Among the hundreds of emails and other inquiries I receive every year, by far the most frequent questions I’m asked involve how to secure the right kind of help. And while those asking such questions often have some kind words to say about how empowering it was to have found my books as well as the numerous articles on this blog and other websites (I would be remiss here without expressing profound gratitude for the powerful word-of-mouth recommendations from readers of my books as well as my blog posts), they often express dismay about the lack of other resources. Many have tried to get professional help either for themselves or for the person in their life who was causing them grief, only to find the experience both frustrating and unfruitful (I’ve written about this before in the articles: Getting the Right Kind of Help with Character Disturbance and How to Find a Therapist Who Can Help with Character Disturbance which are posted on another blog). And because securing the right kind of help can be such a challenge, I thought it worth revisiting some of the most important things to consider when seeking help, whether it be for yourself as a person currently enduring the ordeal of a relationship with a character-impaired individual (or as a an abusive relationship survivor), or you’re trying to salvage a relationship with a character disturbed person whom you believe has some potential to change with the proper therapeutic assistance. Chief among the things you should consider when seeking help are:
- A potential therapist’s understanding of the nature of character disturbance. At the risk of offending some of the professionals who regularly read this blog, providing therapy services to a “neurotic” individual is relatively easy work. That’s because neurotics most often seek treatment on their own and come into therapy with a lot of motivation to get better (because they’re hurting in some way and are genuinely seeking guidance about how to relieve their pain). They’re also appreciative of and receptive to constructive guidance. But character dysfunction is an entirely different animal. The character disturbed individual is generally pressured into seeking help, is quite comfortable with the kind of person they are and therefore comes into the therapy experience predisposed to resist change and especially, authoritative guidance (I give a detailed explanation of the special characteristics of disturbed characters when it comes to therapy in both In Sheep’s Clothing and Character Disturbance). Confronting the disturbed character’s distorted ways of thinking and dysfunctional but preferred ways of behaving is delicate, risky, and tedious business for the therapist. It’s a highly specialized art and not all therapists are equipped training-wise or emotionally to do it (I give examples of the kind of radical approach needed in Character Disturbance). And it’s extremely important that the therapist understands what character disturbance is all about and what distinguishes it from other kinds of presenting problems. All too often today, mental health professionals across all disciplines will pay too much heed to the surface-level complains a client brings in without doing a full assessment of the personality factors that might underly and predispose those complaints. For that reason, people end up getting all kinds of fancy diagnostic labels and being treated in all sorts of relatively superficial or inadequate ways when the main factor responsible for most of the reported problems stems from the person’s impaired character.
- The potential therapist’s understanding of the impact of character disturbance. Many therapists simply don’t appreciate the kinds of unique trauma folks currently in or who have survived toxic relationships have experienced. And at times, a therapist might even misinterpret the results of their initial screening and assessment of a victim. Folks who’ve been traumatized might appear a certain way upon examination that doesn’t really reflect the kind of person they really are, or at least who they were before adapting to their trauma (they’re even likely to perform differently than they would otherwise perform on various psychological assessment instruments they might be given). So whether a therapist is working with a current victim or a survivor, they need to know how the character disturbed individuals behaviors and tactics have likely impacted the victim and affected their current level of functioning.
- The potential therapist’s philosophical orientation and preferred mode of therapy. Sometimes you really need to do your homework here, but you simply can’t be afraid to ask about what your prospective therapist’s therapeutic approach is likely to be. If you’re a good old-fashioned neurotic with some minor issues and haven’t been scarred by the actions of a manipulative, sadistic psychopath, you’re likely to do just fine in traditional insight-oriented psychotherapy. But if you’re seeking assistance for your character-impaired partner and all your therapist wants to do is help that person “see” the error of their ways or “process” their feelings (as opposed to confronting their antisocial attitudes and irresponsible behavior patterns), you could be in for a nightmare experience. And here are some other caveats:
- Beware of addiction model treatments. Now there are such things as genuine addictions. And there are some very good and time-tested models of treatment available when a genuine addiction truly present and is also the principal problem. But all too often these days habitually bad behavior is conceptualized as addiction and the character issues that underly that habitual misbehavior are ignored. In such cases, much time and money will be expended with little or no results for the the character impaired individual, and in the process the victimized party in the relationship will actually be subjected to more abuse (I’ll have even more to say on this in a future article and would encourage those who know all-too-well of what I speak here to contribute their comments).
- Beware of treatment models overly aligned with the medical model. Character disturbance is hard to treat, even if you’re very well-trained and skilled at it. Popping a pill to at least ameliorate some annoying manifestations of that disturbance is relatively easier, which is why so many professionals fall into the trap. It’s much easier (and in the short-term even more effective-appearing) to medicate someone’s penchant for explosive outbursts than it is to address and more permanently change the personality factors that predispose that behavior. But “managing” some of the more annoying manifestations of someone’s character deficiency to the point they are “endurable” is never a good long term solution. And if a character disturbed person is only symptomatically treated, the person in a relationship with them is likely to become even more “tolerant” of their dysfunction (because at least things are more bearable now than they were before) and it will take an even higher level of abuse for them become unnerved enough to come to their senses.
- Beware of faith-based models that either misinterpret or deliberately ignore or disregard well-validated scientific findings. We’re asked not to use the name of the unseen, unknowable, force behind the universe’s functioning in a casual or vain manner. Yet I constantly hear from folks whose faith-based counselors used God and their own weird interpretation of what God was demanding in a particular situation to go against common logic and the findings of substantial scientific research (In The Judas Syndrome I give many examples of well-intended but destructive helping models). Here’s a simple rule: If it’s simply impossible to see genuine love and concern in your therapist’s proposal for your healing and well-being, it’s probably unholy.
It’s a shame that getting the right kind of help can be so difficult at times, especially when character disturbance is involved. But hopefully this and my other articles on the subject will be of some help. And I’m sure the readers have many stories and experiences to share in this regard that would benefit many who’ve not yet found the assistance they need.
Many thanks for the requests to perform “America My Home” (feel free to share the video links on this site over the holiday) this Memorial Day and don’t forget Character Matters on Sunday at 7 pm Eastern. It will be a live broadcast despite the holiday, so calls can be taken.