This is an IFS Talks with Mary Kruger.Mary Kruger, MS, LMFT, is an AAMFT supervisor and an IFS Lead Trainer. She is the founder of Rimmon Pond Counseling, an IFS-based private practice located in New Haven, Connecticut, specializing in addictions, eating disorders, and trauma for over 25 years. Mary incorporates IFS with her own penchant for the experience, and has developed a variety of creative ways to work with parts and access Self-energy in individual, relational, and group contexts. She enjoys sharing her experience in teaching and consulting on a national level. Mary is noted for her humor, creativity, passion, and love of dancing and people. She also offers private therapy, consultations and workshops.

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 This is IFS Talks, an audio series to deepen connection with the Internal Family Systems model through conversations with lead trainers, authors, practitioners and users.

Today on IFS Talks we are interviewing and speaking with Mary Kruger. Mary Kruger, MS, LMFT is an AAMFT supervisor and a lead IFS trainer. She is the founder of Rimmon Pond Counseling, an IFS based Private Practice, located in New Haven, Connecticut, specializing in addictions, eating disorders and trauma for over 25 years. Mary incorporates IFS with her own pension for the experience and has developed a variety of creative ways to work with parts and access Self-energy in individual, relational and group contexts. She enjoys sharing her experience in teaching and consulting on a national level. Mary is noted for her humor, creativity, passion and love of dancing and people. She also offers private therapy, consultations and workshops. Hi Mary. Thank you for joining us today.

Mary Kruger: It's a pleasure to be here. Yeah, thanks for inviting me. 

Aníbal Henriques: Thank you, Mary, for having us. How is it for you, Mary, to hear this bio? What parts come up? 

Mary: Well, a part of me feels a little self-conscious. Part of me says I'm bragging about myself a little bit and I don't know if I like that. But another part of me was happy to hear you say that about me because I've worked hard for a long time.

Tisha: Yeah. Would you be willing to share with this about how you got into the mental health field to begin with?

Mary: Oh, certainly. My parents were divorced when I was five and I'm Italian and Irish and I believe a little Hungarian, don't know much about that part of me. And so, my father had a drinking problem and so did his father, which is part of my interest in the legacy of addiction. And my mother was a great enabler, a hard-working woman. So, we lived with my grandparents, my Italian grandparents for a number of years and then my mother remarried my stepfather, who was a violent alcoholic. And so, through my own experience with my own trauma and my journey with myself, I finally, in my twenties, got connected with a therapist that was decent. You know, when I was growing up, we didn't really do therapy and that wasn't really part of my culture. So, it was a new thing to me getting into therapy. So, the first time I went to therapy, I was not really on board with it. I felt self-conscious and embarrassed, so I didn't go back. But I finally, in my twenties, connected with someone who was an addiction person, actually and after a couple of years, he got me to go to a 12-step meeting, ACOA Al-Anon, which really started to change my life. Other than my spiritual practice that I was brought up with, it was really the first time that I really felt what we call, in IFS, Self-energy from a group. And that was the beginning of my journey. And I was working at the time for a Fortune 100 company and decided to go back and get my Masters in marriage and family therapy. My undergrad had been social sciences, by the way. I've always been interested in sociology and history and psychology, so, it was a really good fit. In the Fortune 100 company the job I was in at the time was sales, but we were trained really in psychological techniques and I was working with government education and (…). So, it was really an amazing journey.

Aníbal: There is a lot of social psychology on the sales.

Mary: Yeah, there is. We learn basic joining techniques just like we teach in family therapy in the training. So, I might not want to go on too much longer, but I was training interns by the time I became a family therapist. And Ralph Cohen, Dr. Cohen invited me to take a training with Dick Schwartz. So, I was like “oh, wow, he does that supervision thing and I've read about him and all that, that sounds cool.” And that's how I got introduced to IFS. So, it really brought together everything that I was loving and believing around psychology and sociology and healing. Yeah.

