A technology that changes your personality
Imagine that someone invented a technology that changed your personality, in only a few weeks. There could well be uproar on social media and even questions asked in Parliament. Would it even be ethical, many people would ask? Well it has happened and it is pretty amazing. It’s called psychotherapy!
In a massive effort researchers examined 207 published studies that included 20,000 psychotherapy participants who completed measures on personality repeatedly over time. This kind of study is called a meta-analysis and has the power to examine and report on effects seen repeatedly in different research studies.
The analysis found that only a few weeks of psychotherapy was sufficient to create long lasting personality change. People tended to become less neurotic and more extrovert which is important because neuroticism or emotional instability is an important risk factor for poor mental and physical health, while extroversion is correlated with a happier and more optimistic life.
The authors of the research noted that personality change happened remarkable quickly with roughly four weeks of therapy enough to create meaningful personality change. Moreover the change lasted.
The authors checked to see if the change was simply an improvement in mood from the therapy and it seems that it was not. Nor was it a return to previous levels caused by being in therapy.
Finally, it did not seem to matter what kind of therapy was offered. It is simply the process of being in psychotherapy that reduces anxiety and emotional instability and creates more happiness.
The link to the original study is below.
Psychotherapy changes your personality
A view on how personality changes as a result of psychotherapy
The structure of the cognitive system, that we are aware of, works a bit like this. We have at the core of our personality a set of ‘schemas’. These are relatively stable clusters of beliefs we hold to be true about ourselves. These are deep and maybe not even recognized by an individual and they can be hard to identify. At a shallower level we have a lot of core beliefs about ourselves that are more recognizable and easier to identify. Then at the shallowest level we have the automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) that leap into our minds whenever triggered by a random event or emotion.
In my view, when it works well, psychotherapy often starts at the shallower ANTs and demonstrates to the client that they are false and misleading; (my general observation is that a lot of what we believe about ourselves is inaccurate). The results of the challenge to the ANTs filters down to the associated core beliefs which are also slightly modified by this revelation that the ANTs are wrong. The change to the core belief in its turn filters down to the schema from which stable personality is comprised.
We all strive to maintain an internal consistency in our view of ourselves. This translates to the fact that a non consistent piece of information must be either denied, assimilated or accommodated.
An example of how psychotherapy can change your personality
Let me work through a brief example to illustrate this. Let’s call the client Jess.
Jess hates parties and all social gatherings and prefers to stand in the corner rather than have a conversation with a stranger. She avoids going out socially but sometimes her work requires it. In her private life she is lonely and envious of people who are easy in social settings. At work she puts on a show of being sociable, up to a point.
ANT I am boring;
Core belief I am unable to be interesting and people will see that;
Schema I don’t fit it to life. I am defective.
The defectiveness schema points to neuroticism because it carries with it the constant threat of being exposed as defective, boring and dull.
As therapy progresses, in conversation with her therapist, and after completing homework tasks, Jess comes to realize that she has many desirable qualities, she becomes much more able to talk and she now sees that she has always underestimated herself. This information is at odds with her defectiveness schema which is therefore, at least in part, demonstrably untrue.
Therefore the schema must do something with this new information. It can try to deny the new information. Hard to do when it is true and accurate. It can assimilate the new information in a form that makes it an exception to the rule, I might be interesting to the therapist but only because he is being paid to find me interesting.
Or, the new information is accommodated into a changed schema. Like this; maybe I am more interesting and capable than I give myself credit for. This final option reduces neuroticism and increases extroversion leading to reduced social anxiety and more ability to engage with life and find a happy path.
Let’s hope this technology continues to catch on and maybe one day will be as popular as Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter. Recent research shows that over use of social media tends to make teenagers more anxious, which is not good.
Get in touch with Dr Purves if you want to learn more about how to change your personality and even your life.
You can even experience a change of personality and life through using an online psychotherapy program. The Panic Pit Stop Course specifically challenges the personality trait of neuroticism through targeting anxiety, worry and panic.