Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Understanding Dan Montgomery's Compass Therapy

My fifteen years of collaboration with Everett Shostrom, a Stanford research psychologist and psychotherapist who carried out pioneering work in the field of counseling, planted the roots for Compass Therapy in what we at that time called Actualizing Therapy. Our approach combined a health model of personality with an explanatory system of psychopathology. We suggested that actualizing growth fosters maturity, flexibility, and purpose in life, and constitutes a reasonable goal of therapy. Further, that therapeutic gain always involves the integration of polar opposites within the personality and an acceptance of individual differences in relationships.

Historically, Dr. Shostrom had produced the “Gloria” films during which Carl Rogers, Fritz Perls, and Albert Ellis each worked in hour-long sessions with a counselee named Gloria. These films demonstrated the usefulness of showing exactly what happens in counseling sessions so that others can replicate beneficial techniques. Some years later Shostrom and I produced a second film series that featured Arnold Lazarus (Multimodal Therapy), Carl Rogers (Client-Centered Therapy), and Everett Shostrom (Actualizing Therapy) each working with a counselee named Cathy.

In the decades followed I continued this eclectic theory building by developing Compass Therapy, an approach that links together the Self Compass model of personality with operational definitions of psychopathology found in the universal standard for mental health professionals: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The use of compass-like diagrams made a user-friendly graphical interface that not only highlighted the principles of Compass Therapy, but also allowed counselees to readily understand how to participate more fully in their own transformation.


Though Compass Therapy has distinctions of its own, I was careful to construct an open-ended conversation with other major counseling theories. This partnering philosophy makes Compass Therapy a co-proponent of some of the most reliable therapeutic principles found in Psychoanalysis, Jungian Therapy, Gestalt Therapy, Transactional Analysis, Family Therapy, Existential Psychotherapy, Behavioral Therapy, Cognitive Therapy, and Positive Psychology. Perhaps this accounts for why Raymond Corsini, considered by many as the dean of American counseling and psychotherapy, has described my Compass Therapy approach as a “supersystem” that represents “the therapeutic system of the future.”

What has differentiated Compass Therapy from other theories is the idea that human nature and personality are comprised of dynamic opposites that need integration around the core self, and that action techniques are often required to move people forward in therapeutic progress. Like the alternating AC/DC current that powers an electric appliance, polar opposites in human beings create aliveness and health. For instance, healthy individuals find rhythms between solitude and sociability, activity and passivity, involvement and detachment, and work and play.

It’s when the dynamic movement between polarities breaks down and you get an extended flat line of stasis that people become sick, depressed, or devitalized. Dynamic movement fueled by the rhythmic swings of polar opposites expresses itself in mental health as well. Healthy individuals are spontaneous and flexible precisely because they are alive with new possibilities and passionate about the pursuit of creativity. If something doesn’t work, they try something else. If they are frustrated in fulfilling a goal, they explore novel options. They resist becoming stuck in a one-dimensional life.

Psychopathology, however, works differently. Rigidity replaces rhythm. Resourcefulness succumbs to sameness. Relationships perpetuate superficial actions and reactions. Life grows dull. Symptoms set in. The personality and human nature become frozen in intractable patterns that resist change and growth. Actually, the whole range of psychopathological alternatives to healthy living have a strangely attractive appeal, for they seem to make life safe, to make life predictable, and make life familiar.

The Compass Model
Healthy individuals can be loving or assertive, and weak or strong, as a situation requires. Rigid individuals are stuck in chronic behavior patterns that are too loving, too aggressive, too weak, or too strong. If healthy living lets you play the eighty-eight keys of the piano with both hands, then psychopathology makes you play only “Chopsticks” with two fingers.

Compass Therapy's Self Compass as well as the Human Nature Compass offer crucial dimensions for growth of personality and human nature that give a person all eight-eight keys, and unlimited capacity for composing the creative melodies and harmonies required for successful coping.

