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Section 2
Detecting Personality Systems

Question 2 | Test | Table of Contents

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In the last section, we discussed meeting the alter personalities of a client with dissociative identity disorder.  Three ways of meeting the alter personalities are the alter personalities "come out" voluntarily , indirect inquiry, and direct inquiry. 

In this section, we will discuss personality histories.  Would you agree that working with a client with dissociative identity disorder means working directly with that client’s alter personalities?  Therefore, this section will give a brief description of some things to look for in compiling a brief history for your client’s personality system.  Four basic lines of questioning can provide you with enough psychopathology to begin to foster internal communications within your client’s personality system.  Putnam uses four basic lines of questioning that are outlined in this section. 

The four basic lines of questioning outlined in this section are naming each personality, determining physical aspects of the alter, determining perceived function, and chaining.  As you listen to this section, compare the answers of Alan’s alter personality, Vaughn, with those you might receive from your client.  You might also evaluate these answers for truth, as it is not uncommon for alters to lie or provide misleading information at first. 

Putnam's Four Basic Lines of Questioning

♦ #1  Naming Each Personality
First, let’s discuss naming each personality.  One of the first steps to taking a brief history of each personality is clearly to get a name for each personality.  Most of your client’s personalities will have names, but they may not share them on the first request.  An alter who avoids giving a name should be told that the therapist needs some way of asking for him or her, and should be asked how he or she would like to be addressed.  If the alter still refuses to give a name, I simply make one up using identifying characteristics that distinguish the alter from the host and any other alters. 

For example, do you remember Alan from the last section?  When Alan’s angry alter refused to give a name, I simply referred to him as ‘the Angry one.’  Later I learned his name was Vaughn.  I kept a list of alters’ names with a brief biography and description of each alters’ role in Alan’s personality system. 

♦ #2  Determining Physical Aspects of the Alter
The second step in taking a brief history of each personality is determining physical aspects of the alter.  For example, male or female, age, age of the client when the alter personality first came out.  Would you agree that this is important information?  I have found that the age of the personality can be productive in understanding his or her behavior, level of abstraction, and role in the system. 

Alan’s age when his alter personality first came out became relevant later when I began to explore for past trauma.  As you know, alter personalities are usually created during times of extreme stress for the client.  For example, if your client’s alter first appeared at the age of 6 years, then you might suspect specific traumas associated with that period of your client’s life. 

♦ #3  Determining Perceived Function
The third step in taking a brief history of each personality is to inquire about what the personality considers to be his or her function.  I find that function requires asking several questions.  With Alan, when I was able to speak directly with Vaughn, I asked, "What do you do?"  Vaughn answered, "I do what I want!"  Next I asked, "When do you like to be in control over Alan?" 

This question serves several purposes.  First, I could find out if Vaughn was aware of Alan and, second, I wanted to know about Vaughn’s control mechanisms.  Vaughn answered, "I’m always in control of Alan, but sometimes I just let him do what he wants."  I then asked, "Do you ever influence Alan without coming out?"  Vaughn stated that he did. 

Another question I asked was whether or not Alan knew of Vaughn’s existence.  Vaughn stated, "No and it’s better that way."  I made note of Vaughn’s answers.  However, I did not assume that they where the whole truth.  Even so, would you agree that there is usually at least some useful information in each of an alter personality’s answers? 

♦ #4  Chaining
The fourth step I like to focus on when taking a brief history of each personality is asking each alter personality about his or her awareness of other alters in the personality system.  Would you agree, however, that misleading information or lies might be a problem with this line of questioning as well? 

The process of identifying awareness of other personalities is often referred to as ‘chaining.’  I have found that ‘chaining’ allows the therapist to acquire an overlapping list of names or descriptions of the alters who compose the personality system.  Each time I hear of a new personality who has not yet appeared, I ask to meet him or her.  This technique helps to fill in the gaps in the personality system. 

Regarding Alan, I was able to acquire a great deal of valuable information about the size, composition, and structure of the overall personality system.  To summarize, my list provided an idea about the minimum number of alters.  It appeared Alan had at least two, which included Vaughn and a child of unknown age.  Vaughn appeared to be in his early or mid twenties even though Alan was in his late thirties. 

In addition, the list indicated something about the perceived role of Vaughn.  At one point Vaughn stated, "I’m basically the brawn and guts for that spineless old man!"  Clearly, this information also led to an idea of which of Alan’s alters were likely responsible for specific pathological or dangerous behaviors.  And finally, the list provided an idea of the awareness each alter had of one another.  The psychopathology obtained by taking a brief history of each personality became useful to foster internal communications within Alan’s personality system.  Internal communications will be discussed more later in this course. 

First, however, think of your Alan.  How could taking a brief history of each of your client’s personalities be useful in your treatment approaches?  What questions could you ask that might pertain more to the specifics in your client’s case?

In this section, we discussed personality histories.  The four basic lines of questioning outlined in this section to obtain a personality history are naming each personality, determining physical aspects of the alter, determining perceived function, and chaining.

In the next section, we will discuss behavioral contracts.  We’ll describe three steps to writing a contract.  These three steps are specificity as to what is required from each personality, determining the consequences for contract violations, and length and termination of contracts. 

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Brand, B. L., Webermann, A. R., Snyder, B. L., & Kaliush, P. R. (2019). Detecting clinical and simulated dissociative identity disorder with the Test of Memory Malingering. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 11(5), 513–520. 

Cavicchioli, M., & Maffei, C. (2020). Rejection sensitivity in borderline personality disorder and the cognitive–affective personality system: A meta-analytic review. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 11(1), 1–12. 

Oltmanns, J. R., & Widiger, T. A. (2019). Evaluating the assessment of the ICD-11 personality disorder diagnostic system. Psychological Assessment, 31(5), 674–684. 

What are four lines of questioning you can use to obtain a personality history? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 3
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