantly female (77%), Caucasian (84%), and well educated (61% were college graduates). They ranged in age from 18 to 82, the average age being 40 (SD = 13.6). They came from all across the United States and Canada. Due to the manner in which participants were solicited (e.g., from counseling clinics and support groups for survivors of abuse), this was a relatively “high trauma” population. Forty-six percent identified themselves as having experienced “more or much more” trauma than most people, while 28% identified themselves as having experienced “less or much less” trauma than most people. Thus, it is important to note that, at this stage of the research, these norms are not based on a random population, although every effort was made to obtain as diverse a population as possible. Due to significant gender differences in means, separate norms and profile sheets are given for males and females. (These effects are the result of differences in reported levels of trauma rather than in gender differences per se; females reported significantly more trauma in their lives than males.)

Questionnaire : The scale consists of 57 statements. The individual is asked, on a 5-point Likert scale, how frequently he or she experiences various thoughts and feelings. Average time to complete: 15 minutes.

Score Sheet : There is one score sheet for both males and females. Enter the scores from the answer sheet in the correspondingly numbered spaces (they move down through the categories, roughly in order). Where a reversed (R) score is indicated (for example, in #12), enter the individual’s answer, then convert this original score as follows: 1 = 5, 2 = 4, 3 = 3, 4 = 2, 5 = 1. To get the Parts (P) score, sum the totals of the eight Parts subscales (all subscales except Self).

Profile Sheets : There are separate Profile Sheets for males and females. The High range is one standard deviation above the mean; the Very High range is two standard deviations above the mean. Because these norms are based on a relatively high-trauma population, any score above the mean (the dotted line) indicates a noteworthy dimension of the individual’s internal system. For example, if a female has an Addictive/Impulsive (Ad) score of 13 or 14, the presence of Addictive/Impulsive Parts should be assumed and taken into consideration, even though the score is in the “Average” range. The clinician will find that many of these Parts that have scores above the mean in the Average range will be “extreme” Parts, within the IFS meaning of that term. Virtually all scores in the High or Very High ranges indicate “extreme” Parts.

The Profile Sheets enable the clinician to see the pattern of the individual’s internal system, i.e., to see which types of protectors are dominating the system, how extreme they and the Exiles are, and how much access to Self there is at the present time.

The profile reflects Parts that the individual is at least minimally aware of. Parts that have been completely exiled (shut out of conscious awareness) will necessarily show a low score. In such cases the profile will often show an unusually low score on one scale while many or most of the other scores are high.

Researcher’s note: Feedback, suggestions, and questions are welcome, as is further research that would help to validate the scale. Please feel free to contact me via email at

Lia Fuller O’Neil, MS



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