Aníbal: So, you took your first training in IFS directly with Dick Schwartz, right? 
Mary: Yes, we spent about five years working on it. 

Tisha: This is IFS Talks, an audio series to deepen connection with the Internal Family Systems model, through conversations with lead trainers, authors, practitioners and users. 

Aníbal: How was it for you? There was a before and an after IFS? IFS was for you at the time, a steppingstone somehow? 

Mary: Yeah, that's a great question. The thing that really shifted for me is that I was really interested in how can we make those deeper internal changes. So, lots of the therapies I was trained in, we did really well with external changes and such, but I was finding that clients and even myself in my own work were really stuck around old deeper things inside of us. John Bradshaw called it the shame that binds us, but I didn't really know how we could undo that. And for me, IFS brought that opportunity to be able to do that through the unburdening process, which I love. And so, that really hooked me. And then I also love the idea of interweaving spiritual aspects into our healing and IFS is also a psycho spiritual therapy. So, it really brought that together for me and changed things.

Aníbal: And changed things. Did you have ever done some IFS work yourself personally?

Mary: Yes, actually. 

Aníbal: So, you took both at the same time, the trainings and also experiencing it doing some personal work.

Mary: Yeah. About a year into the training, I realized that I wasn't going to really learn how to do unburdening that well unless I had the experience. So, I started my own personal IFS journey in therapy then and continue through therapy and doing retreats and various things over the years to work on my own parts. I think that's the power of being a good IFS therapist is working on our own parts.

Aníbal: And then you became practicing IFS yourself in your clinical work.

Mary: Yes, I began to use it almost immediately when I started the training, at least speaking about parts. So, I like it because it's systemic therapy and I'm a systems thinker.

Aníbal: Absolutely. Yes, it fits so well. So, what kind of challenges and shifts did that brought into your clinical work? You did some clinical work before and after IFS, right?

Mary: Yeah, trained as a family therapist our work is more directive. So, what that means is we work fast and specifically with specific goals and in specific periods of time. So, one of the things I learned to do is to listen more, to slow down my process, especially with my New York background. It was easy for me to, you know, get rapid speaking and not listen and be agenda driven. So, I learned to be less agenda driven and to really listening more to my client and be more curious about their process rather than what I needed to make happen at the session.

Aníbal: That is a huge, huge plus in our toolbox, as therapists, right? At that time did you combine IFS with other modalities? You came from a family systems tradition as a family therapist. Can you recognize which modalities or principles still guide much of your clinical work? Once IFS is also such a beautiful integrative model.

Mary: Yes, I even presented as an integrative model. I essentially didn't really have to let go of my training because, you know, I love some of the work of Bowen, even though some of it is sexist, but I was interested in the women's project version of that. And, you know, they recognized a polarization in that modality. And also, I love intergenerational work and my interest in Legacy Burden ties into that...

Aníbal: We find so much in our clinical work, right?

Mary: That's right, yeah. And I love structural strategic therapy. Dick was a structural therapist. So, many of the things that we teach in IFS are structural, I'm going to say, techniques. Some of the basic ways. And I've integrated some of solution focused ideas into my work too, because it's very optimistic. And Peggy Papp doing experiential work and Virginia Satir. So, I do like to do sculptings and various experiential things. So, I found it very integrative. Just basically I talk about it enhancing my work rather than needing to leave things behind.

Tisha: What was the clinical population that you were working with when you first came back from that IFS training? Where you working with families or were you working with addictions?

Mary: Well, I always worked with individuals and also couples and families and groups. I do a lot of group work, too. So, the population was various populations from different socioeconomic and cultural classes and people adapted to it. People loved the work. I mean, there's some people that have parts that don't like to go inside, but that's just how that works. But people really resonate with doing the work. Yeah.

Tisha: Do you have a particular strategy for working with people who have parts that don't like to go inside?

Mary: It's called Direct Access. [laughs]

Tisha: Yes. That's a good strategy.

Mary: Yeah, they thought that(…)up. 

