Help clients understand and break the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle

Options for Effective Self-assessment

Are you qualified to work with low-nurturance
client families and/or wounded persons?

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council


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The Web address of this article is

        Clicking links here will open a new window or an informational popup, so turn off your browser's popup blocker or accept popups from this nonprofit, ad-free site . If the windows distract you, read the article before following any links.

        This article is one of a series on effective professional counseling, coaching, and therapy with (a) low-nurturance (dysfunctional) families and with (b) typical survivors of childhood neglect and trauma. These articles for professionals are under construction.

        This series assumes you're familiar with:

        Before continuing, pause and reflect - why are you reading this article? What do you need?

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        A basic premise of this Web site is that typical divorcing families and stepfamilies are significantly more complex than average intact biofamilies. They encounter special needs as they work to negotiate many alien extra life-cycle steps. One common need is for qualified professional support along the way, starting in courtship. As co-parents merge several biofamilies and stabilize, they need informed help from clergy, counselors or therapists, attorneys, school staffs, financial advisors, and medical professionals. Typical co-parents also need support from informed relatives, friends, and religious communities.

        In my experience as a stepfamily therapist since 1981, few human-service professionals are adequately trained to fill the special needs of these families. Most professionals - and their instructors and supervisors - don't know what they need to know. These Web articles for professionals summarize what I believe they need to know to provide effective service to typical divorced and re/married families. This article outlines ways to assess whether you have the requisites for effective service beyond those needed to practice your profession.

         Clinicians (marriage, family, and pastoral counselors, psychotherapists, clinical social workers and psychologists, and psychiatrists) and the people who train, supervise, license, and accredit their organizations have more requisites than typical legal, educational, financial, mediation, social service, and other medical professionals:

Requisite Clinicians Other professionals

Special knowledge

yes a subset

Special personal traits

yes helpful

* Self-led personality

essential essential

* Special attitudes

yes yes

* Special clinical skills

yes no

An informed, high-
nurturance environment

yes yes

Special resources

yes fewer

        Use the links above and what follows to estimate your current qualifications, and whether you need to improve them:

Keystone - a Self-led Personality

        An essential requisite for effective human service to any clients, patients, or students is to have your true Self (capital "S") consistently guiding the many subselves that comprise your inner-family (personality) in calm and conflictual situations. In my experience, many human-service professionals bear significant wounds from low-nurturance childhoods.

        They're often governed by a "false self," and don't know it or what it means. Virtually no diploma, licensing, or accreditation examiners will assess for this, because they and our society aren't aware of it yet. For perspective, read this true example of an average three-home nuclear stepfamily affected by psychological wounds, and then return here.

        Whether you're a clinician or other professional, and a parent or not, you can choose to assess who really runs your life - your true Self, or other subselves. To do this, study the following resources for background:

  • This slide presentation on the unseen [wounds + unawareness] cycle that stresses most U.S. families and wounds their descendents;

  • A summary of typical traits of a high-nurturance family (is or was yours?);

  • This slide presentation on personality subselves and "false self" wounds, and common questions about subselves

  • A two-page overview of what happens to adults who grew up in a low-nurturance family;

  • A comparison of true Self and false self traits; and...

  • This article overviewing recovery from common psychological wounds.

Now you're prepared to decide whether or not to assess yourself for false-self dominance. If you choose not to, that's a probable sign of protective false-self control. This assessment process is the same as what Lesson 1 this site encourages typical client co-parents to do.

        In my work with over 1,000 Midwestern co-parents since 1981, it appears that most U.S. bioparents and stepparents are significantly ruled by false selves - and are living half-lives and unintentionally wounding their kids. Psychological and legal divorce is a major symptom - and over half of U.S. marriages fail legally or psychologically. Has yours?

        Freeing your true Self to guide your other personality subselves is the gateway to your (a) wholistic health and (b) achieving your full professional competence. If you're often ruled by a well-meaning false self, the rest of these requisites won't help as much as they could. There is an effective way to free your true Self, with patience, courage, and informed help. If you're skeptical about these "inner-family" ideas, please meditate on this with an open mind...

        Now let's look at how to assess for the other requisites to qualify for serving divorced-family and stepfamily clients effectively. Skip the next section if you're not a clinician.

Self assessment for Clinicians

        prior pages propose specific clinical requisites in each category in the table above. Option: follow the links below to self-assess which requisites you have and which you need, and keep notes as you review.

  • Requisite knowledge of human systems, relationships, personalities, communications, grieving,  stepfamilies, and the therapeutic process;
  • Requisite personal traits to augment your knowledge;

    • Your true Self usually guides your other subselves in all situations;

    • Requisite attitudes about (a) these clients and (b) the therapeutic process;

    • Requisite assessment and intervention skills to fill these clients' special needs;

  • Requisite traits of an informed, high-nurturance workplace environment; and...

