Dr Helen: Narcissism, Power, Fear of Death, and Liberalism

I often get books on psychology sent to me by publishers, and the other day I received Jeffrey Kottler's On Being a Therapist. The book is now in its fourth edition, and this latest edition "puts the spotlight on the therapist's role and responsibility to promote issues of diversity, social justice, human rights, and systemic changes within the community and the world at large."

Whoa: I thought the therapist's role was to increase the client's well-being and treat mental illness.

It used to be that therapists just saw clients and sent them a bill. Now -- perhaps because the "sending them a bill" part has gotten more difficult in these days of managed care and public skepticism about the profession -- they are transforming themselves into superhuman beings who think they can save the entire world. Therapists may have been narcissistic before, but it takes a special kind of narcissism to see one's own self as a world-saver.

The author seems like a well-intentioned fellow. He cries at the drop of a hat, whether when thinking about his patients or helping out a kid on the street. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose.

Kottler touches often on the narcissism of therapists in the book and has a section on the topic. He talks about his own struggle with self-worth and measures his own success by looking at all the good he has done, the people he has helped. He discusses how therapists often feel they are frauds. The author talks about his deep need to influence others, and he mentions a treatise on narcissism that describes it as such:

A lack of feeling, the need to project an image, the desire to help others in order to exercise power, and arrogance are all familiar symptoms.

He then states that he has long felt he holds super powers:

After all, it seems at times (to others, if not to myself) that I can read minds, predict the future, and hear, see, feel, and sense things beyond the powers of mere mortal beings.

In the author's defense, he does struggle with this and acknowledge it can be a problem. I have talked to therapists who feel they are superhuman yet see it as an asset.