Conceptual brain image; psychiatric disorders.
Some doctors balk at the idea of trying to change a patient's personality, but a new study suggests that they're doing it already.
The results show that talk therapy or psychiatric medications can change personality
in healthy people and those with psychological disorders. What's more, changes can be relativity rapid, occurring over a four- to seven-month period, and long-lasting, continuing years after therapy, according to the study.
Most mental health professionals don't think about psychiatric treatments
as a means of changing personality - they view treatments as a way to change behavior, said study researcher Brent Roberts, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The findings are provocative, the researchers say, because for a long time, psychologists thought personality traits were static. While some recent research suggests that personality traits can change over time, most had assumed this change was difficult and incremental - not a quick process.
A lot of people get upset by the idea of changing personality because "they feel like you're screwing with somebody's intrinsic nature," Roberts said. But, "We're already change [patient's] personality traits, whether we like it or not."
The findings present a new way of looking at how psychiatric therapies work, and raise the question of whether interventions should more directly target personality. Personality traits affect many different areas of life - including relationships, and school and work success - although their consequences often go unnoticed, Roberts said.
"We know that people who are less anxious and more conscientiousness do better in school and the labor market," Roberts said. Perhaps by doing an intervention on young people, to make them more conscientiousness, "you may make them more successful in their jobs at 40," he said.