It’s official – therapy can change your personality traits

Your personality is not fixed you are in the process of becoming who you are

As a psychotherapist I learnt and have told my clients that their personality is not fixed and that they are in a process of becoming who they are in every moment.

On the BBC Radio 4 program “All in the Mind” Professor Brent W. Roberts of the University of Illinois Department of Psychology spoke about his research paper “A Systematic Review of Personality Train Change Through Intervention”.

From the Abstract

Interventions were associated with marked changes in personality train measures over an average time of 24 weeks.

Emotional stability was the primary trait domain showing changes as a result of therapy, followed by extraversion.

The type of therapy employed was not strongly associated with the amount of change in personality traits.

Patients presenting with anxiety disorders changed the most, and patients being treated for substance use changed the least.

Attachment to who we believe we are is not helpful

The results of this study agree with my beliefs that we are all in a process of becoming who we are, and actually attachment to who we believe we are, can be detrimental to just accepting ourselves.

The type of therapy is not important it is the relationship that matters

The specific type or approach of the counselling or psychotherapy is not important in helping the client, the therapeutic relationship is most important.


Talking about Mental Illness

I want to post an appreciation of how celebrities have used the media to speak about their Mental Health issues.  My hope is that when people read about how famous people have suffered they will feel empowered enough to talk about their own mental heath and seek help if they need it.

Prince Harry talked about his struggle

I am so glad that recent feature in the Daily Telegraph where Prince Harry talked about struggling to come to terms with his Mothers death her sought counselling. He talked about trying to deal with his grief without punching someone.

Post-partum psychosis in the News

A story in the BBC News of 13 March talked of Sally Wilson’s experience of her experience of Post-partum Psychosis PP following the birth of her daughter. This morning listening to BBC Radio 4 I heard Hannah Bissett talk about what happened after the birth of her child where she too suffered from PP. She spoke on behalf of Action on post-partum psychosis  for more information use  what is postpartum psychosis. In the news there was the tragic case of Alice Gibson-Watt who took her life after suffering from the same condition.

From personal experience

My Mother suffered from PP in the 1950’s after my birth and was kept in a Nursing Home for two years because of the obsessive behaviour and the strange ideas that she had. She escaped the Nursing Home one night, coming home in her nighty. My Father and my Grandmother managed to accommodate her back into our home, with help from my older sister who was three years old at that time. Due to the stigma associated with mental health my Mother was never able to normalise her condition and suffered bouts of mental illness throughout her life. If society had been more open to talking about mental illness, I believe that her life would have been easier and she would have felt accepted.

Contemplative Counselling and Psychotherapy

Treating the cause or the symptoms

I like what Karen Kissel Wegela says in her piece in the Lion’s Roar about basic sanity and neurosis; You’re Basically Good – The Benefits of Contemplative Psychotherapy. I was taught that given the right conditions we as human beings move towards health.  There is so much talk about sickness and treating the symptoms that the causes seem to be forgotten about.

Using Brilliant Sanity

In her presentation of what she calls “contemplative counselling and psychotherapy” there is a focus on the inherent sanity which she also refers to as Brilliant Sanity. The contemplative therapist uses their capacity to hold clarity, compassion, mindfulness and awareness. Karen says Thich Nhat Hanh says that we are “inter-are” when in relationship and explains that there is an exchange between the present experience of the therapist and the client. Our “ego” tries to hold onto a separate abiding sense of self, this is doomed to failure as we are always changing.  Brilliant Sanity does not always stay with the therapist, this is where the challenge is for the therapist to be vulnerable and let the client hold the brilliant sanity sometimes.

Easing the pain through loving kindness

Of course the past has an importance in the therapy work but the emphasis once again is on enquiry – why is the past that happened in the past manifesting in the present? Karen talks about the Buddhist teaching of that there is pain in life, but we add unnecessary suffering by trying to hold onto our sense of who we are. What eases the pain is loving kindness which can be towards ourselves and others. Repressing emotions only gives rise to them bursting out inappropriately. The therapeutic relationship needs to be robust and have enough trust within it to allow the repressed emotions to be processed. Karen also champions the value of the therapist having a mindfulness based meditation practice. The practice develops the ability for the therapist to be more friendly with their own issues, and once again the shared experience of this with the client promotes the clients’ ability to hold their issues with non-judgemental mindfulness, awareness, curiosity and compassion.


What is counselling?

Counselling is an intense focus or short-term consideration on immediate problems to support the client to deal with a crisis which may have left the client unable to function in every day life.  As a counsellor who uses mindfulness I am able to set aside time with you as a client to help explore what is happening in your life to try and give you another viewpoint on what has been happening.

Counselling in a crisis

The activity know as counselling can be understood as the same as Psychotherapy, however I would like to consider in this instance as short-term focused work is more appropriate for trying to help manage a crisis. It is normal that I might offer advice to a client in such a crisis, when normally I will try to empower a client to find their own solution to the situation.

Typical content

Counselling for a crisis
Counselling in a crisis

Why would you seek counselling?

Typically a death of a close relative, a relationship breakup, debt management and bullying in the work place are a few issues where advice and guidance is more appropriate rather than looking at patterns of behaviour. It is normal to offer advice to clients and to help clients to re-organise their lives again, so that they are able to cope with the everyday. Counselling is meant to be a short term support to help the client get back to a sense of having some control of their lives.

What do you normally get from counselling?

The activities are predominately solution focused looking at developing coping strategies, identifying what needs to be done, giving priorities to activities and producing lists of critical activities. Counselling might also include referring clients onto specialist agencies where more appropriate short term work may be helpful.

The number of counselling sessions are limited to between six and eight. I prefer to see counselling clients on a weekly basis, to keep a better handle on what happening for them and to offer practical short-term help for the current crisis.

Couples Counselling

couples counselling psychotherapy relationship intimacy
Photo credit: luigi morante via / CC BY

Couples Counselling

Bring back intimacy in relationship

Couples counselling is the process of helping intimacy in relationship to work again. Relationships in life can offer a great sense of fulfilment and connection. Opening up to intimacy in a relationship can be a profound source of angst in our lives. Only when we are able to respect ourselves and then from that position respect the other can we truly form lasting, loving relationships. Couples are not restricted just to mixed gender or same gender, they can be families or just two people who are having difficulties in how they are able to interact.

With support take time and listen to each other

In the beginning couples develop bonds with each other and form a trusting mutually beneficial relationship. Couples work is about offering witness to how relationship have changed, bringing awareness to problems and facilitating people in relationship to move back to a mutually beneficial, respectful association. In our busy daily lives our relationships are prone to being neglected; sometimes the relationship that has worked for so long becomes tired or even habitual. Couples work allows the individuals time with a therapist who can facilitate time for each of the partners to be heard and also to hear the others point of view. Once again, if not checked we can fall into unhelpful, neglectful patterns of behaviour. The therapy room offers a safe place for couples to talk about their problems and together work towards a solution, if there is mutual desire for the relationship to work.

Making the relationship work again

It must be said that once the therapist is able to facilitate an open and frank exploration for the couple, making the relationship work again is the responsibility of the couple. The therapist can only help facilitate, where appropriate educate and to a large extent hold what is being shared by the couple. The couple themselves have to do the hard work of making the relationship work again.

As the couple need to put into practice what they have mutually agreed to work on before returning to the therapy room, I normally see  on a two weekly basis for 90 minute sessions.