Personality Disorders Can Change With Age
Symptoms Become Better or Worse, Therapy Helps
WebMD News Archive
A Lifetime Study continued...
"We saw massive changes in personality disorder features over just four
years," Lenzenweger tells WebMD.
On average, the students showed a significant decline of symptoms from the
personality disorder with every passing year, he reports. This was true whether
students got treatment from a health care professional or not.
Also, the presence of another mental illness -- such as depression -- did
not impact the decrease in personality disorder symptoms, Lenzenweger notes.
"People have often thought that people with a personality disorder actually
have major depression, which is throwing their personality out of order. But
our study showed that presence of major depression didn't affect the decrease
in the other symptoms."
This study "highlights that change is possible, and that's good
news," he says. "We know that one in 10 people in the U.S. probably
suffers from personality disorder. These disorders have a tremendous impact on
people's lives. But if the disorders are flexible, then we need to apply newer
approaches to treatment. And what's exciting is newer approaches are beginning
Modified versions of psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy are
taking the focus off the past and bringing it to "the here and now,"
Lenzenweger tells WebMD. "In traditional treatment, patients talk about
their parents, about their childhood, yet their current life is a wreck. In
modified therapy, we focus on how they handled the transaction at the bank, how
they dealt with the boss, how they're dealing with their therapist."
Researchers will study this group across their lifespan, he says. "As
they now approach their 30s, we are eager to see what their life looks like --
their marital relationships, employment, etc. Are they more impaired, less
"This study shows that, while a lot of kids have symptoms of personality
disorders, a certain percentage of them may grow out of it. This runs counter
to folklore in psychiatry," says Kenneth Levy, PhD, professor of psychology
at Pennsylvania State University in Pittsburgh.
While not involved in the study, Levy offered his insights.
Another important aspect: "It shows that how well people function may be
due to environmental events," Levy tells WebMD. "They may have symptoms
of a personality disorder, but function relatively well if things are going
well in their lives, as long as things are calm. As soon as things erupt, as
they do in anyone's life, they may fly off the handle."
"I expect this study to open up more sophisticated research on the
effects of stress on personality disorders," he tells WebMD.