Category Archives: personality

Clicking with your counselee


In every first session with a client I tell them that part of their job is evaluate whether I am the right therapist for them. While it is very important that your counselor is well-trained, if you don’t click with your counselor, the work you are trying to do will be much harder. Now, of course it often takes a few sessions to determine whether you can form a trusting, collaborative relationship or not.

I am always thankful when a client is willing to raise the “fit” problem with me. It gives us an opportunity to explore the disconnect, fix it if possible or happily refer to someone else. Too frequently disconnected clients choose to either keep plugging away (but being less and less vulnerable) or just fade away and you never know what went wrong.

But what if the counselor doesn’t connect with the client…and the client doesn’t know it? What should the counselor do?

1. Use supervision or consultation to explore the disconnect. Maybe the disconnect will reveal something useful about the counselee. Maybe it will reveal some pride or prejudice in the counselor. Maybe it will reveal some naiveté or lack of competency or empathy or conflict over goals. Or, maybe it will reveal some cultural differentness that is really hard to overcome.

2. Assess whether or not (again using supervision) whether progress is being made. Is the counselee growing in insight? Gaining control? Showing more fruits of the Spirit? Seeing a decrease in anxiety or depression? The counselor may need to reassess their goals for the client.

3. Consider attempting more “here and now” to explore what is going on in the relationship between counselor and counselee. HOWEVER, do not do this to tell them how you are feeling NOR to be condescending. This action is designed to help both of you to be more present and decrease disconnection.

4. If all else fails, refer. This would be appropriate if (a) you believe you are not competent to help them or impaired in some way (and you should communicate your lack–in a limited way–to the client when discussing referral), or (b) you believe the problem is that counseling is harmful (and again you should discuss why you think this way and what the options might look like for them. Remember to avoid abandoning them. Referrals are specific, take time, and are for their best interest, not yours.

The bottom line is that the onus is on the counselor to work through the disconnect and to do all that he or she can to fix the problem or to tolerate it if the client is making good progress. This is what it means to “love one another.” We fail to do so if we either ignore the problem or use the disconnect to get rid of counselees that do not feed our egos.

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Filed under christian counseling, christian psychology, counseling, counseling skills, ethics, personality, Psychology, Uncategorized

Infidelity: personality or opportunity?


On the way to work today I heard a radio personality muse about the rampant sexual infidelity among politicians and sports figures. They talked about how people (i.e., men as the stereotype goes)  in power have much more opportunity for sexual acting out because they have more women offering themselves to them. Probably true…

But, is it that they have more opportunity (and thus more chance to give in to temptation) or is it because they have a personality that sets themselves up for infidelity? And would  you have a different answer if we were talking about bribe taking or other financial temptations instead of sexual indiscretion?

I think they are the same AND I think every has opportunity (some more than others). What matters is one’s perceptions of self and others. While personality plays a part of our self awareness, the drive to win, be the best, to get the prize, listening only to one’s fans, the sense that you are better than others also is formed from self-talk. Thus, opportunity makes it possible but failure to be self-critical is the key feature that makes opportunity become reality.

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Filed under Cognitive biases, ethics, personality, Psychology, Sex

Are you a genetic fatalist?


Definition of a genetic fatalist: If I have genetic markers for _____, then I will have _____ problem.

Maybe this doesn’t happen to you but I find that when I have conversations about a wide variety of counseling related issues, they end up hitting upon the genetic question? Whether we are discussing anxiety, depression, alcoholism, sexual identity or similar concerns, I can count on being asked,

“Do you think it is genetic?”

The questioner seems to think that if the answer is “Yes,” then the individual in question has no responsibility for the situation–or no control over what is taking place. “If my alcoholism is genetic then it wasn’t my fault.” “If my son’s sexual identity confusion is genetic then he can’t do anything about it.”

Here’s what I want to say to most of these questions:

1. Probably but we don’t really know. There are lots of researchers trying to discover genetic markers and how our genes express themselves. Some we understand really well (like eye and hair color) and others we understand less well.

But even if tomorrow we discover that your husband’s OCD is genetically based, what does that mean? Is he forever trapped in acting on his OCD?