The Self Compass Explains Personality Disorders

How does the Self Compass help you understand personality disorders?

Here's how. The LAWS of personality and relationships form four universal compass points of Love and Assertion, Weakness and Strength.

A personality pattern is a set of manipulative behaviors stemming from unconscious assumptions that directly affect how you perceive, think, feel, and act. Whether you became this way through how you were parented or other factors, you can only change a personality disorder through accurate insight and new choices.

There are primarily nine patterns that hamper personality growth, shown as they are located on the Self Compass. They are serious enough to undermine your attempts for love and happiness. But you can change them more easily than most people think. Self Compass knowledge is the key.

These descriptors are psychologically accurate, yet easy to remember because in the compass model, we pair the clinical name of the disorder with a descriptor that anyone can understand. You can think of these terms as temporary descriptions of a person’s behavior until that you make new choices that reflect personality balance and constructive change.
  • Those stuck in the Dependent Pleaser and Histrionic Storyteller personality patterns exaggerate the Love compass point. Too much love makes them compliant or attention craving. They don't realize that they lack a stable identity within themselves. 
  • Paranoid Arguer and Antisocial Rule-breaker patterned people are stuck on the Assertion compass point. Too much assertion makes them argumentative or exploitive. 
  • Avoidant Worrier and Schizoid Loner patterned people are stuck on the Weakness compass point. Too much weakness makes them withdrawn or detached. 
  • Narcissistic Boaster and Compulsive Controller patterned people are stuck on the Strength compass point. Too much strength makes them arrogant or compulsive.  
  • Borderline Challengers flip-flop from the Top Dog patterns of Strength and Assertion into the Underdog patterns of Weakness and Love and back again. This unstable volatility makes the borderline person believe that everyone else is responsible for their troubles, when the truth is their own personality pattern is to blame.
Most people lay claim to several of these patterns at some point in their lives. But the Self Compass both diagnoses the problem and shows you how to fix it. Whatever compass point your personality is stuck on determines your path for getting unstuck. If you are stuck in the Worrier pattern on the Weakness compass point, you take growth stretches primarily toward the opposite compass point: Strength. Over time, you move from self-defeating thoughts like “No one feels as scared as I do. I may as well give up,” to “I might blow this, because I’m human. But I’m doing it anyway.”

In our book The Self Compass my wife Kate illustrates the Controller Pattern this way:

I hand Dan my printed-out chapter to edit. He picks up the red pen and starts in, crossing out here, adding words there, deleting whole sentences. I bite my tongue to keep from protesting. My shoulders tighten, my jaw clenches, and I watch him like a hawk, ready to swoop down in defense of a brilliant phrase that must be kept just so. 

Even though I know objectively that Dan’s editing greatly improves my writing, when the Controller pattern has the upper hand, I feel driven to present him with a draft so perfect he won’t need to change a thing. 
Without a compass correction, this inner tension would spill over into our relationship, making it difficult for Dan to give honest feedback for fear of upsetting me. Then we’d both be held hostage to the harsh taskmaster of perfection.

Personality patterns left unchecked can undermine and even destroy relationships. They hamper your ability to love God and others as yourself, keeping you from fulfilling Christ’s purpose for your personality. 

To find out more, read:

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Compass Therapy Liberates Rigid Personalities

Compass Therapy interprets personality rigidity as the way in which people unconsciously try to minimize anxiety by becoming inflexible, opting for stereotypic mind-sets that offer false security and impair actualizing development. These mind-sets congeal into rigid trends and patterns, defying the Self Compass LAWS (Love and Assertion, Weakness and Strength) of wholeness, even though this is not the person’s intention. 

Usually people are unaware of behavioral rigidity, simply thinking, “This is how I’ve always been.” Nevertheless, these trends and patterns are formidable barriers that arrest growth toward loving self, others, and God, constituting a hidden dimension of sin within the human condition.