Tisha: Could work around, yeah. 

Aníbal: Do you enjoy it to go on Direct Access?

Mary: Oh, I do love it. Anyone who's working with addictions and eating disorders is going to be doing a lot of Direct Access initially. And also, people that are extremely traumatized. So, I do love it. And eventually people make shifts. Although I've had people that have never made a shift yet to insight work, yet they've made shifts in their own system. 

Aníbal: Mary, I'm a psychologist too and I was training in this Boulder model of practitioner-researcher, always with many, many concerns on outcomes, you know. Do you worry also about outcomes? Or saying it another way, how do you get a sense of the effectiveness of your clinical work?

Mary: Well, I'm not a researcher, so, I haven't actually done outcome studies. But I guess I would go on my own personal experience noticing that I've had greater improvements with clients using IFS than prior to using. I remember one specific story, if it's okay that I share it. 

Tisha: Please.

Mary: There was a woman when I was doing a group for overeaters, and one day people were saying, well "Mary's taught us all these things, but we're not like doing anything about our eating and our weight. We haven't really changed anything." So, one of the women said "Well, you know, for me what's really happening is that...", and she was from a very well-off family, she and her husband had many degrees. They had lovely children. They had many financial fortunes, good education but this person said "You know, there's something inside of me that still feels like that little girl that lived in Northern Ireland that's dressed in rags and was burned out of her home. And I just can't shake that feeling. There's some connection to why I eat with that." And that really stuck with me. So, when I learned about IFS, I was like "oh, wow, now we can heal that. There's a way to do that." Yeah.

Tisha: Beautiful.

Mary: Yeah, and so those were the folks that have made shifts before we're feeling rather stuck. 

Aníbal: Mary, somehow you chose a group that can be really very difficult to work with. I mean, people that are using substances, addictions, all kinds of addictions. Of course, there are harder ones than others, but how is it for you? Do you prefer to work with some kind of substances, or do you accept people that are in the beginning of the process that are still using substances? How do you differentiate between working with addictions versus working with eating disorders? Can you say something about why did you pick this group? I believe we can understand, you have your own personal history of having people suffering from these experiences, but it's still a very difficult population and groups to work with, I believe. And I'm talking for my parts that find difficult to work with people using substances mainly. 

Mary: Well, I like to say I was ( …) on a beer bottle. And I can really relate to people who have eating disorders or addictions. I should have mentioned I had my own eating disorder when I was younger. And didn't have the healing that I needed. I had to kind of get myself out of it. So, I feel very connected to those parts. And one of the things that I love is, and I will work with people at any stage of their recovery, even if they're still using. I was trained in intervention. I did work in a rehab for a while. And so, I've adapted. I call it like mini intervention that I do in session with people IFS informed. It's kind of my own little thing I do. So, I don't worry if someone comes in and they've been using. I know that there's a part of them that wants something better. So, I start to connect with those parts. And if they need to go to a treatment facility after we've established trust, then they may be willing to go. I find that people that have addictions and eating disorders actually resonate with parts work. It's one of the things they learn in the recovery community is that they are not their, quote, addiction or their eating disorder. So, they already have a sense of a part of them that's not really who they essentially are. So, I actually find it easier to work with them than some other clients. Sometimes the person that doesn't use anything is harder for me to work with.

Aníbal: How come?

Mary: Because they tend to focus on the people that are causing them issues in their family rather than the parts of them that have gotten hooked into the process of addictions. Yeah, 

Aníbal: So, they somehow blend with the manager, that's what you're saying?

Mary: Yes, they get really manager driven, very blended with that. And it's really hard to shift that to the idea that maybe I have a part that's gotten hooked into the system because there's so much shame underneath about that. And shame in that not wanting to be connected to that person that's done these awful things. So, sometimes it's more difficult to work with those people. But essentially, I get kind of bored if there's nothing exciting going on in the room.

Aníbal: Well, get a couple. 

Mary: So, give me a heroin addict...Oh well, the addictive couples are the most interesting. 

