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Managing Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder Clients

By Paul Fisher1

People with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD)2 may have an inflexible pattern of thinking, feeling and behaving. OCPD is distinguished from persons with obsessive-compulsive disorder who have obsessions (recurrent and persistent thoughts) and compulsions (repetitive actions). OCPD causes havoc in a person’s life due to a dysfunctional perspective. The attorney-OCPD client relationship is fragile but can be nurtured.

Persons with OCPD may have many, though not all, of the following behaviors3, 4:

  • Preoccupation with details, rules and schedules such that joy in an activity is lost
  • Sense of perfectionism that interferes with completing their work or any project
  • Interpersonal impairments: may have few friends as a result of the person’s obsessive preoccupation with work; may lack empathy for ideas and feelings of others. There may be a pattern of failed relationships.
  • Rigidity and stubbornness. Truth owning: “My way is the correct way.” Especially challenging when attempting to resolve conflicts
  • Inflexibility about their value system — moral, work place or otherwise
  • Difficulty in working with others because they have unrealistic standards, fearful of delegating

A person with OCPD has great difficulty in dealing with their own volatile emotions. Consequently they freely share anger and contempt for those who disagree with them. When an OCPD person has been “wronged” they may hold a grudge forever.

Attorneys representing these challenging individuals may do well to start by developing rapport and trust. Show empathy for what this client is going through. Express specific understanding of their perspective. Then, encourage this person to develop a greater tolerance for differing perspectives and perceptions. With a lot of patience and over time help the person find flexibility in their rigid belief system, the need to be right and “truth owning”. Reframe the conversation from who is right and who is wrong to “I’m concerned with the possibility the judge or jury could believe the other side. Not because I disagree with you but one can never predict what witnesses might say or forget, or how they might view events differently than you.” Discuss the costs and risks of trial.

OCPD has a devastating effect on relationships including the attorney-client relationship. Warn the OCPD client early in the relationship that you, as their attorney, might inadvertently say the wrong thing or behave in a manner that violates the perfectionist standards. Rather than the client reacting by firing the attorney, this is an opportunity for the OCPD client to learn how to manage conflict. Giving honest and immediate feedback about the dynamics in the relationship is important.5

When resolution to a conflict can be reached, the OCPD person feels a compelling need for absolute clarity for the issues being resolved. The need for perfection leads to a never ending tweaking of the settlement agreement.

Be patient! You might be rewarded with a long term client.

  1. Copyright 2017 by Paul Fisher
  2. This discussion is not intended to be a diagnostic tool. It is intended to be informative especially when read in conjunction with other materials discussing high conflict personality disorders.
  3. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders , Fifth Edition (DSM-5) American Psychiatric Association.
  4. Carol W. Berman, M.D., “8 Tips on How to Recognize Someone With Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder”, Huffington Post
  5. Steven Phillipson, Ph.D., Clinical Director, Center for Cognitive Behavioral Psychotherapy, “The RIGHT Stuff — Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder: A Defect of Philosophy, not Anxiety”