Understanding Identity Disorders

Meeting with a therapist can help an individual navigate life challenges and develop skills for dealing with everyday or more severe problems. In some cases, however, patients are meeting with a therapist to receive help for more severe problems. When it comes to some conditions, however, therapists are cautioned to avoid certain techniques.

A new paper published by researchers at Binghamton University illustrates how certain ways of conducting a therapy session could encourage the development of dissociative or identity disorders. When a therapist asks a patient questions suggesting that they may have additional identities, they may be opening the door for the possibility, says the study’s authors.

Another major risk discussed in the paper for the development of identity disorders is a lack of sleep. The study’s authors note that dissociative identity disorder is often rooted in a combination of cues, such as fantastical thought patterns introduced through the media.

Dissociation is a disruption of a person’s normal conscious and psychological functioning that leads to a disordered state of consciousness. It is characterized by an understanding of separation between consciousness and emotions, body and surroundings in the patient.

The new study, led by co-author Steven Jay Lynn, Ph.D., and colleagues, is published in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science finds that sleep issues may heighten the risk for some who are susceptible to developing identity disorders.

The study’s findings provide a different understanding of dissociation than what has been previously believed about the development of the disorder. It has generally been believed that individuals create multiple personalities in order to cope with trauma that occurred earlier in life, such as an abusive situation.

The study authors say that the assumption that multiple personalities are developed to cope with a trauma is not supported by scientific research. While there is an association between dissociative disorders and childhood abuse, there has been no causal relationship proven.

The authors of the study also caution therapists in their use of some questions during therapy sessions. A person at a heightened risk for dissociation may be introduced to an increased risk by the use of questions that lead them to consider additional personalities.

One study conducted by Lynn and colleagues illustrates the connection between sleep problems and dissociation. The researchers kept 25 healthy participants awake for one night and discovered that the participants had many dissociative experiences.

This finding may provide an explanation for the connection between trauma and dissociative experiences. Those who experience a trauma often struggle with sleep. Poor sleep can also cause memory problems and increase suggestibility.

Suggestibility is where the therapist can possibly ask questions that may introduce an increase in dissociation in the patient. Lynn encourages therapists to avoid questions that may introduce the idea of additional personalities.

There is still hope.

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