Aníbal: They are.

Mary: They are. You have to be on your toes and it's very challenging not to get hooked into either side, you know, take a side.

Aníbal: I saw myself very changeling couples in many ways. So, I totally understand your parts.

Tisha: I'm really appreciating your fearlessness and courage in approaching the work that you do. It's really, really beautiful to see that aspect of your Self-energy coming through. And I'm curious about how you got into the topic you lectured on at the conference. I'm definitely kind of chomping at the bit to find out more about your work with legacy burdens and addiction.

Mary: Well, I teach a Level 2 on addictions and eating disorders. So, part of the Level 2, a part of the program is to do some work on family towards the end of the week. And I started introducing legacy burden into that. And I've gotten really intrigued by how deep that goes. There's been a lot of focus in the states here on bias and discrimination and things and I've gotten much more interested in how historical trauma passed down from generation to generation can create addictive cycles in families. 

So, I'm part Irish and I mentioned that I was and I did a little research...Actually when I was a family therapist and came up with this little anecdote about Irish folks because they had been occupied for eight hundred years, had to develop a secret way to maintain their culture. So, being a secret keeper was really important and not letting things out, keeping things close to your sleeve in a survival technique. But as it gets passed down from generation to generation, and that's no longer necessary, it also creates a holding of feelings and all kinds of stuff, which leads people to have to find a way to deal with their pain. And one of those is through addictions. So, I was really fascinated by that, but there's many more legacy burdens that people carry from different cultures, different experiences. So, I'm really fascinated by that. And also, around the idea that, you know, we even talk about in the 12 steps set, that 20 percent of it is the using behavior and 80 percent is the attitudes and beliefs. So, that's always fascinated me, too. How did those beliefs and attitudes get passed down from generation to generation, especially when people talk about how it's skipped a generation, like “my parents weren't alcoholics, so why am I? What's happened to me? Why am I different? I must be an oddball or something.” So, when you get into legacy burden and I think it's freeing to realize that you're part of a bigger system and that you're not a flawed human being. Yeah, and I think that that's really powerful and that your ancestors wanted to help you to be able to be here and that's why they came up with these strategies to survive, but we’re not needing them anymore, so let's connect with those ancestors and let's let go of it with them together and let's thank them for allowing us to survive and be here. Yeah. 

Tisha: Yeah. So, powerful. 

Mary: And scientific research is now supporting us with the whole work on epigenetics. So, I'm just fascinated by that idea because as a family therapist in the beginning of my work, I loved intergenerational things. Being from Italian Irish background, we're big on family, so, we're always telling stories and talking about our grandparents and great grandparents. So, really resonates with me. You know, it's powerful.

Tisha: I feel like one of my own personal, maybe most transformative IFS sessions, was finding a legacy burden of poverty passed down from my Irish grandmother, you know, considering how that energy had affected my life, which was phenomenal. Also, amazing to unburden it for my ancestors and for future generations. 

Mary: Yes. 

Aníbal: Mary, if I may, I may be suggesting here a complex question, but how does working with addictions or eating disorders should change the way we approach the IFS model. Once this is such a specific group, with such specific difficulties,  that should change or not change the way we use IFS?

Mary: Well, I think it's a little bit more complex work that...First I mentioned we often have to start with Direct Access... 

Aníbal: Which is scary for many people. 

Mary: It is scary. And also, people often enter treatment with a manager that brought them in saying I want to get better. So, often the therapist ends up colluding with that part and they create a polarization with the addiction part because that part has not agreed to treatment. So, there needs to be an awareness that there's this other part in the room that's not being spoken for when that client appears to be so motivated and they're coming in. The other piece is that, you know, culturally we consider addictions or eating disorders like demons or monsters or something to be gotten rid of it and in IFS we're befriending those parts. So, that's a shift. And in that way of working, we end up spending a little more time with the protectors than we normally would doing traditional IFS. So, unburdening is an important piece, but we may not be able to get to unburdening until we can get some of those protectors to relax. And it can take more time, including needing to go to rehab or doing some kind of 12 step work or something to shift our usage to get there.

