Internal Family Systems and Pixar's Inside Out: Interview with Arthur Mones

Pixar’s upcoming film, Inside Out, explores the emotional struggles of 11 year old Riley, as she adjusts to her new life in San Francisco when her family moves from the Midwest. With Riley’s emotions—Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger, and Fear—as the audience’s guide, a journey through the mind of a child and the pitfalls of adolescence are succinctly told.

Inside Out employs methods of the Internal Family Systems Therapy Model used by Routledge author Arthur Mones in his recent title, Transforming Troubled Children, Teens, and Their Families.

Read the interview with Arthur to learn more about his title and its connection to Inside Out, in theatres June 19th.

Interview with Arthur Mones, author of Transforming Troubled Children, Teens, and Their Families

How can your book help clinicians working with children?

My book is aimed at clinicians— psychologists, social workers, family therapists, school counselors, and psychiatrists. The book presents a conceptual map for understanding symptoms as a child’s way of adapting to their family, school, peer group, and society. Instead of a “diagnosis”, I offer the “Functional Hypothesis”, that is, a way to understand that a child or teen is navigating and surviving in their particular world. An example would be in dealing with an overly aggressive young man. His Functional Hypothesis as translated to his parents: Your child’s aggression is an attempt to protect against an underlying sense of vulnerability. I noticed that it is a bit difficult to express fear and sadness in this family. If you allow me, I will help to re-balance these emotions for your child and the family. Treatment strategies flow directly from this understanding. The new, creative movie by Pixar, Inside Out, depicts how various feelings or internal emotional parts of child and parents become entangled to produce misunderstandings, thereby creating escalating difficulties and negative, vicious cycles.

How is IFS different from other modes of healing?

The Internal Family Systems Model, as created and developed by Richard Schwartz, Ph.D., is unique in that it accepts all emotions/survival strategies of youngsters and all emotions/survival strategies of parents and siblings and finds the natural source of Healing and compassion that all human beings possess internally, called “Self” in this model. When the Self is brought into a leadership position, emotional pain from past trauma can be comforted and unburdened, thereby freeing all family members to interact in supportive and loving ways.

How do parents and siblings expectations for a child and reactions to a child’s behavior stand to affect that child’s mental health and wellness?

Parents begin with high expectations as they bring their child into the world. When some of these expectations are not actualized, disappointment and disillusionment ensue. Parents will tend to employ Manager Parts (e.g., trying to change their child) or Firefighter Parts (e.g., distancing /giving up on their child) to deal with their feelings of emotional pain. This sets in motion an emotional choreography that leaves the child feeling not accepted “as is” which in turn leads to the construction of child’s own internal Manger and Firefighter Parts in order to cope with feelings of rejection and abandonment.

How can parents and siblings support a child doing through a difficult time, like transitioning to living in a new place, parental divorce or separation, etc.?

When a family goes through a life transition, such as moving to a new city, like the main character in Inside Out, the most powerful thing they can do is talk and accept the entire range of emotions from their children: fear of the unknown and facing a new peer group, new school, new neighborhood, new home, etc. It will be likely that parents are also going through much anxiety and uncertainty about the changes occurring. Modeling the expression of their own feelings will be invaluable to their kids.

How does Inside Out illustrate IFS?

Pixar’s Inside Out very creatively illustrates the Internal Family Systems Model. With the help of animation and celebrity voiceovers, we see the various emotions (also known as Parts) and how they interact with each other, in a space called Head Quarter. We can also see how complicated things can get when the Parts interact externally, with among family members. My book and therapy gamepresent a way for therapists to map these complicated interactions and to create healing strategies for moving the family dynamics toward healthy relations.

What do you hope bringing the principles of IFS to a large audience through movies like Inside Out brings to the conversation regarding child mental health?

I am very excited about this new movie. It will be great for the general pubic to view the complexities of the thinking and feeling systems that exist when family members try to communicate. The words said to one another are only the very tip of the iceberg. If kids and their parents can ask each other, “what are your thoughts and feelings underneath the yelling or underneath the silence or underneath the frown on your face,” we will begin a journey towards greater understanding that leads to emotional healing, one family at a time.

  • Transforming Troubled Children, Teens, and Their Families

    An Internal Family Systems Model for Healing

    By Arthur G. Mones

    In Transforming Troubled Children, Teens, and Their Families: An Internal Family Systems Model for Healing, Dr. Mones presents the first comprehensive application of the Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy model for work with youngsters and their families. This model centers diagnosis and…

    Paperback – 2014-06-09
    Routledge