Personality Rigidity

The Self Compass can help. It provides not only a model for comprehending personality dysfunction, but also places behavioral rigidity on a continuum with actualizing growth, thereby revealing a bridge of continuity that shows how to move from rigidity to the actualizing rhythms of personality health. 

A rigid personality trend strands individuals in a lifestyle characterized by too much dependency, too much aggression, too much withdrawal, too much control, or a combination of these trends.

This growth deficiency is held in place by an unconscious manipulative attitude, a way of treating both self and others as objects for manipulation rather than persons worthy of respect and love. As Buber suggested, manipulation reduces the “I - Thou” quality of life to “I - It.”

Anna Freud described how specific defense mechanisms, which we call manipulative trends, need challenging, so that individuals can come to grips with their underlying concerns. Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, Harry Stack Sullivan, Karen Horney, Eric Berne, Abraham Maslow, Virginia Satir, and Aaron Beck, among other theorists, describe from their own perspective the four manipulative trends of dependency, aggression, withdrawal, and compulsive control.

Compass personality theory locates these trends around the Self Compass, yielding an intelligible map for understanding and transforming them. 

The Trends Self Compass: Dr. Dan & Kate Montgomery

Notice how the Trends Self Compass shows the familiar healthy compass points on the outer circle and summarizes their actualizing expression. Expressing these polarities rhythmically helps generate personality health and relational fulfillment.
  • Actualizing Love fosters nurturing and forgiving
  • Healthy Weakness expresses vulnerability and uncertainty
  • Diplomatic Assertion offers expressiveness and assertiveness
  • Humble Strength yields confidence and adequacy
The shaded interior circle reveals the unconscious hidden agenda that governs each trend. This circle is smaller than the actualizing circle, and bordered by a thicker ring, indicating that manipulative trends contract the personality, constricting freedom by diminishing creativity. Trust in the spiritual core is infiltrated by core fear, the distorting force that underlies manipulative living.

While everyone is occasionally dependent or aggressive, withdrawn or controlling, a manipulative trend fixates into a predictable way of life that has dehumanizing repercussions.
  • Wilhelm Reich observed that manipulation tenses body musculature, terming it character armor. 
  • Karen Horney described manipulation as a tragic waste of human potential. 
  • Carl Rogers viewed manipulation as a struggle for authenticity between an idealized self and a real self. 
  • Joseph Wolpe described rigid trends as maladaptive behavior that can be unlearned. 
  • Eric Berne construed the self-fulfilling nature of manipulative trends as negative life scripts. 
  • Albert Ellis noted that a manipulative mindset is held in place by a set of irrational assumptions. 
  • Aaron Beck referred to manipulations as exaggerated cognitive processes.
Compass Therapy adds that understanding the particular ways that core fear infuses and drives the manipulative trends (Dependent, Aggressive, Withdrawn, and Controlling) provides vital clues that facilitate healing and promote wholeness, regardless of whether this transformation is called personality integration, spiritual formation, sanctification, or self-actualizing in Christ.

For more, read:

Christian Personality Theory

Compass Therapy Helps Worriers and Loners

Most people would not consider being overly withdrawn, detached, or hermit-like as sinful, but Jesus sees it differently. In the parable of the three servants given funds to invest by their master, the first two take appropriate risks that bring a return on the investment. The third hides the money away and later says to the master, “I was afraid I might lose some so I didn’t invest any.” The master takes what has been entrusted to this servant and gives it to the other two, ordering punishment for the servant’s play-it-safe attitude (Mt 25:14-30).

One of the major ways people can sin against God and sabotage the purpose for which they are created is to withhold themselves from others. Of course there are many rationalizations for doing so: “I had a bad childhood,” “I was humiliated in school and never got over it,” or “My best friend stabbed me in the back so I decided never to trust anyone.” This same type of rationale occurs between the person and God. “I prayed for something really important and it never happened, so I quit praying.” “God has more important things to do than care about me.”

