Local psychologist stakes out 'Emotional Vampires at Work'

Author draws on insights from his four decades in private practice

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian business editor

Published:

 

Vancouver clinical psychologist and author Al Bernstein uses humor to deal with pain, knowing there's too much pain and too little humor in many workplaces.

Bernstein's wit comes out in his new book's title: "Emotional Vampires at Work." It's the latest in a self-help series that began with "Dinosaur Brains" in 1980 and the first devoted exclusively to personality disorders at work.

The pain discussed in Bernstein's pages comes out in the countless examples most workers would find all too familiar: messy interactions with bosses and co-workers the author categorizes as antisocials, histrionics, narcissists, obsessive-compulsives, and paranoids.

These groupings are filled with vampires who will suck you dry, if you let them, he says. And they are everywhere. "Vampires stalk you even as we speak," Bernstein says in the book's opening sentence. But he cautions that we need to look not only at others but at ourselves and our own workplace behavior.

Bernstein, who turns 65 this month, draws his source material from his 40 years as a clinical psychologist, much of it as the sole practitioner at his Vancouver office. He turned to writing and offering consulting services as a way to share some of his insights drawn from private practice.

"I realized there are a lot of things people don't know how to do," says Bernstein.

One of his biggest challenges, Bernstein says, is getting people who are in conflict to acknowledge what they want for themselves out of a professional relationship. As long as both parties in a workplace conflict stake out the high moral ground of saying their actions are for the good of the company, there's little chance for resolution, he says. But if people acknowledge their wants and needs, its easier to find common ground, he says.

"You don't need to be ashamed of self-interest," he said.

One of Bernstein's earlier works, Bernstein's "Emotional Vampires," published in 2000 and revised last year, examines the challenges created by troubled personalities. His publisher, McGraw-Hill, recently asked Bernstein to look specifically at the challenge of coping with personality disorders in a workplace environment. Hence, Emotional Vampires at Work," released last month.

The book is broken into digestible bites and interspersed with quizzes to help readers connect dots on the personality traits of their co-workers. Bernstein offers specific suggestions on how to avoid, cope with or beat people who cause them grief. He writes that his years in private practice have taught him that it's more important to understand the mechanics of human problems than to speculate on what causes them.

Bernstein thought about writing a book long before he produced his first one, at age 40.

He dates the launch of his writing career to a column he wrote from 1987 to 1999 in The Columbian. Most of his eight books are still in print and selling well, he says. The Portland resident now spends about three-quarters of his time in his private practice and the rest as a private consultant, in addition to his writing and a serious photography hobby.

The business side of being an author has changed, Bernstein says. Book tours became less important with the explosive growth of Internet-based sales and marketing. But, he says, if he is ever invited for a return appearance on "Good Morning America," where he promoted "Neanderthals at Work" more than two decades ago, Bernstein says he's certain to accept.