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Tom's Work in the Middle East

Tom's background leading to his international sharing of IFS

For the past 20 years, Tom Holmes, MSW, PhD, Associate Professor Emeritus, at Western Michigan University, College of Health and Human Services, has been bringing IFS and parts work around the world—mostly in Germany, but also to the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, and Korea. In Fall 2016, he began training Jordanian therapists who work with Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Jordan, which is where his focus remains.

Having engaged in the delivery of intensive clinical work for a couple of decades starting in the early 1970s as well as doing his own personal therapeutic work, Tom was feeling burned out toward the end of the 1980s and had considered giving up clinical work. It was at this time that he was introduced to IFS and began training with Richard Schwartz, PhD (IFS Founder), at the Institute for Juvenile Research at the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle in 1989.

“The goal of my work is to help therapists work from Self and access that openhearted place. If they can
do this, it allows them to have deep compassion in a sustainable way while offering the therapeutic conditions that research has shown are key to healing. I see my workshops as a kind of tuning the heart of the healer.”

This was a turning point for Tom. He embarked on his own work with an IFS therapist and, in three sessions, made progress on his burnout issue that he hadn’t been able to achieve in years of work with other models. At the same time, he attended a week-long mindfulness retreat with Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. These two experiences inspired him to begin integrating IFS and spirituality to help therapists manage burnout and develop sustainable compassion. He has been focusing a large part of his attention onto/toward that work since 1990. As Tom says, “The goal of my work is to help therapists work from Self and access that openhearted place. If they can do this, it allows them to have deep compassion in a sustainable way while offering the therapeutic conditions that research has shown are key to healing. I see my workshops as a kind of tuning the heart of the healer.”

Tom retired early from the university in 2007 to begin sharing his integration of IFS and spirituality internationally. He has offered workshops all around Europe, in Korea, and in the Middle East. In 2016,
he began to offer his burnout-prevention workshops to therapists and volunteers working with the one million Syrian refugees who had arrived in Germany. He then had the opportunity to offer these same workshops in Jordan and Egypt, working with therapists who serve refugees and other under-served populations. In recent years, he has built local networks in Jordan, Egypt, and Lebanon with the hope of developing homegrown providers to deliver IFS training locally.


(Photo of IMC mental health staff.)


IFS Support for Those Working with Syrian Refugees

Tom, author of the well-known book Parts Work: An Illustrated Guide to Your Inner Life, has developed a mental health model that is harmonious with the Islamic culture. With his wide range of knowledge of spiritual traditions, he incorporates into his work the 11th-century Islamic scholar Al Ghazali’s views of the personality, which are highly respected within the Sunni community and fit well with IFS. His presentations of this integration of IFS and


Islamic psychology to a variety of academic and clinical audiences in Jordan has been very well received. “People really grasp what the IFS Model is all about, even in cultures as varied as Korea and Jordan. It is truly universal,” Tom observes.

Initially concerned about the high burnout of those working with refugees, he began offering free self- care workshops to professionals who worked with refugees, noting that integrating IFS with spirituality was effective with burnout prevention. In Spring 2017, he began working in Jordan with therapists at the Center for Victims of Torture in Amman and with social work students at Yarmouk University in Irbid, introducing them to the integration of IFS and Islamic psychology.


Lecturing to over 200 faculty members and students at Yarmouk University sparked interest in IFS as well as in translating his book into Arabic. (It has already been translated into German, Korean, and Italian.)


Additionally, artists who are refugees in the oldest Syrian refugee camp, Zaatari, near the Syrian border, are helping Tom create illustrations that will be used in the translation of his book as well as in a supplemental edition of the Inner Active Cards, by Sharon Eckstein, and a new book he is writing in collaboration with psychologists in Jordan on the integration of IFS and Islamic psychology. These images are more reflective of the experiences and the appearance of people in this region.

Tom now offers IFS as a psychoeducational model to the mental health unit of the International Medical Group (IMC), one of the important mental health service providers to refugees in Jordan. He is currently training psychologists there on IFS for self-care and burnout prevention. He is also working with translators, as new research shows that 20 percent of translators working with refugees show significant PTSD symptoms, and many others display burnout symptoms. Together with a professor at Yarmouk University, he is developing a model for using IFS as a way to reduce secondary trauma in translators who will likely be translating stories of war trauma in various NGO jobs in Jordan.

Three years ago Tom was invited to offer workshops at the Dawar Center in Cairo Egypt.  Out of that grew a training where he shared his integration of IFS and spirituality with the therapists associated with Dawar.  Their enthusiasm for and understanding of IFS was so strong it motivated Tom to find a way to bring the IFS Institute training to the Arabic-speaking Middle East.  After Dick Schwartz had a chance to meet the people Tom had worked he too became enthused about this project and with the support of the IFS Foundation in May of 2022 the IFS Institute will provide a Level One Training for the Arabic speaking Middle East.

(Below is a picture of the Dawar group participating in his IFS and spirituality training.)

Dawar 2019.jpg
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