The pattern of withholding one’s self as a strategy through life forestalls self-development, triggering a premature abdication of identity. Within a Christian perspective, the pattern intercepts one’s identity and calling in Christ.

Jesus and The Avoidant Worrier

Jesus says to the Avoidant Worrier, “Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?” (Lk 12:25-26). To stimulate the Worrier’s active trust in him, Christ says, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom” (Lk 12:32). What is this kingdom that the Father gives to the Worrier? It is the:
  • richness of companionate relationships
  • fullness of an active mind and expressive heart
  • excitement of developing talents and hobbies
  • joy of communion with the Trinity
  • pleasure of having one’s name spoken by friends and acquaintances
  • interest of days filled with growth and adventure
  • serenity that replaces fear and worry with gratitude for being alive
No doubt some friends and family members have tried to awaken the Worrier to the pleasures of life and relationships, their words falling on deaf ears, the seeds of their encouragement lying on fallow ground. But when Worriers finally hear the voice of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit who passionately and gently witnesses to Christ’s presence in the soul, then Christianity delivers its message to Worriers, who begin to exchange the burden of worry for active steps that lead to a larger life.

How does the Bible approach the Schizoid Loner? Paul counsels, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some” (Heb 10:24-25). Obviously Paul knew some Christians who had succumbed to the Loner pattern by isolating from fellowship with others. Because Christ knows the damaging effects of the Loner pattern, he pursues Loners to bring them home to the friendship of Trinity love

Jesus says:
“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep’” (Lk 15:3-6).

Jesus and the Schizoid Loner

How can the Loner overcome years of self-absorbed solitude? The answer is, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Ro 13:14); that is to say, until Loners develop a modicum of social skill for communicating with others, it works to simply model Christ.

For more, read: 

Christian Personality Theory

Compass Therapy Offers Hope for a Happy Life

Compass Therapy offers hope for transformative growth  throughout the lifespan. That means you can have a happy life, no matter what you go through.

The Bible affirms this hope by assuring that God has a positive plan for each person’s life, “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer 29:11).

Neuropsychology supports this hope by showing clearly that human personality is malleable. The brain can respond to new learning even into old age.

In the therapeutic alliance the counselor and client are not just working to solve presenting problems, but growing together as persons along life’s way. Through the counselor’s behavioral modeling of caring and courage, humility and esteem, the client comes to experience the interpersonal dimension of hope for fulfilling relationships, giving and receiving love, and if the client chooses, loving and trusting God.

This brings us to a diagram that helps inspire counselees with an overview for their lifetime growth in Christ: “The Actualizing Ascent.” Upon showing the diagram to a counselee, you might say, “This represents the human lifespan.”

You explain that the first half of the curve slopes upward, which represents human development the morning of life, from birth to midlife. The tasks of this phase of life include the acquisition of language and culture, education, experimentation with social roles, identity formation, employment, and marriage and
child-rearing if so chosen.

As shown by the curve’s peak, the middle vertical line designates the high noon of midlife, and sometimes precipitates an identity crisis as people shift from the morning to the afternoon of life. While ambition and ego satisfaction characterize the morning of human development, the afternoon of life requires a more interior search for meaning, wholeness, and interpersonal fulfillment.

Carl Jung reported that virtually all of his patients in the second half of life were grappling with religious concerns. Though an individual may get by the first half of life without cultivating actualizing virtues, the lack of development in the second half of life can lead to confusion, frustration and despair.

It’s almost as if God imbues aging with the power to arrest everyone’s attention -- to finally say, “Look. You really are finite and temporal! You’d better grow in me while there is still time, for without me, you will be nothing.” The down-sloped side of the lifespan curve shows the inexorable decline of bodily health and stamina. Wear and tear in the body shows up in wrinkling skin, slowed metabolism, sagging muscles, stiffened joints, vulnerability to disease, and eventually, diminished mental capacities.

For those who refuse to challenge their rigid personality trends during this time, these trends intensify and take a tragic toll. 