  • An inventory of recommended resources related to these clients.

Reality check: to be well-qualified to work with these clients, you should be able to discuss most or all of these questions typical clinicians should ask. Note that the mosaic of interlinked articles here propose most of the knowledge you'll need to serve these clients. The non-clinical articles are summarized in these lay guidebooks for convenient reference. I hope to integrate these professional articles into a similar guidebook by 2005. 

Self assessment for Non-clinical Professionals

        Recall: the theme here is becoming fully qualified to providing effective service to typical divorcing-family and stepfamily clients, patients, and/or students. If you provide (a) direct non-clinical service or (b) administrative support to direct providers (instruction, consultation, administration, evaluation, ...), you need your true Self to lead your personality and these requisites:

Knowledge: Be able to confidently answer and discuss all questions in these quizzes about personalities and relationships, effective communication, healthy grief, and stepfamilies. For "extra credit," (1) learn how to answer each of these questions co-parents should ask, and (2) learn the underlying themes in this mosaic of common divorced-family and stepfamily surface problems.

Attitudes: your behavior with these clients is semi-consciously shaped by a group of beliefs and values (good <> bad, right <> wrong, safe <> unsafe) attitudes) your subselves have acquired - often in childhood. With your Self guiding your inner family, review this proposal of requisite attitudes about these clients, and see what you learn. The most essential requisite is " =/=" - genuine mutual respect. Do you have an effective way of intentionally shifting your core attitudes, as life and your wisdom and awareness evolve?

Personal traits: A (personality) trait differs from a skill in that it is inherent, rather than learned. Most people can sing or learn to play the piano. A minority are gifted (innately talented) and can consistently create unusually evocative (touching, inspiring, entertaining, uplifting, moving) music. Can you name some unique traits that set you apart from most other people?

        With your Self in charge, review these eight special traits that can significantly enhance professional service to these clients (and others). Option: ask for honest feedback from those who know you as to which of the traits you display. Do you believe people can intentionally develop desirable personal traits?

Workplace environment: A human-service professional's "work environment" is anything that significantly affects his or her (a) wholistic health and (b) behavior with clients or patients. It can include...

  • co-workers - including colleagues, supervisors, office staff, administrators, and policy makers;

  • employer's and professional-association's attitudes and in/formal policies (e.g. on ethical behavior), and...

  • contracts with other provides and/or grant providers or other funders, if any; and...

  • local _ referral sources, _ community members, and _ media; and...

  • relevant state laws, legislators, and departments; and...

  • the physical workplace setting.

        The collective effect of all of these can inhibit or enhance direct service to these clients. Once aware of this, professionals can (a) intentionally try to improve aspects of their work environment, or (b) choose a new environment more conducive to effective service. With your Self in charge, get curious and honestly assess your working environment with some version of these criteria.

        Do you feel your environment helps or hinders the service you provide? Option: use the reality-check following the linked criteria. Then try out this dig-down skill to unearth your primary environmental needs, and decide if you need to change something.  

Special resources: two groups of resources can significantly help non-clinical professionals deliver effective service to these (and other) clients: (a) organizational/human assets, and (b) selected media assets. To acquire these, direct-service providers  need to acquire them intentionally, or have qualified administrators or colleagues acquire and maintain them. When your Self is leading, invest time in reading this article to assess (a) what special human and media resources you may profit from for these clients, and (b) where to get them.


        This article summarizes a way for licensed clinicians and other human-service providers to self-assess six or seven requisites to see if they're fully qualified to serve typical complex, low-nurturance families and trauma survivors. re are at least three things that can hinder professionals wanting to attain these vital requisites:

  • unawareness and unseen psychjological wounds. and...

  • typical divorcing and stepfamily clients aren't motivated to shop for fully-qualified professionals - specially in crises. Similarly, family-law professionals are uninformed about how to refer battling co-parents to fully-qualified mediators or clinicians. Clients are usually (a) unaware of their primary needs and (b) the requisites above, so they can't shop for them or evaluate well-intentioned referrals; and...

  • current U.S. media doesn't promote lay or professional awareness of these requisites. This is part of a larger societal denial of - and indifference to - our tragic divorce epidemic, the socially-expanding [wounds + unawareness] cycle that causes it, and its toxic personal, family, and social impacts.

        Pause and reflect: what needs were you trying to fill by reading this article? Did you fill them? If any new needs appeared, can you name them? Is there someone you want to show this article to and/or discuss it with?

        Now do you feel qualified enough to serve your divorced and re/married client families well?

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Updated  September 30, 2015