As the New Year rolls in and many of us make resolutions, a common question seems to circulate in the air: How can I make myself a better person? According to a recent large-scale analysis of over 200 psychology studies on how people change, published this month in the journal Psychological Bulletin, six researchers suggest that it appears that there is one thing you can do to really spread along the process of self-improvement: Go to a therapist.
This research doesn't suggest therapy lightly. The review suggests that if you go to therapy for three months, you're likely to see a drop in your levels of neuroticism. That makes sense, right? But this study goes further: That drop in neuroticism you experience in therapy is up to half the amount you'd expect to see decrease if you waited 30 to 40 years to "fix" yourself on your own.
As Melissa Dahl explains at Science of Us, if you're under the impression that your personality will simply mellow or tamper itself over time, you may be correct; however, in that case, you can expect it to take literal decades. With therapy, though, you can make that change a heck of a lot sooner.
The idea here is that most people's personalities do change over time, perhaps based on age, life circumstances, traumas experienced, and so forth. While we might have consistent personality traits or habits that we form in our youth, most of us are not solidified in one way of doing things or behaving for the scope of our lives.
That said, if we're trying to actively improve or figure out aspects of ourselves, such as healthy ways to deal with anxiety, or how to find more time for yourself outside of your job, seeing a therapist is a way to work on changing those behaviors in a healthier, faster way.
Of course, everyone's definition of a "better" person is going to be different. For some of us, being a "better" person refers to our physical health or fitness, while others want to work on our interpersonal relationships, work-life balance, or practice more self-care. No matter what, it's valid to want to improve yourself and grow in new directions, though it's also good to remember that you deserve to love and respect yourself, even if you are a work in progress.
It's good to keep in mind, too, that going to therapy can get a bad reputation because of the negative stigma we have about mental health care. In reality, there is nothing wrong with seeing a mental health professional, whether you seek short or long-term care. If you want to change yourself for the better, or if you even just want to talk through whether or not you should change something to begin with, a therapist is always a good place to start.