2. Thinking about genes this way doesn’t really help us right now. We all have genetic markers for various cancers and diseases but not all of us contract the problems. Women may have markers for breast cancer but never have the disease. How can that be? It can be that way because disease states or mental health matters are multifactorial in their origination. There may be genetic markers as well as environmental insults as well as psychological stressors that all work together to either protect from the disease or cause it to get started.

So, are you a genetic fatalist? Do you give your deciding vote to genetic markers when considering responsibility and control regarding behavioral issues, mental health problems, personality?

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Filed under christian psychology, counseling, News and politics, personality, Psychology

Identified by your betrayals?


This past Sunday one of our pastors, Erik Larsen, asked this question:

Are you too identified by your betrayals?

He was asking whether we form our identity around the script of being betrayed and use our experiences of being betrayed as shaping our sense of all of life. I think we could also consider whether we shape our identity around our betrayals of others?

What forms your sense of self and the world? A serious violation of your trust?A major failure? How might you begin to reconstruct your sense of self around the whole picture of who you are?

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Filed under biblical counseling, christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, counseling, Identity, personality

Physiology Phriday: Repetitive thoughts?


Have you ever been tortured by a repetitive word, sound, phrase, song, or the like run through your head? Does it happen only during the day? At night when you wake up?

In psychological studies, there are a number of ways people talk about these experiences. Sometimes folks talk about intrusive thoughts/imagery, but this is usually in the context of PTSD or OCD studies. Others talk about rumination or repetitive thoughts, usually in the context of worry, depression, or anger. Finally, another batch talk about hallucinations in regards to psychotic disorders.

But what is going on in the more mundane repetitive thoughts? Diagnostically, they probably fit a bit more in the OCD genre than anything else (like counting, ordering, etc.).

1. Stress is usually a factor. They happen more frequently the more distressed a person is. It means the person is on higher alert than normal. The repetitions may be directly related to the stressor or may not. What is not know is whether the repetitions are a consequence of stress or a mediator of stress. What is known is that when a person, under stress, experiences repetitive thoughts salient to the stress, feels responsible to fix the problem, and attempts to suppress repetitive thoughts, their ruminations are MORE likely to increase.

2. Neuroticism is probably a factor as well. Sorry folks: those with anxious and depressive tendencies have more repetitive thoughts than others.

3. Emotional intensity as a native trait of the person may also be a factor. There is some evidence that individuals with strong emotions have a greater predisposition to PTSD (and therefore intrusive thoughts) if exposed to traumatic events.

But what to do about repetitive thoughts? Have you found anything helpful? There are certain things that are NOT helpful

1. Ruminating over the thoughts (Ugh, I can’t believe I’m still having that thought)

2. Trying to solve the problem they may be attached to

3. Trying not to think about pink elephants

Okay, so maybe those things don’t work. What does? Sad answer? We don’t know. Distractions do for a short time. Some actually give in to them and repeat them outloud to try to quell them. The more it is possible to pay them little notice, the easier it is to let them slide on out of the mind.

Maybe try to consider them an interesting mental quirk–like the lovable Monk (TV detective) 🙂

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Filed under Anxiety, counseling science, Depression, personality, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Psychology

3 inches too short


I prefer to either fail miserably or to hit a home run. What I hate is to put my all in it, come close to a great job done but realize my effort wasn’t good enough. You know, coming in 4th in the Olympics is more painful than 10th. Maybe this relates to that glory in self thing I wrote about yesterday.

What prompts this thought? On Friday I spent the entire afternoon putting on a new gutter on my house. I knew it would be a stretch for me since I’ve never done that, would be doing it alone, and am not great with my hands. After 4 hours of going up and down my ladder, using an electric screwdriver over my head, I installed 31.5 feet of gutter to my back roof.

It looked great. And just in time since a tropical storm was passing by our area. I enjoyed knowing I had accomplished a task that was difficult (for me).

Then the storm came. The gutter worked great…except it was 3 inches too short. My roof overhangs the fascia board by 3 inches on one end. I neatly lined the gutter to the edge of the fascia board. It’s amazing just how much water runs down that little bit of roof.

