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!