I’ve been privileged to have worked with so many good people, wanting to grow, motivated to learn, willing to self-examine, and appreciative of the understanding and support I might provide.
As readers of many of my blog posts might already know, I’ve made a career of understanding and dealing with some of the more difficult to deal with individuals — folks who display varying degrees of character disturbance. Most of my workshops and seminars, as well as the topics of my two books In Sheep’s Clothing and Character Disturbance address the unique nature of facilitating change among these responsibility-challenged folks among us. What I rarely find myself talking about, however, is the space I have always made in my professional practice for traditional psychotherapeutic work with individuals whom I affectionately describe in many of my writings as “neurotic.” Lately, I’ve begun to reflect on how odd indeed it seems that I haven’t spoken much about doing this kind of work — which, in all sincerity, has to be just about the best job anyone could ever have.
There’s little that I can think of as uplifting as engaging in psychotherapy with someone who has sought my assistance in dealing with their emotional concerns or unhappiness. For one thing, such folks are often very eager to work to make things better. They come into the process internally motivated, already open to the notion that by working together, their lives will improve. They don’t ask for much: only an understanding ear, acceptance, and gentle guidance. And they appreciate it so much when I afford them these things that they’re actually willing to pay for it!
Over the years, many of my traditional clients were already quite healthy when they came to see me. Still, they were unsatisfied with the degree to which unresolved “issues” were thwarting their personal fulfillment. As a result, they wanted an empathic and supportive atmosphere within which they could feel free to become more self-aware, and in the process, to grow emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I was more than pleased to accommodate them. And, in addition to the financial renumeration, I had the distinct pleasure to witness the awesome blooming of new, more empowered, and purposeful life. I’ve counseled so many of these individuals — good people, wanting to grow, motivated to learn, willing to self-examine, and appreciative of the understanding and support I might provide. Who could ask for a more pleasant (some would say, “easy”) or rewarding job?
At workshops, professionals and lay persons alike always ask me how I could tolerate doing so much work with the kinds of folks I describe in my writings as character disturbed. The typical complaints I hear are things like: “They don’t change; Getting them to talk is like pulling teeth; They just don’t get it; They’re so difficult to work with,” etc. Most of them are surprised at first when I tell them that working with such folks has also been quite rewarding as well as instructive. But they seem a bit more understanding when I passionately insist the the biggest obstacles I faced at first to finding joy in such work were the limitations of the perspectives I’d been trained to adopt. If I had stubbornly viewed and intervened with my character-deficient clients in the same manner as their neurotic counterparts, I know I would have been at my wits’ end in no time, I explain. Work with character disturbed folks gets a lot easier (and a lot more efficacious) once you buy into the notion that their ailments are different and require different treatment techniques. Still, it’s more complicated and challenging work, which is why I have always reserved time and space in my practice for more traditional work.
I have retired from active professional practice. Still, from time to time I have contact with many folks with whom I have worked over the years, both those riddled with self-limiting neurosis as well as those struggling with character issues. It’s a distinct pleasure to connect with them and to help facilitate their continued growth whenever the opportunity arises. And even though my work with the two groups has always been very different in character, it has nonetheless been very satisfying. That’s why I feel that whether it’s working with those whose fears and insecurities have held them back for too long, or dealing with those whose ways of thinking and behaving have driven others to the brink, helping people change has been the best job in the world.
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