I want it to be good enough but the fact is it isn’t. Too much water comes down and puddles near the foundation. It must be changed. It will require I go back up the ladder, loosen the fasteners, slide the gutter over, and manufacture another end piece that is 3 inches longer than the last one I did.

How do you respond to the realization that something you worked hard enough on isn’t good enough? My response is to keep wishing it is good enough. Just don’t go into the back yard and don’t look up. Don’t look out the kitchen window when it is raining. This is the proverbial ostrich response. My second response is to figure out if there is some easy way out. A simple fix. I’ll spend a good deal of time trying this path even though I could expend less energy in just fixing the problem. I just don’t want to give up and admit I screwed up.

I think I’m like this about my sin as well. I see my weaknesses and I’m tempted to ignore or find some creative way to call it good.

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Filed under personality, sin

Facial change recognition speed and personality problems


Read a study recently where the researchers discovered that folks with a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder are markedly faster in their ability to discern subtle affective change in facial expressions than the general population. This data from the study also suggests that this population of people DO NOT make more mistakes in assessing mood than the general population.

Why would some folks be more sensitive to very subtle affect changes in others? The study didn’t attempt to answer that but I suspect it is because they (a) needed to be vigilant to potential danger, (b) they themselves are highly emotional, and (c) they have been “schooled” to believe that others are more right in their assessments and so they should accept other people’s feelings as more true. 

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Filed under Abuse, personality, Uncategorized

Integrative Psychotherapy V


Now here in chapter 4 of Integrative Psychotherapy, McMinn and Campbell are starting to map out their 3 domained model of persons and psychotherapy. As an aside, the next chapter will cover how to do assessment and case conceptualization within this model and the remaining 6 chapters (excluding the conclusion) will be spent exploring each domain and how to apply the concepts into practice (2 chapters per domain). Should be a fun ride.

If you will recall from their chapter 1, they imagine the imago dei as a good rubric of the nature of persons and as best described by its functional, structural, and relational aspects (i.e., behavior, cognitive/moral, and relational aspects). They note that most therapy models tend to address one of these 3 domains problems: cognitions and challenging distorted thinking/acting, schema or insight-oriented work, and relational/experiential work. Instead of separating these domains, McMinn and Campbell define them as necessary and interconnected. “A person engages in functional behavior because of certain structural capacities, and similarly, relationships influence a person’s [behaviors and schemas].” (p. 115)

I think the best way to understand the interconnected parts of their model is to see it. Page 136 offers a nice illustration (Thanks Mark for making this available.). Note how behaviors, thoughts and feelings are influenced by situations but also arise out of core beliefs/schema and relational experiences. Note also the dark arrows depict the common path of influence but that feed-back loops are in play as well. Though I wish they gave more detail here how the domains interrelate (that would be a very fat personality text!), they do a fine job illustrating what they mean by discussing the case of “James,” a man who suffers with anxiety and things his value comes from meeting others’ expectations.

Domain 1 (Functional/behavioral) lends itself to symptom reduction and skill-building activities (the heart of cognitive-behavioral therapy). A counselor might address how James might learn so anxiety reduction techniques. But stopping here leaves James and the counselor wanting more. Why does James view himself and the world this way? Where do these distorted views come from? McMinn and Campbell recognize that these views are very hard to disrupt because they are so well-engrained through experiences. Domain 2 (Structural) then looks deeper to settled core beliefs using insight-oriented techniques to expose unconscious schemas that might uncover how these schemas got started (we learn, among other things, that James’ father was harsh and that he made some understandable but problematic choices/interpretations that now lock him in a pattern of perceiving himself as a failure–even though this view violates his own Christian belief).

Domain 3 (Relational). IP recognizes that formative relationships shape our schemas AND that the formative relationship between client and counselor provides experiences to shape and reshape our experience of self, other, and God, mirroring the incarnation of Christ.

