Application of Personality Theories to Counseling and Therapy Term Paper

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Personality Therapy

Personality is very complex. Individuals can differ considerably from one another, because of the wide variety of traits possible. In addition, a person can act a certain way in one situation and completely different in another, or have internal processes that manifest themselves through very different external actions and behaviors. Because of this diversity and complexity, psychologists have developed a number of theories to explain personality phenomena, as well as suggest yet unknown possibilities. This report, based on the book Perspectives on Personality by Charles Carver will discuss these theories and how they can be applied for behavioral change through therapy.

Two theories fall under the dispositional perspectives category, which emphasize that people display consistency or continuity in their actions, thoughts and feelings: The "trait and type" theory and the "needs and motives" theory. The first concludes that people can be divided into different types or categories. Nomothetic personality traits are those that are relevant to every person, and ideographic ones are unique to some individuals. Professionals who specialize in dispositional perspectives, use self-report inventories as a means of personal assessment -- helping people better understand their unique qualities as well as similarities and differences with others.

Although the trait approach is somewhat negative regarding the ability to change one's personality and resulting behavior, a person who better knows his/her strengths and weaknesses can be helped through therapy to learn how to avoid entering situations where relevant stresses are likely to occur. Keeping away or reducing involvement with such environments as well as finding situations and jobs, etc. that fit with one's personality can also be positive support.

The basic idea with the needs and motives theory is that human behavior is best understood as a reflection of needs. A need is an internal state that is less than satisfactory, a lack of something that is necessary for well-being. Primary needs are based on a person's biological nature -- air, food, water, etc. Secondary or psychogenic needs are derived from biological needs or inherent in a person's psychological makeup.

Many theorists believe that needs operate through motives. They take the basic need and progress it closer to the ultimate action or behavior.

Therapists use the motive dispositional theory to help people work on personality problems. This theory is especially used to determine links between a specific need or motive and the resulting behavior. It has been suggested that the need for power can play a part in alcohol abuse. For treatment purposes, people may reduce or eliminate their substance abuse by recognizing what they are doing and why and finding other ways to fulfill power needs.

The biological perspective consists of inheritance and evolutionary history and biological processes. Theorists in this camp combine the study of genetics and psychology in the field of study called behavioral genetics. This is the study of genes on behavior, including personalities, abnormalities and cognitive and emotional processes.

Inheritance and pathology studies have found significant information about such diseases as manic-depression and schizophrenia. Scientists have also studied the relationship between genetics and alcoholism and antisocial behavior. If such personality traits are embedded into a person's genetic makeup, is it possible to help through therapeutic means? Although changes may be difficult, they are not always insurmountable. Experience and socio-cultural personal history can also change a person. Biological theorists study how personality is an outcome of these above-noted physiological processes. Researchers have studied many personality aspects that are associated with certain parts of the brain. The biological process approach to personality also has a very clear implication for therapy. Many illnesses have their roots in biology. Thus, changing these biological functions should, and frequently does, reduce or eliminate the disorder. For example, pharmaceuticals have greatly decreased the amount and severity of depression and bi-polar disease. In many cases, people's personalities change significantly for the better (183).

Sigmund Freud is one of the individuals best known for personality psychology. His psychoanalytic perspective stressed the fact that personality is a dynamic set of processes that often work against each other. His philosophy also noted that the unconscious plays a large part in personality formation. People have desires and motivations that are often hidden and unknown. Further, Freud's interpretation emphasized that the human experience revolves around such factors as lust and aggression, sexuality and death. Humans are not much further up the evolutionary tree than other animals, so basic needs such as reproduction are still very strong. Likewise, fear is of major importance, and most persons feel they are threatened by something.

Freud suggested a way of helping people with personality problems and disorders called psychoanalytical therapy, a treatment for relieving mental and emotional distress. It is often known as the talking cure because it involves no physical action by either the patient or the therapist. Psychoanalytic therapy is founded on the premise that much of one's actions, thoughts and attitudes are determined by the unconscious portion of the mind and not within ordinary conscious control. As a patient expresses him/herself verbally, the psychoanalytic therapist helps him/her reveal unconscious needs, motivations, desires and memories to regain power over life. Since Freud developed this approach in the early part of the 20th century, many psychoanalysts have expanded on his work and enlarged the range of problems that can be treated.

One of the major drivers of personality problems is anxiety. Freud divided anxieties into reality anxiety or a real threat or danger; neurotic anxiety, or an unconscious fear that one will lose control over one's behavior; and moral anxiety, or the fear that people have when they have violated their ethical code. Psychoanalytic therapists believe people use ego defenses to guard against anxiety. Also, hidden desires and memories continue to impact behavior through these defense mechanisms.

Early in his career, Freud found that symptoms could be decreased through hypnotically inducing an individual to relive highly emotional and repressed events. Through therapy, patients often had a catharsis or release of emotional energy (241). He soon found that hypnosis was not necessary; free association or talking uncensored about whatever comes into one's mind was just as positive. Freud also found that information gained from these therapy sessions was not necessarily true; the unconscious comes out in symbolic form. Taken alone, the symbols may not mean anything, but when combined they can often provide a camera into one's inner concerns.

Psychoanalytic therapy can be very long and emotionally draining. Even Freud questioned the effectiveness of such an approach (245). However, it depends on how one measures outcome: for example, as insights into personality, less stress on the patient's part or acknowledgement by the therapist of changes occurring. The fact that this therapy has been available for so long, proves that many people believed they were being helped.

The neoanalytic perspective, including ego psychology and psychosocial theories, is based partially on Freud. However, these theorists differ by having less of an emphasis on sexuality and the unconscious process and a greater stress on the ego. Thus, many neoanalytic theorists including ego psychologists focus on the ego and its functioning. Ego psychologists differ from Freud by stating that: The ego is involved in adaptation. The goal of behavior is to adapt to the environment, and the ego is strongly involved.

In therapy, ego psychologists focus on enhancing ego function in accordance with reality demands. They stress the individual's capacity for defense, adaptation, and reality testing. These psychologists view adaptation as a continual process as people struggle with different things at various times of their lives. Personal well-being is not determined by whether or not a person confronts difficulties but by how he/she can handle them. Patients can learn coping strategies to diminish feelings of inferiority (275). The ego psychologists focus on present problems rather than the past. People are helped to view problems as something for which they must take responsibility.

Whereas the psychoanalytic perspective emphasizes the intrapsychic world, the psychosocial perspective stresses the role of the social world. Personality emerges from and is most clearly manifest in transactions with the social environment. Therapists who specialize in this area help patients with relationship difficulties. Techniques focus on the present, and the patient is recognized as a partner in the therapeutic process. The therapy helps people restore their sense of connectedness to others, so they can have more fulfilling relationships in the future.

Humans acquire information through their experiences. Learning theorists, such as those concerned with conditioning and behaviorism, look at myriad of ways that people learn. Learning appears to be a simple act, but it is very complex. Not all people have the same ability to learn. Also, not everyone can best learn by the same method. Classical conditioning is when someone learns by associating one stimulus with another. Instrumental learning is based upon an organism discovering a response in a stimulus situation that produces reinforcement.

People often learn things that conflict with their well-being. Therapy, called behavior modification, focuses on actually changing one's present-day behavior. For example, people who have phobias are regularly…[continue]

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