Dr. Paul Hewitt seeks participants for perfectionism study

The need to be perfect, or appear to be perfect may be seen as a positive trait by some, but it can take a toll on mental health and require psychological treatment. Dr. Paul Hewitt, professor in the department of psychology, sat down with UBC News to discuss what perfectionism is, why it can be problematic for mental health and how those interested can get involved in a new study looking at a treatment for perfectionism.

What is perfectionism?

Perfectionism involves attempts to be perfect (i.e., perfect the self which is seen as flawed, defective, or not good enough) or to appear to others as perfect. It is not the same as being conscientious, achievement striving or striving for excellence, which are viewed as healthy traits. Rather, perfectionism is about correcting a perceived sense of being not good enough by being or appearing to be perfect.

Moreover, there are various mechanisms of perfectionism including traits, self-presentational facets (i.e., presenting oneself as perfect), and self-related cognitive and self-dialogue elements, meaning the inner dialogue one has with oneself that reflects the relationship one has with the self. These are all related to various kinds of psychological distress, dysfunction and disorders.

What are the possible treatment options for perfectionism?  

Paul Hewitt

Over the past 25 years, we have been developing both individual and group treatments for perfectionism. This treatment focuses on the underlying mechanisms of perfectionism, as well as symptoms and problems. It is based on psychodynamic psychotherapy (which focuses on how a patient’s prior life experiences, particularly important relationships, influence their character and how they relate to others) as well as interpersonal psychotherapy (a common, in-person type of psychological treatment that centers on resolving interpersonal problems.)

What are you hoping to learn through this study?  

The current research is the second treatment study we have carried out to demonstrate the effectiveness and efficacy of the treatment. We are hoping to determine whether the treatment developed by our team is effective in comparison to another form of psychological treatment.

Individuals who are struggling with perfectionism and are interested in potentially participating in treatment can contact us to take part. They will be invited for a screening interview over the phone followed by an initial clinical assessment at the UBC Vancouver campus with one of the PhD clinical psychology students. During the assessment, participants will be asked to share the difficulties they are facing with perfectionism and related issues, and to complete some questionnaires. If eligible, individuals will participate in a 12-week group psychotherapy program.

Those interested in taking part in the study can contact the Hewitt Lab at 604-822-0932 or online at hewittlab.psych.ubc.ca

This Q&A was originally posted on the UBC News website.

This animation about the perils of perfectionism was created by the Motivation, Performance, and Wellbeing Research Group with support and resources provided by perfectionism research partners including Dr. Paul Hewitt and the Perfectionism and Psychopathology Lab.