Throughout this chapter the authors show how the IP 3 domain model is similar and different from standard CT. Yes CT is interested in reducing distorted thinking and building life skills. But IP also values insight and experiential aspects to therapy and provide additional opportunities to expose settled core beliefs (See p. 132 for a great chart illustrating how IP stands as a bridge between CT and insight-oriented models). IP attempts to show how the interconnections of situations, past experiences, developed core beliefs, habits, etc. illustrate both determinism (stuff outside us shapes us significantly) AND human agency (our choices also shape us). They also explain that classic CT has not done a good job explaining how relationships, motivation, emotions and culture play in person development. Further IP is not merely CT with some additions because it is built on a Christian view of persons (creation, fall, redemption, imago dei, etc.)

MY THOUGHTS AND ONE QUESTION: Now, we are getting into the meat of their model. It is good to hear their theoretical foundations in previous chapters but now McMinn and Campbell show us how they see how humans develop. While acknowledging the Fall, here’s what I see about their view:

1. Humans are intrinsically motivated to move toward God and long for a proper relationship to God, others, and creation.
2. The fall brings misery, brokenness, and difficulty (our fundamental problem is broken relationships)
3. Fallen humans are ripe for cognitive distortion.
4. When good longings (see pt. 2) are not met, we make bad but understandable choices (even adaptive at the time) and interpretations which lead to formative experiences that we interpret in distorted ways which in turn lead to more cognitive, moral/schema, and relational problems.

Classic Reformed theology suggests we NOT ONLY inherit a broken world, we also inherit Adam and Eve’s desire to be on par with God. We have an intrinsic motivation to be God and our denial of God comes out of this motivation (Rom 1). So here’s my question (in 2 parts):

1. Do we begin with good longings that we attempt to meet in naive and foolish ways (a la James in chapter 4), OR do we begin at birth to read things in distorted ways because we are looking to be our own God? Or both
2. Does this distinction matter? How would it impact our therapy model or application?

Calvin seems to support both ideas. He says our heart are idol factories AND he says our problem is not so much what we want/desire, but how much we want it. Notice that if you emphasize the “bad response to a bad situation” then it might end up dismissing personal culpability. However, if you emphasize the “bad heart seeks self promotion” then it might end up missing the all important influence passed on from a broken world and thereby blaming people for being sinned against.

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Filed under book reviews, christian psychology, Cognitive biases, personality, Psychology, Uncategorized

How much does personality influence views on theology?


My last two posts cover the effect of personal stories on the positions we take in areas of controversy. One particular controversial area for our seminary has to do with “the missional turn” we are taking as an institution. For those not familiar with this idea, you can explore more by going to our president’s Missional Journal. But here’s the controversy in short. Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, theologians disagree about how the church should reach this generation and the next. Some see evangelicalism as highly deficient in its understanding of the Gospel, of community life and our purpose in the world, and our relationship to God. The system is broken and needs complete overall. Others acknowledge that much of the church is “me-driven” but that our theological systems are just fine even if we need to refine their application to everyday life.

Enter personality differences. Continue reading

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Filed under Doctrine/Theology, missional, Missional Church, personality

Take this psychological test…


Okay, I have testing and assessment on the brain as I am preparing for a course on the topic. I forgot my lunch today and so went to find some paltry substitute from the candy vending machine. I looked over my choices and noticed one item was hanging and just about to fall. If I chose that item I just might get two items for the price of one. Clearly, someone had chosen the item but didn’t get what they paid for. But I was now in the position of deciding whether I would take my chances and benefit from the sad situation of some previous vending user. So, here are two forced choice personality questions for you (no, you can’t choose, it depends!):

1. Would you buy an item in order to get a “2 for 1” deal even if the item wasn’t what you would usually buy. Yes or No?

2. Would you select an item where a “2 for 1” deal was possible solely for the thrill/challenge of the risk involved? Yes or No? 

As for me? I’m more inclined to answer yes for #2 because of the challenge. But, I’m not really a gambler and when it comes to food, some things are much more important than deals. The item in question was beef jerky. I’m sorry, that isn’t food. Who eats that stuff? Now, maybe if it was a chocolate bar I don’t normally eat…

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Filed under personality