Alert others to inherited wounds + unawareness

Five Requisites for Effective Clinical Service

Requisite 3) Special Personal Traits, continued p. 2 of 2

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council


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        This page continues outlining the third of five requisites for effective clinical work with low-nurtur-ance families and survivors of childhood trauma - special personal traits.

Trait 7) Motivation and skill at educating clients in abstract concepts

        This site proposes that one of five common stepfamily stressors is co-parent (and professional) unawareness . This includes ignorance of (not knowing) relationship + communication + grieving + paren-ting + stepfamily basic concepts. Where true, therapists should...

  • assess co-parents' current knowledge and priorities,

  • motivate them to learn appropriate concepts,

  • provide missing knowledge in a useful form, and...

  • help co-parents learn how to apply the knowledge to fill their primary needs.

To do this effectively, professionals need requisite knowledge + teaching traits and abilities themselves. Do you agree?

        Some professionals are innately better at doing these four things than others. Reality check: of the many people who have taught you, were any specially gifted at sensing _ what you knew and needed to know, _ presenting useful knowledge to you, and _ motivating and inspiring you to enjoy learning? What traits make one person a more effective (vs. "better") teacher than another? Compare these with what you believe...

  • Self-led inner family

  • knowledgeable

  • patient

  • confident and serene

  • effective communicator

  • sociable, outgoing

  • mutually respectful

  • humorous, playful

  • often enthusiastic

  • reasonably flexible

  • aware and empathic

  • loves to learn and teach

  • genuine, authentic

  • creative

  • curious (interested)

  • realistically optimistic

  • wise (vs. "smart")

  • focused and organized

        Do you agree that every clinician has a different mix of these traits, so some are "more gifted" as teachers than others? Many of these traits can be intentionally developed, within personality and environ-mental limits. How effective a teacher are you with young and older adults, kids, and people controlled by false selves? If you work for someone, how effective is s/he at teaching you?

        Accepting professional responsibility to help clients strengthen their family's long term welfare and nurturance level implies intentionally encouraging co-parents to grow their own teaching traits and skills, though they may not ask for this. Note the difference between having effective teaching traits and skills, and having relevant knowledge to teach...

        Another personal characteristic that professionals need in working with these clients is...

Trait 8) Calmly accept frequent personal inability to fill a client-family's current needs

        Wherever they are on their family-life cycle, typical stepfamily clients are more complex and needy than most other family types. The...

  • number of concurrent presenting and primary problems, and...

  • the number of related second-order systemic changes clients require to become high-nurturance families, and...

  • the span of time required to _ make, adjust, and stabilize these changes; and _ fully grieve all family-members' sets of significant losses, and...

  • the financial investment needed to hire requisite professional help for all this

usually exceed client's and/or professional resources: many human-service organizations (e.g. HMOs) and insurance providers limit the number of subsidized clinical visits with a given client.

        A practical implication of these combined realities is that even clinicians in private practice are likely to face their inability to provide all that a given stepfamily client needs for long-term wholistic health. The most common instance of this is seeing that one or more co-parents have significant psychjological wounds , but aren't ready to admit that and make personal recovery a high personal priority. The next most common instance is concluding after thoro assessment that even with effective current interventions, eventual re/divorce is probable. A third difficult reality to accept is that the therapist's best efforts can't protect minor client children from false-self formation and wounding. There are others.

        Therapists ruled by shamed and/or guilty inner children and Perfectionist, Inner Critic , Catastrophizer,  and People-Pleaser   Guardian subselves (a false self) will have a hard time applying the Serenity Prayer to these painful clinical realities. Related guilt and shame can bloom if the therapist's dominant subselves feel "As a professional, I should be able to accept my inability - but I can't!" Other inner and outer stressors can occur if the therapist is serene and accepting of current limitations, but her or his co-therapist, supervisor, and/or case manager isn't.

        Therapists with life experience + a harmonious inner family + spiritual maturity are most apt to be able to accept their inexorable inability to " save" (rescue) their client families, and be truly content _ seeding future positive changes and _ genuinely turning the client children's and family's long-term protection and welfare over to their Higher Power.

Reality check: on a scale of one (I'm unable to accept my personal or professional limitations peacefully) to ten (the Serenity Prayer really works for me in all life situations), I see myself recently as a __.

Trait 9) Motivation and ability to flex spontaneously in and between sessions...

  • between psychodynamic (inner-family), dyadic, child, adult, family-system, and metasystem focuses and modalities; and...

  • between past, present, and future focuses; and  ...

  • teaching, advising, listening, and intervening toward systemic change; and between...

  • supportive, confrontive, and strategically-frustrating behaviors ("I'm stumped. I don't know what you should do."); and flex between...

  • direct, indirect, and paradoxic interventions (e.g. prescribing the problem  symptoms).

        And with these clients, effective clinicians also need to be able to flex spontaneously between ...

