Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Pastoral Counselor And The Aggressive Personality

In Compass Therapy, aggressive counselees fall into two categories, both of which are located on the Assertion compass point of the Self Compass. These are the Paranoid Arguer, who is characterized by chronic suspicion, spitefulness, and a need to blame and attack others rather than face one’s own deficiencies, and the Antisocial Rule-breaker, who is able to lie convincingly, exploit others without guilt, and use every situation for self-gain.

These labels are derived by combining a clinical personality disorder from DSM, like paranoid and antisocial, with a practical common sense descriptor that anyone can understand, like arguer and rule-breaker.

Paranoid and Antisocial Personality Disorders

As shown in the diagram, these patterns don’t simply dwell in the Assertion compass point; they overly exaggerate it with chronic anger and hostility. The way they do this is by nullifying the Love compass point; that is, wiping out expressions of forgiveness, nurturance, understanding, kindness, affection, or compassion from their personalities. In other words, they are like barrels of hydrochloric acid. If you tip them slightly, they spill over and splatter you like a caustic chemical.

So it is perfectly fair for you to wear a hazardous chemical suit when meeting these patterns in a session. It is not a question of whether they will ventilate on you or find your weakest point and exploit it to their advantage. Of course they will. 

Therapist Self-Protection

Personality patterns rob people of a fuller life that could include love and diplomatic assertion, and humility and esteem, and replace this potential with self-perpetuated mechanisms held rigidly in place by the mind, heart, body, and spirit, all serving the aim of the pattern. In the case of Paranoid Arguers and Antisocial Rule-breakers, these patterns dictate that the counselees will act abusively and disrespectfully, with an uncanny knack for extracting a pound of flesh despite and even because of your efforts to help them.

1. You protect yourself, and become a more effective therapist, by giving up your need to help them. If you carry into the session a need to be caring, compassionate, and helpful, they will detect this and use it to frustrate and torment you. You might say that as long as they are unwilling to really participate in therapy by learning about themselves and taking active risks for growth and change, they will have a vested interest in showing how much you don’t know about life and how incompetent you are because you don’t magically make them happy.
2. Another way the aggressive patterns can torpedo therapy and wound your self-esteem comes if you need to get chummy with them in order to win them over with kindness and understanding. They’ll try to recruit you into aligning with them in anger against a laundry list of people who they believe have wronged them. 

3. If at any point you back off, their charm will instantly turn into caustic ventilation, and you’ll learn quickly what masters they are at emotional blackmail as they throw you into the boiling pot like all the other plucked chickens they’ve cooked.

4. Now that you know to wear a chemical suit, resist recruitment, and watch out for emotional blackmail, I want to add a last suggestion. Breathe deeply through your abdomen and regularly melt your muscles during sessions with aggressive individuals. Relaxing your body promotes emotional resiliency, mental flexibility, and spiritual equanimity.

Relaxed Body

As you employ these suggestions, not only do aggressive counselees sense that you cannot be rattled, and that they cannot force you to go into orbit around their gravitational pull, they actually begin to respect you as a professional who doesn’t walk on eggshells:

“Who is this therapist, that my usual power doesn’t make afraid?” “Who is this professional that doesn’t flinch at my verbal attacks?” “Who is this human being who remains humbly strong and caringly assertive in my presence?” “Maybe I can actually learn something here.”

That’s if they stay in therapy long enough to realize their profound needs for personal and interpersonal development. This comes by learning to access their Weakness and Love compass points, expanding the capability to experience both humility about their deficiencies and caring versus hostility toward others. A full exposition of how to help aggressive counselees own and outgrow their rigid patterns is found in my book Compass Therapy: ChristianPsychology In Action.

And if the aggressive counselee doesn’t want to grow more whole, don’t fret about it and don’t try to convince them to stay in therapy against their will. Simply relax and honor their choice to remain as they are, investing your energies in counselees who do want to benefit from what you have to offer.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Pastoral Counselor Working with Addictions

Every church, every town, and many families know the dark effects of substance abuse that tear individuals apart. The substance might be alcohol, drugs, or food, but addiction means that a person has crossed an invisible line, before which they could exercise some cognitive discernment and volitional choice about ingesting the substance, and after which their willpower and good intentions are rendered powerless.

In my opinion, addiction groups deserve a special place in the ministry of the church, because when the spiritual fellowship of a Twelve Step program brings an addict into recovery, then pastoral counseling can focus on promoting the developmental maturity that the addictive substance formerly eclipsed.

Recovery from Addiction

Pastoral counselors might consider taking the initiative in contacting the central office of the granddaddy of Twelve Step groups, Alcoholics Anonymous, to see if they want to set up a meeting in the church. This puts several healing powers into motion. It signals to the community at large that this church, through an outgoing spirit of altruistic concern, provides a safe haven for people who are struggling with addiction. 

Church Recovery Groups

AA fosters a spiritual awakening by encouraging participants to humbly surrender to a Higher Power, a ministry that reaches outside of Christianity, yet because AA meetings traditionally end by saying the Lord’s Prayer, assures that Christ is in their midst.