The other piece that's very important is as we're working with the unburdening process with exiles, it's important to check back with those protectors to see if there's been an escalation in behaviors, because if there has and we have to go back and do a little bit more work with those parts and then go back to working with the exile. So, it's a bit more intensive and we need to be careful around getting an alliance or a collusion with one of the parts that seem nicer, so to speak.

Aníbal: Yeah, makes lot of sense. You are giving us a short view of what will be your training in Lisbon in 20... 

Mary: Yeah, that's right. 

Aníbal: Yeah, it is. 

Tisha: Is that a Level 2 on addictions? 

Mary: Yeah, we have one in Lisbon in November of next year, 2020. We have one in Austin in June and one in Nashville in January. So, I'll be all over the globe. 

Aníbal: You are busy.

Mary: Teaching level 2. Yeah.

Tisha: Are you also teaching Level 1’s or are you really more specialized?

Mary: Oh, I'm doing a number of Level 1's as well. I'm in New Jersey, New York, California, Maryland.

Aníbal: So, Mary, you are a Lead Trainer for CSL for how long?

Mary: Oh, it's hard for me to say. I was an AT for quite a long time. I'd say I was an AT starting in 2005 and I think around 2011 I became a lead trainer. Yeah.
Aníbal: And what do you enjoy more in these IFS training? The demos, the large group sharing, the meditations, lecturing. Is there something that you enjoy it more? How is it for you?

Mary: I love doing all the experientials, whether it's a demo or a sculpting. I love doing that. Sometimes we do drawing and movement. I love doing that piece a lot. Yeah. I like to do meditations too. I like to do readings during the meditations and such. So, I like most of it actually. 

Aníbal: Yeah. They are really very, very rich and interesting. Is there anything that you'd like to see the trainings develop or change? Any evolution you'd like to see in the trainings, given there are already so good and structured?

Mary: That's a very good question. Well, I actually personally wish that we don't move into using so much PowerPoint. 

Aníbal: Okay, the lecturing.

Mary: I've been noticing that there's more and more PowerPoint. I like to see a little of it. You know, maybe a slide here and there can be helpful. But I would hope that we don't move into that whole thing where we're relying on PowerPoint and lecturing off of that. So, I guess it's kind of a change in that I hope we don't change to that. Because I see some of that happening now and it concerns me because I think the experiential nature of our teaching is very powerful.

Aníbal: Yeah, my parts jump with yours, very happy, because they get trigger also with the lectures. I really get mad when too many lectures are happening, but it happens sometimes.

Mary: Yeah. 

Tisha: This is IFS Talks, an audio series to deepen connection with the Internal Family Systems model through conversations with lead trainers, authors, practitioners and users. 

How do you feel about the retreat style, the more compact trainings versus...They used to be more kind of strung out over a year? How is that for your teaching parts? 

Mary: I actually like both. It's hard for me to decide. They each have their own special flavor, like the retreat style creates a little bit of a community if they're able to stay together or stay nearby and it allows for people who normally wouldn't be able to have a training either due to location or schedule to be able to take an IFS training. Yeah, but I also love the six-weekend model because it's spread out over a long period of time and people are often able to create an ongoing community out of those trainings. So, I love that aspect of it. Yeah. And there's a little more space in between to practice the model and then come back and learn another piece. 

Tisha: Right. Yeah, you can see someone's personal evolution over the course of the year. How does it feel sending these Level 1 certified IFS therapists out into the world? What is that feeling like for you?

Mary: Magnificent. 

Tisha: Good work.

Mary: Magnificent. I love it. I love seeing fabulous people out there doing good work. I do. And it makes my heart sing. Yeah. 

Aníbal: Mary, you have achieved so much in your journey as a family therapist and as an IFS practitioner and trainer. Is there something else you'd like to do or achieve, besides keeping doing all that you have been doing? You also supervise or have case discussions, right? 

