This essay will begin by looking at the various meanings of ‘personality’. Personality to me would mean one’s way of seeing and understanding things around them; it is who someone is and how they relate to other people. But how can personality be really defined?

It implies one’s uniqueness, what makes them different from other people. Personality can be regarded as a complex and unique pattern of psychological characteristics. These characteristics are so embedded that they appear as a reliable, consistent feature. Personalities can also be similar, and a general type of personality can be recognized thereby making people of perhaps a particular region to act similar. For example, people in Africa might consider marrying your cousin to be wrong while someone else in Europe might believe it is okay to do so; personality is shaped and influenced by a mixture of biological, genetic, environmental and interpersonal factors.

Two disciplines that seek to explain and understand personalities are psychology and psychiatry:

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Within psychology, debates and theories on personality are complex and far ranging. Personality theories seek to explain how people behave now, and predict how they will behave in future, it seeks to explain how personality is formed, emphasizing different factors that determine or shape its development. All personality theories seek to explain personality as qualities or characteristics which represent the person as an individual (unit 8, section 2, pp.32). This essay will now look at these explanations as four broad approaches; let us look at these approaches from a holistic model point of view and we will see that the different theories emphasise different dimensions of the person who of course is at the center of the holistic model:

* Biological: The biological approach takes into account the psychological dimension of the holistic model. Biological theories emphasise how personality is inherited, the roles of genes and the influence of physiological processes.

* Psychodynamic: The psychodynamic approach takes into account the spiritual dimension of a holistic model. Psychodynamic theories see personality as the inner relationship between the conscious and unconscious mind, formed from experiences with significant others, especially in childhood.

* Cognitive: theories that emphasise how personality characteristics are learned. Learning processes are shaped and influenced by the relationships surrounding the child and the environment. The cognitive approach can be linked to the emotional dimension of the holistic model.

* Interpersonal or social: theories that view personality as produced through social interactions with others.The interpersonal approach also takes into account the ‘helicopter view’ to explore how a person interacts with others and the environment and this can strongly be linked to a social dimension of the holistic model. (unit 8, section 2, pp.33).

All personality theories suggest that certain personal qualities, in varying degrees, can be found in each of us, and that these qualities remain consistent across time and place. It is this consistency that forms a person’s uniqueness. So, personality theories generally seek to describe how patterns of characteristics can predict behaviours. They also aim to explain, predict and influence behaviour. This is also the principle aim of personality tests.

Personality tests are used in many areas. They can be formally produced and administered by psychologists and practitioners recognized by the British psychological society .

Personality tests reveal information about people’s characteristics and qualities and this information can be used in educational or work settings; the consistent characteristics that personality tests define and measure are called personality traits. In physical terms, a trait could be that distinguishing anatomical feature, while in personality talks, a traits refers to psychological aspects of the individual’s character that are relatively stable and consistent (unit 8, pp.34).

Results from personality tests show that most people’s score settle around the middle point on the rating scale, and so a representation of what constitutes a usual or normal personality can be established. If someone’s scores vary from this norm, it can signify a particular personality type or profile. The potential of personality tests appear infinite: they may suggest how your personal and best attributes can be put to best use, and analyse and predict your behaviour. But who does the testing and decides whose personality is disordered?

Judgments have to be made about the status of evidence and some forms of evidence are considered more acceptable than others. The argument of evidence based practice is that research should be used to establish which are the most effective treatments so that professionals can make ‘good’ decisions. Central to this argument is the idea that some forms of research and therefore some kinds of evidence are more reliable than others and should carry more weight (unit 7, section 3, pp.17).

In psychiatry diagnostic categories called personality disorders are used to identify how particular behavioural problems relate to personal characteristics. A psychiatric explanation of someone’s personality as ‘disordered’ indicates that they may experience some difficulties fitting in accepted norms of behaviour (unit 8, pp.31).

But what is the accepted norm of behaviour? And who makes decides the norm; as I said earlier in the essay, what might be considered the norm in Europe might not be the norm in Africa.

The history of understanding personality disorders has always involved the recognition of abnormal behaviour. The first psychiatrist to identity this area (J.C. Pritchard, in 1837) referred to a pattern of consistent deviant behaviours in association with ‘abnormal’ personal characteristics as ‘moral insanity’ (Parsons, 2003). Moral judgements are inevitable when trying to formulate decisions on what is acceptable behaviour and what is not. It is worth remembering that moral judgments are socially produced and so can change over time from culture to culture. Psychiatric approaches to the diagnosis of personality disorders are qualitatively distinct clinical syndromes (APA, 2000, pp.689), (unit 8, section 3, pp.36).

