I read an interesting few lines in an article by William E. Krill, Jr. L.P.C. The article is entitled, The Child Victim of a Narcissistic Personality Disordered Parent. Although he is writing about the experience of children and the non NPD parent, he also writes about counselors working with persons with NPD. Accordingly:

Clinical counselors are always very hesitant if not completely avoiding of treating children involved in custody cases when a parent is perceived to have NPD (narcissistic personality disorder). Most clinicians will only very rarely publicly identify a person as having a personality disorder, lest the narcissist turn their full wrath on the counselor (meaning hauling them into court to ‘testify’ or more often, ‘harass’ them about their work, competency, etc.).

I don’t know where he draws his information to support his point of view, but anecdotally, this is consistent with my experience.

I have had many clinical counselors seek guidance and supervision, having gotten caught up in the distortions, outright lies and manipulations of their client, whom they perceive to have a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). These clinicians are typically looking to extricate themselves from the case in order to protect themselves from the vilification they see perpetrated by the client towards the client’s current or former partner.

I have also read many child custody/access evaluations where the issue of a parent’s personality disposition and egregious behavior is minimized or equivocated on the basis of the other parents responding behavior. In these cases, withholding a child’s access to the parent whose behavior is objectively egregious does not make their transactions equal, but it does spare the evaluator the wrath or vengeance of the person who presents with NPD.

Having worked on many cases with a person who appears to meet criteria for NPD, I can fully understand the clinician who looks to dump the hot potato or the evaluator who wants to survive the evaluation him or herself unscathed.

Whereas our clients have to survive their one NPD partner, counselors and evaluators have to survive their many NPD clients and their wrath can be formidable. Given the Internet, these persons find and spur each other on and collude to attack the service provider and seek to bring credibility to their attacks on the basis of their shared complaints. They can be relentless, much like gum stuck to the bottom of your shoe. These are the clients who will write despicable anonymous comments on the Internet and who will make numerous complaints to the clinician’s regulatory bodies.

As in our work with those who must live or carry on with the NPD partner or former partner, clinicians too must survive their work with these clients. Strategies for coping and surviving one’s clients are the same as what is suggested to the victims of these persons.

Talk openly about your experience – do not be embarrassed into silence;
Seek the support of family, friends and colleagues;
Manage yourself appropriately, despite any feelings of recrimination;
Let your otherwise good reputation speak for itself.

In the end how the clinician handles these situations speak more about the clinician than the diatribes of the NPD former client.

If you are a clinician worried about your work with a person whom you view as NPD, then do seek help or consultation or supervision to manage the case as best as possible. In the end, we want to continue to serve vulnerable children and adults with less concern for ourselves. Just as we extol parents to advance the needs of their children over their own, so too do we as clinicians have a responsibility to advance the needs of vulnerable and abused clients above our own. Support, consultation and good clinical practice is key.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker. I offer support and consultation to clinicians.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
(905) 628-4847

Author's Bio: 

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America and was the first social worker to sit on the Ontario Board for Collaborative Family Law.