How to Find a Therapist Who Can Help With Character Disturbance

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Whether as a couple or as an individual, keep these three things in mind to increase your chances of finding and working with a therapist who will actually be able to help with disturbed characters in your life and relationships. Part 2 of a series.

This is the second in a series of articles on how to find the right kind of help in dealing with a problem character in your life (for part one, see “Getting the Right Kind of Help With Character Disturbance”). I get hundreds of email and letter enquiries every year about this issue. Some people have reported being to as many as a dozen professionals without much luck. And many have reported having very mixed feelings because they liked a therapist very much on a personal level but nonetheless felt that the therapy process was not producing beneficial results. A few unfortunately reported feeling like the therapist was completely taken in by the disturbed character’s penchant for manipulation and positive impression management and, therefore, couldn’t really appreciate the true nature of circumstances or confront them on the necessary behaviors.

I get many requests for referrals to professionals whom I might know ‘get it’ with respect to treating disturbed characters. But long ago it proved impossible to keep a list of attendees at my professional training seminars or to maintain any kind of up-to-date referral list. And only in recent years have I been receiving significant feedback from therapists who have become familiar with my work and have happily and successfully incorporated principles I advocate into their professional practice. Many of these therapists have indicated that they became familiar with these principles because their clients just happened to bring in one or both of my books, In Sheep’s Clothing and Character Disturbance. But in the interest of helping those unfamiliar with these books and my work but who are struggling to find help in dealing with a problem character at home, at work, or in some other kind of relationship, I’d like to offer the following tips:

Before you commit to the process, enquire about the potential therapist/counselor’s training background, experience, and most especially, their theoretical orientation.
A professional with solid experience in diagnosing and treating individuals with disturbances of personality and character is a big plus; and one who adopts a cognitive-behavioral approach to treatment is an even bigger plus. There’s definitely a place for psychoanalysis, insight-oriented psychotherapy, supportive counseling, and other traditional approaches, but those kinds of interventions are not very likely to prove helpful if the main issue needing attention is character disturbance.
Expect and insist upon an explanation of the therapist’s initial assessment as well as their plan for treatment.
There’s an old adage in the medical community that “treatment in the absence of proper diagnosis defines malpractice.” What this saying means is that in order to know what the right intervention to make really is, one has to first fully and accurately understand the problem. No one would ever dream of allowing a surgeon to simply cut someone wide open in the hope they might eventually “find something” that could be the source of someone’s pain and then remove it. But many times, the therapy process is approached with a strikingly similar degree of ambiguity. Once the therapist has provided you a good understanding of how they conceptualize the problem and exactly how they propose to address it, you can make a better decision about whether you’re on a viable course to improving matters.
Stay aware of your position as a consumer of services and seeker of help.
Some individuals hop from therapist to therapist as a way of avoiding dealing with their personal issues more seriously. Of course, this is a very unhealthy thing. But it’s also not productive to linger in counseling with a professional who doesn’t seem to really understand the situation or know how to deal effectively with the disturbed character’s behavior. Remember, you’re the consumer and you have every right to evaluate the service you’re getting. So keep your awareness high about how the process is going. A cognitive-behaviorally oriented therapist who has implemented a sound treatment plan should be able to share with you not only the immediate, intermediate, and longer-term goals and objectives they have set but also how they plan to gauge progress on them. Ask for and reflect on feedback about those issues. And don’t be afraid to raise concerns when you don’t feel progress is being made. Moreover, don’t be afraid to consider a change if you have the misfortune to encounter someone who proves unresponsive to your legitimate needs or expressed concerns.

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My book Character Disturbance includes not only a robust discussion on the different needs disturbed characters have in therapy but also several vignettes that illustrate some of the uncommon characteristics of effective intervention with such individuals. But if you’re not familiar with those examples, hopefully the aforementioned suggestions will prove useful in getting the right kind of help.

Part 3 of this series will focus on the red flags to look out for if you have already engaged in a therapy process, red flags that indicate this might not be the kind of process likely to prove effective in dealing with the disturbed character in your life.

For part 3 of this series, see: “How to Tell When Therapy Won’t Work”.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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