The Efficacy Of Internal Family Systems Therapy In The Treatment Of Depression Among Female College Students: A Pilot Study

Authors: Shelley A. Haddock, Lindsey M. Weiler, Lisa J. Trump, Kimberly L. Henry

In 2016, Shelley Haddock and colleagues published in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy ( Haddock, et al, 2016) a study that tested IFS as an alternative treatment for depressed female college students, “a significant portion of whom do not benefit” from the existing empirically supported treatments, which the authors list as “antidepressant medication, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT).”

Subjects were randomly assigned to the IFS condition (n=17) and the treatment as usual (TAU n=15) group in which they received either CBT or IPT. Each group was to receive 16 sessions although many in both groups completed between 11 and 15.

Their results demonstrated a decline in depressive symptoms for both IFS and treatment as usual, which included CBT and IPT. There were no significant differences in the magnitude or rate of change between the two groups. The authors conclude that the results “provide preliminary evidence for the efficacy of IFS in the treatment of depressive symptoms.”

While these result are positive, they are not nearly as impressive as other studies that have been done. Why might this be? The therapists in both of those studies had many years of experience using IFS whereas in this one, four of the five therapists in the IFS condition had less than 1 year of experience practicing IFS. In addition, more than half of the subjects in the TAU group were using antidepressant medication whereas none were in the IFS group. Nonetheless, these results combined with those regarding depression in the other two studies indicate that IFS has promise for treating this difficult condition.