Managing Personality-Disordered Parents: 2 Day Seminar

© 2012 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.

On March 5-6, I gave a seminar to over 40 counselors, lawyers, parent educators and others working with high-conflict divorce cases. There was probably a thousand years’ combined experience in the room, which produced a lot of good questions and discussions. They were very receptive to the idea that parents with personality disorders need different management methods, other than simply getting angry with them or making all the decisions for them. They also liked my feedback that professionals shouldn’t work harder than their clients. The conclusion I have come to – and most of them agreed – is that professionals need to focus more on providing structure and skills for parents in high-conflict divorces, and less on making all the decisions. The reason, of course, is that personality-disordered parents undermine the best efforts of professionals and often don’t follow professional decisions anyway. Efforts need to be made to engage such parents more in the decision-making process, but after giving them some small skills in small steps which will help them succeed to the best of their ability. Giving them realistic skills and realistic tasks has them working harder and more successfully, than doing all the work for them and then being undermined.

The structure and skills I provided follow the basic principles of the New Ways for Families® method, which High Conflict Institute has developed over the past 2-3 years. Yet professionals don’t have to use the whole structure of this method – which includes judges and lawyers – in order to help their individual clients right now. So we focused on several skills: · Making proposals as the focus of decision-making · Making two proposals for any problem, as most problems have several possible solutions · Responding to proposals with Yes, No or I’ll Think About It · Managing Emotions during upsetting times · Communicating with BIFF Responses® [link to book here] · Setting Limits by educating about consequences · Working with resistance with compassion and education, as personality disordered parents generally resist what will actually help them

Overall, it was a very rewarding experience for me. I am very encouraged by the interest in new ways of really helping families with difficult parents, so that we can really help their children. There’s no perfect or easy answers, but I felt that these two days in Chicago helped us all improve our own professionals skills.

As several participants said, all graduate students and law students should be trained in these methods for working with high-conflict clients.

Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.

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