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Five-Factor Model of Personality

General Description

Several theorists believe that many of the personality aptitudes being studied in psychotherapy outcome research can be better described using just five orthogonal personality traits, commonly known as the five-factor model. These five factors have been labeled Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness. The significance of this model for TMatch is that it is associated with several very specific suggestions for client-therapy matching. One set of suggestions come from Miller (1991), who studied his own patients using this model over a period of two years. Although his suggestions are aimed at therapists individualizing their treatments based on patient characteristics, there are a few ideas that are translatable into client-therapist matching. Another set of suggestions comes from Anderson (1998), based on his review of the five-factor literature. These suggestions were combined to produce the matching ideas described below.

Neuroticism (N)measures emotional instability and distress, anxiety, and insecurity. Clients low on N do well with pharmacology, and in brief therapy that focuses on symptoms, very specific problems, and advice. In contrast, clients with high N don't do well with pharmacology, interpersonal therapy, or symptom-focused therapy, and need longer term therapy that focuses on conflicts and generic patterns of behavior, such as mood regulation.

Extraversion (E) reflects preference for interpersonal interactions and social situations, and being outgoing versus being introverted. Clients low on E do best with individual therapy that includes structured approaches. High E clients respond well with less structured approaches, interpersonal therapy, and group therapy. According to Miller (1991, p. 426), the more "spontaneous speech and social interaction" required by the therapy, the higher E should be for clients.

Openness (O) measures openness to new experiences, appreciation of culture and art, imagination, creativity, and rebelliousness. The higher clients are on O, the more their therapy should be provocative, imaginative, involve novel thinking and experiences, focus on self-exploration and discovery, and/or involve paradigm shifts. The lower clients are on O, the more their therapy should be straightforward, practical, symptom focused, educational, and supportive.

Agreeableness (A) reflects friendliness, compassion, cooperativeness, and, in the opposite direction, antagonism and hostility. High A clients may prefer group therapy and interpersonal therapy, while low A clients should do better in individual therapy that has a relatively high focus on symptoms and support, and has low levels of direct confrontation.

Conscientiousness (C) measures organization, persistence in pursuing goals, focus, self-discipline, and motivation. Both Miller and Anderson agree that therapy is relatively easy with clients high in C. Therapy for clients with low C should avoid treatments that require hard work, and should include as little discomfort as possible. Homework should probably not be included. Low C clients might do better with highly structured therapy, behavioral therapy, and skills training.

Client Assessment

The standard test for assessing these five personality factors is the NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI). However, the NEO-PI has 240 questions, which is obviously too long to be included in TMatch. Fortunately, there is a shorter version, the NEO Five-Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI) (Costa & McCrae, 1992), which has only 60 questions. Although this is still rather long for the client questionnaire, there was no way to make this assessment any shorter, and it was assumed the ratings could be used for multiple purposes. Therefore, a package of these tests was purchased, and the entire 60 questions were transferred to the computer program. This program produced a score for each client on each of the five factors. Because I don't have permission from the owners of this test, it is not reproduced on this web site.

Matching Clients to Therapists

Matching according to each of the five personality factors is described on a separate page. To go to that page, click on the name of the factor shown as a link above.

For more information, or to give feedback, email Kenneth Frankel, Ph.D.


Anderson, K. W. (1998). Utility of the five-factor model of personality in psychotherapy aptitude-treatment interaction research. Psychotherapy Research, 8, 54-70.

Buchanan, T. (2002). Five factor personality test. Retrieved September 2, 2002, from Department of Psychology, University of Westminster, UK web site: http://www.personalitytest.org.uk

Digman, J. M., (1990). Personality structure: An emergence of the five-factor model. The Annual Review of Psychology, 41, 417-440.

Costa, P. T., & McCrae, R. R. (1992). Revised NEO Personality Inventory and NEO Five-Factor Inventory Professional Manual. Lutz, Florida: Psychological Assessment Resources.

Costa, P. T. Jr., & Widiger, T. A. (Eds.), Personality disorders and the five-factor model of personality. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Wallach, H. S. (2000). Patient treatment interaction: Where are we and how do we proceed? Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences, 37(1), 51-63.