IFS with Eating Disorders and Addictions

By Mary Kruger, MS, LMFT, “IFS with Eating Disorders and Addictions” Topic Expert Contributor

Welcome to both the new year and the IFS column on eating disorders and addictions! My name is Mary Kruger. I’m an assistant trainer for the Center for Self Leadership as well as a certified IFS therapist. Working with eating disorders, addictions, and related issues has been my passion for more than twenty years. I am delighted to be able to share my enthusiasm, experiences, and ideas with my colleagues. I look forward to a rich, varied dialogue and exchange of ideas that piques curiosity and fosters creativity and connection.

During the first ten years of my career, I worked in a substance abuse treatment facility PHP (partial hospitalization program) and IOP (intensive outpatient program) as well as inpatient. I also worked in an outpatient setting where I helped to establish a substance abuse program and established an eating disorders group. During that time, I also founded my private practice, near New Haven, CT, which serves adults, adolescents, and children. My clients work with me in individual, family/relational, and group therapy modalities. I have been fortunate to be able to attend supervision, trainings, and workshops with a number of leaders in the field. In 1999, I was trained in the IFS Model of therapy, which has transformed both me and my work as a therapist.

IFS has been an easy paradigm shift for me in some ways. Prior to IFS, I had embraced the idea of not pathologizing clients, a perspective that is inherent in IFS. Being a systems thinker by nature and training, the concept of imbalances occurring within the inner system (family) was intriguing to me and made perfect sense.

My feminist parts resonated with the collaborative aspects of IFS. The parts of me that love the experiential were attracted to the body focus and right-brain aspects of IFS. And the psychospiritual aspect of IFS has made it easy to integrate with the Twelve Steps.

More difficult, and yet the most rewarding, has been the emphasis on working with our own therapist’s parts, which has made all the difference in my work with clients with eating disorders and addictions. Early on, it became apparent to me that the managerial energy inherent in some of the most popular therapies interfered with their effectiveness. IFS enables me to continue to work with any of my parts that may become polarized with my clients.

Another advantage is that IFS’s compassionate, Self-led approach makes the work safer and easier because clients and their parts feel trusted, honored, and held.

In my early years as a therapist, I often felt stuck as to where to go next with clients. We would create a role play of a client dialoguing with his or her addiction, involving only the client and that part. While it was great for the client to be able to differentiate from the part, it felt to me as though there was so much more to the work than just that. And there certainly were many more parts that weren’t known or acknowledged. IFS offered a way through that situation. Today it is possible to map, sculpt, and unblend from a part as well as the parts connected to it.

Another stuck point: What do we do with shame and other vulnerable feelings? How do we keep clients from being overwhelmed? One of my clients was unable to move past her eating disorder because despite her successful life, she still experienced herself as the ragged girl from Northern Ireland whose family had been burned out of their home. We came upon what I now recognize as a part, again and again. With IFS, it became possible to unburden this part without the client becoming overwhelmed. What an amazing discovery and contribution!

There is so much involved in working with eating disorders and addictions from the IFS perspective that it is best to break it down into smaller pieces. In each blogpost, I intend to share a small piece for discussion. While I have many of my own ideas, I am also very open to requests, comments, and questions. I look forward to some exciting and thought-provoking discussions!

3 Responses to “IFS with Eating Disorders and Addictions”

  1. Nan Salky says:

    I am a therapist and mother of two girls ages 18 and 20. They have both struggled for several years with eating disorders. Traditional treatment has made some difference but not enough. I am now doing my own “parts” work with an IFS-trained therapist and can imagine what a difference this approach could make in my daughters’ lives! I would love to read more about the subject and would love to find a different therapist in our area who might work with my younger daughter. Thanks! from Amherst, MA

    • mary kruger says:

      Hi Nan:
      It was lovely to hear read your comment. I love that IFS can bring us to the next level of healing. It really does make the difference in recovery from EDs and addictions, as we heal the parts that the ED is protecting. It makes recovery less of a struggle and more complete, as we are not focusing on managing symptoms.
      MEDA (Multidisciplinary Eating Disorders Association), in Newton, MA, may be able to provide you with the name of an IFS therapist who works with EDs in your area. You could also try CSL’s list of certified therapists.
      Best of Luck – Mary Kruger

  2. mary kruger says:

    HI Isabel:
    Thanks for your inquiry. I am understanding that you are asking if it is possible for one to develop an eating disorder in a healthy enough family, and that it may be purely to an inner conflict. Eating disorders appear to be multi causal and may not alway arise due to family dysfunction. In some cases, the family imbalances may occur due to adaptation to the person with the eating disorders. Family members part may become polarized with the eating disorder or other protectors.
    However, I do believe that there is always an internal struggle between parts. And that these parts have taken on roles and burdens due to the individual’s experience in the world. Experiences in other systems, such as cultural, school, peers, etc. inform the parts’ beliefs. In addition, certain biological processes, such as starvation, due to dieting, can cause parts to take on protective roles, like binging to prevent death and purging to deal with the guilt of having eaten; thereby creating a repeating pattern between parts that maintains the eating disorder.
    As I work with a client, I try to remain curious and open hearted, as each individual and their parts have a unique story. While our parts share commonalities, each persons parts have their own stories, which reflect their own experiences. And each person’s road to recovery is going to be a bit different. I am also aware of the impact that family members have on the recovery process, and am interested in helping them to become less polarized with my client and their parts.
    Best Regards – Mary

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