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Nina Brown, Longtime Scholar of Counseling, to Be Honored at Spring Provost’s Spotlight

By David Simpson


Few of us are as self-absorbed as Narcissus, the mythical Greek youth who was so obsessed with his own beauty that he fell in love with his reflection in a pool of water.

We may know the type, though - self-centered, arrogant, heedless of others. Professor Nina Brown knows it better than most of us. An Eminent Scholar of counseling at Old Dominion University, Dr. Brown has made a deep study of what she calls the destructive narcissistic pattern (DNP).

"The destructive narcissist demands admiration," she has written, "and never, ever gets enough."

On April 18, the longtime ODU professor will discuss her work at the Spring 2022 Provost's Spotlight. The virtual event will take place from 3:30 to 5 p.m. via Zoom. (Details below.)

Brown's other main academic specialties are group therapy and creative activities for group therapy. She is a nationally certified licensed professional counselor, a fellow of the American Psychological Association and a distinguished fellow of the American Group Psychotherapy Association.

She has taught at ODU for 54 years and written nearly 40 books, including "The Destructive Narcissistic Pattern" (1998), "Coping With Infuriating, Mean, Critical People" (2006), "Creative Activities for Group Therapy" (2012) and "Understanding Narcissists" (2022).

Along the way she has won many accolades, among them the A. Rufus Tonelson Faculty Award, which recognizes outstanding achievement in teaching, research and service at ODU.

Ahead of the Provost's Spotlight, she took time to answer a few questions from the Center for Faculty Development.

What drew you to counseling?

The opportunity to learn and better understand myself and others.

Give an example of how narcissistic behavior can harm other people.

I don't use that term, as it is reserved for a psychiatric diagnosis, and few have enough training to accurately diagnose someone as having narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). My perceptions are derived from the object-relations and self-psychology theories that consider narcissism (little "n") as self-esteem. They perceive narcissism on a continuum from age-appropriate for infants and children through stable for most adults, and then move to a destructive narcissistic pattern and pathological (NPD). I only write about the destructive narcissistic pattern in relation to adults. Children and adolescents have age-appropriate narcissism.

Some attitudes and behaviors that can be harmful to others include a lack of empathy; an inability to initiate and maintain enduring and satisfying relationships; and arrogance and contempt for others. These adults are dismissive of others' concerns, which they may trivialize. They constantly carp, complain and kvetch and are quick to tell you how miserable they are. They are never wrong.

What are some benefits of group therapy, as opposed to individual counseling?

Benefits for group members include peer support; a reduction of isolation and alienation; and the encouragement of seeing others get better. Members learn new and more effective ways to behave and relate in a safe and contained environment where they can express and explore difficult feelings. They obtain a realization of the universality of existential issues - human suffering, the indifference of the universe, death, freedom and will. Besides all that, group therapy is more cost-effective than individual counseling.

You've had a long academic career with many publications, honors and involvements. Where do you take inspiration?

My inspiration and support come from my family, students, and the professional organizations I belong to - the American Group Psychotherapy Association and the Society of Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy (APA Division 49).

Describe a memorable teaching moment.

There have been many memorable moments in my teaching. Most occur when students in a class do or say something that illustrates their understanding of ambiguous and complex concepts.

The Spring 2022 Spotlight will be held via Zoom on Monday, April 18, from 3:30 to 5 p.m. The event includes an introduction by Provost Augustine O. Agho and an interview conducted by CFD Director Annette Finley-Croswhite.

Join Zoom Meeting | Meeting ID: 928 7429 7784 | Passcode: 735911

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