Aggressive persons become crankier and more belligerent, ever more paranoid and chronically suspicious. Dependent persons feel more anxiety-ridden and scattered. Withdrawn people shrivel up like leather left out in the sun too long, adapting to marginal levels of subsistence, barely getting by, and isolating from human contact. Controlling people grow obsessively worried about the things they can’t control, raising their blood pressure and shortening their tempers.

The goods news, though, is that people can grow increasingly wise, patient, and mature in the second half of life. This is represented by the upward-sloped dotted curve, you explain, which shows a person’s potential for actualizing psychological and spiritual growth. 

Indeed, Christians are blessed to know that Christ will help them become more whole through anything they face, and will personally welcome them to everlasting life at the moment of death.

Compass Therapy encourages continued growth and development throughout life. You explain to counselees that individuals who begin growing psychologically and spiritually in their thirties, forties, or fifties tend to keep growing in their sixties, seventies, and beyond.

Since the human personality is malleable, exercising the LAWS of personality (Love and Assertion; Weakness and Strength) and the compass virtues (caring and courage; humility and esteem) promote health and fulfillment even into old age.

Perhaps the single most important attitude that Compass Therapy seeks to impart is that change is normal and the need for growth common to all people. Equipped with an actualizing perspective, stagnation is forsaken in favor of the ongoing transformation of one’s personality and relationships, conjoined with a deepening trust in the Holy Spirit’s help and guidance.

When counselees internalize this health model for hope, grace, and transformation, they learn to face the coming years with increased flexibility and resourcefulness.

The Actualizing Ascent Diagram helps counselees see the importance of exchanging rigidity for rhythm, egocentricity for actualizing development, manipulation for authenticity, and personality   idiosyncrasies for compass virtues.

In this way, the invitation of Christ, the witness of the counselor, and the vision of the counselee converge in the pursuit of a life lived gracefully, accruing in wholeness and purpose. Though there are quintessential tough times and challenging adversities, the overall direction is toward an actualizing ascent in Jesus Christ.

Why People Get the 'Christmas Blues'

Why is it that so many people experience depression, anxiety, and even anger during the Christmas season? And if they are in therapy, what can be done about this?

The main reason? Christmas focuses our attention on relationships, the very relationships that are often problematic the rest of the year. Grown children think about their parents, and parents about their grown children, bringing up mutual memories not just of good cheer, but of family roles and conflicts that brought pain to all.

Ex-spouses experience the additional difficulty of trying to coordinate two Christmases, one that their ex-wife or husband puts on for their children, and the other that they put together. This shuffling of the kids back and forth can be awkward or abrasive. It reminds divorced couples of all the things they never liked about each other. And when you add the possibility that one or both of them is now remarried, the complications multiply for feeling unappreciated, jealous, or otherwise discontent.

Christmas also impacts work environments, because a person's mood can be affected by whether they received a bonus and if it met their expectations. There can be struggles about how much vacation time is allotted and who within the business gets it.

Another difficulty that most people experience, especially during economic hard times, revolves around gift giving. How can you guess what someone else really wants? And how can you afford to buy the gifts you'd like to give without being in debt the rest of the year? 

All this is pretty much standard fare for human misery during a season which celebrates happiness and good will. So we therapists need to relax and expect our clients to share with increased intensity their personal woes. They will find new peace in our caring for them. Beyond this, we therapists do well to handle our own Christmas blues in psychologically and spiritually constructive ways, even as we seek to help those who confide their issues to us.

