The Structure of Personality – Book Review [1]

The Structure of Personality
Modeling “Personality” Using NLP and Neuro-Semantics
Reviewed By
Te Ruru, B.A., M.Ed., Cert. Couns.

Occasionally a book is published in the field of therapy that has the potential to radically alter the way those working in the helping  professions think about certain types of challenges their clients are experiencing. The Structure of Personality could well be such a book. On the basis of their extensive casework, research, training, and modeling, the four co-authors of this book present a fresh understanding of the theory and treatment of personality disorders, from an NLP perspective. Their central premise is that personality is something people do, rather than something they have.

This handsome hardback challenges the current paradigm for the assessment of personality disorders, which tends to view such conditions as negative, crippling, and resistant to change. Rather than engage in useless interdisciplinary polemic, the authors demonstrate that people already have the ability to reorder personality in ways that will allow them to function well. The book also reframes personality “disorders” as expressions of personal strengths utilized ineffectively.

In his introduction, Professor Carl Lloyd introduces this theme by quoting research conducted by the US Navy in the 1990s, which suggested that the submariners best qualified for crewing nuclear submarines evidenced three distinct DSM-IV personality disorders: Obsessive- Compulsive (OCPD), Schizoid (SPD), and Avoidant (APD). Those “disorders” were personal strengths in the context of safely harnessing the awesome energy of nuclear powered and armed submarines, because crew members needed to be “preoccupied with orderliness, perfectionism, and control”, “socially independent”, and able to “fully function even in total isolation”. In other words, personality was ordered in that context, in a way that actually reflected crewmembers’ strengths.

In their enthusiasm, some highflying proponents of Neuro-Linguistic Programming have tended to nudge NLP into the pop-psychology category in people’s perception. The Structure of Personality places NLP where it best fits – at the leading edge of serious psychological research. NLP practitioners will be familiar with some of the material presented in this book, as both sets of authors have been developing models, publishing articles and books, and offering trainings that include processes based on the material presented in this new book. However, The Structure of Personality pulls together in a comprehensive and integrated text, perhaps for the first time, the most useful contributions of NLP for addressing the personality disorders.

Part I presents the theory and research supporting the authors’ position, as well as outlining processes for ordering personality. Part II details how twelve DSM-IV defined personality disorders can be reordered, based on the material presented in Part I. This structure means the book is eminently usable because it is both an authoritative presentation of theory and research, and a manual for the practical application of that theory. The book is also part of a wonderful legacy left by Margot Hamblett. She died earlier this year, and her co-authors have fittingly dedicated the book to Margot.

The name of the book is well chosen, for it echoes another title, The Structure of Magic, a book many will associate with the original developers of NLP. By this means the authors have set up a resonance that places them firmly in the continuum of NLP developers. Perhaps a slight change to Structuring Personality may have reflected the focus of the book more accurately. The style of presentation is worth noticing. Rather than provide a collection of articles, two sets of experts with slightly different maps in the field of NLP have collaborated to produce an integrated and groundbreaking text. This elegantly models the practice of discussing, exploring, and discovering the enriching differences and commonalities in maps for the same territory.

Chapters alternate between authors. Hall and Bodenhamer achieve a fairly technical and conceptual register, while Bolstad and Hamblett’s voice is softer, and they continually enliven their theory with case examples, including some from their work in the war-torn Balkans. Despite these stylistic differences, the text is woven together in a relatively seamless manner, although certain ownership sensitivities are evident. This is probably just a reflection of the penchant some NLP developers have for designing processes, coining or resurrecting significant labels, registering them, and marketing them as discrete models. The constant use of the terms Nero-Semantics?, and NLP, gives the impression that the two sets of authors are working out of separate models. This fictional distinction tends to fudge the fact that both sets of authors are actually using the same approach, only differently.

The Structure of Personality is both an advanced and a readable text. Although over editing has produced awkward syntax in one or two sentences, readers will recognize the authors’ practice of converting nouns into verbs. This gives the language energy and movement, as well as keeping the focus on personality as something people do.

A rather minimalist index is a bit of a surprise for a book of this caliber. If readers wanted to look up anxiety, or anchor, they might be disappointed to find the index actually starts at the letter “B”. However, the detailed contents, frequent headings, bullet points, diagrams, highlighted key points, chapter-end summaries, resource list, and extensive bibliography are excellent features.

Both its ground breaking content, and its user-friendly format, make The Structure of Personality “a text to have” for NLP practitioners, students, and practitioners in the mental health field, as well as for supervisors and training institutions. Carl Lloyd’s view seems accurate enough when he concludes that this new book “is impressive both in scope and depth, staggering in its implications for treating personality disorders, giving the clinical world an utterly new way of looking at the etiology and treatment of personality disorders”.

Te Ruru is an NLP Master Practitioner and Trainer who lives and works in Christchurch, New Zealand, as a Personal Consultant. With his partner, Joy Carol, he operates Soulutions, a consultancy promoting Peace through personal growth, spiritual awareness, and cooperative relationships.

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Christchurch 8005
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