Multiple personality disorder is a serious mental illness where the patient exhibits two or more completely separate identities, or “alters”. Each identity is a unique personality and in many cases is unaware of the other identities. Multiple personality disorder, also referred to as dissociative personality disorder (DID), is very rare and not all psychologists believe that the disorder even exists. However, for those patients who are diagnosed with the disorder, what is the treatment for multiple personality disorder?
Although multiple personality disorder is a serious illness, it has a recovery success rate and with the right care patient’s respond well to treatment. Unfortunately, because symptoms of the disorder are very similar to other mental illnesses and patients typically suffer from other mental health problems at the same time as having multiple personality disorder, DID is notoriously difficult to diagnose and a lot of people go for years before being correctly diagnosed.
Treatment for multiple personality disorder is all about helping the patient find some relief from their distressing symptoms. Treatment will largely focus on dealing with memory lapses that occur as a result of dissociating between different identities, plus coping techniques during periods of stress and anxiety, but the main goal is finding ways for the multiple personalities to co-exist peacefully together, or integrating the different personalities back into one main identity, referred to as reintegration.
The main treatment for multiple personality disorder is normally psychotherapy as many therapists believe that the illness is caused by the patient dissociating from difficult emotions and memories as a result of serious trauma or abuse. Psychotherapy is considered to be one of the most effective treatments for multiple personality disorder because it helps the patient learn to deal with their different identities, which have usually developed as a coping mechanism. However, it can be a traumatic process for some patients as they may be required to deal with fragmented memories and deeply buried traumas.
Reintegration therapy was once the focus of all psychotherapy treatment for multiple personality disorder, but it has now been largely abandoned because it can be a very traumatic process fraught with complications—the patient can often feel like they are being forced to get rid of an intrinsic part of themselves, which is very disturbing.
Hypnotherapy is a useful treatment for DID as it can help the patient learn more about their different personalities. This can help them gain a greater level of control over each separate alter, thus creating a greater sense of equilibrium between the different personalities.
Although different types of psychotherapy are the main treatment for dissociative personality disorder, in some cases, medications can be used to treat the co-existing mental illness the patient may be suffering from, including depression, anxiety disorders, anger and impulsivity. However, medications can sometimes cause unwanted side effects and may make the patient’s problems worse.
In extreme cases of multiple personality disorder, if psychotherapy and medication have no effect, electroconvulsive therapy can be used to treat underlying depression and self destructive behavioural problems associated with the disorder.