However I believe that personality disorder as a diagnosis needs to be abandoned since it is vague, offensive and invalidating. It isn’t a gateway to treatment but rather a way of services closing their doors. It concentrates on pathology rather than all that survivors have achieved in life, and continues to ignore the great contribution to society that we can make when we get beyond the classification system forced upon us. A diagnosis of personality disorder sort of enables services to deny responsibility for our well being since they do not have any duty of care over those with ‘personality disorders which cannot be treated’. Professionals can instead hand us these labels and need look no further into our lives or survival. Their lack of empathy, understanding, time and resources, as well as prejudices couched in and justified by clinical jargon, make our problems worse.

Furthermore, those who do help clients with personality disorders, such as therapists and counselors, fear becoming too involved or showing any degree of attachment, sticking rigidly to the sole prevailing idea in treatment; that firm boundaries need to in place. These so-called boundaries will prevent people diagnosed as personality disordered from being admitted to hospital even when in great distress and it also prevents them being provided with extra therapy sessions in crisis. This to me feels like neglect and to be on the receiving end of such treatment must be devastating (module 2, reading 9, pp.29).

If indeed a diagnosis of personality disorder is that important or rather useful, then it should be regarded as a form of mental distress that requires treatment rather than dismissal.

Also, we all know that recovery from emotional distress is long and setbacks are a natural part of the process. But when one is considered as having a personality disorder, services in the community are then denied and so the individual has to struggle alone. I believe however that this should not be the case since individuals suffering from personality disorders are mostly people who are very emotional and are crying out for either attention or help; this is a point in their lives when they should be shown some kind of attention rather than being pushed away.

More than two-thirds of all the people that suffer from severe mental illness are never treated. Fifteen percent of the population suffers from mental illness (www.mentalhealth.com). Below are some of the types of personality disorder as listed at www.mentalhealth.com

* Paranoid Personality Disorder

* Schizoid Personality Disorder

* Schizotypal Personality Disorder

* Antisocial Personality Disorder

* Borderline Personality Disorder

* Histrionic Personality Disorder

* Narcissistic Personality Disorder Avoidant Personality Disorder

* Dependent Personality Disorder

* Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder

Finally, the massive “Global Burden Of Disease” study conducted by the World Health Organization, the World Bank, and Harvard University measured the leading causes of disability (counting lost years of healthy life). In developed countries, the ten leading causes of lost years of healthy life at ages 15-44 were:

(1) Major Depressive Disorder, (2) Alcohol Use,

(3) Road Traffic Accidents, (4) Schizophrenia,

(5) Self-Inflicted Injuries, (6) Bipolar Disorder,

(7) Drug Use, (8) Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders, (9) Osteoarthritis, (10) Violence.

All of these common mental disorders are legitimate illnesses that are responsive to specific treatments. Yet only one-third of people with severe mental illness are ever treated (www.mytherapy.com).

Summing up everything this essay has looked at, I would say people with a personality disorder are rigid and tend to respond inappropriately to problems, to the point that relationships with family members, friends, and co-workers are affected. These maladaptive responses usually begin in adolescence or early adulthood and do not change over time. Personality disorders vary in severity. They are usually mild and rarely severe. People with a personality disorder are unaware that their thought or behaviour patterns are inappropriate; thus, they tend not to seek help on their own. Instead, they may be referred by their friends, family members, or a social agency because their behaviour is causing difficulty for others. Until fairly recently, many psychiatrists and psychologists felt that treatment did not help people with a personality disorder. However, specific types of psychotherapy (talk therapy), sometimes with drugs, have now been shown to help many people. Choosing an experienced, understanding therapist is essential (www.mentalhealth.com).

Personality disorders are grouped into three clusters:

* Cluster A personality disorders involve odd or eccentric behavior;

* cluster B, dramatic or erratic behavior;

* and cluster C, anxious or inhibited behavior.

Some of the factors involved in understanding personality disorders relate to:

o Age

o Gender

o Ethnicity

o Social advantage

o Mental health problems(unit 8, section 3, pp.34).

References:

* Open university(2006)k272, module 2 ‘searching for understanding’ unit 7, ‘whose evidence?’, Milton Keynes, the open university.

* Open university(2006)k272, module 2 ‘searching for understanding’ unit 8, ‘personalities’, Milton Keynes, the open university.

* Open university(2006)k272, module 2 offprint. Reading 9 ‘personality disorders: a helpful diagnostic category?’, Milton Keynes, the open university.

* Open university library(2006) open university services at a glance {online}, Milton Keynes, the open university.{accessed 20 February 2007}

* Phillip w long, (1995-2000) internet mental health(online), www.mentalhealth.com/ {accessed 25 February 2007}

* The Global Burden Of Disease” by C.J.L. Murray and A.D. Lopez, World Health Organization, 1996, Table 5.4 page 270.

* www.mytherapy.com {accessed 23 february 2007}.

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