A Twelve Step group in the church strengthens the life of the community as a whole, promoting recovery from addictions that would otherwise ravage marriages, families, and neighborhoods of those living in their grip. 

Pastoral counseling, when it is sought, can help dismantle the rigid personality patterns that contributed to addiction in the first place, and guide the person to repair damaged relationships.


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Tips for Christian Counselors: The Book-Stacking Technique

For counselees who have difficulty standing up for themselves (especially those stuck in the Dependent personality disorder), the book-stacking technique is effective for strengthening a counselee’s courage to say “no” to other people’s undue requests or expectations.

You can help buttress their courage by asking them what they think Paul meant when he said, "I am not seeking to win the approval of people, but of God" (Gal 1:10).

The Book-Stacking Technique

Ask the counselee to stand in front of you with arms extended and palms up. You load them up one by one with several books, saying as you do so, “This represents all the burdens people lay on you without considering how heavy they are.” Once the counselee is loaded to capacity, you say, “Now while you are feeling the weight of these burdens, tell me what you are aware of.”

Book-stacking Technique

Compliment them on any descriptions they offer, and if they miss certain obvious qualities, prompt them with, “What about your body? How does it feel right now when you’ve accepted all of these jobs?” Or, “Can you form a plan in your mind to say ‘no’ to the next person who wants to add another book?”

After waiting for another minute so that the impact of the load can sink into the psyche, you reverse the process by saying, “Okay, each time you tell me to remove a book I will. This will represent you standing up to a person and telling them that you can no longer accept assignments that belong to them.”

Here you will hit a temporary therapeutic impasse, because the counselee will not want to disappoint anyone’s hope or risk their ire. But keep coaching them, so they can successfully assert themselves to remove the books. “Go ahead now, and tell me to remove the first book.”

Learning to Be Assertive

If the counselee complies in a mousey voice, you stop the technique and say something like, “I noticed that you barely whispered that request for me to take a book away. If I were a manipulative person I wouldn’t respond. Try putting some gusto into your voice and demand that I remove the book.”

The counselee does so, and you remove the book.

“That was good assertion. Now ask again and really mean it.”

The counselee does so with even more firmness and you remove another book. 

“Excellent,” you say, “I’m really starting to believe you. Now for the last two books, try actually enjoying your assertion and feeling the relief of not having to carry these books anymore.”

Feeling Relieved

The counselee does so and you remove both books. The two of you laugh and sit back in your seats.

“I want to compliment you for doing a great job asserting your reasonable rights,” you say.

“It was hard at first, but I think I’m getting the idea that the world doesn’t come apart at the seams if I say  ‘no.’”

“I wonder if for homework this week you might practice some assertion when you feel it is appropriate? Next week we can talk over what happens.”

“Yes, I’d like to. And I’m saying that because I mean it!”

For more, read:

Christian Counseling

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Pastoral Counseling Tips: How to "Sit" on a Feeling

The Rhythm Between Suppression and Expression

The constant shift between expressing and restraining emotions that goes on in normal social discourse is like the rhythm between the accelerator and brakes in driving a car across town. People need both functions in complementary interplay all the time in order to safely arrive where they are heading. 

Through modeling and coaching about how to diplomatically communicate feelings to others, you help counselees mature in personality and relationships.  You help them become more open about recognizing when they are having an emotion, and then thinking about the context of the feeling: 
  • "What is stirring up this feeling?"
  • "Am I reacting to something in the present or reactivating a memory from the past?"
  • "Do I need to alter my thinking in order to change the feeling?"
  • "Do I need to express the feeling or simply be aware that I’m experiencing it?”
There is real wisdom attached to the notion of counting to ten before expressing a strong feeling. This ability to “sit on a feeling” long enough to reflect on it, prior to conveying it to others, is called emotional suppression

"Sit" on a Feeling

You educate your counselees that while emotional repression is unproductive, emotional suppression is a perfectly healthy adult relational skill that assists them to overlook or diminish feelings that would be disruptive or even harmful if expressed. By the same token, you lead them to intentionally express any emotion that contributes to their well-being or helps another person to understand them better. There is room for expressing hurt, disagreement, or even anger, but only after enough reflection has transpired that they can do so diplomatically.

Likewise, counselees need encouragement and sometimes modeling to know how to express praise, compliments, enjoyment, and excitement without getting so carried away with these positive feelings that they become histrionic. Even feelings like love often need a little coaching so that the counselee expresses caring without becoming invasive or presumptuous with another person.

Express Feelings

One caveat about working with feelings lies in giving up the need to make a counselee happy, whether at the end of each session, or as a consequence of the course of counseling. Some individuals create such conflicted circumstances that happiness will elude them for many years, while others cling to rigid personality patterns that perpetuate misery.

Here we must surrender any vestiges we have of a “Messiah Complex.” We can’t heal all people all the time, but we can accept the reality that we do the best we can, stopping short of taking responsibility for a person’s life and choices—even God doesn’t do that!  

Most sessions can end with a 
pleasant emotional tone, in that the pastoral/therapeutic bond creates a 
fellowship that does indeed bring comfort.

 For more, read: