Dr. Flo looked up from the book she was holding and noticed the trembling in her hands. “My God!” she exclaimed, shaking her head slowly from side to side in what was likely best described as shock. “How surreal is this,” she couldn’t get over it. She allowed the book she had been reading for the past several hours slip from her fingers onto the floor, and she buried her face in her hands and sighed. If Someone had been standing over Dr. Flo’s shoulder, they might see a portion of the title of the book lying cockeyed on the floor: Internal Family Systems Therapy by Richard C. Schwartz they might have read.
What am I going to tell the others?! was the first thought she had. Who in the heck am I?! was the second.
The question “Who am I?” rang in her ears, and she experienced the quite unsettling feeling that it may be ringing there for eons without an answer.
Dr. Flo flashed back to the innocent scrolling of social media that had led her to purchase and open this book. A question posted in one of the therapist groups she belonged to on one of the social media platforms she occasionally perused had led her to become curious. The post read, “What alternatives to DBT are there for supporting folks with Borderline Personality Disorder?” Someone in the group had commented on the post with the following: “I think IFS or parts work is more affirming than DBT.”
Reading this, Dr. Flo was both blown away and intrigued. DBT - Dialectical Behavior Therapy - had been one of her go-to best practices theoretical fallbacks for almost 20 years now. What is IFS? she thought. Parts work? she further mused with confusion.
Cut back to the present moment, the book still on the floor, Dr. Flo sat frozen in her chair with shock and awe.
“Flo?” Zofia’s worried tone thawed Dr. Flo from her paralysis, and she quickly bent down to pick the book up off the floor. Attempting to “hide the evidence” (“Evidence of what?” Flo thought), Flo made a movement to nonchalantly - she hoped - slide the book under the stack that took up consistent space on her kitchen table. Not to mention the couch. And her bedside table. Maybe I ought to consider checking out one of those Workaholics Anonymous Meetings sometime soon, Flo noted the thought and went back to attempting to distract Zofia from asking any questions about the book.
No such luck to be had as Zofia was not the type to be easily led off the scent when even the hint of mystery showed up. “Dr. Flo, my dear, what was that book you just picked up off the floor?” Zofia asked, a hint of mischievousness in her voice. Uh oh, thought Flo, recognizing the few choices she had at this point, none of which she was particularly fond of.
“Damnit, okay, well, um, er…” Dr. Flo stammered. “Well, I, uh, you see, um…” Flo continued.
Zofia pointed at the stack of books in front of Flo, requesting permission to look for herself. Dr. Flo sighed again and this time nodded, reaching for the book, her hands still shaking intermittently. Flo pulled the book back out from underneath the pile and began to hand it to Zofia. “Hang on, let me turn to the very first page of the Preface. That’s probably the best place to start getting an idea of what’s going on with me here,” Flo said.
Zofia nodded with understanding and decided to take a load off, sitting down at the kitchen table with Flo, moving aside several journals, several piles of books, an Iphone holder, a desk calendar, and several coasters and placemats. Looks like Flo could use some help increasing the frequency of top-line behavior around cleaning and organizing, Zofia thought to herself, knowing better than to dare say a word about that right now.
Dr. Flo opened the book to the appropriate page and handed it to Zofia. “Would you mind reading it out loud?” Flo asked. “I’m having trouble believing that what I think those words are saying are actually there on that page. Help me with a bit of a reality check?” Flo requested of Zofia.
Happy to oblige, Zofia first lifted the book to her nose, taking in a big whiff. She had always loved the smell of books and took every opportunity she could to sniff them, especially ones she was meeting for the first time. Olfactory system satisfied, Zofia began to read out loud from the book, “The family therapy movement, which viewed extreme individual behaviors in the context of the larger system, liberated the field of mental health to focus on context and relationships. Internal Family Systems (IFS) takes this perspective further by viewing the psyche as a relational milieu that is populated by independent entities. IFS guides us to be curious about the motives and interactions of this inner populace, who have their own stories to tell.”
Unfazed by what she had read, Zofia looked up from the page. “Okay, I can’t say I understood any of that. Help me get what’s upsetting you about that?” Zofia asked Dr. Flo.
“Ha! Oh yeah, okay,” Dr. Flo laughed nervously and kicked back in her chair, rubbing her arms for self-soothing purposes and taking a deep breath. “I’m not really sure anymore actually. Now that you mention it, I think I might have been overthinking it,” Flo said. “No big deal really.”
“Alright, Flo,” Zofia looked puzzled but accepted Flo’s explanation. “Well, let me know if it starts stressing you again and you want to talk more about it, okay?” Zofia put a hand on Dr. Flo’s shoulder. “I’m here for you, friend,” Zofia said. “Thanks, Zofia,” Flo replied, reaching up to pat Zofia’s hand with gratitude. “I’m just going to sit with us by myself for a little while. I’ll make sure to let you know when I’m ready to talk more about it.”
Hesitating briefly to make sure everything was relatively okay with Flo, Zofia was gone as quickly as she had arrived.
“Thank God,” Flo whispered to herself. I’m going to need way more time alone to process this before I’m ready to share it with anybody, she thought, moving over to the couch and making sure to get herself extra comfortable before plunging back into what appeared to be akin to the wardrobe door in C.S. Lewis’ most popular book.
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