Mary: The supervision I do. Consultation and supervision, yes, students and such. Although I'm not doing students anymore. The one last thing I'd like to do is...Not last thing, I hope it's not my last thing. I'd like to write. 

Aníbal: Oh, yes. 

Mary: I'd like to write about some of the things I've done... 

Aníbal: You'd like to write more.

Mary: Yeah, I've done very little writing other than a couple of blog articles and things I've written up for trainings and things like that regarding IFS.

Aníbal: It will be very welcome, yes. And you will be writing on these topics that you have been working all those years? Meaning the addictions and eating and legacies. That will be your topic. 

Mary: Yeah, and my polarization is, should I make it autobiographical or should I make it technical? One part of me says technical will be boring. 

Aníbal: Yes, absolutely, it can be. Absolutely, I totally agree with you. Please don't do that.

Tisha: I'm with those parts, I like the personal story. I always feel a deeper connection to that.

Aníbal: Yes, please allow your story to be present in every line. 

Tisha: So, there you go.

Mary: Perhaps, there's an integration of both. I'd be in the areas that I've worked in, but I have to find a way that it will be interesting. And time also to do it.

Tisha: What do you envision as a potential evolution for the model itself? Where do you see IFS going as it gets more traction and moves forward?

Mary: Well, you know, they've changed the name now to the Institute. Did you know that? The IFS Institute. And I think it's a fabulous idea because I believe that none of us live forever. And if you have an Institute, that means it'll be continuing like some of the other models, you know, Gestalt and Hakomi Institute. Many of them, their founders are now not with us anymore, but they're still viable. So, I'd like to see IFS be a viable...

Aníbal: Organization. 

Mary: Yes, an organization. And the more that it really is adapted, I think it will do a lot to change our thinking in our culture and can change the planet in a lot of positive ways. And I believe that starts with one person at a time. So, if each of us is out there doing work like this and we help shift even one or two people, we've made a huge contribution to the planet. And I believe IFS has the potential to do that. If we keep it going. 

Aníbal: It's inspiring, isn't it? 

Mary: It is inspiring. A lot of people could use this kind of therapy. 

Aníbal: Absolutely. It's not only a model of therapy, it's also very much a movement. Paradigm change in the way people can think of themselves. So, it's really a huge gift not only to the clinical field.

Mary: Yeah, I mean, I see in business and even politics and family, just the way we look at life, it's really a powerful way to experience and observe life. Yeah.

Tisha: Yeah, we have clarity on how to work with polarizations in a world that is very polarized.

Mary: That's right. I mean, some people knew these things before. It's not that this never happened in any kind of way, but I think this is a more focused way that pulls things together and it can reach more people. Yeah. 

Aníbal: Wonderful. So, Mary, thank you so much for having us. It was a joy to be here with you and Tisha. I hope we can keep meeting and sharing this model, our work, our lives. And, you know, in Lisbon, we will have in June our first European Conference or Symposium on IFS. Maybe you can join us in June 2020?

Mary: I'm trying to think of a way to squeeze that into my schedule.

Tisha: Oh yeah. Make it happen. Lisbon in June? It's got to be beautiful. 

Mary: I bet. It sounds like a fabulous that you're having it there, too. Yeah. 

Aníbal: We hope so, we can meet the whole family and enjoy it, really.

Mary: I'm sure you'll get great attendance. 

Aníbal: Thank you. So, thank you so much, Mary. It was fun to have you and to learn from you, from your large experience with the model. I'm very, very grateful.

Mary: Thanks to both of you, Tisha and Aníbal. I appreciate the opportunity to speak a little bit more about my experiences. And I wish both of you a lovely day or evening.

Tisha: This was an IFS Talks episode, an audio series to deepen connections with the Internal Family Systems model through conversations with lead trainers, authors, practitioners and users.

Recorded 4th Oct 2019
Transcript Edition: Carolina Abreu