Are there general guidelines to what will help most people, including our clients, to have a relatively fulfilling Christmas? Here are a few principles that deserve mention to counselees:

  1. Lower your expectations about other people's behavior during the Christmas holidays. If you set high expectations that other people, especially your relatives, should be kind, generous, and unselfish, then you are setting yourself up for disappointment and anger. It is wiser to expect people you know to keep behaving like they always do. Those who are by nature generous will keep being generous, whereas those who are critical and egotistical will keep being critical and egotistical.
  2. Set lower rather than higher goals for gift purchases. A limited amount of money can buy unique things at lower cost, and fewer things at higher cost. Trust in the maxim, "It's the thought that counts," to buy things you can afford that nevertheless speak to the identity of the person you care about.
  3. Adopt an attitude of relaxed cordiality, showing up for a gathering of the relatives or a drop-off of the kids to an ex-spouse's home with a degree of social warmth
  4. Accept up front that not all of your expectations for companionship or material acquisitions can be met, so make these desires modest so that they can be fulfilled. (I worked with a single female client of forty who dreaded spending Christmas alone, encouraging her to throw the Christmas party she had been hoping someone else might throw. She developed a list of twenty people who agreed to attend, and decided to think of these folks as her "resident family," since her own family could not get together).
  5. If someone starts to get snippy, or brings the kids two hours late, don't upset yourself about it. Consider it inconvenient but not catastrophic. Make the adjustment, then focus on becoming absorbed in the positive Christmas spirit that you yourself are creating.
Of course in your practice you'll hear many other variations of the Christmas blues, but I'm sure that your provision of healthy psychological overviews and coping strategies will greatly assist your clients to have a more fulfilling Christmas.

My personal relationship with Christ strengthens me through Christmas to help distraught clients. I've know Jesus intimately for sixty Christmas seasons now. I've found that I don't have to hide my anxieties or depression from Him. Jesus has consistently shown me that He understands the difficulties of the human journey, and that He will help me in mysterious ways to find a measure of peace, joy, and love — amidst trials and adversity — at Christmas.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Christian Personality Theory Interprets Boasters and Controllers

Strength-stuck persons are forced to live a lie that is apparent to all around them. They do make mistakes, do show errors of judgment, and do miss the mark of their own high standards. It’s just that they never admit it.

Scripture makes a prediction about strength-patterned people: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).

Haughty Spirit

When Boasters and Controllers really grasp the good news about the grace of Jesus Christ, they can lay down the burden of pride and begin enjoying life and people. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Though it is hard to believe and doesn’t have a counterpart in other world religions, the Gospel proclaims that individuals are made right with God and equipped for service to others through the redemptive atonement Christ has provided in his death and resurrection. There is no self-merit involved.

Saved by God's Grace

To the Boaster, God declares, “But let those who boast, boast about this: that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight” (Jeremiah 9:24).

Boasters can invite Christ’s love to shine through their personality and human nature, surrendering the need to gain everyone’s admiration, and praying for forgiveness about the many times they slighted others when striving for superior status. Over time, their self-importance is transformed from self-glorification into glorifying Christ and serving others with a humble heart. “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10).

Persons outgrowing the Boaster pattern can enjoy a new connection with humanity, one based on empathy instead of condescension, humility instead of hubris. Now the door of the heart can open to concern for others' well-being, consideration for others' feelings, and helping others rather than feeling competitive toward them. 

Helping Others

Controllers face a different set of growth challenges, since their proneness to legalism renders them resistant to grace and love. They want to impress God with their meritorious achievements. Grace seems to diminish what they are most sure of: how conscientious they are. 

But Jesus sees deeper into their hearts, understanding how Controllers must smash the illusion of their good intentions and perfectionist rule-keeping in order to let go of their judgmental attitude

So Christ says to the Controller, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2).

Repentance takes the form of giving up the need to always be right, to control every situation, and to constantly prove one’s capability—all preludes to developing a more humble personality, whose spiritual core expresses an interpersonal, rather than egocentric sense of self.

In an invitation that seems tailored to the Controller, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

"Come to me, you who are burdened"

And now there is room for the Lord to introduce play, enjoyment, laughter, and fun into the lives of former Boasters and Controllers, the Holy Spirit helping them to feel God’s extravagant love, and Jesus showing them firsthand the unforced rhythms of grace.

For more, read:

A Self Compass for Humanity