Reviewed by Whitney White, MS CMHC, NCC., LPC
Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is a mental illness that can cause significant life impairment and distress. Once called multiple personality disorder, this mental condition is usually severe. Fortunately, if you have it, you can receive excellent care and treatment to decrease your symptoms and help you live a productive, fulfilling life. Here’s a look at the treatments available and how they work.
Treatment Starts with Diagnosis
The first stage of treating dissociative identity disorder is diagnosis and assessment. Even before that, you’ll have to have some indication that you need to seek help. The entire first stage can happen fairly quickly, but you can’t solve this problem at all until you get started.
Screening for DID
Seeking help for DID is a big step. You might be hesitant to start the process if you aren’t sure you really have the signs of the disorder. But there’s a way to get an objective rating of your symptoms. You can take a screening testfor dissociative personality disorder. The quiz is free, confidential, and easy to take. It involves clicking on the answers to questions about your symptoms. After a few brief moments, you get an assessment of symptoms. It’s important to note that this screening tool isn’t a diagnostic test and is just meant to help you identify symptoms.
Diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder
Psychiatrists and therapists use the DSM-5 as a guide to diagnose mental illnesses, including DID. If you meet the criteria listed under dissociative identity disorder, a mental health professional can diagnose your condition as DID. Here are the DID symptoms and criteria it lists.
If you have DID, you have experienced at least two separate identities or personalities. Each of these identities has its own way of experiencing and relating to the world. When you’re in one personality state, you think differently than you do in the other.
Changes Due to Identity Shifts
When you go from one identity to the other, several things change. You behave differently and have different memories. You think in different ways and perceive your environment differently. You might not even move the same ways physically when you’re in each of your distinct identities.
You frequently have gaps in memory. These gaps can include your personal history. For example, you might forget having been at a particular place, meeting specific people, or going to some events. These memory gaps aren’t ordinary forgetfulness. Instead, it’s more like those things didn’t happen to you at all. The things you forget might have occurred recently or a long time ago.
Impairment and Distress
To be diagnosed with this disorder, you must have significant distress and impairment caused by your symptoms. You might have trouble functioning at work, in social situations, or in other areas of your life.
Once a mental health professional determines that you have DID, they usually move on to get a clearer picture of the types and severity of your symptoms. They often use a combination of assessment tools, including structured interviews, self-report tests, and self-report screening tests.
The structured interview helps your therapist evaluate symptoms like identity confusion and identity changes, for example. One of the self-report tests, the Multidimensional Inventory of Dissociation, takes about 30 to 90 minutes to complete. This test gives results on a scale, with scores that measure the presence and severity of symptoms. Screening tests are similar to the best online DID screening tests.
Treatment of any mental disorder almost always begins with deciding on goals. The typical goals for DID treatment include things like:
- To help individual personalities be aware of each other.
- To integrate the personalities so that you can function as a whole person.
- To accomplish this integration gradually.
- To unify or fuse all the distinct personalities into one.
Although many people never reach the goal of unification, every step along the way can be beneficial. With effective treatment, you can learn to function better in all areas of your life and get a greater sense of wholeness.
Types of Treatment
Several methods can be used as a treatment for multiple personality disorder, also known as dissociative identity disorder. MPD therapy entails specific processes and stages designed to bring your personality closer to a state of unification. Here are some of the dissociative identity disorder treatment methods.
Phase-Oriented DID Therapy
The most helpful treatment for dissociative identity disorder usually consists of several phases. One widely accepted treatment plan for DID includes three distinct stages.
In phase one, the goal is to make sure you’re safe and stable. The therapy will also help reduce your symptoms. You and your therapist establish a relationship that allows you to work together. Your counselor educates you about your disorder, your symptoms, and what treatment will be like. You’ll learn to manage stress, maintain personal safety, and improve your ability to function in everyday life. You’ll also work on improving your personal relationships.
Phase two can be challenging, but it usually comes with great rewards. During this phase, you work through traumatic memories that might have triggered your identity disorder. It starts with confronting these distressing memories and continues with working through them. Finally, you integrate the aspects of those memories into your adult consciousness.
Along the way, your therapist can work with you to deal with your grief, sense of loss, or any guilty feelings you have about those traumatic events. During this process, your separate identities become less and less separate.
Phase three is where your separate identities might finally come closest to being one unified personality. You develop a more stable and solid sense of self. You may come to a better understanding of your past and start to have a better sense of peace about it. Your therapist may also assist you in learning to manage everyday issues that you’ve never dealt with as a single identity before.
Psychodynamic therapy has been proven effective for the treatment of many mental illnesses. And it’s often used for treating dissociative disorders. It involves reflecting on yourself and examining your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, history, relationships, and environment. One of the most important factors in success with psychodynamic therapy is that you and your therapist establish a positive relationship. You work together to achieve your goals, and your therapist supports you through the process.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the standard treatment for a wide range of mental illnesses. A 2003 study of its use for dissociative symptoms, such as those you might experience in DID, was useful. A short 6-week course of CBT treatment was successful in relieving both long-term and short-term symptoms of PTSD.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a method in which you look at the thoughts that prompt you to feel or behave the way you do. Some of the specific types of CBT used in this study included exposure therapy and cognitive processing therapy (CPT). CPT consists of analyzing traumatic events and the meanings they have in your life. You practice challenging distorted or over-general beliefs.
Although this study used people with PTSD as subjects, the same techniques can help people with DID. Why? The main reason is that most people who have dissociative identity disorder have had traumatic experiences in the past and suffered dissociation because of them. The same is true of people with DID.
Hypnotherapy, often called hypnosis therapy, can help with dissociative identity disorder. However, therapists might not use it the way you expect. In popular movies, psychologists put their patients under hypnosis to learn about things that happened when different personalities were “in charge.”
Or they use hypnosis to integrate the distinct personalities into one unified whole. These are indeed some of the possible uses of hypnotherapy. However, in real life, therapists often use hypnosis in other ways. For example, they might use it to help calm you during distressing therapy sessions.
Other Helpful Therapies
Many counselors use an eclectic approach to DID treatment. They draw on many different theories and types of therapy. Each therapy type can help in its own way. They may help increase awareness of the different personalities, process your feelings, or help you reduce symptoms and improve daily functioning. Some of the types of therapy that can be used include:
- Family therapy
- Expressive therapies
- Dialectical behavior therapy
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing
- Sensorimotor psychotherapy
What to Do If You Think You Have DID
Seeking treatment may be scary if you have dissociative identity disorder. For one thing, some of your personalities may feel threatened by the possibility of merging. And, if you’ve never been in therapy, you might fear the unknown aspects of it.
However, DID can have serious consequences. It can not only keep you from leading a fulfilling life, but it can even put your life at risk. What’s more, it’s a condition that rarely, if ever, gets better without treatment.
So, if you suspect you have dissociative identity disorder, the best thing you can do is seek treatment. If you’re unsure you have it, start with an online screening test. Then, talk to a counselor in your community or get online counseling. With the right treatment, your symptoms can decrease, and you can begin to live as a whole, integrated person.