CHAMPAIGN, Ill., Jan. 6 (UPI) -- A study from the University of Illinois has found that people who participated in therapies such as counseling or antidepressant use for mental health issues had better outcomes and personality trait changes than those who did not.
Researchers reviewed 207 studies of more than 20,000 people with mental health issues who had therapeutic interventions and found that they were, on average, significantly less neurotic and more extroverted than before therapy.
The findings challenge the idea that personality traits are formed at birth or in childhood and remain the same, according to Brent Roberts, professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
"This really is definitive evidence that the idea that personality doesn't change is wrong," Roberts said in a press release. "We're not saying personality dramatically reorganizes itself. You're not taking an introvert and making them into an extrovert. But this reveals that personality does develop and it can be developed."
Neuroticism, a long-term tendency to be in a negative emotional state, is one of several key personality traits identified by psychologists along with emotional stability, conscientiousness, agreeableness, openness and extroversion.
According to Roberts, people who are high in neuroticism tend to be more anxious, moody and depressed than others.
"Some clinical psychologists see neuroticism at the core of every form of psychopathology, whether it's drug and alcohol abuse, psychopathy, depression or panic disorder," Roberts said. "The fact that we saw the most change in neuroticism is not surprising because, for the most part, that's what therapists are there to treat."
The research used interventions such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, supportive or psychotherapeutic counseling, pharmacological treatment with antidepressants, hospitalization or a combination of treatments.
"Interventions were associated with marked changes in personality trait measures over an average time of 24 weeks," according to the study, which was published in Psychological Bulletin. "Emotional stability was the primary trait domain showing changes as a result of therapy."
Researchers found that people with anxiety disorders changed the most and those with substance abuse problems changed the least.
"In about 50 of the studies, the researchers tracked the people down well past the end of the therapeutic situation, and they seemed to have held onto the changes, which is nice," Roberts said. "So, it's not a situation where the therapist is just affecting your mood. It appears that you get a long-term benefit."