How Applications of Psychological Theories Are Born – The Case of ArtIFS

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Inspiration is as much about timing and luck as it is about being prepared. After a psychology course in London which was slowly turning us into trained practitioners, we wandered through Tate Modern’s preeminent collection of contemporary art.

That afternoon, the art gallery transformed into a pretty fun place to play around with what we’d learned: imagine all the ways psychological concepts can be used to hilariously pass judgement on works of art and their creators! Although we weren’t obsessed with phallic shapes or subconscious incestuous attractions, Freud would definitely have been proud.

The name of the particular flavour of psychology we’re into is called Internal Family Systems (IFS). And joking aside, we actually tried not to judge the artworks or their creators, but instead let them win us over. We decided to see the art and its creators through the lens of IFS.

IFS could be considered the Dalai Lama of psychological theories. Created by an American ex-football athlete with 40 years of family therapy practice behind him, its emphasis is on acceptance, understanding, compassion – and results.

Applying IFS to Tate Modern was a humbling experience. Our discussions even managed to engage other visitors passing by us, perhaps inspired by our open curiosity about the reactions in our own minds and of what could have transpired in the artists’ psyches. Even art we may have previously disregarded as rubbish, or even thought was made by someone developmentally stuck at the age of seven, was allowed to open our eyes.

After that, we just had to explore the magic we’d found. Being spread out across Europe, we started to replicate that experience over video calls. We soon felt the need to go even further with the method and decided to join the artists. Instead of looking at their works, we made our own and started to look at our own creations instead.

Understandably, we quickly stopped evaluating things like artistic ability, results or tools used. Quite simply, we decided that any mark with a pen and a piece of paper would now be seen as a creative expression of value – there for us to be curious about.

Have you ever done something, be it “good” or “bad”, and just allowed yourself to smile and wonder… “Why ever did I do that?” Not to bring yourself down or to praise yourself, but just to understand yourself. That’s what we experimented with, over and over again, trying out different contexts, frameworks and mental models, until we found what seemed to work out the best.

Creatively enough, we decided to call our method of weaving art into each step of the IFS model – wait for it – ArtIFS.

In the work we’ve done with clients and small groups, we’ve found this way of applying IFS provides more than just feelings of emotional relief and an increased sense of capacity. Clients have reported a greater sense of calm, self-assurance and compassion towards themselves.

Participants of ArtIFS processes also tend to experience a raised awareness of seemingly unimportant information that just doesn’t surface in verbal conversations or traditional mind-mapping processes. It’s as if letting the mind become creative and non-judgmental allows the wise, but perhaps not so strong, voices to surface to our consciousness for consideration.

ArtIFS exercises are designed to surface, collect and unify a variety of factors already stored in clients’ minds into a coherent body of information. Linked with the analytical rigour and systemic nature of the IFS model, we help clients see and transform their own inner wisdom into concrete and empowered actions.

We, and our clients, find ArtIFS works well to untangle complex scenarios, improve decision making in our personal or professional lives and, in particular, to increase acceptance and openness to all of the different aspects that make up who we are.

Thanks for letting us share part of our journey with you! If you’re interested in ArtIFS and want to know more, we have some workshops coming up and accept appointments. Feel free to drop us a line anytime or subscribe to our mailing list here (no spam, we promise).

All the best,
Nadine & Andreas

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