  • surface (presenting) problems) and underlying primary problems (unmet needs); and between...

  • abstract concepts (e.g. "inner wounds") and concrete concepts (which co-parent pays what child-related expenses?); and ....

  • teaching and guiding the attending clients (clinician takes responsibility) and empowering clients to take responsibility for filling their own needs; and they also need to...

  • flex among intervention techniques, like requesting homework, doing psychodrama, "parts (inner-family therapy) work", role plays, family sculpturing, etc.; and to...

  • shift fluidly between _ empathic listening , _ identifying, _ clarifying, and _ ranking client problems (needs); win-win problem solving , and _ referring to other resources or supporters. This is specially challenging because most stepfamily co-parents have no one in their lives who really understands their experience empathically. If the clinician seems truly empathic and knowledgeable, many co-parents (specially if controlled by a false self ) will use session after session to vent - so nothing changes for them outside the session.

        And effective clinicians also need to flex and dynamically balance between...

  • one biofamily subsystem and another (among three or more ), one co-parent and another, one stepchild-parent dyad and another, and the stepfamily-client system vs. other systems (e.g. the legal system); and also between ...

  • teaching, guiding, and promoting one Lesson and another; while strategically flexing between ...

  • filling _ the client's immediate and long-term needs, _ the clinician's own needs, and _ their organization's needs; and shift real-time between ...

  • ongoing _ intrapsychic, dyadic, and client-system assessment, _ real-time interventions, and _ administrative matters; while ...

  • managing session time constraints.

        The point: to be consistently effective with divorced-family and stepfamily clients, clinicians must be unusually facile at _ flexing spontaneously and easily on many levels, and _ knowing when not to flex.

        To balance all these dynamic factors effectively in and between sessions, clinicians (1) must be guided by their true Self , and (2) stay steadily aware of inner and inter-personal dynamics. That implies that his or her supervisor and/or case manager must also be _ Self guided and _ able to refocus from the client's needs to resolving the therapist's inner-family conflicts as needed. That implies that the clinical, program, or agency director be able to  assess _ whether supervisors are able to do this, _ are doing so effectively or not, and _ to make appropriate interventions when they're not.

Recap of requisite 3my 36 years' clinical experience with hundreds of divorced-family and stepfamily clients suggest that these nine personal traits are specially important in providing effective service:

  • Staying centered, focused, resilient, and patient in multi-problem, multi-client confusion, neediness, and conflict;

  • Spiritual trust, openness, and maturity;

  • Steady "wide-angle," long-range, multi-level awareness;

  • Comfort with and interest in solving  concurrent, complex systemic problems;

  • Comfort with confronting wounded and/or unaware clients in denial;

  • Comfort with strategically frustrating clients ruled by false selves

  • Motivation and skill at interesting and educating clients about key abstract concepts;

  • Calmly accepting frequent personal inability to provide all that clients currently need;

  • Instinctively flexing therapeutic modalities, focuses, and intervention strategies in response to  changing client and workplace needs and conditions.

        Each of these traits can be proactively developed within limits. Beyond that, they're innate personal gifts that some clinicians have more than others. Practical application: professionals who (1) hire clinical workers who will work with these clients, (2) assign stepfamily cases to staff therapists, and/or (3) choose professional consultants for staff development or case assistance, use the above as one of five selection criteria. Supervisors can also use these traits to enrich staff evaluations. Option: use some version of this special-trait requisite as an in-service or graduate-school curricula topic.

The last page suggests _ necessary personal and professional supports for effective service.


        Several of the five hazards  that burden most divorced and stepfamily co-parents also burden most human-service professionals they hire - specifically, false-self wounds  and unawarenesses . The latter includes lack of knowledge (ignorance) of the topics above and here. To help themselves and clients long-term, clinicians and their colleagues and administrators need to want to learn this rich array of topics and apply them strategically to each client family and related professional metasystems. Ways to do this include using these topics in...

  • _ hiring, _ training, and _ evaluating clinicians serving these five types of clients , including consultants, supervisors, case managers, and program directors;

  • designing in-service and community (outpatient) training programs;

  • providing and supporting local mutual-help groups for these clients;

  • alerting colleagues in other human-service fields who work with these clients - particularly clergy, mediators, case-workers, attorneys, educators, and law-enforcement and medical professionals.

  • presentations to professional and interdisciplinary conferences, and articles in professional publications;

  • creating educational handouts and Web pages for clients and local and Web communities;  (Option - use or adapt any of these Web pages* that pertain); and use these special educational topics in...

  • case and therapeutic-group design, supervision, and management.

Reality check: in your setting, which of these options do you see as significant opportunities to improve service and satisfaction, and which are you motivated to take action on now?

The concluding page outlines a sixth vital requisite: special resources needed to support professionals serving these needy client families

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Updated  September 30, 2015