I’ve specialized in treating survivors of severe sexual abuse for many years, which means that many of my clients fit the diagnostic profile of borderline personality disorder. Therapists typically dread these clients since they can be among their most difficult, unpredictable, and unnerving. My clients have often been highly suicidal—some threatening suicide to manipulate me, and others making serious attempts to kill themselves. Many have been prone to self-harm, cutting their arms or torsos and showing me the raw, open wounds. I’ve known them to binge on alcohol to the point of ruining their health, to drive under the influence, and to show up drunk for sessions. Sometimes they’ve acted out by stealing and getting caught or exploding into such rage in traffic or on the street that lives were actually in danger.
At times, they’ve formed a childlike dependence on me, wanting—and sometimes demanding—not only my continual personal reassurance, but also my help in making even small decisions, like whether to get a driver’s license. Some have had tantrums when I’ve left town. Others have wanted regular contact between sessions and asked to know in detail how I felt about them and what my personal life was like. They’ve continually tried to stretch my boundaries by demanding special treatment—such as free sessions and extra time on the phone to talk about every detail of their lives—or violating my privacy by finding out where I live and dropping by unannounced. When…
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