Personality development has always been a hot topic in realm of mental health disciplines. From Freud to Piaget, many theories of personality balance the input of natural, genetic, and environmental factors to try to explain the foundation of human behaviour.

“Life is a learning experience. The complexity of human behaviour is finely related to the several mechanisms which define how, what and when we learn about the world. People devote varied levels of energy to observe, memorise and recount the ongoing stimuli around them — and that focus is the magical touch which produces the fascinating ambiguity of mankind.

In the realm of behavioural science (and also common sense), there is one word which is vastly used to define such effect: personality.” (Extract from the article “Inside Personality“)

In this article, we review some general ideas about personality development from the perspective of three widely accepted therapeutic approaches: Behaviour Therapy, Gestalt Therapy and Person Centred Therapy.

Behaviour Therapy

Seligman (2006) has identified “three basic building blocks of personality” that people are born with:

  1. Primary drives
  2. Specific reflexes
  3. Innate responses to particular stimuli

The primary drives of an individual relate to drives such as toward food and warmth. Specific reflexes refer to processes such as sucking and blinking, and innate responses include behaviours such as reacting to pain (Seligman, 2006).

Behavioural theorists believe that personality is shaped by learning and unlearning throughout the lifespan. They also believe that the environment in which a child is brought up in influences the personality of the individual.

An example of how personality is developed through the eyes of a behaviourist is of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy refers to the way one believes in one’s ability. High self-efficacy is often the result of responsive behaviour by parents, non-punitive techniques, and a warm family environment (Weiten, 2007).

Gestalt Therapy

Gestalt therapy deems that people cannot be considered as separate from their environment or from interpersonal relations. The individual is seen as being self-regulating and is able to motivate oneself to solve problems. Individuals are able to work towards growth and develop as their environments allow.

A psychologically healthy person is someone who is self-regulating through the changes in life and has developed a sense of “wholeness” between mind and body (Corsini & Wedding, 2000).

Person Centred Therapy

There are a number of general ideas about personality development with regard to person-centred therapy. Basically, person-centred therapy states that personality can be fully actualised when the individual is exposed to unconditional positive regard.

An individual who has been exposed to conditional positive regard can have low self-esteem and low feelings of worth. An individual who is self-actualised will be more open to experience and less defensive, will learn to live in the moment, will trust own decision-making skills, will have more life choices and be more creative.