Home Mind & Brain Clearer Distinctions in Personality Key to Better Mental Health Care, According to Study

Clearer Distinctions in Personality Key to Better Mental Health Care, According to Study

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A recent study published in the Journal of Personality Assessment explores the intricate dynamics between personality functioning, problems in living, and personality traits. This research seeks to clarify the ambiguities surrounding these concepts, particularly as defined within the Alternative Model of Personality Disorder (AMPD).

The AMPD, part of the DSM-5 and ICD-11, provides a framework for understanding personality disorders. However, since its publication, there has been considerable debate and confusion regarding the definitions and distinctions between personality functioning, problems in living, and personality traits. Hopwood’s study aims to delineate these concepts more clearly and reorient research towards generating clinically useful models for personality pathology and assessment.

Within the AMPD, personality functioning is viewed as a unitary, latent construct reflecting a person’s overall level of psychological maturity. This encompasses capacities such as maintaining a consistent sense of self, pursuing prosocial goals, empathising with others, and forming mutually fulfilling relationships. It is assessed through the Levels of Personality Functioning Scale (LPFS), which evaluates self and interpersonal functioning.

Problems in living are the various ways an individual’s life can go astray, prompting clinical attention. They are described as symptoms or impairments within the AMPD framework. Problems in life are contextually specific and dynamic, influenced by environmental factors and personal experiences.

Personality traits describe enduring differences between individuals that predict how they live their lives and the types of problems they are likely to encounter. Traits are relatively stable and hierarchically structured, with the Five-Factor Model (FFM) being a widely accepted framework. The AMPD uses maladaptive traits to articulate specific disorder types.

The research identifies several critical distinctions and overlaps between these concepts. The study supports the AMPD’s conceptualisation of personality functioning as a single dimension. Despite various sub-dimensions found through factor analyses, the overarching construct remains a general disposition to have problems adapting.

Personality functioning explains why different personality disorder symptoms and maladaptive traits correlate. It is somewhat less stable than personality traits, particularly in high-stress situations, reflecting a dynamic developmental process. Personality functioning provides clinicians with information about the overall severity of a person’s personality problems, guiding treatment decisions about the level of care required. In contrast, traits help identify specific therapeutic approaches tailored to an individual’s unique profile.

Problems in living are highly contextual and less stable than personality traits or functioning. They represent the specific difficulties individuals face in their daily lives and are the primary focus in clinical settings.

The study calls for a more nuanced approach to AMPD research, emphasising the need for clearer definitions. Future studies should clearly distinguish between personality functioning, traits, and problems in life to avoid conflating these constructs. Using a variety of assessment methods beyond self-report questionnaires can provide a more comprehensive understanding of personality functioning and its impact. Long-term studies are essential to observe how personality functioning and traits develop and interact over time, particularly under varying environmental conditions.

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